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The Laz Word....from Larry Neild

This week: Blue murder on School Lane? Our columnist pens his lament to the loss of an old friend

Published on March 28th 2008.


The Laz Word....from Larry Neild

IT is with much regret my column this week takes the form of an obituary to a dear departed friend.

For as long as I can remember my old friend was a comfort, just nice to know it was there. Then my friend underwent a major transplant operation. Out came his heart, then his lungs, then everything else, and it was more than body could withstand. Then they did the unthinkable and removed his soul.

'You spoilt a great building. I left in
tears,' somebody
else wrote, while
yet another critic
said: 'I hate it - the building is bleak'

Farewell then to the Bluecoat Chambers. You served the city so well in an age spanning three centuries and two millenniums.

Then in the name of change they killed you off by ripping out your beating heart.

There was something very special about the Bluecoat Chambers, that beautiful oasis in the heart of the city. It welcomed people from all walks of life, from bargain book hunters, stamp collectors and those wanting a nice pot of tea in convivial surroundings.

Step into its magic garden and you were a million years from the hubbub of city life. It was restored after the Blitz of 1941 when so many buildings around it disappeared completely.

But the 21st Century building-snatchers were too strong an enemy. So, dear old Bluecoat, I mourn your loss and know how you must be feeling after being reincarnated as The Breezeblock Chambers.

I went along to the Bluecoat, not really knowing what to expect, and it took my breath away. The interesting maze of passageways and corridors disappeared to make way for a hospital-style, open plan reception area. I was half expecting the tea bar to be run by the WRVS.

It used to be an enjoyable voyage of discovery, now it is soulless. The stark galleries are a far cry from the Bluecoat of old. They dropped the name "Chambers" because, I suppose, there are no chambers any more.

They spent millions of pounds doing this to the place, stealing it from the people of Liverpool. Why do we allow these invaders from afar to come into our city and take from us what is ours?

Yes, it will serve a purpose as yet another arts venue, but killing off the old Bluecoat in the process was, to my mind, a high price to pay.

The place opened on March 15 and I glanced at the visitors' book. The compliments and comments were gushing, sickeningly gushing. I am not sure whether the first-day invited visitors were seduced by canapes or glasses of Bucks Fizz or was it Asti Spumante? But check those words with those comments from the uninvited who followed when the great-unwashed - the lovely ordinary folk of the city - were allowed in. It then takes on the guise of a Book of Remembrance and Condolence.

So it's not just me then, living in the past, as though there is anything wrong with that anyway.

"You ripped out the soul of the place - rubbish," penned Katie Weymouth of Waterloo.

"It's lost that oasis in the city feel" wrote another visitor.

Sheila Curtis wrote: "What a mess. Where has the beautiful garden gone."

"You spoilt a great building. I left in tears," somebody else wrote, while yet another critic said: "I hate it - the building is bleak."

There was page upon page of similar comments, with complimentary views a scarcity. Yet the people who run it will dismiss everything that is said, accuse us of living in the past.

I'm not against change, but I am against destruction.

Poor old Bluecoat, born 1725, died March 15, 2008. R.I.P.

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32 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

V. I. Lenin AirportMarch 25th 2008.

If the new Bluecoat is so good and so attractive to "small scale entrepreneurs", then why are established small businesses happily trading elsewhere being pestered by canvassers’ telephone calls trying to talk them into moving into the Bluecoat? Is no-one beating a path the Bluecoat's new unwelcoming door as we have been told to expect with this building, praised to high heaven by journalists and vested interests? Apparently the widespread rumour that pricy gift shop 'Utility' is moving in there is untrue; whoever could have started it? The small businesses that attracted the public to return to the old Bluecoat time and time again but were kicked out, all appear to have all found better premises.

AnonymousMarch 25th 2008.

If no one went in there how come there were thousands of visitors and they were queuing up to comment in the visitors book. The Liverpool schools music and drama festival uses to be held in the grand concert room so thousands of "ordinary" Liverpool children went through the place. If you think that it was so disregarded then perhaps you should have informed the Grosvenor people and they could have just bulldozed it like everything else

Stanley StreetMarch 25th 2008.

Hear hear, Larrington!

Sir Howard WayMarch 25th 2008.

