Garston - A Cultural Village
The vision of a Garston where the dereliction of the past has been reversed by investment is something its residents have long dreamed of. The area has always been in Speke's shadow in the economic and regeneration stakes, but the possible first steps to changing this and achieving the dream were put into motion two and a half years ago.
In January 2004, residents, artists and local business representatives attended the launch of a campaign to designate Garston a 'cultural village'. The driving force behind the campaign was local artist Alex Corina, who aimed to attract new arts and cultural ventures, create employment and training opportunities and enable this vibrant community to reach its creative potential. Corina strived to push the City Council, the SLR (South Liverpool Regeneration) and the LLD (Liverpool Land Development) to put this initiative into motion.
The initiative was backed by some high profile support - notably from actress Rita Tushingham and writer Jimmy McGovern - but it was only recently that it gained momentum. Exciting plans to transform the derelict Wellington Street School into a multi-purpose community arts and education centre were unveiled at a public meeting on 13th June. If successful, the plans would see the former school undergo a complete refurbishment, creating more than two hundred and fifty jobs in the run up to 2008.
Corina explained: "The school would include managed workspaces for businesses and I would hope that these businesses, jewellers, ceramicists would actually become involved in the schools. What we would like to demonstrate is how the arts and creative industries can become involved in education. That is the start of getting young people to think broadly about what they want to do when they leave school, and 2008 is essential to those aspirations."
Cultural village campaigners were out in force at the public forum. Amongst them was well known local architect Ken Martin, who compared the initiative to one of Liverpool's most successful regeneration projects - Lark Lane. "Lark Lane was very run down, now it is one of the finest streets in Liverpool. Someday St Mary's Road could be the same. It would need a lot of people to put their efforts in, but it can improve because the fabric is still there. What I really want to enthuse about is the idea of the cultural village, because it will create jobs."
Also in attendance was local broadcaster Roger Philips, who emphasised the importance of locals uniting to put pressure on the City Council. "The will is here, and it is good to know it is starting now but the City Council won't do a thing unless pushed. To me the most successful things in the city are the things that people do."
Peter Millea, Executive Member for Regeneration and Transport with the City Council responded by saying that "Attracting new opportunities into the area has been mentioned, things like restaurants and wine bars. Why not? If it's good enough for Smithdown, if it's good enough for Lark Lane then it's good enough for Garston. I welcome these proposals here tonight, I think they're wonderful and they have my wholehearted support."
Millea's words may have been promising but the City Council's track record for putting their money where their mouth is has been inconsistent. Local residents should take heed of Roger Phillips' words and put pressure on the Council. As Corina himself stated, "It would be an incredible loss if Garston suffered because of the Capital of Culture."
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