Did Assemble really play such a big part in Granby 4 Streets?  How ‘community-led’ was the project?  What was the role of the Community Land Trust?  How did Assemble come to win the Turner Prize 2015?  Who were the private social investors and what did they do to help make the project happen?

The intention here is to blow open the façade behind Granby 4 Streets, Assemble and the Turner Prize 2015 win.

This is a long read and part of my research into art-led regeneration projects that are often far more complex than is often portrayed.

I argue that the media and art world picture of Assemble is overly simplistic and masks a far more complex and uncertain set of events that, ultimately, relied on ‘mystery’ private social investors to force local government to act in support of the project and to lever money from national grant funders.


Complexity, uncertainty & scalability: How Assemble’s Granby 4 Streets won 2015 Turner Prize

Embedding within local communities is vitally important to some socially engaged artists.  This blog looks at London-based Assemble, the Turner Prize winning collective of (not)artists and architects who travel around, offering their services to local communities.  Assemble won the Turner Prize for their work with Granby 4 Streets in Toxteth in the south of Liverpool – a site of considerable dereliction: a remnant, like so many other areas, of the failed New Labour Government’s Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder scheme with remaining residents living amongst dereliction and boarded up houses (Hanley, 2012b).  For Owen Hatherley, resistance to Pathfinder in Liverpool was most prominently led by community regeneration initiatives such as Save Britain’s Heritage (SAVE) and artists funded by the Liverpool Biennial: an outcome that partially achieved ‘ironically, Pathfinder’s original aim of bringing the middle classes into areas of “low market demand”’ (2013).  He argued that working-class areas ‘need confidence, both in themselves and in the places they live’, if they are to avoid local councils repeating their past failures (ibid.).  I will look at whether socially engaged interventions by Liverpool Biennial-funded artists can equip local communities with this sense of confidence or whether they may, conversely, either usher in false hopes or, even, facilitate culture-led regeneration and gentrification.  I explore if art has been used as a means of experimenting with alternative economic models based upon notions such as community ownership, local economies, cooperative working and autonomous (self-)governance.

Residents in Granby in Toxteth, south Liverpool began organising themselves before the arrival of artists.  They had been supported by Save Britain’s Heritage (SAVE), who were also working to prevent terraces in the nearby Welsh Streets from being demolished by Liverpool Council and Plus Dane housing association (Save Britain’s Heritage, 2015).  Local people removed rubbish, cleaned pavements, made the streets into communal gardens, painted empty properties, and held regular street markets (Thompson, 2015, pp. 1032-1034).  They constituted as a CLT in 2011.  For Matthew Thompson, the community succeeded, without council permission, in turning the Granby Triangle into the ‘Green Triangle’ (ibid., pp. 1032-1033).  He warned that Granby 4 Streets CLT’s actions held both ‘progressive and regressive potential’:

Their creative and pioneering endeavour to take back streets left to decay by austerity politics is both a crack in the ownership model, prefiguring an actually existing commons, and simultaneously an unwitting agent of austerity urbanism, taking up the slack in the paralysed development model and filling the gap left by the retreating state to productively reuse derelict housing when all else has failed (ibid., p. 1034).

The CLT’s ‘DIY’ actions perhaps served to normalise neoliberalism and capital accumulation through ‘entrepreneurialism, creativity, self-reliance, flexibility, and do-it-yourself initiative’ (ibid.).  This brings the trust’s quest for community-led regeneration[1] into question.  Indeed, when the function of art in this initiative is considered, the regeneration project appears to perhaps reflect the more powerful and institutionalised culture-led model:

Green Triangle activists, mostly women associated with the city’s artistic milieu, enact a certain bohemian habitus which may act to alienate or exclude other social groups from the area, and which plays into ‘creative class’ politics and city branding, potentially planting the seeds for green gentrification as Liverpool’s economy recovers (ibid.).

