How Liverpool became one of the most thriving modern cities in the world

PUBLISHED: 00:00 05 November 2018

Liverpool One was opened by the Queen in 2008

Liverpool One was opened by the Queen in 2008


Liverpool has always buzzed, even in its darker days, but today it’s booming, and underpinning the resurgence are institutions with roots deep in the Merseyside soil

New Gate at  Liverpool Hope UniversityNew Gate at Liverpool Hope University

A Cathedral brings gravitas and spiritual support to a city. Liverpool has two. A university brings enormous economic and employment benefits, along with the intellectual. Liverpool has three.

Completing the triumvirate is the city’s temple to retailing, Liverpool One. All three have seen the impact of World Heritage status and the legacy of being crowned Capital of Culture in 2008 is still showing benefits.

Donna Howitt, of Liverpool One, credits that event with re-energising the city. ‘This is also the tenth anniversary of Liverpool One being opened by the Queen in October 2008. There’s been enormous change since then. More people are now living in the centre, tourism brings many visitors and the night-time economy is in great shape.’

So too is the retail development, currently 100 per cent let. ‘Originally it was fashion underpinned by leisure, now it’s the other way round. We have great fashion brands, lots new to the city and the North like Arket and Cos, but people come for the social experience of drinks, a meal and to meet friends.’

Metropolitan Cathedral is used as a symbol for the cityMetropolitan Cathedral is used as a symbol for the city

The city’s three universities and their students also play a major part. Two designated student events are held annually at Liverpool One, the most recent this September. ‘There was a live DJ and interactive games, many stores offered free gifts, samples and discounts,’ says Donna. ‘Many stores say it was the busiest day of the year so far.’

Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Dinah Birch of Liverpool University stresses the strength of its links with the city – no town-and-gown divide here. ‘The university has its origins in the Liverpool merchants of the 19th century, very wealthy men interested in supporting the cultural and intellectual ambitions of the city, and in making connections between their trading interests and what the university could offer, so those commercial-intellectual connections are longstanding here,’ she says.

The latest manifestation of that symbiosis is the university’s new Materials Innovation Factory, backed by public and corporate funds (from Unilever among others). It’s not alone; the city is dotted with recently completed buildings and construction sites for Professor Birch’s institution – like its new teaching hub, and central teaching laboratories – and for Liverpool John Moores University, and Liverpool Hope University. At the latter there’s a stunning new science building, the expanding creative campus and much new student accommodation. The former has cleared a huge site near Lime Street Station where a £64 million Student Life building is planned.

That will serve students and the general population, illustrating how the academic and civic link in Liverpool – LJMU calls itself a Modern Civic University. Professor Roger Webster, a former Dean still teaching there, cites its annual public lecture series, England’s largest outside London, as contemporary evidence of that civic engagement.

But it’s not new. His history of LJMU - The Making of a Modern University – describes such involvement in its earliest times. ‘That was published last year to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the institution being called a university, but you can trace our history back to 1823 with the foundation of the Liverpool Mechanics’ and Apprentices’ Library, that became the Liverpool Mechanics’ School of Arts,’ he says, that body also having pioneered public lectures by the likes of Dickens.

LJMU’s contribution to the city can be grasped from the other institutions that have fed into it – The Nautical College that served its trading fleets, The CF Mott Teacher Training College and the ground-breaking FL Calder School of Domestic Science, along with other bodies in midwifery and construction, and The Queen’s College, the first in the city able to award degrees.

Liverpool Hope University is the third member of the triumvirate, a university since 2005. Like LJMU it traces its history through earlier establishments, notably two teacher training colleges founded in 1844 and 1856. Teaching remains a focus for Hope, as an important subject area and for the high standard of its own teaching. ‘We’re proud to be the only one of the city’s universities to have just been awarded TEF (Teaching Excellence Framework) Gold,’ says David Sennett, Hope’s Executive Project Manager, ‘We don’t aspire to be huge – we want to stay at between 7,000 and 8,000 students so our academic staff can get to know students individually, and create a true community of scholarly study.’

Hope is also proud that its antecedents pioneered higher education for those often denied it – women into teacher training, Catholics and Jews sometimes barred from study and those from disadvantaged areas. The beautiful and green main campus unites what were two very separate sites. ‘St Catherine’s College was built in the 1930s, based on an Oxford-style layout, and in the 1960s Christ College was constructed on the other side of Taggert Avenue here, separated by high walls – they didn’t speak to one another. Then Bishop Sheppard and Archbishop Warlock, as heads of the city’s two churches, brought them together and called it “a vision of hope” when they merged,’ adds David.

It’s Hope Street that links the city’s two cathedrals, both relatively modern – the Anglican begun in 1904 and consecrated in 1924, the Catholic opened in 1967, both stunning buildings and frequently used for graduation ceremonies. Sited on high ground, the Giles Gilbert Scott Anglican version is the largest religious building in the country while the Frederick Gibberd Catholic structure is often used visually to symbolise the metropolis.

‘We offer ourselves as part of the whole student experience,’ says Stuart Haynes, Director of Communications at Liverpool Cathedral. ‘Particularly popular is the trip up the tower to enjoy the views! As well as being an active place of worship we’re also part of the wider community. We say of ourselves we were built by the people for the people, loved by the people.’

The Metropolitan Cathedral also enjoys close links with 
parts of the student population. ‘We get many looking at the archives and studying the 
actual building both as a 
place of worship and as architecture,’ says Neil Sayers, archivist for the archdiocese, ‘and we have for example many Filipino students come to worship, and a weekly 
Polish mass.’

Both cathedrals have another role in the city’s life too. ‘Since 2008 when Liverpool was the European Capital of Culture, we’ve been on the tourist trail,’ adds Neil.

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