There’s plenty that’s great about Liverpool. World-class culture, a prestigious university, great nightlife and an open and tolerant city.

The city has undergone a transformation from industrial powerhouse to decline, with unemployment among the worst in the country and swathes of land left vacant or derelict, to today’s thriving metropolis.

It’s a place people are fiercely proud to live in. When the Great Places Commission visited Liverpool at the end of March, people talked about their pride in Liverpool’s heritage, culture, and history.

​People make places – lessons from Liverpool

We wanted to capture some of the real optimism that is part of Liverpool’s story – from post-industrial wasteland to a city that is seen again as thriving

Ruth Davison
Executive Director of Public Impact, National Housing Federation

Money is being invested in new developments and regeneration projects across the city and the residents we spoke to were excited to see their city changing for the better.

But not everyone feels part of Liverpool’s journey. As the city centre develops, some outlying parts of the city are struggling. Unemployment in the city is 6.5%, significantly higher than the national average of 4.8%, according to Home Truths North West report 2017/18 (PDF) and the North West region is home to some of England’s most deprived areas, concentrated in cities like Liverpool and Manchester.

Empty homes crisis

There are 3,449 empty homes in Liverpool, according to the Home Truths report, and nearly 39,000 across the North West region - the highest figure in the country. Most of these are concentrated in places with poor economic prospects and few opportunities. Compare Liverpool’s figure with Bristol, a similarly-sized city with just 876 empty homes.

This is a challenge the city is acutely aware of – Liverpool’s directly-elected mayor, Joe Anderson, has made tackling the number of empty homes in Liverpool a political priority, launching his Homes for a Pound scheme in 2013.

The mayor’s scheme centres on places like Granby and Picton, where empty homes and disparate communities are a challenge. We want to know how housing associations can help turn these places around.

Homes alone don’t make a great place

We know that creating great places isn’t just about homes, but housing associations can be part of the solution.

Housing associations in Liverpool employ more people than Jaguar Land Rover, which is Britain’s biggest car manufacturer and has a major production plant in the Halewood area of the city.

There is massive potential for housing associations to transform the communities they serve, and by working in partnership with other local organisations they can create opportunities, boost investment and improve quality of life in some of the country’s most deprived places.

​People make places – lessons from Liverpool

It’s not just about getting the physical fabric of a place right, it’s about getting the community right

Dr David Walker
Bishop of Manchester, Chair of Wythenshawe Community Housing Group and Great Places Commissioner

The people we spoke to in Liverpool didn’t talk about bricks and mortar. They talked about the pride they feel in their city, their memories of growing up or raising families, and their neighbours.

People do want access to good schools and shops within walking distance, but ultimately they want to feel part of the community.

Great places offer somewhere for everyone – whether that’s a place for older people to socialise or a youth club where young people can get together after school.

According to the Government’s Community Life Survey 2016-17, nine in ten people in the North West region have easy access to a school, shop, park or public transport. However, only three in ten are within easy reach of a youth centre.

The people we spoke to in Liverpool told us that having a social landlord, like a housing association, enhances this feeling of community thanks to the services and facilities they provide that enable people to get together.

People in Liverpool told us what they want from a great place – safety, security, a sense of community and neighbourliness, well-kept homes and spaces, and easy access to jobs, education, social spaces and shops. How can we deliver these and who do we need to work with to do it?

‘Anchors’ in the community

Creating great places is about identifying the partners with the skills, networks and resources that complement ours. Together we can address the multiple and complex challenges a struggling place may face.

Who could these partners be? Major employers like Jaguar Landrover in Liverpool, universities, community groups, councils and other organisations that have a stake in the local community.

Challenges vary from place to place, and working with organisations that are embedded in the community is the best way to come up with locally-tailored solutions. Housing associations can use their influence, networks and resources to bring together the various partners to drive change for the better. We see housing associations’ role as ‘anchors’ within communities – connecting the right people and organisations to deploy the tools in the right way.

​People make places – lessons from Liverpool

People need to feel they’re in it together. We need to pool our resources and have a clear idea of what we’re setting out to achieve

Ian Wardle
Chief Executive of Thirteen Group, Great Places Commissioner

The political context gives us new impetus to bring partners together. The Government’s Industrial Strategy, which aims to boost productivity and earning power throughout the UK, is an opportunity to look at some of the places that most need intervention and explore how housing associations can use their unique position to create thriving, vibrant communities.

The Granby example

Granby in Toxteth is an excellent example of how a community can drive change – one which caught the attention of housing associations Liverpool Mutual Homes, and Plus Dane.

Once a thriving place, the community’s fortune faded with the decline of Liverpool’s docks, leaving much of the area derelict. The neighbourhood was being eyed up for demolition.

A small group of determined residents had other ideas. To begin with, they started planting up the streets with flowers and ivy, painting the windows of derelict houses and leaving vases of empty flowers around the area.

The group also started a monthly street market in the spring and summer, which attracted people to the area.

Granby Street in Toxteth, Liverpool

​People make places – lessons from Liverpool

The street market has about 80 stalls – it just pulls people in. What makes a great place is not just houses alone, it’s to be very accessible and try out new things

Eleanor Lee, Board Member
Granby 4 Streets Community Land Trust

These simple changes weren't just about making the place nicer to live, but about reminding people that the community was still there, and still be prepared to put up a fight.

In 2011, the group formed the Granby 4 Streets Community Land Trust, which was able to convince the council to test out a new approach in the area. This led to the group partnering up with housing associations Plus Dane and Liverpool Mutual Homes, and the council, to explore ways of refurbishing the empty homes. By 2017, the partnership had invested £14m in bringing 110 properties back into use, says Liverpool Mutual Homes.

Taking pride in places

We were struck in Liverpool by the pride people take in the places they live. The residents we spoke to talked about their personal connection with the place they live. Many had lived there all their lives, raised their families there and know their neighbours.

​People make places – lessons from Liverpool

In Liverpool it was great to see the sense of pride and belonging – people taking ownership and pride in their communities

Dr David Walker, Bishop of Manchester
Chair of Wythenshawe Community Land Trust and Great Places Commissioner

Housing associations recognise that this personal connection and knowledge of an area is vital for understanding what works and what doesn’t in a place. It’s also the motivation behind projects like Granby.

The visit to Liverpool confirmed that making great places relies on working in partnership with communities and local organisations. People want to see progress, and they want to feel part of the journey. Opening up channels of communication with the communities is essential – and housing associations recognise the need to be transparent and honest about their ambitions and plans within an area.

​People make places – lessons from Liverpool

People will believe in partnerships and will trust you when they can see what’s being done. It needs to be a phased plan and there need to be quick wins

Ian Wardle
Chief Executive of Thirteen Group and Great Places Commissioner

What next?

We’re at the beginning of our exploration of how housing associations fit into the creation and ongoing success of great places across the country. We’ve come into this process with open minds and a desire to hear different views from diverse stakeholders.

The visit to Liverpool helped the Commission better understand some of the factors that make a place great, and how housing associations use their expertise and resources to make a difference to local people. As we visit more places and bring more people into the conversation we will begin to answer some of the big questions we have identified, while also discovering things we haven’t yet considered.

​People make places – lessons from Liverpool

Some of these questions will crystallise in different ways, and answers will emerge to questions we hadn’t even thought to ask

Ruth Davison
Executive Director of Public Impact, National Housing Federation

Making great places is at the heart of what housing associations do. It’s an ambition we all share, and we’re committed to delivering it. But we can’t do it alone – we must be bold and brave in reaching out to new partners and exploring pioneering ways of working.

Watch the video summary of our visit to Liverpool