It was not only artists and art institutions who were driving regeneration in the area but, inspired by early successes, a collective of ‘idealistic young professionals, designers, and postgraduate students’ who lived locally, formed the Northern Alliance Housing Cooperative (NAHC) (ibid., pp. 1034-1035) and became part of the trust (Terrace 21, 2016).  NAHC intended to retrofit empty properties to create ‘mutualised eco-homes’ (Thompson, 2015, p. 1035) under the name Terrace 21.  Importantly, the trust received £500,000 from a ‘mystery millionaire’ via a private social investment company[2] (ibid.) which later changed its name to Steinbeck Studio.  The millionaire was ‘libertarian economist’ John Davey (Hughes, 2016b).  John Davey has over twenty-five years’ experience in the financial sector at senior levels, with an interest in wealth management[3].

Steinbeck Studio’s founder is Xanthe Hamilton who, amongst other activities, has made films in various countries for NGOs and directed the Branchage Film Festival in Jersey (2008-2014)[4] which was sponsored by John Davey, amongst others (Branchage, 2014).  She had been ‘encouraged by SAVE’ to organise a financial package to support the CLT after they organised an initial introduction to the community (Save Britain’s Heritage, 2015).  The private limited company was set up to ‘to apply to the City Council to apply for the land and invest in the Granby 4 Streets Community Land Trust’ (Steinbeck Studio, 2016a).  Steinbeck intends to develop ‘Neighborhood-Scale Investment as a financing and effort multiplier model for community-led regeneration … by enabling, empowering and financing developers with a social and cultural agenda by improving, streamlining and making accessible the development, design and financing process’ (ibid.).  It recently announced a new business ‘platform’ that would enable ‘grassroots, and socially driven developers [to] glide through a process only normally navigated by experienced well capitalised developers’ to produce ‘a complex and efficient system of inputs and outputs’ that would generate ‘viable, affordable buildings of the highest design aesthetic’[5] (ibid.).  It would seem clear that Granby 4 Streets’ major financial backer wishes the expand upon the success of its ‘by the people for the people’ (ibid.) approach which led to Assemble’s Turner Prize winning ‘socially engaged art’ project.  In a presentation given at the London Festival of Architecture 2016 entitled Granby 4 Streets: The Ideals of Specificity and Scalability in a Social and Architectural Endeavor, Hamilton identified an ‘100% safe’ investment opportunity[6] presented by the ‘enormous gap between supply and demand of quality social housing in the U.K’ (2016, p. 1).  She described how ‘community led’ regeneration, such as Granby 4 Streets, offered ‘the prospect of a safe unit of investment (bricks and mortar) and its multiplier effects’ that ‘could conform to the prerequisites of this excess money looking for investments’ (ibid.).  She revealed that ‘social impact investor’ John Davey had accepted a ‘4% return’ on his investment in the CLT and that ‘investing interest free’ in Granby increased the investment’s ‘multiplier effect’ (ibid.).  Hamilton wrote that she was ‘a representative of money seeking safety, 4% returns and Quality’ who viewed the Granby residents ‘as the most crucial ingredient of quality’ (ibid., p. 2).  The £500,000 interest free loan ‘unleashed [the] grant-writing power’ of the trust (ibid.).  Hamilton was clear that she commissioned Assemble (ibid.).

