Tuebrook in inner city Liverpool is a real mix of people: elderly people who have been there all their lives, refugees and many vulnerable people living in supported accommodation, including those with mental health problems. Local resident Christina Ashworth resolved in 2012 that she would do something to address the stigma that had become attached to the community through drug and alcohol-related crime and antisocial behaviour. With deep divisions being created within the community, she wanted to find a way for people to connect by focussing on the good in the community and the communal spaces they shared — the park and common ground. 'I bought some crocuses and invited people on my street to come and help me plant them,' says Christina. From these small beginnings, Tree House Liverpool was born.
'Unfortunately drug and alcoholism is commonplace in Tuebrook,' says Christina. 'There is quite a lot of crime and antisocial behaviour and, as a result, we have become a bit scared of each other and our public spaces. These problems are particularly noticeable in our local park which is really beautiful but at night is often a place where antisocial behaviour takes place and where people congregate to use drugs or alcohol.' However, as Christina says, 'in my heart I knew that, despite appearances, the great majority of people who live in the area are kind and want to be kind to others.'
After she invited her neighbours to help her plant some flowers along their street, Christina was soon joined by others who actively encouraged people across Tuebrook to get together on a day in May and show their love of the local park. Over 250 people turned up and showed they cared by doing everything from litter picking, painting and planting to bringing food for a community picnic.
Things soon became exhausting for Christina, trying to get her Tree House project off the ground — and keeping momentum up was taking a lot of her energy. It was at this time she attended a Community Camp at the Eden Project. 'It really felt like someone was saying "thanks from the world",' she says. Hearing about other people's experiences of rebuilding a broken community gave her hope for her project. She has since used some of the practical ideas from Eden to engage and encourage people to become involved in the activities that Tree House offers.
What they did
Tree House Project have now established a series of regular activities such as gardening, a green gym, Philosophy in the Park and Wild Play for children — of which take place in the park. Getting others involved in the running of the project has been instrumental in making this a possibility. Although Christina initiated the project, she says 'it would have gone nowhere if others had not come along to be a part of it, and they have taken on as much of a leadership role as I have.'
Anybody can join in with the activities the Tree House project offers, and this is an important element in their work. 'Providing an environment where people feel safe to come and go whenever they want is vital to what we are trying to achieve,' Christina says. 'It's about providing an environment which is nourishing and kind, where people can be themselves when they join in. Getting it right is twenty percent about the activity and eighty percent about creating the right environment which encourages the forming of collaborative human relationships.'
Through the hard work of Christina and others, some great results have been achieved with people returning again and again to activities and events that Tree House offers. One woman who has had mental health issues is now in a position where she might take over running a regular session at the park. 'It's really great to see someone’s confidence grow like this,' Christina says proudly.
Christina hopes that Tree House’s work as a Community Interest Company will continue to grow and strengthen, and that the wise approach to community-building from those involved is recognised and can be learnt from and built upon by others. Support has already been forthcoming — from the eight hundred hours of work put in by the volunteers, from Liverpool City Council, the Community Foundation, Derby Waste Lands Trust, The Big Lottery, and Lankelly Chase. 'I hope that is just the beginning of a process through which the capacities of my community can be revealed,' says Christina, 'and strength, prosperity and pride can return'.