And as I said in ‘Chambers Made Over’:-“The days when a fellow could settle on a sun-dappled bench beneath the canopy of trees, serenaded by birdsong with a pint of stout from the café, a contemplative pipe and a slim volume of Mallarmé have gone. The benches have gone, replaced by the sort of unpleasant plastic chairs usually found in the waiting area of a run-down, suburban hairdresser’s shop. The trees and shrubbery have gone, save two trees, the birds have gone, the beer is for sale only on the first floor, smoking is banned and no-one who reads Mallarmé would go near this bleak new enclosure! The garden is now more of a yard as found at the rear of a council offices, or perhaps a communal area in the shadow of a block of council flats.” ---------- Well said Mr. Neild! It is reassuring to know that not everyone is bowled over with admiration at this transformation of a beautiful and popular old building into an ugly and utilitarian 1970s Soviet art-gallery-cum-railway-station.

The Late Hermann GöringMarch 25th 2008.

Congratulations! You have made a much better job of it than me and my men managed to do!

Derek HattonMarch 25th 2008.

Like it or lump it, Larry Neild IS the VOICE OF THE PEOPLE!

Sir Howard WayMarch 25th 2008.

A place hasn’t failed just because it isn’t overcrowded! Think how hellish libraries, museums and art galleries can be when they are overcrowded with noisy people! I suppose that Piggy was all in favour of Degsy Hatton’s plan to appeal to the knuckle-draggers by desecrating St. George’s Hall by turning it into a museum of footy?

Rusty SpikeMarch 25th 2008.

Haven't had an opportunity to visit the 'New Bluecoat' but if Larry's observations are a guide, I too will be weeping, for like the old sausage, it was an inviting friend for many a year. Incidentally what's happened to the lovely old theatre that welcomed such a wide range of artists and performers out of the so called mainstream? it was a cracking night to sit on the benches and listen to fabulous music from the likes of Pentangle and then mingle in the quaint bar area....Please say they haven't got shut of it. Or the pleasure of trawling around the meandering corridors and up and down staircases that led to mysterious doors, and that intoxicating smell of familiarity and the second hand book and bric a bric markets...it was not just a retreat, it was a celebration of the cultural soul of the city. I am now afraid to go and see the changes wrought by - if Larry et al are right - the brigades of Philistines who carelessly sweep away the old for a barren new...

WappingMarch 25th 2008.

Waltongirl, for all her young wisdom, has missed two points. Firstly we are talking about a treasure we have now lost. The building had a personality that was entirely dependent on the people in there. Not necessarily just the staff but all the "little people" in their studios who'd been w*rking in the arts there. These things were related directly to Liverpool and our cultural heritage (sorry to use that term but for once it's appropriate). We miss it and this rantspace is the proper place to er, rant about it. The second point is that if we had all just said nothing those who did it would assume that everything is fine and dandy and that our silence condones their managed monoculture. A lot of us don't like it and at least we're making it that clear.

Sir Thomas StreetMarch 25th 2008.

I know that strictly speaking Liverpool's ‘village hall’ is St. George's Hall, but the Bluecoat was its smaller, informal equivalent. In the 1980s I remember that to hire St. George's Hall for an evening was about £1,400, whereas the Bluecoat’s lovely old Concert Room was £95 including its own little bar. It was perfect for normal people on normal incomes. This is why it was popular for parties, balls, weddings and Bar Mitzvahs, as well as a performance space for minority taste music, examinations, exhibitions and fairs during the days. It’s gone now, turned into yet another cheerless “bar restaurant” of which Liverpool already had a surfeit I could understand the loss if it had been turned into a gallery, but this new Bluecoat is oriented towards fashionable ‘lifestyle’ rather than art or community.

WaltongirlMarch 25th 2008.

Why don't you all just grow up? You're sitting here arguing about who is whinging. The fact of the matter is the change has been made and unless you've got 12.5 million pounds to change things back there's nothing you can do! Why not provide the Bluecoat staff with positive criticism, show them that the people of Liverpool still care about their old friend and advise on what would make the place more pleasurable for the people of the city. They're not perfect and everybody makes mistakes, unless you help them to correct those mistakes how will they ever get things right. Instead you sit here squabbling like school kids! I'm 20, born and bred in Liverpool, from a working-class family and I'm proud of it! I love my city and I'm just glad we have treasures like the Bluecoat still standing and they haven't been ripped down or turned into luxury apartments like the poor fate of Liverpool’s school of arts and the myrtle street building. They’re still public spaces. Surely the building only opened 2 weeks ago, how can the garden have grown back when we had snow last week, things like this take time. Why not give it a little time before jumping in and bashing about. The old building was amazing but it also had its faults, sometimes change has to happen. Criticism is good but only if it's constructive.