Hamilton’s investment attracted five ‘models of Social Developer’ to Granby 4 Streets who were ‘all attempting to exploit [the] swampy ecology of funding, law, insurance and so forth’ (ibid.).  She described the 5 models as follows: 1) Housing associations and registered providers who were ‘well-capitalized by their access to lot of grant funding, VAT exempt, were capable of financing ‘early development costs’, and were able to ‘get houses off the council [sic]’, but they were also the ‘most expensive’ model; 2) Buying houses for £1 which offered ‘most cost efficient’ model that used ‘sweat equity’ and ‘personal investment’ together with ‘autonomy of design choice’, but were ‘very expensive for the council to deliver’; 3) Community Land Trust which offered ‘The essence of the community’ whilst being ‘Perfectly hungry for Architectural ideals’ and a ‘welcoming committee for other models’, but was inefficient and lacked ‘finance or technical managerial’ skills; 4) The Co-op which was ‘stuck’ financially; 5) Steinbeck Studio which was Hamilton’s own ‘Social investor-backed private developer scheme’ with a ‘pot of ready money’ but unable to ‘get grants’ (ibid., pp. 2-3).  Hamilton revealed that Assemble ‘produced a great scheme’, priced by Steinbeck’s quantity surveyor, that enabled the construction of ‘new housing’ which would subsidise ‘the regeneration of houses in the worst condition’ (ibid., p. 3).  She explained how the ‘cherished’ Granby 4 Streets CLT model became ‘stuck in a Swampy Loop’ for twelve months (ibid., pp. 3-4).  She became a board member of the CLT.  She also placed the private development of neighbouring Ducie Street on hold whilst she resolved the impasse with the CLT (ibid., p. 4).  Hamilton and Assemble’s Lewis Jones wrote a white paper on ‘community homesteading’ designed to ‘expand the houses for a pound model … to a larger chunk and community rather than individual ownership’, whilst Assemble also produced ‘a design brief of absolute beauty and ingenuity at their own expense’ (ibid.).  However, finances remained problematic for the initiative[7].  Per Hamilton, the project might have faltered without Steinbeck Studio’s loan, an ‘assemblage of grants’ and Assemble’s vision (ibid.).  Without these interventions, she was convinced that Granby 4 Streets – ‘the little Frankenstein that could stand up in the swamp’ – would not have been constituted (ibid.).

Steinbeck scaled down Assemble’s quality ideals in response to more financial problems[8] before the team ‘pulled a trick of the leverage unique to [CLTs]’: they launched the project with a ‘big event in the streets and all over the press, as if we were in possession of properties’ which forced the council to ‘complete the deal and transfer the property’ (ibid.).  Hamilton concluded:

To attempt a new model of making quality affordable and social housing with both specificity and the potential to be scalable, demands the team transition between the ideal and the scalable coordinates.  Both are essential for success of these pioneering models of a new way forward (ibid., p. 5).

This new model seems to have become the foundations of Steinbeck Studio’s new grassroots platform.  Granby 4 Streets was a critical aspect of its research and development phase.  The role of Assemble throughout this process is also interesting to consider, given their portrayal in the media as unassumingly grassroots and their work as a form of socially engaged art (or even ‘not-art’).  The team’s Turner Prize win in 2015 not only garnered international media attention for Granby 4 Streets and Assemble, it also enabled further grants to be secured[9].  For example, in 2016 the CLT and Assemble were granted almost £250,000 by Arts Council England[10] to turn two properties deemed unsuitable for renovation as dwellings into a Winter Garden and a Common House (Young, 2016).  The proposal will create a community gathering area and artist residency space as well as ‘residential guest accommodation for creatives using the studio or to be rented out on an “Airbnb” style basis’ (ibid.).  The artist residency programme has been developed by Liverpool’s Bluecoat contemporary arts centre[11] (Hughes, 2016a).  For Granby 4 Streets, the buildings will provide ‘useful and accessible space … and resource for socially engaged arts activities’ that builds upon the ‘history of creative action and engagement which has been a key driver for change in the area’ and continues the community’s ‘DIY approach in which art and creativity are an everyday part of the process of rebuilding their neighbourhood’ (ibid.).  Steinbeck Studio also have a residency, commissioned by the Crafts Council and Liverpool’s FACT gallery, called No. 48 in which Assemble and Will Shannon turned one of the empty houses into a workshop that manufactures the mantelpieces for the ten houses that the CLT are refurbishing (Steinbeck Studio, 2016b).  In total, Granby 4 Streets had accessed £900,000 of grant funding by November 2016, not including the £500,000 interest free loan from Steinbeck Studio[12] (Building and Social Housing Foundation, 2016).  The trust was also World Habitat Awards finalists in 2016 (ibid.).

