Review: 2nd Heseltine Institute Lecture, Without These Walls

Film by Jayne Lawless and Janet Brandon

without these walls
Without These Walls - still image

Without These Walls
Heseltine Institute Lectures, University of Liverpool

Words by Patrick Kirk-Smith

The first time I saw Without These Walls, sat in Homebaked Anfield, I was surrounded by teary eyed men and women with a story to contribute to their experience of the film. The second time, I was struck by how different the reaction was. No longer on its home turf this film had a great deal more to answer for. The answer it offered was one that ended up being very relevant to the building it appeared in.

The second of the Heseltine Institute Seminars hosted by the research group of the same name, and introduced by Professor Rhiannon Corcoran, Jayne Lawless’ and Janet Brandon’s film raised more questions than it could possibly answer, but tried its hardest to answer them through a tirade of questions that even the most ardent city planner would struggle to resolve.

The Heseltine Institute are a research body based at the University of Liverpool. Their focus is on ‘Public Policy and Practice’, so their decision to host the film is a wishful nod to the future of how policy, influenced by academia, can be further shaped by the arts that influence academics in the first place.

A huge help in the presentation of the film, was Ronnie Hughes, founder of A Sense of Place, a blog dedicated to market the focus of this film: The people of Everton, and those that lost their homes through Housing Market Renewal in the early noughties.

It’s a heart wrenching film in so many ways, and seeing the ghosted image of a home once lived in, through nothing but its wallpaper, torn apart by JCBs will probably always top that list. What gave it a run for its money, and made for a lively camp fire discussion afterwards, was the context of the film within policy making. How exactly should Liverpool City Council address housing development in the future, with this example in mind? Or should they at all?

There are two schools of thought, and both are perhaps equally sympathetic to both parties, as they now stand, with neither showing much remorse for either party as they stood. Firstly, the idea that the people of Everton have been persecuted for years, with ill intention for nothing more than monetary gain. On the face of it that idea is probably the most agreeable, as a fair number of the residents went through several wars with the council, and with planning, and with Liverpool Football Club, leaving some with huge debts and a second mortgage. It’s a long and gutting list of travesties that seems ceaseless.

On the other hand, from the Council’s perspective, or an outsider’s, developing an area that has fallen behind will always leave a sour taste somewhere, and not everyone can win all the time. Essentially, the plan was there to make something better and to limit the divide between L postcodes, but then a recession hit, and a football club got involved, and events took their course.

That gives a third option, where everybody losses, and seemingly that option won out. Residents were inconsolable, and the council got nothing. The future of the area lies now in whether or not the innumerable parties can work together to find a solution that sweetens the bitter history.

In taking a community as quietly strong as this Everton one, the Council have created a campaign against themselves which can only be truly resolved through actions. The damage is done, and the history is written, but lessons need to be learned and The Heseltine Institute seem to want to learn. Their challenge is to pass that education on.