For the past five weeks, a steady stream of posters and banners have sprung up in and around Amberley Street on the corner of Upper Parliament Street and Mulgrave Street in Liverpool’s L8 district. The land is owned by Liverpool City Council and until 2013 was home to the oldest purpose-built Caribbean centre in the country – The Merseyside Caribbean Centre.
After its closure in 2013, the centre and the surrounding land began to fall into disrepair. Following a public meeting, a new charity was formed with the stated aim of ‘re-opening the centre’, the African Caribbean Heritage Centre, and a limited company of the same name was registered with Companies House in 2015.
However, since 2015, Elliot Group (International) Ltd, a firm of property developers headed by Elliot Lawless, and who are behind a slough of recent development projects in the city, some of which have courted controversy and protest, have made no secret of their ‘aspirations’ to redevelop the site into a complex including over 400 residential units ‘for key-workers’, demolishing the existing centre.
The proposal involves building a new centre elsewhere on the site, with an entrance facing onto Selbourne Street off Princes Avenue, a residential location away from its current high profile position on Upper Parliament Street. The Elliot Group designs are listed on the company’s website.
A public consultation was held in 2016 by the African Caribbean Heritage Centre board, ‘ the overall data shows the majority want the Caribbean Centre open again’ the board stated at the time. An extraordinary general meeting was called in 2016, where the board agreed that, ‘the ACHC (Caribbean centre) should remain on the same site and should not be relocated… A new building should be built….The same arrangements with LCC should remain in place.’
Since the public consultation, the charity’s Facebook group posted about various outreach activities throughout the L8 area as well as clean-up work at the site and fundraising initiatives, including securing in 2017 a grant ‘for survey and minor remedial works’ to be carried out. Towards the end of 2018, members of the local community began to increasingly express concern about the centre’s future.
In response to requests for further information, the ACHC board issued a statement in November 2018, ‘Communications are ongoing with Liverpool City Council and the Elliot Group with regards the future of the Centre. The Board will update as and when milestones are reached’ while also confirming that the site had not been sold.
Liverpool City Council recently responded to a Freedom of Information request submitted by S. Rotheram in December confirming, ‘We are working with a developer [Elliot Group] and the Board of Trustees for the African Caribbean Heritage Centre (ACHC) to bring forward a development on the site which will provide a new centre.’
In February, a spokesperson for Elliot Group also confirmed that they are in discussions regarding the site, telling LVL, ‘there’s a little bit of work to do at my client’s end to formalise any agreement to develop the site – not least with the centre’s board. Nearly there, but we’re not commenting further until everything is signed and sealed’.Local residents, fearing the land is about to be sold, have taken matters into their own hands. LVL spoke with Michael Simon, a spokesperson for the protestors, who was also part of the Granby Four Streets project, which won the Turner prize in 2015, to find out what the protests are about.‘Five weeks ago we turned up and started standing outside with placards – it has just snowballed from there … it is a positive thing, we’ve been really cleaning the site up – the transformation is massive’, explained Michael.
‘We will continue to try to engage with the board … it’s not our aim to make either the council or ACHC our enemy … we decided ‘let’s just get in there’ – if the board want to engage, that’s great, but if not, we will carry on regardless’.
When La Vida Liverpool visited, there was a vibrant and upbeat atmosphere, with several dozen people cleaning up and making signs in the vicinity of the centre. ‘Our ultimate aim is to open that centre, not somewhere else, this is more than a centre … we’re drawing a line in the sand … any private housing development on this site would leave us local residents completely priced out’ says Michael.
One local resident, who attended the protest, talked about the problems facing youth in the area, with a loss of community spaces and increasing problems with gangs and fighting. ‘Yesterday, there were kids from different element of the L8 community, who didn’t know each other because they had nowhere to meet – there they were playing a game of basketball together… This is our community!’
The board have recently issuing a new statement, saying that they ‘are aware of the ongoing protest at 1 Amberley Street, and are currently in process of preparing a public statement with a public consultation to follow in the coming weeks.’
A petition has been launched, calling on the board to ‘publically update’ and reaffirm their commitment to saving the centre. The group are confident the centre can be brought back to use and would welcome a public meeting.
One protestor explained, ‘we have plans for fixing up the gardens, people ready to help bring the centre back to use. We’re growing. We are not giving up…We are the oldest black community in Europe, the oldest Caribbean community in Europe!’ Michael added, ‘we are not invisible, we’re here and we’re not going away!’
Liverpool City Council and the board of the African Caribbean Heritage Centre have been approached for comment.
Images Courtesy of Charly Wild, Elliot Group, Lisa Rand and Hugh Venables.