SevenStreets greeted the news that The Dingle’s Florrie is to be renovated – funding now secure – with more enthusiasm than most, and it’s hard to imagine the news wasn’t warmly received throughout the city.
William Anelay, a specialist in restoring historic buildings, has won a contract to restore the Florence Institute in Liverpool, which was built in the late 1800s by Sir Bernard Hall as a gift to the community, following the confirmation of grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Northwest Regional Development Agency.
We lived nearby for some time and spent no small amount of time walking the streets of the Dingle on the Mersey side of L8, passing the Florrie on the way to Brunswick station every day for several months.
It’s always sad to see any grand example of Victoriana falling into ruins, but it seemed especially poignant in the case of the Florrie for two reasons.
The first of which derives from the fact that the Florrie was erected to the memory of a young girl who died tragically young. That, in itself, is rather sad.
But, more than that, is the fact that the Florence Institute was designed to service the poor working classes of 19th Century Liverpool; something wonderful came out of that sadness that was to stand as a testament to Victorian munificence before there was such a thing as the NHS, or a welfare state or even – in any real sense – a Labour Party.
There was a time when working mens’ clubs, labour clubs, scout and Boys’ Brigade halls and various sports and recreation clubs were as prevalent in communities as betting shops, off-licences and bars are these days; but the power of the Church, wealthy individuals, various religious organisations and private businesses that built them has faded.
In many instances, when responsibility has passed to local or national government, these great organisations have wilted and closed under mismanagement and lack of funding – society has struggled to recognise the value of leisure and past-times and culture to those less well-off.
In the case of sport, particularly, such institutes were important in keeping lads off the streets, and channelling their energy into something more fruitful. The resurrected Florrie is likely to be something rather more all-encompassing, rather like The Blackie in Chinatown has become, and the area could do with a focal point.
That part of the Dingle is a strange old place, so many shuttered shops and pubs next to huge grain silos and gas cylinders. Without old pubs and shops and workplaces, and with more transient inhabitants, those communities are not as tight-knit as they once were.
Two decades of hard work by a small group of individuals should start to bear fruit, and the new Florrie – currently all exposed beams and crumbling brickwork and exploding buddlea – will stand testament to a community that never gave up.