Civic crowdfunding has proved a powerful point: historic neighbourhoods can be saved from demolition and affordably regenerated, instead of expensively rebuilt.
DigVenture’s crowdfunding partners SAVE Britain’s Heritage have won their hard-fought inquiry to preserve Liverpool’s historic Welsh Streets neighborhood from demolition.
In a nutshell, 400 of the 440 houses in this historic neighborhood, including Ringo Starr’s childhood home, were slated for demolition and expensive redevelopment. Most of the community had already been moved on by the local council, leaving the houses to fall into disrepair.
DigVentures worked with SAVE to launch a crowdfunding campaign, which closed having raised nearly £15,000. All of the funds raised went directly to SAVE’s efforts to fight the decision to demolish the neighbourhood, which has now been overturned!
As a result of SAVE’s victory, the homes will no longer be demolished and, according to SAVE, can be regenerated and reoccupied for as little as £3,000.
As a case in point, in 2011, SAVE purchased 21 Madryn Street, a few doors from Ringo Starr’s birthplace at Number 9, and helped a local couple bring it back into happy occupation for an initial £3,000.
The Secretary of State supported SAVE’s heritage arguments, saying that contrary to Liverpool Council’s arguments that the Welsh Streets have little or no heritage value, ‘the Welsh Streets are of considerable significance as non-designated heritage assets of historic, architectural, cultural and social interest’.
He added that the council’s proposed scheme had been in conflict with the Empty Homes Review, which makes clear that “refurbishment and upgrading of existing homes should be the first and preferred option and that demolition of existing homes should be the last option.”
We sat down with Clem Cecil, SAVE’s Director, to talk about their crowdfunding effort and the role it played in helping them to reach this historic decision.
Why did SAVE Britain’s Heritage decide to use crowdfunding for the Welsh Streets project?
We thought we would be more successful raising funds for this project if we threw the net out as wide as possible. We also wanted to try crowdfunding as our presence on social media is quite strong. Fundraising is a central part of our work – we receive no public funding and rely entirely on donations. Trying out crowdfunding was therefore very important for us.
We had just had a public inquiry for Smithfield and we knew that going back to our major donors to raise money for this was going to be a big ask. We are also sensed that there were many people interested in supporting us in a small way that would add up to a considerable sum – which was indeed the case!
What were your expectations of the process of running a crowdfunding campaign? Did it meet your expectations?
It was more work than we expected. As with all fundraising, you have to really work at it – only in this case there is a clear goal and everyone knows what they are getting for their donation. In general it met our expectations and has been a positive process. Even though we didn’t meet our target, we are pleased with how much money we raised, and it was definitely worth the effort.
What’s the biggest surprise for you from the process?
People’s generosity – that people gave from all over the world.
What do you think went particularly well, and what would you do differently if you were to try crowdfunding again?
We think our film was great (thank you DV for helping us get there!) and the whole process of getting the platform in place and designing the benefits has been a great way to engage a large number of people in the process. The actual process of spreading the word is a great way to engage people in the campaign.
Crowdfunding is a democratic process that provides more contact between the donor and cause, and that is of benefit to both sides I believe. We also got a few large donations and (I think) it was rewarding for the donors to understand very clearly what they were giving towards. If we were to do it again we would go for a lower, more realistic target. We would also have more of a plan in process for promoting the campaign.
What impact did the crowdfunding campaign have on SAVE through the process of fighting the inquiry?
We would never have made a film if it wasn’t for the crowdfunding campaign, and that was very useful for getting the message out. Considering the massive response to our win in the inquiry, I think that crowdfunding engaged a broader community than we had previously had for this case, which was fantastic in terms of taking the case forward.
The Welsh Streets is a challenging case, but the rewards and how they were presented caught people’s imaginations and got them involved. We are incredibly grateful to everyone who contributed and feel that this victory is also theirs. We hope they will be able to enjoy the streets in the future when they are brought back into use. Who knows, some of them may end up living there!
Will SAVE use crowdfunding again?
Yes, for smaller amounts.
What was your experience of working with DigVentures?
Our experience of working with DigVentures was extremely positive. We are grateful for the fantastic support that they gave us, drawing on their own experience. DigVentures was always generous with their support and made themselves available when we had a query. DigVentures was also very good on the technical side of things.
They are passionate and committed and say it how it is – I felt that we were in good hands. This was important as it was our first experience of crowdfunding. DV is a good choice for a heritage organization, as they understand about campaigning for the non-tangible! We would certainly work with them again.
We look forward to it!
Many congratulations again to everyone at SAVE and to all the funders of the Welsh Streets campaign. We can’t wait to see what happens in the future of the streets, and how it develops as affordable housing as well as a strong, living, growing community.
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