Music has always mattered around here. It’s just that, until recently, we’ve had to travel further to hear it live.
It’s the day after Bank Holiday Monday and Birkenhead is quiet; empty. But, wait. What’s that sound? There’s drums and guitars, the airborne buzz of people gathering and the smell of locally-brewed ale floating above it all.
What is that sound? It sounds like the future.
Future Yard is the place everyone is talking about. Except, of course, those who aren’t. But there are plans to do something about that.
“Future Yard exists to change what people think about Birkenhead,” says Future Yard CIC Co-Founder, Craig Pennington.
“We don’t want it to become the next hip spot, we understand that’s not the identity of this town. We want it to be a catalyst for people to say ‘Yes, I’m from Birkenhead, come and see what’s going on’. And we want the community to benefit from that, even if some of them don’t step over our threshold.”
Cathy Palmer, Head of Regeneration Delivery at Wirral Council, believes Birkenhead is undergoing its biggest transformation in decades. “Future Yard gives us all an idea of what’s coming,” she declares.
“They own their building and the council has supported them in acquiring additional land to facilitate an expansion. They’re seeking to break the mould when it comes to gentrification, and not exclude the people who brought the area back to life when things start to change for the better.”
The expansion involves spreading beyond Argyle Street into the much-anticipated Dock Branch Park project with exciting plans to more than double Future Yard’s footprint at the same time as bringing the venue into contact with some of the town’s illustrious past.
But it’s a different kind of step forward the place really wants to take: to break ground in the heart of the community.
“Music is a great connector and a shared experience that helps break down barriers,” says Future Yard CIC Director, Christopher Torpey.
“We thought the primary barrier when we opened would be the view of Birkenhead from across the Liverpool City Region and maybe getting people to cross the Mersey to visit us, but that barrier to growth has really been closer to home.
“I was in the chippy across the road and heard someone say ‘who do they think they are?’ about us. It hurt me,” reveals Wallasey-born Chris. “We want to reach people in a way that’s not aloof and we’ll knock on doors to break down those barriers.”
“They launched a community listening project to have an open conversation with their neighbours recently and their findings led to a Neighbourhood Champions Forum for local organisations.
“From this we launched an initiative with other businesses from the City Region to support local communities through music.
“‘Future50’ asked 50 organisations to pledge £1,000 or more to directly fund training and events for local people; such as free tickets for families in our local neighbourhood and industry-leading mentorship, studio access and workshops for local emerging talent,” says Wirral Council’s Head of Economic Growth, Helen Carney.
“We want people to come here and learn how to take our place,” laughs Chris.
“We’d love more music venues, dance studios or centres of excellence to open up next to us on Argyle Street. The idea is that some of the people who’ve trained here will eventually open them up!”
Co-Founder and Birkenhead-born Craig agrees: “A community music venue has a responsibility to the neighbourhood it’s part of. Come in here at any time of the day and you’ll see the place alive with people talking about different things they’ve done or what they want to do.”
Birkenhead musician Zee Davine was definitely inspired. “When I arrived during the pandemic the venue was still being built – but the dressing room was in.
“That hit me. I thought ‘wow, the priority is the artist’. That focus was exciting to me,” says Zee, now the venue’s Operations Manager.
“The fact that it was in Birkenhead was mega exciting,” Zee’s face lights up. “Future Yard belongs in Birkenhead,” Zee declares.
“I can see the Liver Building from my house and maybe that river is a massive psychological and cultural barrier for us. But, really, it just means we are 260 seconds from Liverpool city centre via public transport… that’s closer than Huyton or Litherland.
“It’s not always a bad thing being across the river, either, because it allows space to grow, space out of the shadows and even into the countryside and nature.”
Wirral Council’s Cathy Palmer agrees: “It’s a real destination that draws people in and further proof that Birkenhead is capable of bringing people back into the town centre.”
Future Yard is more than a music venue and uses education and outreach to attract locals who might be wary of the cool shop front on the main road that declared “The Future Is Birkenhead” in big letters, before it opened the doors.
‘Mosh Tots’ is a regular opportunity for young kids and their parents to share the joy of live music together as a family, ‘Sound Check’ is a training programme, in partnership with The Learning Foundry, designed to introduce young people to the skills they need to pursue careers in the live music industry, while ‘New Noise Music Centre’ offers a space for teenagers to experiment across a range of instruments and music-making techniques with a team of experienced tutors.
“Birkenhead has been called ‘the town of the future’ before” says Chris. We want to use the pride people have in Birkenhead to recalibrate people’s opinions about what the place can be.”
It’s a noble call. But they can’t do it all by themselves. Can they?
“Future Yard is Wirral’s first National Portfolio Organisation, the importance of which cannot be underestimated,” declares Wirral’s Head of Regeneration Delivery, Cathy Palmer.
“Birkenhead is becoming known as somewhere that does things differently and leads the way in wholetown regeneration.”
Birkenhead will always have a future because of its past. But that future remains unwritten and the locals of this tough town need reassurance right now.
“It’s not radical to have a gig venue in Birkenhead that reaches into the community,” says Zee Davine.
“There was a kid called Ollie who started on one of our first ‘Sound Check’ courses and he’s now our lead engineer. He’d never touched a sound desk before coming here.
“That’s why we need to be open and have the doors open every day. People need places to come together.”
75 Argyle Street, Birkenhead, CH41 6AB