July 2009 Archives

09.07.19 Liverpool Toxteth Big Lunch & Gathering 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:

Liverpool Princes Boulevard print 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:

09.07.18 Preparing for Toxteth's Gathering and Big Lunch

09.07.18 Toxteth Gathering and Big Lunch - sneak preview of the Mongolian yurt

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.

09.07.19 Liverpool Toxteth Big Lunch & Gathering 044aa 500x500.jpg

09.07.19 Liverpool Toxteth Big Lunch & Gathering

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.

09.07.19 Liverpool Toxteth Big Lunch & Gathering

09.07.19 Liverpool Toxteth Big Lunch & Gathering - the cupcakes on the table spell out 'The Big Lunch'!

09.07.19 Liverpool Toxteth Big Lunch & Gathering ~ people meet and chat with the backdrop of Princes Road Synagogue, the Anglican Cathedral and the Greek Orthodox Church

There were singers, dancers and musicians....

09.07.19 Liverpool Toxteth Big Lunch & Gathering ~ the choir entertains

09.07.19 Liverpool Toxteth Big Lunch & Gathering - jiving and drums, with a harp at the ready...

09.07.19 Liverpool Toxteth Big Lunch & Gathering - African drummers

... and representatives of several local organisations and services....

09.07.19 Liverpool Toxteth Big Lunch & Gathering - Hippie Hippie Shake Banana and her friends from Granby SureStart Children's Centre

09.07.19 Liverpool Toxteth Big Lunch & Gathering - police and ambulance officers

...not to mention people selling everything from jam, bread and cupcakes to plants, recycled clothing, paintings and jewellery ....

09.07.19 Liverpool Toxteth Big Lunch & Gathering - gooseberry jam and much else

09.07.19 Liverpool Toxteth Big Lunch & Gathering - Camp Cupcake

09.07.19 Liverpool Toxteth Big Lunch & Gathering - fresh bread

09.07.19 Liverpool Toxteth Big Lunch & Gathering - jewellery and rag dolls for sale

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):

08.08.26 Toxteth Liverpool Princes Boulevard The Gathering

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.


See more photographs of Liverpool & Merseyside and read more about Urban Renewal.

pink calculator & spectacles caseSonia Sotomayor is the lawyer and judge who has been nominated by President Barack Obama to fill the vacancy on the bench of the American Supreme Court. This week Judge Sotomayor has been grilled at a senate hearing about her suitability for the post. She is also Hispanic and a woman. This it seems gives rise to fears by interrogating Senators that her judgements may differ from those made previously.

Social Inclusion & Diversity

The hearings on whether Sonia Sotomayor should become an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court have been both predictable and in some ways depressing: her eleven inquisitors include just two women and the dialogue has reflected this.

Obama's broad church
On the other hand President Obama, in nominating Judge Sotomayor, has demonstrated again (as he has with other appointments, such as that of Hillary Rodham Clinton to the post of Secretary of State) that he intends his administration to be a broad church, inclusive of the talents of people of many sorts.

It's interesting that Sonia Sotomayor was able, in sworn evidence, to affirm that the President did not ask her personal views on matters such as abortion and gun control - issues which persistently appear in every hearing for appointments to the Supreme Court. Nor, apparently, do Sotomayor and Obama agree about the relevance or otherwise of 'empathy' in legal judgement (she says she puts it aside; he sees it as relevant).

The obstacles of gender and ethnicity - and class?
It looks increasingly likely that Judge Sotomayor's appointment will be confirmed. After the usual party political jostling, significant Republicans on the panel have indicated they will not oppose her nomination.

But why, and how, do these people think it appropriate to suggest that Sonia Sotomayor's gender and ethnicity are critical issues which might mitigate in the future against fair and transparent interpretation of the law?

Sotomayor's personal background is not unlike that of Obama; her early life, living in public housing in the Bronx, was uncompromisingly unprivileged. Perhaps social class also plays an unacknowledged part here. The Republicans amongst the Senators grilling her are not of the Grand Old Party (GOP) for nothing.

Privileged white men
But surely even they can see that the Supreme Court has thus far been an enclave of privileged white men? In its entire history it has been administered by 111 justices, only two of them so far women (the majority of the population), and none Hispanic (the fastest growing ethnic group in the USA).

Perhaps the Supreme Court has always adhered to interpretation of the law, with no fear or favour (though frightening statistics on what sorts of criminals are not excused judicial slaughter, for instance, might suggest otherwise).

But as far as I can tell, not many of these white, male, privileged nominations for the Supreme Court have been quizzed for days and days about whether their personal demographic provenance will endanger justice for all US citizens.

Politics and competencies
Assurances of propriety and competence are essential before any Supreme Court justice is appointed. Party political posturing is inescapably part of the game.

It's a ritual of Supreme Court nomination that questions have to be asked about every imaginable variable, and that Senators at the hearing go to extraordinary lengths not to set procedural precedence which they may later find uncomfortable.

Striking failures of insight
But, glaring omissions of insight about how and by what sorts of people the US law and constitution have been determined in the past.....?

Small wonder during her inquisition that Judge Sotomayor has stuck unservingly to the position simply that: "The task of a judge is not to make law. It is to apply the law."

I'm not a US citizen, but I am a citizen of a country which, like the US, seeks, in however flawed a way, to achieve fairness and equality. That fundamental - and perhaps intended? - apparent omission of insight on the part of Sonia Sotomayor's inquisitors I find downright bizarre.