Steinbeck Studio’s team is well connected, with several members also sitting (or having sat) on the board of Granby 4 Streets.  Margaret Cooney was a fundraising and project development consultant for the CLT and remains an associate of Steinbeck[13]. Director of Modero, David Haime, is a quantity surveyor and project manager and a core part of the Yu Property Group (YPG) team (YPG, 2016).  YPG are the developer of a £6.5 million student development in Liverpool (Entirely Property, 2016) as well as other luxury developments in Liverpool and elsewhere[14].  Erika Rushton is an artist turned local authority cultural expert who worked on Liverpool’s Rope Walks Cultural Quarter redevelopment, Liverpool Digital Innovation Park, Live South which attracted £313 million of investment in Toxteth, and INclude Neighbourhood Regeneration (Steinbeck Studio, 2016).  Rushton is chair of Liverpool’s Baltic Creative which provides ‘creative space that meets the varied needs of the creative and digital sector and is playing a major part in the regeneration of the Baltic Triangle’ (Baltic Creative, 2016).  Both the Rope Walks and Baltic Triangle are increasing under threat from gentrification.  The Baltic Triangle is also home to Liverpool Biennial.  Rushton was Neighbourhoods Director for housing association Plus Dane which owns and manages over 18,000 homes in and around Liverpool and is working alongside Granby 4 Streets as well as on other development works in the CLT’s immediate vicinity (Housing Associations Charitable Trust, 2014).  She is also working with Islington Mill in Salford[15], where Margaret Cooney also recently worked, and is working with Hub Launch Pad: A Cabinet Office funded project designed as ‘an engine for a new economy – one that is open-source, collaborative and socially driven’ (Hub Launchpad, 2016).  She is also chair of Granby 4 Streets.  Ronnie Hughes is a Granby 4 Streets board member and its main publicist[16].  Previously, Hughes was previously director of Liverpool Housing Trust and is a social entrepreneur[17].  Steinbeck director Xanthe Hamilton’s description of her Turner Prize winning model elucidated in Granby 4 Streets: The ideals of Specificity and Scalability in a social and architectural endeavor (2016) is remarkable.  It was written ‘for Saskia Sassen’ (ibid.).

The extensive and often complexly intertwined experiences of the Granby 4 Streets and Steinbeck Studio teams makes it rather difficult to accept claims that the project was under-skilled or, indeed, that it was community-led.

Granby 4 Streets’ vision seems modest: ‘to create a thriving, vibrant mixed community, building on the existing creativity, energy and commitment within the community, where people from all walks of life can live, work and play’[18] (2016).  The trust is renovating ten houses on Cairns Street, five will be sold under a shared equity scheme, the other five will be rented to local people at an affordable rate (ibid.).  They often underplay the importance of art as a driver of their plans and, when art is discussed, it is often from a very down-to-earth community perspective.  For example, Hazel Tilley, local resident, said that Assemble’s work was about ‘art for the people’ (Hughes, 2016a).  The trust’s reaction to the Turner Prize nomination was equally community-focused.  The media reported that residents were bemused by the prize nomination (Gallagher, 2015) and yet it was common for press reports to focus upon CLT trust members.  For example, CLT chair Erika Rushton described the nomination as ‘such a surprise’ (ibid.).  Yet it is unlikely that she did not know of the nomination in advance or perhaps canvas for the nomination given her art world connections.  Assemble tended to stay quiet, being described by one reporter as ‘maintaining their mysterious air’ (ibid.).  Community development worker and fellow CLT member downplayed the potential prize: ‘The Turner Prize is great but I’m not sure people would care too much about that … These changes were taking place before that happened’ (ibid.).  Architecture and design critic Oliver Wainwright reported how Ronnie Hughes’ had responded to the nomination with ‘surreal amazement’ (2015).  Wainwright described Assemble as ‘a loosely assembled collective of designers and makers’ in their mid-twenties with ‘not one of them even yet qualified as an architect’ and yet they had proposed ‘a revolutionary new housing strategy for Liverpool’ (ibid.).  He believed Assemble utilised an issue-based, ‘down-to-earth’ and engaging approach that went ‘way beyond constructing pretty scenography in gritty industrial locations’ by ‘often embedding themselves in places for months at a time’ (ibid.).  He also pointed out that whilst ‘many of them studied architecture at Cambridge, others came from backgrounds in English, history and philosophy, or had worked as builders or technicians’ (ibid.).  Yet, it is important to recognise that Assemble were well-established in the field of culture-led regeneration prior to their involvement with Granby 4 Streets.  For example, they were commissioned by Create London several times.  The organisation, which primarily commissions art in East London, described Assemble at the time of their Turner Prize nomination as one of its ‘longstanding partners’[19] (Create London, 2015).  It also commissioned Assemble to lead on its first project outside London: Baltic Street Adventure Playground in Glasgow on one of the 2014 Commonwealth Games sites (Create London, 2013).  A social enterprise was set up to manage the project and Assemble director Fran Edgerley sits on its board (Baltic Street Adventure Playground, 2016).

