Community energy, homebaked

OUR story begins with a bakery that now produces arguably the best pies in Liverpool.

And its latest chapter involves plans to renovate a terrace of empty houses.

Among the ingredients to our recipe is not just a bakery, but also a Community Land Trust, Liverpool Football Club and, our most important ingredient, the involvement of the community.

Anfield is not just home to Liverpool FC, it is an area now experiencing a new vitality, thanks to growing community engagement. Back in the day, it was a model district, with everything you needed in life close to hand. More recently, it had suffered, economically, and had become the focus of various local and central government efforts to regenerate it.

For the last 25 years or so, it has been an area of ‘special economic support’. The various masterplans for it have seen massive amounts of demolition and displacement of people. As football fans will know, Liverpool FC has dropped plans to re-locate, to nearby Stanley Park; instead choosing to add lots of extra seating to its existing stadium.

If there was an overall conclusion to be drawn from all these previous masterplans, it is that they didn’t really envisage a role for local people in the governance and stewardship of their neighbourhood; it was proposed regeneration for the people, not with the people.

I have been working in Anfield since 2007, initially funded by a housing renewal initiative and also Arts Council England.

The arts funding allowed me to commission a Dutch visual artist, Jeanne van Heeswijk, who is highly-regarded for her work with local communities. One of her first projects was to track where all the demolition spoil was ending up, including timber being used in fancy London loft apartments.

And during her time here, she became fixated on a bakery located immediately opposite the football ground, owned by a married couple, the Mitchell’s, who were in their 80s and, not surprisingly, looking to retire. They could neither sell the property, it wasn’t worth anything, nor continue with it.

And so we decided to take over the bakery and explore a project of community engagement through it. At the beginning, it needed a fair amount of community pushback to ensure the building survived wider plans to demolish it.

People were very passionate about what they perceived as ‘their’ bakery, including a group of around half a dozen local women, who were absolutely fired up by the potential of running the bakery as a co-operative.

We began by renting the bakery from the Mitchells, and we turned it into a kind of laboratory, a hub for free thinking, to explore how local people could live, work and play well.

By 2011/12, we started to constitute two organisations, both called Homebaked, to work collaboratively: Homebaked Co-operative and Homebaked Community Land Trust. Initially, pretty much the same group of people were involved with both organisations. Since then, each have attracted new and different people.

Community Land Trusts (CLTs) are set up and run by ‘ordinary people’ to develop and manage assets important to their community, like community enterprises, food growing, homes and workspaces. With housing, CLTs are expected to act as long-term stewards, ensuring that the housing remains genuinely affordable, based on what people actually earn in their area, not just for now but for every future occupier.

For us, it’s key that ownership of local assets remains within the locality.

The bakery – which has had a huge amount of profile over the years – employs 22 people, is fully profitable, and has been able to invest about £300,000 a year in the community. It’s also proven an invaluable stepping stone for many people, who have gone off and set up their own food and drink businesses.

The bakery is a tenant of the CLT, which has been able to be flexible, in the past, with the rent being charged and collected. Above the bakery is a four-bedroom flat which was refurbished, and is now rented out. The flat had been in a pretty sorry state and we used it as a project to teach local young people in the skills needed to bring it up to what is now a pretty high spec.

So, we are now are turning our attention to an adjoining terrace of empty homes, owned by the city council, which has gifted them to us, so we can create eight family homes and three commercial and workshop spaces – affordable, in perpetuity. One of them is going to be a small brewery, being run by two fantastic local women, called Homegrown Collective.

We are hoping to go on site with the terrace renovation in March. It’s a £2m scheme, so we are looking at various funding options and are receiving a huge amount of council support.

There is also some green space, which we have been working on, animating it. With one of the empty buildings, we created an office for ourselves, so we could have an on-the-ground presence in the community.

We are exploring how a neighbourhood that has been deemed as requiring intervention can actually build their own high street.

Last year, we issued a response to a newspaper article, we objected to the description of us as a ‘hipster’ district. This is not about gentrification or ‘artwash’, it is about genuine creativity and innovation from within the community.

Homebaked began as a project of agitation, local people pushing back at what they perceived was happening to them and around them. Which is why we have taken the decision – as a group, although some people had reservations – to be an active part of current masterplanning for the area. I don’t doubt that, during the first years we were operating, the authorities wished we weren’t around.

Our motto is ‘brick by brick and loaf by loaf, we build ourselves’.

Paul Kelly is company secretary of Homebaked Community Land Trust and is director of the Liverpool City Region Community-led Housing Hub. He was a guest in a webinar hosted by YorSpace on October 27 2020.

Photo: courtesy of Homebaked CLT

More information: http://homebaked.org.uk

Article in YM Liverpool, published May 21 2019: https://ymliverpool.com/homebaked-revive-derelict-anfield-homes/39160

The story of Homegrown Collective: https://asenseofplace.com/2019/02/16/introducing-homegrown-collective/

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