Wednesday, December 30, 2009

West Derby Road underpass/subway art project

The words of the prophets are written on the subway wall - or in this case, the paintings of the young people are displayed there.

I want to tell you about a wonderful project that was unveiled during RESPECT week in Kensington - and some of the background to it.

Early last year, I was contacted by Margaret, the caretaker at St Michael's RC Primary School on Boaler Street/West Derby Road to say that the underpass serving their school was filthy dirty. I went up to the school, met Peter, one of the learning mentors and had a look at the underpass, it was indeed dirty, with broken glass, old rubbish and litter, graffiti, all sorts of mess. It was obvious it had not been cleaned for a long time.

Scuff marks in the grass at the side of West Derby Road made it clear that parents and children were risking their safety by crossing the dual carriageway trunk road road above ground, rather than walk through the dirty underpass.

I phoned the council and explained that chldren as young as 4 were having their safety put at risk by not being able to use the underpass. Enterprise Liverpool were there with a scarab within a few hours and I went to meet them on site. After talking to the cleaning staff, it became clear that there had been a breakdown in communication between the inner city team and the suburban team, with each believing the other responsible for cleaning the subway, and neither doing it. Thankfully that has now been resolved, long since, and the cleaning is kept on top of.

The next issue was the drug dealing going on in there, which I seemed to be reporting to the police on an almost daily basis. However, when the big police raid took place in April, that dried up. In fact the Inspector did say to me on the day of the operation, that he had had police officers, undercover, buying drugs (and thus gathering evidence) in the underpass for weeks, while I had kept phoning him.

I asked our LCC neighbourhood dedicated officer, Cathy Patterson, to get involved with the problems in the underpass at about this time and she convened a small working group at the school, with the Headteacher, Peter, me, her, Michael from the Clean Team and Larry Murphy.

Together we all agreed that our ultimate aim is to close the underpass and replace it with a pedestrian crossing across West Derby Road. I invited senior members of Community Safety to meet me at the underpass and they agreed it was a priority for children's safety that we replace it. Consequently, we jointly approached Highways, but they said there was no money for a crossing here, it would have to go on a waiting list, determined by the scale of accidents at the spot. That is the stock response.

So, at the next working grup we agreed we needed a plan B for the meantime.

That plan B basically involved making the underpass a cleaner better place so that children and families would be more likely to use it, while we are waiting for a crossing above ground. We arranged for the dirty graffiti walls to be painted over too, and the lighting cleaned up and refreshed (we still need new lighting but there is never any money for that either).

Larry agreed to develop an educational project with some of the children within St Michael's school, also nearby Central Youth Club and Kensington Youth Inclusion Project, to talk about the potential impact of their behaviours on our environment. What happens if you litter, or write graffiti, how this might drag the area down etc. These workshops were well received and from them came the idea that we might create murals for the walls of the underpass that the young people would hopefully respect, if they painted them themselves. We thought that if they were proud of their work then they would not graffiti or dirty the underpass themselves, and would encourage their mates to keep it clean too.

We had little money for the project, we were using our devolved budget for the cost of the paints and boards etc, so we had a long think about how we were going to afford an artist to work with the chldren and young people, and how we could ensure that it was someone who understood the local community and had good links. This was tricky and many names were bandied about, people who had created murals before in the city or in Kensington.

However, Larry had a brainwave. He had heard that one of his colleagues on the Environmental Enforcement Team, Cath Morton, was a former art teacher, and he suggested he ask her to see if she would be interested in leading our project. There was much rejoicing when she said yes! She had six weeks to work with the young people at the YIP, at the school and in the Youth club, working on six large art boards, creating designs, painting and finishing them. The kids were still painting the boards at St Michael's the day before they went on the subway wall!

Cath encouraged the young people to think about what how they see their local environment, what they like about it and what makes them proud, and these wonderful art boards are the result (these four painted by the older young people were photographed before they went up on the walls, there are others painted by the children of St Michaels)

On the Thursday of RESPECT week the art work boards were fixed up by the Clean team and covered with perspex to protect them. And we had a lovely little ceremony to unveil them, with all the children and young people present, teachers, members of the clean team, youth workers and some community representatives. There were lots of thank you's all round, particularly to Cath Morton and Cathy Patterson who made so much happen, and the young artists were all given a certificate of thanks (from Wendy and me) and some art brushes (from Cath). Some really good community links have been made over the project and I was delighted with it.

The press photographer came and took hordes of photographs but I dont think the story made it into the press, which is a shame. The photos would have been really good, with lots of kids and paintbrushes in the mouth of the underpass. Please enjoy these instead, photographed when they were still in the YIP drying off. I may have some more I can show, taken by one of the attendees, I shall ask her for them later


Tannoy said...

Great project well done! There's always so many 'council workers are rubbish' stories it's nice to hear about some of the really fantastic work that some of them do do! :) And seemingly pulled together by a councillor who cares about making a difference - can i have one of those please? :p

Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful Happy Ever After story. Not all councillors work as hard as Louise, she continues to make changes throughout the year, not just at election time.