The media reacted with surprise when Assemble were awarded the 2015 Turner Prize, describing them as ‘the first “non-artists’ to win’ it (Brown, 2015).  The Guardian described Assemble as a ‘direct action collective’ with a ‘social conscience’ and ‘entrepreneurial flair’ (ibid.).  Critic Adrian Searle was, however, unsurprised by Assemble’s win, describing the collective’s work as ‘ignoring the art market’ – a vital ‘part of a bigger battle against social division under the Tories’ and part of ‘a larger move away from the gallery into public space that is becoming ever more privatised’ (2015).  For Searle, Assemble were, like Theaster Gates, ‘part of a battle against social division, and against the precariousness of life under neo-liberal capitalism’ (ibid.).  Interestingly, the BBC interviewed Hazel Tilley for a reaction from the Granby residents[20].  She seemed to be a regular spokesperson for the local community[21], indeed it became apparent that she was also a CLT board member (Hughes, 2016c).  Ronnie Hughes, reflecting upon the Turner Prize win, said he was ‘glad all of this is generally good for Liverpool and opens up some funding doors for us all’ but he was not interested in the art world (2016d).  Interestingly, it seemed that the roles of Steinbeck Studio and John Davey – the project’s key financial backers who had also played key roles during lengthy negotiations with the city council – were largely ignored by the media; they were also not called upon to comment.  Perhaps this reflects an intentional wish to remain ‘mysterious’ and anonymous, or perhaps it reflects the deliberate intentions of some people within the CLT and perhaps even within Assemble.  Perhaps the social investors were not particularly comfortable with the project’s Turner Prize nomination.

The Turner Prize nomination and win certainly opened significant sources of funding from the arts and third sectors for Granby 4 Streets, but it appeared that it was Steinbeck’s interest free loan and their negotiating skills, together with the team’s extensive art world connections, that had enabled the project to become recognised as an example of ‘good practice’ in ‘community-led development’ that used ‘art as a means towards regeneration’ (Building and Social Housing Foundation, 2016).  This ‘innovative’ approach to regeneration not only attracted global media attention, it also ‘considerably boosted fundraising activities’ (ibid.).  The CLT are now working in other areas of Liverpool, including with Homebaked and Hughes’ new social enterprise Coming Home, sharing knowledge and experiences (ibid.).  Coming Home is described as ‘a new service which aims to help bring all of Liverpool’s empty homes back into use by people who need them to live in’ that will begin in North Liverpool before expanding across the city (Coming Home, 2016).  Hughes is linking up with Rushton again (this time in her role working for Beautiful Ideas[22] (Hughes, 2016e).  Since their Turner Prize win, Assemble have become recognised as ‘a perfect example of artists using socially engaged practise’ for their collaborative work improving local areas (Tate, 2016).  They are also working on a new art gallery for Goldsmiths as well as a range of other projects[23] and their The Brutalist Playground exhibition, originally commissioned by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), was recreated at Sheffield’s S1 Artspace in September 2016 (S1 Artspace, 2016).

