A couple of months ago, we came to the somewhat alarming conclusion that the majority of Liverpool’s UNESCO protected ‘maritime mercantile maritime mercantile City’ (protected as an example of a major trading centre of the 18th and 19th centuries) is, how shall we put this? Empty.

All those grand old banking halls, Venetian palazzo-styled office blocks and soaring warehouses: silently waiting to be reanimated while, at the same time, Peel and the City Council feverishly eye up the northern docks to build a meta city: turning their backs on the Portland stone of our past.

The feature grabbed the attention of Placed – a Liverpool-based social enterprise working with young children to develop a deeper understanding of the urban environment. With the support of leading architects and urban designers, Placed helps them to have a say on the city they want to live in.

“We believe that all young people should be inspired by and influence the buildings which make up the towns we all occupy,” says Director Jo Harrop. “I passionately believe that, given the opportunity to use their creativity, our young people have the vision to create a better city.”

Look around. Let’s face it, they couldn’t do a worse job than some of the planners who’ve gone before them, could they?

But, to plan for the future, Harrop believes, it’s always wise to start by looking at the past.

“It’s always best giving young people the challenge of taking the history of the buildings as a starting point,” Harrop says. “If you understand why they were built, you start to see how they can be used in the future.”

It seems sort of blindingly obvious. And it could well be the key to unlocking our city’s great empty heart. The idea is beautifully simple: “the creativity of our younger residents could well inform the developers, investors and policy makers with how these buildings can help to reinvigorate our city centre,” Harrop explains.

And that’s where our hollow buildings come in. Because, they’re not really empty at all – but repositories of memories. The girls in the typing pool, the cut and thrust of the maritime legal firms hammering out contracts for Shanghai-bound shipments, the rattle and hum of printing presses (remember them?).

And so Hidden Liverpool was born, and we’re delighted to be a part of it…

“These buildings’ role in the story of our city, and of our collective social memories, is immense. If we lose this, we lose a sense of who we are,” Harrop says.

And here’s where you come in…

Phase One: Capturing the Emptiness

“The start of the project will be marked with identifying empty spaces, collecting people’s stories and memories of the buildings that they worked in, visited or spent their leisure time in, but that they can no longer access,” Harrop says. “We want to build up a living memory bank, and we’ve set up a Tumblr account for everyone to access.” It’s here. If you’ve any stories, images or family memories of these buildings’ former lives get in touch here: Info@placed.org.uk

Harrop says her team will also look a hold a number of drop-in sessions. A school resource pack will be produced and teacher sessions would be held to begin engagement with their pupils.

Free Event: 9 March

Placed will be launching the first phase of Hidden Liverpool on 9 March. There will be a free public event with hour-long design workshops and opportunity to feed back on the project. The event will be 12-4pm in the old Rapid Store, 68-76 Renshaw Street (Bold Street end, previously a Minuteman Printers).

There will also be a drop-in session in the Bluecoat Chambers, 9 March 12-4pm, with opportunity for you to share stories of empty buildings. To register an interest email info@placed.org.uk

Phase Two: New Life from Old Buildings

Commencing September 2013, the project will look to younger residents of the city to explore how some of these buildings can be brought back into use. Schools and colleges with 6th Forms will be invited to participate in a unique year-long project that combines design and enterprise. School will be allocated different vacant buildings, and will consider what role it could play in the modern Liverpool.

Each school will determine a new function for their building, whether a cultural space, a restaurant, offices for social enterprises, festivals, food markets, workshops or performance space, and will work closely with a client – an existing business owner – to develop a design proposal.

As well as the design of the building, students will need to consider the business case for bringing it back into use rather than building new. Additional challenges, such as marketing, will also be set throughout the year.

At the end of the academic year, a Dragon’s Den event will be held, with each project team presenting their proposals to a panel of representatives from key organisations from the city. A winning proposal will be selected, with all work being exhibited in one of the buildings at the end of the project. Interested? Get in touch: www.placed.org.uk info@placed.org.uk Or telephone: 07968 237280

“Significantly,” Harrop adds, “the project will also challenge building owners, clients and those with influence in the city to look again at our existing built stock. Ambitiously, we hope that the project will result in at least one of the buildings in question being brought back into use through encouraging people to think about investing in a piece of ‘Hidden Liverpool.’”

For more information, visit: Placed

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