Rise up and bake

A once bustling pie shop in Anfield was forced to shut when the community around it was deemed a failure by central government. Now it has a new lease of life and has inspired a musical

Hero image

When property developers set their sights on a neighbourhood of two-up, two-down terraced houses in Anfield, Liverpool, residents were heartbroken at the prospect of their beloved community being demolished and replaced.

As the Housing Market Renewal Initiative (HMRI) deemed 1,800 residential and commercial properties a “market failure” fit to be knocked down and rebuilt with 1,300 new homes, those who had lived, worked and brought up families there vowed not to give up on their oncE-thriving community.

They remembered how once upon a time people would queue up on match days to buy pies from Mitchells Bakery, which stood in the shadow of Anfield’s Kop, affectionately known by football fans as the “Pie Shop”.

They remembered generations of families who made the sturdy Victorian terraced houses their homes, and the proud community spirit that once held up the area.

It was a sad loss. As the HMRI scheme pressed ahead, houses were sold, their windows covered up by steel shutters, ripe for demolition.

But when the coalition government pulled the programme in 2010 the neighbourhood was left in a state of limbo, with streets boarded up and new houses unfinished.

The community had been abandoned. Dutch artist Jeanne van Heeswijk visited the area ahead of the 2012 Liverpool Biennial and saw an opportunity. Van Heeswijk, an artist who facilitates the creation of dynamic and diversified public spaces in a bid to “radicalise the local”, asked how the community could take matters into its own hands regarding the development of the neighbourhood.

An arts initiative was born, and soon Van Heeswijk was working with the community to trigger debates to help locals form a new vision for their surroundings.

The group rented the empty bakery building from the Mitchell family, and it became a site for public discussion and planning sessions.

“Then people started popping in and saying, ‘have you got any bread?’” says playwright and founding Chumbawamba member Boff Whalley, who has written a play about what happened next. “Obviously, they hadn’t. But they decided to set the old Mitchells Bakery up as a bakery again. The group raised money in the local area for a few months and bought a new oven. They’d never been bakers before.

“They set the bakery up as a way of saying that this is the centre of our resistance to the plans. But also, by the way, we bake really good bread, we make really good pies.

“Suddenly there became this huge groundswell of support for this tiny bakery, which meant so much more than being just a tiny bakery.”

Just as the closure of the bakery reflected Anfield’s decline, the prospect of reopening it suggested the possibility of a future. In April 2012 campaigners formed a community land trust (CLT) to take on responsibility for the development of the bakery building and future community assets, including affordable housing – and in November 2013 the CLT took a 10-year lease of the bakery building.

What stands now is Homebaked – a bustling co-operative bakery where locals cook up plans to transform the empty surrounding properties into environmentally sustainable, quality homes and commercial spaces with affordable rent.

This autumn the story of Homebaked will be performed by Red Ladder Theatre Company at Liverpool’s Royal Court as an uplifting musical drama about what can be achieved when people come together. Red Ladder’s artistic director, Rod Dixon, who has directed the play, says the show illustrates “working-class resilience”.

“The story behind the Homebaked bakery and community land trust is incredibly inspiring; a real show of pride and defiance and the power of people pulling together and refusing to bow down to bullies.”

Homebaked – The Musical is at Liverpool’s Royal Court, 24 September to 23 October 

If you liked this article, we think you’ll enjoy these:

Interact: Responses to Rise up and bake

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.