I argue that the Granby 4 Streets/ Steinbeck Studios/ Assemble partnership reveals a complex, multi-faceted approach to urban regeneration which adopted a ‘community-led’ façade that acted to veil instrumentalised, culture-led approaches.  This approach served to ‘lever’ additional value, credibility and media attention.  The projects undoubtedly worked with communities to realise beneficial improvements to their local situations but they also acted as testbeds for new cultural approaches that also benefit property developers, investors, local and national government, funders, large arts organisations, philanthropists and philanthropic foundations, the lead artists and, ultimately the economy (or local economies).  This strategy is not unique.  Similar new urbanist approaches are underway on a global scale.  Developing new forms of culture-led regeneration is a very competitive business.  I suggest that, as elsewhere, at least some of the protagonists were adept in manipulating narratives of struggle, uncertainty and community-building to mask the levels of strategic planning, intentionality and, indeed, certainty (or relative certainty) that would lead to successful project outcomes.  They came, I argue, wearing the unassuming robes of cultural missionaries, preaching the gospels of grassroots social engagement and activism, but they wore the business suits of economic mercenaries underneath.  This is not to suggest anyone did anything wrong.  They played the game.  Perhaps some of the protagonists, for example Xanthe Hamilton and John Davey, did not want to play the art world game at all.  Socially engaged art is, it would seem, a very useful tool for many forms of state and corporate instrumentalism.  It is a pity that community-based and community regeneration projects tend to be shrouded in mystique rather than truly open and transparent about their intentions.

Perhaps Granby 4 Streets reflects the opportunities of ‘austerity urbanism’ (Thompson, 2015, p. 139).  In the case of Granby 4 Streets, the financial injection from the ‘mystery millionaire’ via Steinbeck Studio was crucial.  For Matthew Thompson, the ‘reliance on private capital’ and the uncertainty of ‘philanthropic capital’ led to doubts about the ‘accountability, viability, and replicability of such schemes’ (ibid.).  He later wondered why ‘so-called art’ instead of Liverpool council, housing associations or another form of public regeneration had resolved Granby’s housing problem (Thompson, 2016, p. 221).  He believed that the project, with ‘all its glorious contradictions’, could only have happened in Liverpool, with the support of Assemble’s approach that encouraged residents to ‘take a leading role in the regeneration decision-making process’ in a way that chimed with Liverpool’s particularly ‘alternative strand’ of ‘regeneration thinking’ (ibid.).  This seems rather naïve, given the crucial role played by outside financiers and funders.  He traced the CLT’s roots back to Liverpool’s co-operative housing movements of the 1970s (ibid., p. 224).  I would argue that the CLT is, in fact, founded upon complex ‘strategic scales and spatial units’ (Sassen, 2005, p. 27), new forms of transnational economics, the global city analysis, cross-border flows, and the ‘geography of places’ (ibid., p. 32) that are inspired by and directly linked to the theories of Saskia Sassen and intended to challenge traditional hierarchical notions of centrality.  Nevertheless, in Thompson’s words, ‘It took the whiff of a national art prize for politicians to wake up and smell the benefits of the Granby approach to regeneration’ (2016, p. 225).  For Thompson, Granby 4 Streets demonstrated ‘the positive power of art to resist destructive urban policies and enact transformative urban change … through resistance to state and market logics’ (ibid.).  I argue that the role of art in these projects is more complex than Thompson believed.  It is not here used as a form of resistance but rather as an instrument for the neoliberal concept of culture-led regeneration, albeit in more novel forms.