WappingMarch 25th 2008.

OK, I'm owning up. When I posted the previous rants I was going entirely on the featured article. Today I thought I'd better see for myself. I walked in and was greeted by a large, bright, airy open space that wasn't especially awful but could have been anywhere. It was characterless but meh. So I looked in on the garden and the depression started, it looks like an advert for a garden centre, very modern and very cold despite the sunshine. Then I went back in and looked into the gallery spaces. They are a horror story come to life (or death). Endless bare concrete and displays of, well I don't know what. They've got some stuff by Yoko Ono and some other rather difficult exhibits. It's like they're competing with the Tate but it's Tate 10 Blue Coat 0. Then I saw the smashed ancient bricks and the violated stonew*rk and my soul cried. I've no idea what that was about. The façade is still pretty and a lot of the original cobbles have been incorporated into the concrete entrance but that's all.

PIGGYMarch 25th 2008.

Are we surprised when people call us whinging scousers? What old-school Bluecoat lovers don't seem to understand is that the majority of 'ordinary' people living in this city NEVER went into the place. I was often the only person in the gallery or the only customer in the book shop. The whole place had a funny smell and was distinctly unwelcoming. I am not a big fan of exposed concrete walls etc, but I think the public spaces are hugely improved and the shops and small businesses are excellent. Long live progress!

Winsor N. NewtonMarch 25th 2008.

We must be grateful for whatever we get no matter how crap it is, because if we dare say anything we’re “whingeing scousers” apparently! Did you applaud the numerous cock-ups of the Culture Company? Did you praise the manifold recent examples of the incompetence of the Council in connection with European Capital of Culture 2008? Do you raise your glass to ‘regeneration’ such as the Edge Lane fiasco, the Casartelli Building, the recent demolition of supposedly preserved Georgian terraces in Fleet Street? No? Well you better had or you’re a whingeing Scouser!

WappingMarch 25th 2008.

Just because a place had a slightly specialised appreciation, i.e. people with a genteel streak and some leisure time is no reason to convert it into a monstrosity for "the people". It doesn't offer any more to Liverpool now than it did before. Now it's just like a community centre without a community. All it needed was a bit of maintenance and updating for access and safety, not to be gutted and boned.

Stanley StreetMarch 25th 2008.

The lift stank of urine.

Simon TaylorMarch 25th 2008.

I feel as strongly against the Bluecoat re-development as the majority of people in this forum.I would add that the various tenants who had made the Bluecoat such a "treasure" are very unlikely to return (rents are I believe much higher!) e.g. we have lost the sculptor's studio that dated back to Tyson Smith and sculptor James McLaughlin. Another criticism about the cafe: it serves bought-in/packaged fayre - a poor replacement for the on-site cooked food of the old cafe (run by the splendid Everyman bistro team).We used to take friends and visitors to enjoy the old Bluecoat but no longer!

R. A. MateMarch 25th 2008.

Waltongirl! Gardens cannot grow back at all if they've been torn up and paved over, whether there was a light dusting of snow last week or not!

Stanley StreetMarch 25th 2008.

Look, I do keep TRYING to give the place a chance!Today I thought I’d give the place a another chance and went to the so-called coffee bar. Alas there was a queue and there was no-one to even explain the un-labelled, un-priced, pre-packed sandwiches, let alone serve me. So I went to Marks & Spencers. At least there I knew what I was queuing for and how much it would cost.

Jeff WolfMarch 25th 2008.

That's not what he's saying, Badger Boy. It's YOUR lot that tears thing down. ---- "I can't deny the building isn't perfect but it's now an open, modern space for practitioners" - that's a health centre, old lad.

TonyPMarch 25th 2008.

I mean 'extinguished'.

