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My Beautiful Neighbourhood: Kensington and Fairfield

Liverpool Confidential meets people with a passion for the place where they live. This time Steve Faragher, community director of Kensington Vision

Published on August 12th 2009.


My Beautiful Neighbourhood: Kensington and Fairfield

STEVE Faragher is prime mover behind KVFM, whose first broadcast galvanised Kensington and Fairfield and which next year aims to become Liverpool's first full-time community radio station. Here discusses death by consultancy, heroin, a middle class attitude to race relations and how McDonald's became the centre of Kenny's universe.

"I believe Kensington Regeneration is a massive opportunity missed...At one neighbourhood assembly I was the only person who wasn't being paid to be there"

What's theKVFM story so far?
At the moment we have a restricted service licence that allows you to broadcast for 28 days in every six months. We first broadcast in November 2007. We trained 96 presenters and had 150 guests on the show, from the police to Billy Butler. We were on air 144 hours, streamed on the internet and podcasted. We got 2,700 downloads in 10 months.

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Blimey, where did all that happen?
The studio was in a glass conservatory built in McDonalds. We had been looking for somewhere suitable and realised McDonalds was the unofficial meeting place for Kensington. You had people there having business meetings with £2,000 laptops and others there because the only thing they could afford was a 99 pence burger. Then you had Germans and Americans on their way back into town after visiting Anfield. So you had all these little stories intersecting.

So what exactly did Kensington get out of it?
We don't support the myth that everyone's going to get a job on the BBC at the end of it but it does give (those taking part) self-esteem and self-worth. You can see them change physically during the course of their training. People say 'this has had a profound influence on my life'.

What about the kids?
Thirty per cent of the output was from schoolkids. They did things like interview someone from the museum about dinosaurs. It was good for literacy, numeracy, speaking and listening, self-confidence, self-motivation. We were told a couple of kids who had been causing real problems became leaders rather than distractors.

A success, then?
Everyone absolutely loved it. People tend to find out about things after they have happened, so if there is a centralised conduit for information, it's got to be a good thing hasn't it?

So what happens now?
We broadcast again for 12 days over Christmas, then in January we launch 20 hours per week of online broadcasting, streamed and podcasted. Next year Ofcom will be giving away full-time licences and we will be applying for one of them. Manchester has four community radio stations. Knowsley has one, Wirral has one, Halton has one. Liverpool has none.

Race relations has become a talking point in the area. Where does KVFM come in?
This is one of the issues KVFM could deal with. We did a programme about the Congolese Association because people were suddenly seeing all these black faces, they would get on the bus and 50 per cent of people were speaking French, and they thought 'what's going on?' Kensington was designated as a dispersal area for asylum seekers but no-one was told.

How were the incomers greeted?
It caused bewilderment, a little resentment. But everyone says there's all this race crime and I don't see it. I think people are actually quite welcoming. There hasn't been anyone fire-bombed and there aren't people going around with swastika armbands. The BNP candidate only got 70 votes. I am proud of that.

Kensington Regeneration (the £62m Government project to improve Kensington) has a very middle class attitude to race relations. They have a BME (Black/Minority Ethnic) officer who used to work for the UN in Africa – he still should be wearing shorts and driving round in a white landrover. There was one bloke who was accused of being racist for pointing out that the money given to Kensington in 2,000 did not take account of the sudden BME influx that followed.

What brought a Halewood lad like you to Kensington and Fairfield?
I moved here because it was the cheapest place in Liverpool. My attitude was quite negative then; in the mid to late 90 there was high crime, high drug addiction, it was on the skids basically. We had heroin addicts every day needing a hundred quid, but they had to rob a thousand quids' worth because when you fence it you only get 10 per cent of the value.

You say things are better now. Do you think, despite the fears of some, that the presence of asylum seekers and refugees has actually been good for Kensington?
I do. The smackheads have been displaced by the BME population which now stands at 25 per cent. Meanwhile, school results are up 25 per cent because most are from families who go to church on Sunday in their best clothes.

You see a woman 15 yards in front of her child shouting “fucking come on, Chantal” and they wonder why their kids are swearing at them. I'm worried the BME population will start to think 'I don't want to bring my kids up here' and we will have the opposite of white flight. To some extent we've got to strive to keep these people in this area.

Has Kensington Regeneration been a good thing?
I believe it is a massive opportunity missed. The reaction to Kenny Re-gen mostly is 'where's the money gone?'. What the area needs is for the people to have the ability to take things forward themselves, not to be told what to do. Decisions tend to be top down, they tell people what's happening and fend off questions.

At one Neighbourhood Assembly I was the only person who wasn't being paid to be there. It's a bit like death by consultancy in Kensington – consultants come in through the door, money goes out the window.

What does the future hold?
Kensington is an interesting and varied place to live. To some extent (press coverage) is always negative. I was working in Croxteth for a while and people would say to me 'how can you live in Kensington?'

I am optimistic if the community manages to gain control and starts to manage its destiny. If we cock it up then it's our fault, but maybe we won't because we live here.. There is a tipping point and it can go either way. All it will take is for something like heroin or crack or crystal meth to kick off again and undermine any progress.

I think Kensington could be a fantastic model for integration. I have this theory called commonality. How can you get to know people in other societies? You go to a wedding, a funeral, a christening. We all do them, so you point out the commonality in people, not the differences.

Kensington Vision uses media activities to engage and empower communities and individuals. www.kensingtonvision.org

As told to Gerry Corner

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steve faragherAugust 12th 2009.

Annie 1 The "ART" on edge lane cost the princely sum of£75,000 to produce and install courtesy of the culture company it works out to £150 per panel , I got thin through a freedom of information request last year, and yes they are hideous, Einstein, ???? The Bobby Grant always makes me laugh out loud when I drive past, the irony of the word "heritage" as part of the art work on a victorian house they are about to knock down is proabably lost on the council

annie1August 12th 2009.

Has some of the money gone on the sickly boarding up of house on Edge Lane? Whoever had the idea to paint the boared up houses with the ghastly official graffiti must be in need of emergency eye treatment. I am sure i am not the only one who hates it.

AnonymousAugust 12th 2009.

Excellent interview and good luck to Steve Faragher. When you consider hundreds of millions of pounds has been poured into Kensington Regeneration over the past 10 years who wonder where it has all been spent. I hope our MP Jane Kennedy gets her teeth into this as there are many questions needing to be asked. Although there are some small improvements, there's no dramatic change to the built environment I can see to justify the vast fortunes seemingly spent. So it is legitmate for people of L7 to ask .... where has all the money gone?

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