It is interesting to consider Saskia Sassen’s contribution to Liverpool Biennial’s Future City Forum in 2013 (Liverpool Biennial, 2013) and the subsequent publication Future City (Liverpool Biennial, 2014).  In a conversation with Irit Rogoff, Sassen described cities as ‘complex but incomplete’ systems in which ‘lies an astounding capacity for continuous reinvention’ (Sassen & Rogoff, 2014, p. 2).  In keeping with her concepts of ‘denationalization’ and ‘denationalized participation’ (Sassen, 2003-2004), she argued that ‘cities can outlive all kinds of other, far more powerful systems that are centrally managed and led by monarchs and corporate CEOs’; that Liverpool may survive for longer than the United Kingdom (Sassen & Rogoff, 2014, p. 2).  Whilst Sassen preferred to use the term ‘globalisation’, her conception seems, as Matthew Sparke argued (2009), to mirror key tenets of neoliberalisation.  She suggested that ‘the key frontiers today are actually inside our cities’; in ‘complex and incomplete’ cities; zones ‘where actors from different worlds have an encounter … for which there are no established rules’ and in which encounters are ‘marked by socioeconomic struggles’ (Sassen & Rogoff, 2014, p. 2).  She also believed in indeterminacy as the container of ‘the possibility of making … by those who lack access to formal instruments for making, whether that’s the making of a building, the making of an economy, the making of a politics, the making of a history, or beyond’ (ibid.).  There are, I suggest, some striking similarities between Sassen’s notions here and the trajectory of Granby 4 Streets explored above.  Her claims that recent protest movements such as Occupy represented ‘the city as a space for making … citizenship, claiming the rights that have been taken by states and powerful economic actors’ (ibid.) reveal, perhaps, a neoliberal re-telling of Marxist perspectives about protest movements.  Her ‘near future’ vision of ‘open-source … neighbourhoods’ capable of collecting ‘the knowledge of different neighbourhoods, of the homeless, of children, of older people, of the unemployed, of the super-employed’ that could be used to ‘create a new kind of understanding and possibly a new space for making’ (ibid., p. 3) again reflects on the processes at work in Granby 4 Streets, suggesting a preference for denationalised, indeterminate spaces.  So perhaps, then, initiatives such as Granby 4 Streets represent an experiment in ‘open-source urbanism’: testbeds for what Sassen described in the conservative business magazine Forbes as ‘myriad interventions and little changes from the ground up contribute to making a city’ (2013).

One thing is for certain: those behind Granby 4 Streets and its 2015 Turner Prize win were a lot more strategic than much of their rhetoric suggests.  The media seemed only too happy to play along.  The art world has idolised the project as an exemplar of ‘community-led’ regeneration that utilised ‘useful art’ or ‘socially engaged art’ to ‘empower’ local people to achieve great things.  This is simply untrue.  The key roles played by social investors Xanthe Hamilton and John Davey have been almost entirely overlooked (or perhaps intentionally side-lined).  It is testament to Hamilton’s willingness to publish her account (or partial account) of the social investment model developed for Granby 4 Streets that we may now begin to understand the role played by art or not-art served as little more than gloss for what was a community development project supported by private social investment that levered other grant funding.  It is unfortunate that the media, artworld and some of Granby 4 Streets leading publicists decided to create a simple façade, rather than honestly describe the complexities and uncertainties involved in making the project happen.



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[1] Liverpool council describe Granby 4 Streets as an example of community-led regeneration (Building and Social Housing Foundation, 2016).

[2] HD Social Investments Limited.

[3] For more information about John Davey’s background, see, for example, http://www.the10th.com, http://www.bloomberg.com/research/stocks/private/person.asp?personId=116567813&privcapId=254516382&previousCapId=254516382&previousTitle=Sancus%20Limited and https://www.moneymarketing.co.uk/brooks-macdonald-acquires-arch-cru-manager-spearpoint.

[4] For more about Branchage Film Festival, see https://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/oct/28/film-festivals-onedotzero-branchage-abandon.