A. E. ScousemanMarch 25th 2008.

Nonsense, 'PIGGY'! I'm an ordinary local person and I went there regularly. If all 447,500 Liverpool residents went there together it would have been a far less pleasurable experience! All of them were quite free to go there however, as was I and the friends I met and made there. Now that it is just a windswept coffee bar, a barren back yard and an exclusive, pricy restaurant (isn’t the place supposed to be *more* inclusive?) more people might go through the doors with all the current publicity, but how many will bother to return?

Winsor N. NewtonMarch 25th 2008.

There is some artistic distinction in the new Bluecoat Chambers.Whereas boring old mainstream property developers ‘Urban Splash’ go about turning bleak industrial buildings into stark, unpleasant offices and flats, here a beautiful arts venue has been turned into a bleak industrial building!

Stanley StreetMarch 25th 2008.

Popped along here again at lunchtime to give 'Upstairs at the Bluecoat' a chance. Along with several other people already waiting there we were shocked to find that despite the empty tables in plain view that prospective diners were kept standing in the doorway as is the practice in inferior, American junk-food "restaurants". Outraged, about six or eight people turned on their heels and left, amid comments about the plastic chairs and people would rather go to a proper restaurant! Had a blimp at the visitors’ book and it is as exactly as Larry described. No doubt this embarrassing document will disappear without warning soon.

AnonymousMarch 25th 2008.

I used to love sitting in the garden in summer with my now still boyfriend who was amazed a place like that was in the city centre. I am now scared to go back and see what they have done which such a lovely oasis, where in the city centre can we go now to look lovingly into each others eyes on a summers day?

V. I. Lenin AirportMarch 25th 2008.

As I said earlier on 'Chambers Made Over':- - The place is now so hostile to the browser and loiterer, there is nowhere to just stop walking and loaf about like there used to be. The old main gallery and bookshop have been replaced with a starkly open-plan, draughty, barn-like hallway reminiscent of an old bus-station tea-bar, an impression reinforced by the people in anoraks sitting in all the cheap plastic chairs shoved against part of one wall, drinking from paper cups. One naturally feels unwelcome and exposed and needing to find a corner or just to get out of the place. On the plus side it still looks good from the outside – from the front anyway.

Stanley StreetMarch 25th 2008.

If you look at the Bluecoat's website you will find confirmation that it is now a corporate events venue rather than a popular arts centre that welcomes the community. (I can't paste the URL so I'll give you the text) __________"Entertaining. From April 2008, we are delighted to offer a wide range of traditional and contemporary spaces from board rooms to dining rooms and galleries to courtyards for events at the Bluecoat.The diversity of locations within the Bluecoat offers both corporate and private clients a wealth of opportunities for entertaining. The galleries and rooms at the heart of Bluecoat make an ideal backdrop for drinks parties or dinners. The convenient, central Liverpool location of the Bluecoat, means that meeting spaces are perfect for daytime business events." Aye, so business spivs, the yoberati and snake-oil salesmen are welcome, whereas normal people can just f*** right off, it would appear!

ginger to brian bigglesMarch 25th 2008.

hey zoos! is piggy another of these patronising inverted snobs that over run this city? if ordinary people don't go there what are you who does? the place is now soulless and empty of the humour and companionship of old. the day i went there seemed to be lots of non ordinary folk looking greatly disappointed. biggles has managed to destroy the garden he's always hated and filled the place with expensive shops that piggies ordinaires are highly unlikely to visit!!!!!!!!!

Aigburth ArmsMarch 25th 2008.

Don't go to Sefton Park!

TonyPMarch 25th 2008.

It's hard to argue against Walton girl - and how encouraging to see such passion and commitment and good sense. All hope for the future of Liverpool is not distinguished! Good on yer girl.

London roadMarch 25th 2008.

I'm afraid you are not going to be best pleased, rusty.

Jeff BadgerMarch 25th 2008.

Oh, what a shame Laz, someone's spoilt *your* treasured space. Never mind that the place has been opened up to a new audience and had a bit of vitality injected to it, the book-hunters and stamp-collectors have nowhere to congregate - the horror! What a selfish, archaic ingrate you have proved yourself to be. You might not like it much and you're more than entitled to your opinion, but, as PIGGY says, this does nothing but live up to the 'whinging scousers' slur. I can't deny the building isn't perfect but it's now an open, modern space for practitioners, small-scale entrepreneurs and audiences with a really exciting programme for the next few months. But you've lost your oasis so let's rip it down. Boo-freaking-hoo.

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