A Gathering And A Big Lunch In Toxteth’s Princes Boulevard, Liverpool
Princes Boulevard in Toxteth, Liverpool, was once a bustling avenue, the home of wealthy merchants and many townspeople. Then local fortunes took a desperate downturn, the nadir being the Toxteth riots in 1981. But more recently things have begun to look up, as demonstrated for instance by The Gathering of May 2008, and today’s Big Lunch in this historic setting.
Liverpool & Merseyside
Quite recently, we acquired from a local auction room a print of the hustle and bustle which was Princes Boulevard in 1915:
It’s now fully acknowledged that some of this wealth arose from the shame which was the slave trade, but by the turn of the last century this was a disgrace of the past (not least as a result of campaigns by other Liverpool citizens) and Liverpool was establishing itself as a great city for the right reasons – its entrepreneurial spirit and the cosmopolitan nature of its populace.
And then began the decline in the fortunes of Liverpool which reached rock bottom with the riots of 1981. July that year saw us driving to work past huge groups of police officers imported from all over the country, with the fear every day that friends and colleagues living nearby might be injured in the ugly confrontations which were Liverpool’s nightly lot.
But that was nearly thirty years ago. How much more positive it is that this year we have been able to attend the Big Lunch and Gathering in that same place. This was a fun event for everyone. We’ve seen the preparations getting going over the past few days, and were even permitted a sneak preview yesterday:
Then, at midday today, the activities were launched for real, the Boulevard decorated with streamers, ribbons and bows, dream catchers (some of them I was told made from recycled materials) and other features of festivity.
Already, by lunchtime, the place was beginning to fill up, with local folk, older couples and strollers, mums and dads and babies and kids, teenagers on bikes and a good sprinkling of community activists, along no doubt with visitors who’d just dropped by when they saw that things were happening…. and all this in an area of just a few hundred yards, which is also host to the Anglican Cathedral, a Greek Orthodox Church, Princes Avenue Synagogue and the local Mosque.
There were singers, dancers and musicians….
… and representatives of several local organisations and services….
…not to mention people selling everything from jam, bread and cupcakes to plants, recycled clothing, paintings and jewellery ….
So, what next? Way back before the Millennium some of us were agitating with the then-brand-new Liverpool Vision to take a route from Hope Street through Princes Avenue (Boulevard) into Toxteth, making the area people-friendly and good to be in.
Today, with support from Arts In Regeneration and others, there have been celebrations of our living communities at the Bombed Church (St. Luke’s) in Leece Street in town, right through to Sefton Park, some two or three miles distant, at the other end of Princes Avenue. Perhaps some of the action on Princes Boulevard didn’t offer quite what The Big Lunch prescribed (Geraud Markets for example are not exactly a voluntary organisation), but The Gathering did promote imagination, enterprise and friendship.
Last year there was a first attempt at such an event, on May 25th (2008):
On that occasion the weather was cruel – blustery gales and very cold. This year it has been a little kinder, and the sun even shone for some of the afternoon. Let’s hope that next year is a sunshine-all-the-way sort of event, and that this is the start, at long last, of something really, enduringly, positive.
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