Biennial 2012: 2up2down

Earlier in the year I escaped from the Sea Odyssey giants and the related monstrous crowds to visit 2up2down at their ground zero, Oakfield Road in Anfield, Liverpool. The most striking thing about this location is the proximity to Liverpool Football Club’s ground. The stadium looms large at the end of the street, occupying a huge amount of space in the hearts and minds of the local residents, and a huge force in the politics and economy of the area. A good place to locate a bakery you might think?

In fact, until about 18 months ago, there was an operational bakery on Oakfield Road, but the short-time that has passed since it closed demonstrates how quickly buildings and communities can look tired and neglected once businesses pack up and go. Not that anyone could accuse the Mitchell family, former owners of the premises, of being flippant about leaving. The family all worked into their 70s at the bakery before retiring.

What looks set to take its place is an interesting consortium led by the local Community Land Trust. The CLT network website describes itself as a “non-profit, community-based [organisation] run by volunteers [which develop] housing or other assets at permanently affordable levels for long-term community benefit.” I expect that we are going to see and hear the CLT making themselves a lot more visible in years to come, as communities look for alternative ways in which to make their voices heard and generate change.

Mitchell’s Bakery was an ideal project for the Anfield CLT as it was such an important amenity in the local area, and yet it looked destined to be another empty shop front. The other interesting partner in the mix is Liverpool Biennial, who are funding an artist – Jeanne van Heeswijk – to work with the CLT group in order to visualise sustainable and achievable new ways of living and working within the context of the bakery. The project is also supported by Arena Housing and Liverpool City Council, and the architects are community project specialists, Urbed.

2up2down owe a lot of their momentum so far to the Biennial and specifically to Jeanne, whose input Marianne Heaslip, architect at Urbed, describes as “absolutely vital”. At the moment the bakery is only open on certain days or for certain purposes – such as workshops with local school children, weekly meetings (where all are welcome) and regular drop in sessions.

The workshops started around the same time that 2up2down (the name given to the Biennial project and the CLT working together at the bakery) secured the building, in spring 2011. ‘Secured’ is an interesting word as the bakery seems to be in a precarious position at the moment, held together by good will and determination. There are signs that the CLT group are gaining in confidence, as they became formally incorporated in April this year and have a new identity as ‘Homebaked’.

You don’t have to be in Mitchell’s Bakery very long before you are convinced of the importance of localised community-led commerce. In the couple of hours I was there, chatting to some of the volunteers, architects and champions of the project, three different people came in to see if they could buy bread. This is very surprising giving that there are a few loaves as props but otherwise no signs of building’s former purpose. The 2up2downers didn’t seem that surprised though, and they have been compiling a list of contact details in order to keep the community up to date with developments.

Their plan is to have a small-scale bakery up in operation by the time Liverpool Biennial launches in September this year. Marianne says that this first phase will include “loos, a new floor, a mini-shop fit in the front and a hygienic space for baking in the back, sealed off from future building work.”

The full fit-out will include a larger operational bakery, conferencing areas, a roof top garden and three dwellings in the empty residences above and next door to the shop. The intention for this accommodation is to have apprentices live and work on site learning building trades and baking. There will also be areas where people can sit together and of course, eat.

After spending a bit of time here, you start to notice some hints at the design aesthetic that the bakery will be aiming for. The trendy looking lampshades are actually industrial sized whisks and the plant pots are loaf tins. You also don’t have to be here very long before you start to get an idea of the problems this community is facing, and how this project is serving as a positive outlet for understandable frustrations.

One of the group tells me that “a neighbour [of hers] was recently re-housed in a house with a garden, and she immediately got it flagged over.  There is an idea about new housing solving all these problems – but she raised three kids in a house without a garden and she didn’t want the hassle.” This is very revealing and demonstrates the pitfalls of the one size fits all approach to modern living.

The community in Anfield don’t want to see rows and rows of empty houses but they also don’t want the council to make compulsory purchases of their homes. The houses around here may look like identical terraces, but they are actually disguising interiors as unique as their occupants; full of memories, personal redecoration choices, adaptations and extensions. One solution, the 2up2downers suggest, is to knock down every other row, creating more garden space or off street parking, but without creating a homogenised new development.

This is the same argument for creating something unique here at Mitchell’s, which reflects the character of the community, rather than allowing a Greggs the bakers or similar to take over this prime retail opportunity.

Linda Pittwood

From 15 September 2012 join a 2Up 2Down heritage bus tour (as featured in ourBiennial Highlights article). Booking essential: email visit@biennial.com

An intervention and audio work can be found at the Museum of Liverpool

Follow 2up2down’s progress here

First published August 2012

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