Sat in a circle in the world’s oldest operational passenger railway station, Liverpool’s Edge Hill, are a disparate group of individuals united under the banner ‘Future Station’. As trains rattle past regularly, the group, a diverse mixture of ages and backgrounds, debate, discuss and crack jokes about creative projects, plans and ideas, helping to animate this historic space operated by art organisation, Metal.
Metal was founded in London in 2002 by Southbank Centre Artistic Director, Jude Kelly, as an artists’ residency space in a former metal workshop. The organisation came to Liverpool soon after, when current Director Ian Brownbill visited the London space and decided that Edge Hill, a central but deprived district of Liverpool he was working in, could do with such a facility. Beginning in a nearby house, Metal Liverpool moved into the underused station buildings in 2009 after their careful restoration. The larger space allowing the organisation to develop as a community-focused, multi-arts’ centre.
Metal seems to have managed that rare knack, of being popular with local people and attracting arts fans from far and wide. Project Manager Jenny Porter says the reason the organisation has been successful at engaging the community is pretty simple:
“I think we just make sure to listen and support people’s ideas. It helps being a small team and having built up a reputation in the area over the five years we’ve been based here. We don’t think people should have to always travel to city centres to access culture and that in the future it will become increasingly important for cultural provision to exist within towns and neighbourhoods.”
Metal Edge Hill is many things to many people. Its space home to several artists’ studios alongside activities and organisations as diverse as the annual Liverpool Art Prize competition, Suitcase Ensemble, who run a range of popular cabaret nights, and even a recent celebration event about Liverpool’s infamous 1911 Transport Strike.
Metal has also been keen to more deeply reflect the area in which it is located. The Edge Hill Archive Project, launching in November, is the culmination of two years’ work to record the history and culture of the local area for posterity, both online and in a permanent installation at the station.
Jenny says: “It will be exciting to finally see something permanent in the space that conveys its magnificent history. Hopefully it charts some of the many changes that have already happened in the area at a time when it is undergoing another transformation. It is as much about capturing the present as it is the past.”
The Future Station group acts as an entry point and steering group for Metal, and has managed to unite local residents, international artists, heritage enthusiasts and many others besides. Jenny explains more:
“Future Station is important in that we try to encourage in the group a sense of ownership by allowing them to bring their own ideas to the space. We also hope that the meetings help give the members of the group the confidence in their own creativity, no matter how extensive their past experiences are, as well as offering the support needed when it comes to setting up their own projects and ideas.”
Local resident Terry Eagles, who created his first art installation for the recent Future Station Festival, which showcased the group’s work, sums up why the arrival of Metal in the area has been important for people like himself:
“My background, I never had an art lesson in me life. But I always had an interest in it, and it’s been fascinating to me to stick it out down here, because I was something of a fish out of water when I first came down. I’m filling that gap now, and quite enjoying it, so that’s what I’m getting out of Metal now.”
This article appeared in the 29th September 2011 edition of The Big Issue in the North.