Feathers abloom and preening with pride, the liver birds that resolutely watch over the Mersey provide a consummate embodiment of a city with an unparalleled air of self-assurance. A confidence resonates in every body and every building across Liverpool; pubs, stadiums and mouthy kids in town centres all project the feeling of a city with a keen sense of its own identity and a pride in its community.
Posited between these vibrant signs of life, however, stand rows upon rows of empty houses and abandoned neighbourhoods. Like liver birds looming over the docks, these empty nests stare out at streets no longer alive with the vitality pulsating throughout the rest of the city. Unwavering, lines of empty houses provide a reminder of what used to be; echoes of abandoned neighbourhoods and communities forcibly moved on.
Liverpool is a city that is constantly evolving, with a determination for progress that has shaped much of its distinctive identity. The results of this perpetual development can be found in the functional houses along working class terraces, left desolate as new developments make old communities irrelevant.
Into these derelict houses moved the consciousness of Patrick Hughes, a 25 year old playwright from Allerton, Liverpool. Patrick's new play 'Northern Flight' was performed for the first time this week, as part of the FLUX Festival, at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool. An engaging reflection upon the themes of community and redemption, 'Northern Flight' explores the dynamic yet resilient notion of neighbourhood on one of the city's many empty streets. The play centres around Mary, a retired resident, as an unexpected visitor appears in her back garden, forcing her to confront her demons and revisit the painful memories left dormant amongst the derelict homes.
A Glasgow University graduate and spoken word poet, Patrick recently moved home to Allerton, where he developed the idea for 'Northern Flight' and worked with the Everyman Theatre and FLUX Festival to put on his play. Over cups tea and badly buttered toast, Patrick told me about the feelings that coming home aroused in him.
"When I moved back to Liverpool, before I got a job I had to start signing on, so I used to have to cycle to Toxteth Job Centre, and that's where all the boarded up houses are, just lines and lines and lines. One day I was going past on my bike, and there was one street with just one light on, and I just thought, imagine living in that... it also made me laugh, because Ringo Star used to live down one of them, so the Magical Mystery Tour still goes past, but just speeds past. It's kind of weird seeing all these tourists on this empty street."
For Patrick, these forgotten houses in poor areas seem to provide a poignant memoriam to the communities forgotten and moved along in the name of progress and development. "I was in Scotland for five years, and obviously there's poverty there, in the high rise flats, but Liverpool has so many derelict houses. It was funny, when I used to come back when Liverpool was made 'City of Culture', they'd boarded them up but done colourful paintings, and it was just the classic 'sweep it under the carpet'. It makes it look like people are doing something about these houses, but people are being moved out of these functional homes and it's just... I don't know, part of history is being knocked down."
Despite the disenchantment engendered in Patrick by the sight of a solitary light in an otherwise abandoned street, he spoke with an intangible passion and enthusiasm about his home city. That unshakeable pride and belief in Liverpool flows through its streets, and provides Mary with her only hope of redemption in 'Northern Flight'. Whilst the city evolves, forgotten residents needn't be illuminated on isolated streets. The underlying message in 'Northern Flight' in one of hope; among these empty nests and migrating flocks of residents, Liverpool's real, undying sense of hope and of community never falters. The feeling you're left with at the end of the play is not one of despair, but of perseverance and hope - two qualities which are effervescent in the indefinable identity of the city.
"I think community is vital to Liverpool, because it's a city that gets a lot of grief and sort of stands together as a community. Stuff like Hillsborough shows how it can grow as a community and... not just grow as a community, but be a force"
"When you've been away for a while and you come home, the city really resonates. You have these powerful images of liver birds looking out to sea, so why shouldn't these houses be a part of that, and a part of the way Northern streets look. You don't really get these nice, working class Northern houses anywhere else. They're just kind of being pushed away, and the only things they'll build in their place are these big student halls and student flats."
'Northern Flight' has seldom left my mind since it finished. It provides an emotive exploration of the issues that lie at the heart of the city's identity. Patrick's words to me at the end of our interview have filled my thoughts and followed me through the streets of this beautiful city: "Liverpool is a city that tells you that you can do something, rather than that you can't."