On the Mersey beat
As Liverpool revels in its new-found status as Capital of Culture, its bishop, James Jones, reflects on the way regeneration can make an impact on people's lives
'Sometimes I hear a little voice in my head telling me I'm a hypocrite, ' admits Liverpool's Anglican bishop, the Right Reverend Dr James Jones. This is less a personal revelation than a reference to his testing role in urban renewal, in particular as chair of Kensington Regeneration. Kensington, an inner city area of Liverpool, is one of the 39 New Deal for Communities partnerships set up by the government's Neighbourhood Renewal Unit in 1998 - the year Jones arrived in Liverpool - to tackle urban deprivation, and with £61.9 million of the total £2 billion programme, the recipient of the largest grant.
Liverpool may still be celebrating the news that it is to be Capital of Culture but the bishop's main concern is that this new confidence and wealth reaches the whole city. 'The image I use is urban diabetes. I'm a diabetic myself. Where you have the blood of prestigious projects pumping around the heart but it doesn't reach the limbs they wither and drop off.You have to open the valves and allow the blood to course through'. This, he claims, is the work of successful regeneration and should be a key aim of the Capital of Culture initiative.
'One of the responsibilities of those of us in leadership is to defy the stereotypes and raise people's aspirations, ' he says. 'But to do this we have to give out two messages about the city. To attract the private sector you have to talk up the number of new hotels, point to the cranes and show the physical progress.
Liverpool is a city that is moving forward dynamically but there is still a lot of poverty, and you have to expose that to get the European and government funding.'
This contradiction also applies to the press, notes the bishop, who want stories and images of deprivation and dereliction, despite the ground gained. Through New Deal, he says, Kensington - an area stigmatised by perceptions of a high crime rate, youth disorder, poor housing, depopulation and unemployment, and all the human suffering wrought by this (real and perceived) - now has a new primary school and a new community learning centre, and work has started on new houses and a sports centre.
Last month saw the hugely symbolic turf cutting for a Family and Lifelong Learning Centre. But Jones, above all people, knows how far genuine regeneration has to reach, and that new buildings alone do not make a community. 'Our clergy live in the parishes they serve - we are not like doctors or social workers, bussed in. And despite the difficulties, we haven't withdrawn from the inner cities or the outlying estates. The Church has a stated policy to remain; when people are in need they want help with no strings attached.
'I feel like a broker between the powerless and the powerful, ' he says, and you can't help thinking he feels it a strain as much as a privilege. He knows whose side he is on but he moves in both worlds, and he has been critical of the government for supplying the rhetoric of community-led regeneration without the reality.
There was little doubt that Jones would take on the challenge of community renewal in Liverpool in some form; it is as much a part of the Church's agenda nowadays as pastoral care, perhaps nowhere more militantly than in Liverpool. Jones inherited the high-profile ministry of David Sheppard, lauded for his ecumenical work and for the 1985 Faith in the City report, which highlighted Church and government complacency in the face of poverty - and which infuriated the then prime minster, Margaret Thatcher.
It is also the city where the late Dean Derrick Walters set up a development company to encourage new build on inner city sites, backed by the kind of financiers more used to dealing with another kind of Kensington altogether. Prior to coming to Liverpool, Jones was Bishop of Hull, where he was involved in Hull City Vision. 'I remember at one meeting someone put an article about Walters on the table in front of me and said 'we want you to do that here', so there was already a role model for urban regeneration here.He was an exceptionally gifted entrepreneur.'
'The Church became a key partner in regeneration as a direct result of Faith in the City, and it was also one of the first documents to insist that partnership was the key, ' he says. The irony is not lost on the bishop: 'It's now been vindicated by the very administration that rubbished it. We don't do anything now without being in some kind of partnership. It's accepted as a way of moving forward on all fronts, whether it's housing, crime, education, health or business. It's like a game of pick-up sticks: you have to look at every issue, if you move one carelessly you dislodge all the others.'
It seems like stating the obvious that community renewal won't happen without the trust of the community itself, but people know if they are being used, or if they are the token local person at a board meeting, stresses Jones. 'Faith in the City drew attention to what we now call capacity building.
How do you enable local communities to shape their own future? These are people who are so disempowered and disenfranchised, who have experienced so many top-down solutions that haven't worked and consultation meetings that have gone nowhere, that they are understandably distrustful of any outside agency.
'I fully support the government's emphasis on community-led regeneration but I sometimes think politicians don't know what it means. They speak a different language.We talk about seeds and planting, the language of organic growth; they talk about targets, levers and critical mass. That's a mechanical language, the language of people who control the funds but don't really understand the dynamics of the community they are dealing with.'
One of the major projects in Kensington, if matched funding can be found, is a new secondary school, based on an ethos of caring for and learning about the environment, both locally and globally. The area does not have a secondary school, so children are dispersed across the city from the age of 11, and that has been one of the many tragedies that has torn the heart out of Kensington.
Teenagers are isolated and vulnerable.
'One of the things that impresses me most about people here is their determination to make their ideas work - the old people who want to stay, despite their fear, and young mothers fighting for a better future for their children. It's incredible to sit in a board meeting and listen to people arguing passionately for what they want, but also listening to others argue their case. I am really looking forward to the architects meeting with the young people to talk about the school, ' muses Jones, almost mischievously.
'When they start to say what they want'