Make CIC’s ambitious plans for new arts hub and cafe in Birkenhead

A dilapidated office is being turned into a “forever home” for social enterprise Make CIC as £1.6m plans take “the next step.”

In February, Liverpool based social enterprise Make CIC bought the former offices of Riverside Housing at 69 Argyle Street in Birkenhead as part of a £1.6m project to deliver a new arts hub, cafe, studio spaces, and a community garden in the centre of the town. It’s one of 23 projects hoping to move forward in Wirral in the next two years supported by a total government funding pot of £73.5m.

Now the company is looking to knock through parts of the building over the next six weeks followed by extensive renovations to create the new art studios and spaces for some of its 137 artists and creatives across the Liverpool City Region.

By bringing artists together in one building, the company said the hub will help establish connections, provide space to work, as well as improving access to expensive specialised equipment.

On the building’s ground floor will be a cafe and public spaces while the upper floors will become open-plan studios and workspaces for artists. There are eventual plans to create a rooftop garden as well as renovate the building’s basement.

The building is expected to open up over the summer with the new cafe open later this year. It will be moving out of its current temporary home at the old council treasury building on Cleveland Street which will be transformed into a £4m new hub run by the mental health charity Open Door.

Make CEO, Liam Kelly, giving a tour of the building

Liam Kelly, Make’s CEO, said, “The challenge that we have is that was £1.6m to buy and refurbish the building back in 2019 when we cast the budget but the world has changed very dramatically since then so we have a job over the next six weeks to try and find a way of delivering the project you see.

“The next step is to refurbish this building so we can have our forever home in a way that serves the community that we service.”

Inside the former Riverside Housing building

Hannah Gerrard is a maker hoping to move into the new building. She has over 120,000 followers on her Instagram where she shows off costumes she has made in her bedroom which have been featured on shows, comic con, and cosplay events.

She hopes that by taking up residence in the new building, it will provide “the possibility of pushing what I can do upwards. Obviously, there are certain projects I would love to do but I can’t right now.”

She said, “It’s just so nice that this is available at such a good price. I was thinking it would be £600 a month so the price is absolutely amazing.”

Despite having a large social media following, she added, “Connection is more important than online presence. The fact that everyone works together. It’s a nice feeling to know there is a possibility. I am doing a cleaning job but this is my passion.”

Kirsten Little, Make’s chief operating officer, said the company had been able to get its tenants the equivalent of £44,000 of work over the last six months and through supporting them help creative organisations and start ups become sustainable in the long run.

She told the LDRS, “My privilege that existed in my life is that I was allowed to be whatever I wanted to be. My parents supported whatever that ambition was. People will say they aren’t very creative and that isn’t true. Everyone should have the ability to access art.”

The project has been supported by £1.6m of the Town Deal funding which has come through Wirral Council as part of its wider ambitions to help regenerate Birkenhead.

Wirral South MP Alison McGovern

Wirral South MP Alison McGovern, who has backed the project, said it was “really quite a big step on the journey for making the Wirral a place that is famous not only in the UK but around the world.”

She added, “This has always been a good place, it’s always been a great place for families to be and it’s always had art and creativity and artists at its heart.

“Lots of people who made art here before and who’ve been part of the cultural and creative world have ended up “being” from Liverpool because the city over there tends to suck people in in that way but I always knew this was the place that ought not to be famous for poverty or dissatisfaction that we couldn’t achieve what we wanted. This ought to be a place that is famous for its people and its creativity.”

Birkenhead councillor Pat Cleary said the purchase of the building was “the start of what should be a really positive year for the council in terms of delivery” ahead of other changes to Birkenhead’s high street, waterfront, and other parts of the town centre.

Pointing to venues like Future Yard that help bring people into Birkenhead, Cllr Cleary felt the new Make building could do the same, adding, “There is so much potential for other stuff to happen. This is just really positive. It’s exactly what the town needs and will start to create job opportunities.

“It will get people coming in to use the space and feed off from it. It will start creating that idea of Birkenhead as a place for people to come to.”

Images: www.fotopiaimages.com Lead Image: Kirsten Little – Make COO and Make CEO – Liam Kelly

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