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Transformation: The architectural collective Assemble plans to convert a derelict house into a greenhouse as part of their Granby Four Streets project (image: Assemble)

The week after the Toxteth riots, The Times ran a full page of photographs of this area of south Liverpool. The Rialto club, smoke rising from its burnt-out bar and banquettes. Fire engines in Lodge Lane and Upper Parliament Street. Cars tipped on their sides. The looted Tesco store in Smithdown Road, a mess of glass and overturned tills. The riots were 34 years ago, but these are the images of Toxteth that endure. They have cast a long shadow.

There was much anxiety about my going to Toxteth. Anyone I told wanted to know: was I going alone? Would someone pick me up from the station? Was it safe? Not only is it safe, no troublemaker would dare so much as pick a pocket. Toxteth, known to its residents as Granby or Liverpool 8, is under constant surveillance. No sooner has one camera crew departed, another arrives. You can’t keep local dignitaries away. When I arrive, deputy mayor Ann O’Byrne is clacking up Granby Street in stack heels, a loud suit and matching Vivienne Westwood necklace and earrings.

Granby Four Streets, a resident-led Community Land Trust (CLT) project, has been — improbably, wonderfully — nominated for the Turner Prize. It is the first time a housing estate has been considered for the Turner. One of the judges, Alistair Hudson, has said: “In an age when anything can be art, why not have a housing estate?”

Officially, the nomination is in the name of Assemble, the young architecture collective behind the redevelopment, but Granby is glowing. The winner will be announced in December. After three cursed decades of being known for the Toxteth Riots, could these streets be rehabilitated by the Toxteth Turner Prize?

On the night of Friday 3 July, 1981, a black teenage motorcyclist, Leroy Cooper, was arrested for speeding and bundled into the back of a police van. While the van was stationary, he jumped from the back, still handcuffed and legged it. He cried police harassment — he hadn’t been speeding, hadn’t done anything wrong. Word spread. It was July, it was hot, and discontented Toxteth began to mass on the streets.

On the Sunday night long-nursed resentment of the police became a riot in Toxteth, a poor and predominantly black area. The Rialto and Racquets clubs and the National Westminster Bank were burnt to the ground. Rioters set fire to the family-owned Swainbanks furniture store. The Princes Park Geriatric Hospital was evacuated; rioters let ambulances through one at a time to take away the 96 patients. Families left burning homes with suitcases of clothes and possessions. A BBC television team was attacked by a masked gang with pick-axes, who smashed a £12,000 camera.

Rioters broke into the Unigate Dairy and ten milk floats and a cement mixer were driven at police officers, before being used to blockade the streets. Tear gas was released for the first time in mainland Britain. One policeman was speared through the head by a six-foot spiked railing. David Alton, Liberal MP for Liverpool Edge Hill, described the events of the weekend as “urban savagery”.

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