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Review: Liverpool Biennial 2016: Assemble/Granby Workshops

The tenacity of a community, represented in handmade household fixtures.

Assemble / Granby Workshops: Liverpool Biennial 2016
142 Granby Street, Saturday 9th July – Sunday 16th October 201

Words and images by Steff Cain

The houses, built around 1900, which constitute Granby Four streets were once part of a lively, racially and ethnically diverse community at the centre of Liverpool. Following the Toxteth riots in 1981, many of the houses were bought by the Council with the promise of redevelopment on the horizon. This meant hundreds of people had to leave their homes, places they’d spent their entire lives or raised families. The redevelopment never came to pass – but the residents of Granby didn’t leave it there.

Visiting the first streets and seeing the rows upon rows of metal sheets covering windows and doors was disheartening. However, the questions were impossible to shake. Why isn’t something being done? And, why isn’t anybody living in these beautiful houses? All was not as it seemed, but this thought process sums up the ethos behind Granby Workshop precisely.

Regeneration initiatives left the Four Streets community with run down houses boarded up with intimidating metal sheets, but over the next two decades remaining residents have cleaned, planted, painted and campaigned to reclaim the area. In 2011 they entered into an innovative form of community land ownership – the Granby Four Streets Community Land Trust (CLT), and by doing this secured 10 of the derelict houses for renovation as affordable housing. These terraces, which have been empty for around 30 years, already have new occupants.

Granby Workshop is a social enterprise collaboration between the residents of Granby and Assemble, which makes experimental products for the homes in the once dilapidated area. It is a means of continuing the hands on, community inspired progress already in practice. The collaboration has already won the coveted Turner Prize in 2015 for its creative regeneration of Granby Street. The first range of products are a set of handmade features, including doorknobs, lampshades and tiles. The creative process embraces chance, improvisation and materials sourced from the Victorian houses of the Granby area, so each product is, and will be, completely unique.

Four of the rejuvenated houses are painted beautiful pastel colours, with some of the handmade fixtures already visible. Seeing them puts into perspective the magnitude of creativity, perseverance, and heart of the community. It is a truly jarring sight to take in after baring witness to the fate of deprivation they could have been left to.

As well as venturing to Granby Four Streets to witness the history and transformation for yourself, Granby Workshop will be displaying a showcase of their work outside the Exhibition Centre Liverpool in a new commission. It’s a rare opportunity to see the one off, local craftsmanship before the pieces find their way into a very special part of Liverpool’s history in their new homes.