Read more about Social Inclusion & Diversity and Political Process & Democracy.

desk and computer How do 'evidence' and 'policy' fit together? It's one thing to hope the evidence will tell us what to do; it's another to persuade everyone else that the logic of how to resolve a given situation is so compelling. Evidence-based policies are a great idea; but different people ask for different sorts of evidence. And policy makers can only deliver what electors will accept. There's a dialogue challenge here somewhere.

Political Process & Democracy

We all know that public policies these days 'should' be based on evidence; but I'm not clear about when and how the full might of rational thought is best brought into the public policy arena. We seem sometimes to have mislaid the 'politics' part of 'policy', in our reliance on 'the evidence'....

The logic of the evidence
Scientists and researchers in areas where policy is being developed frequently tell us all that their evidence points this way, or that way, and I have no doubt that in their minds this is so.

I don't however recall, ever, hearing one of these very well-informed and rational observers reflect on whether the way forward they propose is actually understood or acceptable to the public who will be paying for the implementation of the policy.

The art of the possible
It's a cliché, but true, that politics is the art of the possible; the evidence base may be pristinely rational and logical. People, on the other hand, are not.

If we really want to see decent and well-founded changes in policy, 'the evidence' has to lie alongside what we can reasonably expect our policy-makers to deliver, in the pragmatic contexts of public understanding and mood.

Communicating findings
Perhaps we should find routine ways to use 'the evidence' to inform real dialogue and debate, not to jump straight to policy.

This is likely to happen only when more scientists and researchers start to communicate on a human level, and not just as rational-legal beings. Maybe research has to become a communicated art, as well as a science, if it's to be really, really useful where it matters.

Changing how we do things
Perhaps scientists need (in general) to learn more about the art of communicating.

Perhaps policy-makers need to learn more about how to explain that research must actively address what at any given time is possible, as well as what's best in an ideal, rational world.

And perhaps the rest of us have to understand that sometimes we need to move from what 'they' should be doing on our behalf , to what we ourselves can do to help each other see where evidence best fits into the very human process of decision-making and change.

A version of this article was first published as a blog in New Start magazine on 14 July 2009.


Read more articles about Political Process & Democracy. and see Hilary's Publications.

Hilary Burrage Ltd....

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Hilary Burrage Ltd Well, I've taken the plunge. From today I'm no longer a Sole Trader, but, rather, a Private Limited Company. It's a sensible move in business terms, but it's also definitely a stepping stone towards a way of working which even three or four years ago I never thought would be for me. In part, this is because my circumstances have changed through happenstance, and in part it's a changed mode of professional functioning which has developed its own logic over the past few years.

It may feel a bit daunting right now, but it's also a very positive challenge.... so wish me luck!

See also HerStory (1950-)

Liverpool Edge Hill Stephenson Rocket train mural off Tunnel Road / Harbord Road junction (photo taken 4 July 2007) Liverpool Edge Hill was the location, along with its Manchester, Liverpool Road counterpart, of the first public railway station, opening on 15 September 1830. For some years more recently this historic site was marked by a large mural or relief of the 'Rocket' steam engine invented by George Stephenson (1781-1848) - an interesting vision in the grim context of our own contemporary Edge Lane access route into the city.

Liverpool & Merseyside Camera & Calendar Historical Liverpool

09.07.05 Edge Hill & Stephenson Rocket

07.07.04 Liverpool Edge Hill Stephenson Rocket train mural (photograph taken 4 July 2007)

09.07.05 Edge Hill & Stephenson Rocket

The Stephenson Rocket was one of four locomotives which ran in convoy on the fateful day when the route was launched, the day which also saw the demise of the reforming Liverpool MP William Huskisson (1770-1830), when he and the Rocket collided at Parkside station.

Sadly, the Rocket mural of more recent times is now in a state of some disrepair; but at least the Huskisson memorial remains, standing proud in the grounds of nearby Liverpool Cathedral.

06.11.19 Huskisson Memorial Liverpool St James Cemetery & Cathedral

Less appealing however are the many boarded and painted-over windows of housing about to be demolished along the Edge Lane corridor which passes through Edge Hill, where crass management of highways and the public realm has resulted for far too long in mass desolation along the main access route into Liverpool.

These attempts at jollification through 'art work' offer a very different message from the solid magnificence of Huskisson's memorial - a celebration of the man and his work for the public good - or indeed the Rocket mural, an attempt made much more recently to celebrate the skills of engineering and invention which were the distinctive mark of northern British cities such as Liverpool and Manchester, two centuries ago.

09.01.18 Edge Lane boarded up painted windows, Liverpool

09.07.05 Edge Hill boarded up street alongside Stephenson's Rocket mural


Postscript (23 July 2009)
Excellent news for Liverpool and the whole of NW England: the Liverpool-Manchester route is to be electrified. As anyone who uses the M62 will know, the environmental value here is as important as the economic. Detailed planning work is to start immediately.
But there is already debate about which end of the line should be done first. Let's just hope that this isn't the start of another set of disastrous delays such as we've seen in developing the Edge Lane approach to Liverpool city centre. There has to be a better way, with mutual respect for views, based on real effort to communicate and get the right things done.


See more photographs and read more at Liverpool & Merseyside, Camera & Calendar and Historical Liverpool.