Next to Nowhere (or rather, underneath)
By Matt Moore
Sometime in late 2005, people around the Liverpool Social Forum started talking about a social centre. Many of us had travelled to events in centres across the country - Bradford's 1 in 12 club, The Common Place in Leeds, Nottingham's Summac Centre and many others - and had liked what we'd seen. We'd all spent time in Manchester and had seen the overwhelmingly positive effect that The Basement had had on radical politics there. We wanted the same for Liverpool, and decided to do something about it.
In January 2006 we called an open meeting to discuss the possibilities, expecting to attract a small group of hardy regulars, maybe a dozen at most. Over forty people turned up. And not only did they turn up. They brought a sense of excitement, a buzz of new ideas and a wealth of experience of similar projects past and present. From that meeting were formed the basic collectives that would make the centre happen and the work began.
We started with the search for a location. After a number of mis-starts we found the perfect site - a disused, junk filled, damp and dusty basement beneath News from Nowhere bookshop. Over the following months the hard work began as we put together funding bids, negotiated contracts and, most importantly, cleared and cleaned the space to begin its transformation from a dingy storeroom to a useable and welcoming public space.
It's been a lot of work, and it's not over yet. As the building work gets under way and the opening looms, the reality of the day to day work necessary to keep the place open and the bills paid looms. There's a café to run, computers to set up and keep running, fund raisers to organise, floors to mop, rubbish to take out, toilets to clean and so on and so on. To be successful the social centre is going to need a huge commitment of time and energy from everyone involved. What is it that makes it worth all this work?
Every social centre is unique, every social centre moves and grows in its own way reflecting the needs and aspirations of the people that created it, who run it and who use it. Already a community that did not exist before exists around a half finished space with no natural light, cooperating and collaborating in ways that would have been impossible without the project. And this can only grow as the centre matures and draws in more and more people. This alone is powerful, but when the centre is viewed as a resource for community and activist groups all over Liverpool, all of whom will, in the ways that they choose, be able to contribute in some way to the atmosphere or running of the centre, then something even more interesting emerges.
A social centre is no panacea - it solves no problems, it makes no contribution in and of itself. What it can do though is help create the networks of support that people need to defend themselves and those around them from the depredations of government and business. Whether it's a free meeting space for a community group, e-mail access, or just a cup of tea somewhere friendly after a crappy day, a social centre can be an important resource in encouraging people to act for themselves, both by providing an example of cooperation in action and by providing resources to those taking action.
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