[5] Steinbeck Studio described its new platform as having features that ‘integrate and streamline’: ‘Processing of technical, financial, and legal data – Budgeting and business planning, architectural design, legal documentation, planning permission, social, environment and structural codes’; ‘A forum for developers, architects, builders and financiers – Publically [sic] tendering projects, that are trigged [sic] by finance once completing an open, easy but rigorous process’; ‘Financial mechanism [sic] that enable large-scale investment into multiple, highly specific design and development projects, by the people for the people’; ‘Aspirations, ideals and masterplans for the city or neighbourhood scale, within which the projects would conform to’ (Steinbeck Studio, 2016a).

[6] Hamilton described how ‘a global “savings glut” and “safe asset scarcity” conspire to create a vast pool of money seeking 100% safety and a modest return’ and how UK pensions are ‘desperately searching for investments that are 100% safe and offer a 5% return’ (2016).

[7] Hamilton explained the financial and technical difficulties facing Granby 4 Streets CLT as follows: ‘Unfortunately the ideal was costed at about £1.6 million but the monies amounted to £1 million.  Unfortunately, this was sent to Nationwide, who threatened to pull.  If they pulled out, security would go to zero and Steinbeck would need to pull out its loan. Investors were getting cold feet.   But this is the part of the story that was so excruciating: we had to drag this beautiful ideal down into the realm of possibility.  It was a violence very hard to describe and crucial to the point I wish to make today.  This wrenching task threatened the team that was so essential to navigating the swamp.  Without Eleanor writing grants, the CLT constantly flagging the interests of the community, without me haranguing the council, and every insurance broker in the country to find only one that would insure our derelict properties in Toxteth …’ (ibid., p. 4).

[8] Hamilton explained this scaling down of original design intentions as follows: ‘The North Star holding us together navigating this swamp was Assembles [sic] ideal rendered to our hands.  And now we had to abandon it.  I was the bad guy holding back some imagined piggy bank – time up against us we hired builders that didn’t stick to their quote.  Tempers flared another grant came and went … That horror of whittling-down a dream … like a transition between two religions.  Transferring from the ideal of quality and specificity to another aspirational coordinate … scalability.  If we were to recognize the need, and be true to the mission’ (ibid.).

[9] To read the Granby Workshop Turner Prize catalogue, see https://www.academia.edu/21704542/_What_exactly_is_a_Community_Land_Trust_in_Granby_Turner_Prize_Catalogue_2015.

[10] The Arts Council England funding award came from their Capital Grant scheme.

[11] The Bluecoat is an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation.  It underwent a £14 million redevelopment in 2008.

[12] For a full list of funders and grant amounts, see https://www.bshf.org/world-habitat-awards/winners-and-finalists/granby-four-streets-community-land-trust.

[13] For details about Margaret Cooney’s extensive current and previous work in the public, third and cultural sectors, see https://www.linkedin.com/in/margaret-cooney-56022a16.

[14] For details about YPG’s other luxury properties, see http://www.yugroup.co.uk.

[15] Another area undergoing gentrification.

[16] See Ronnie Hughes blog, a sense of place here: https://asenseofplace.com.

[17] See https://www.linkedin.com/in/ronnie-hughes-0a3881aa.

[18] To read the full vision statement, see http://www.granby4streetsclt.co.uk/read-me.

[19] Create London wrote: ‘We are excited to announce that our longstanding partners Assemble have been nominated for the 2015 Turner Prize for their project Granby Four Streets in Liverpool and our collaborative project Baltic Street Adventure Playground. The architecture and art collective won the Create Art Award in 2011 for Folly for a Flyover, their first public commission and have since collaborated with us on Blackhorse Workshop in 2013 and are working with us again on our ground-breaking new social restaurant Chicken Town …’ (2015).

[20] See https://asenseofplace.com/2015/12/04/turner-prize-is-this-art/hazel-2.

[21] Tilley was also often quoted as the community voice following Assemble’s Turner Prize nomination.  See above.

[22] Beautiful Ideas CIC is part of the Cabinet Office Hub Launchpad initiative.

[23] For Assemble’s other current works in progress, see http://assemblestudio.co.uk/?page_id=204.

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