The day after We Make Places’ symposium The Maverick City we tested the Urban Workbench Community Build model. This was a way our symposium would give something back to one of the communities we work with in Liverpool and we chose West Everton Community Council – our very close neighbours.
We invited the speakers and the audience from The Maverick City to join us for a day of community building at WECC and during the weeks before we asked local businesses to donate pallets that we could strip and use to make furniture on site.
Our team was very international as it included most of our speakers and during the day a few of the audience joined in too. We had people from Chicago, Rio, Latvia, Italy, The Netherlands and Liverpool involved.
It was one of the most moving projects we have worked on – at some point during the day everyone cried, with humility, compassion and joy. This was about so many things…….individuals making new connections, learning new skills they could take back to their own communities, leaving a gift for a community that felt neglected and the rebirth of ambition and hope.
Read a couple of accounts of the day from participants below and have a look at some of our favourite photos.
Community Build project reflections by Chiara Organtini
On the Saturday we packed all our energy and headed as early birds to West Everton, where We Make Places recently opened a workshop to support their brand new Urban Workbench project led Angelo Madonna, a multidisciplinary artist. This project is a learning hub for communities and people that can gain the skills and ability to reshape their own spaces by learning DIY skills and collaborative attitudes.
As I directly experienced, Urban Workbench is a way to empower people, enable the grass roots process of urban regeneration or the reclaiming of spaces by changing peoples thoughts, skills and the way they see things and relate to one another.
We spent the day at West Everton Community Council with a group of community members and stakeholders to make outdoor benches for their courtyard so to make the space alive, visible and enjoyable for elderly people, children and others visiting the centre. West Everton Community Council is a resident led organisation that advocates for residents to ensure they have a voice at all levels, also identifying and responding to all issues that directly affect the whole community.
While there, the community members told us about the story of the place and the recent fire that damaged part of the building and the story of Everton also in regards to the new project in Great Homer Street (Project Jennifer) that will create a new hub of activity in North Liverpool and will act as a catalyst for the wider redevelopment of this part of the city. Their role as a community organisation is to ensure a balanced regeneration process where bricks are not more important that people and where quality of life and community relationships are equally taken into account.
I felt enriched by the idea we could give a small contribution to the improvement of the future of this valuable organisation.
The whole day was a collective creative workshop, teaming up according to tasks and projects in-between excitement, release of energies and ideas, frustrations also for not being perfectly able to do all the work. This doing affected of course also my thinking and I realized the importance of creating infrastructure for participation, leaving spaces for the people, and giving tools to people to make their own spaces.
During the day I found my self hammering, sawing, breaking pallets: I wanted to achieve results without knowing how, I wanted to get the final result without observing listening to the shape of the object the material and the group as I was so anxious to make a big contribution to this community centre.
Then I started to be more in flow, streaming with the group, listening and observing what was around me and in the object we were creating. This adjustable navigation is indeed one of the principles I try to apply in my daily work in project management and this level of openness is crucial to inject oxygen and keep our action alive and in tune with the surrounding situation. Making together is really a way to reset minds and bodies, shifting the focus on a common goal, sharing reponsibilities and forgetting our egos and assumptions: we entered a land where collaboration, creativity and reactions where the keywords and a perfect receipt for new ideas.
This afternoon, besides giving new benches to the community, above all gave me confidence and changed how I think about me and the possibility I have to impact being a reflective practicionner, acting thinking and adjusting the navigation beyond the simple planning.
My experience in Liverpool still resonates in my body and in my head, and is more a patchwork of diverse areas of the city that speak about a complexity that merge opposites stories from gentrification to regeneration. But above all I still have a gallery of voices and faces that feed me with inspirations: Kate makes magic happen, she creates a perfect mix of people and then let the process goes.
There is a precise moment I remember: when I was taught how to use a handsaw; in that movement I felt like I was playing the violin, not as gently as Tiago does but in the effort of learning: in that moment it was like I was cutting away my fears and the limits I imposed myself.
Some people are like stars: what keeps them alive is the balance between the energy they get while releasing their own light.
My adventure started thinking about sky and close dreaming about Space this has been one of those adventure that can really open up horizons.
Chiara Organtini is an art worker active in project management and creative processes facilitation currently based in Terni, Italy. With her organisation Indisciplinarte she is engaged in the organisation of Terni international performing arts festival and in the curation of CAOS centro arti opificio siri, a multidisciplinary arts center and creative hub born from the renovation of an industrial space. Her mission is to activate and enable uncanny connections pursuing a vision of arts as generator of change
Community Build Reflections by Evija Taurene
West Everton Community Council waited for us to get our hands dirty in action. We gathered, had a quick coffee and 10 minutes of planning, and jumped straight to work. The initial idea was to create whatever furniture they needed to liven up a large asphalt area in front of the former neighbourhood school from pallet’s donated by local businesses. Basically, we were the first group launching the “Urban Workbench” open community build session, and we loved it!
The asphalt field was filled with drilling and sawing noises, conversations and laughs all through the day. Some had their first ever experience of taking a drill or a saw in hand, some were more experienced and were happy to share skills, some had the best design ideas and others were just happily observing or taking photos, which is an equally important job. In the end, thanks to Angelo’s thoughtful mentoring process, we managed to make two wonderful benches and restore and improve a children’s seating pod which we are truly proud of.
The highlight of the day though was the lunch break, when violinist Tiago wanted to share his music with us, so he played “Imagine” by John Lennon. I must say, there was no person in the room who would not feel lifted.
Now I can say, that the opportunity to experience Liverpool, The Maverick City Symposium, the community build project and to meet Kate and “We Make Places” in their own environment, has not only widened my understanding of local contexts and given a real interaction opportunity with the local change actors, but it has also taught me practical skills to use later in my own work in Latvia, Cēsis. However, the most valuable thing about the visit, was the ablility to leave something behind for the city and the local community.
So, in what way is Liverpool maverick? The question is easy to answer, as behind every blooming, dynamic, bold and different city stands its people and its communities. And Liverpool can certainly be proud of its people, especially those behind “We Make Places”, who are willing to put in time and resources to work for the mission of strengthening communities. But most importantly – they do it in an inclusive, integrated and their-own-kind-of-crazy-creative way, which makes them…well, maverick.
Evija Taurene is an urban planner and activist with a passion for creative cities, urban regeneration, citizen engagement, & digital economy. She currently works as a project manager and citizen engagemet officer in Cēsis municipality administration, in Latvia.