'Run down' part of Liverpool that's become UK's 'coolest' area

Cains Brewery Village and Baltic Market in the Baltic Triangle
Cains Brewery Village and Baltic Market in the Baltic Triangle -Credit:Colin Lane/Liverpool Echo

People living and working in one of the UK’s coolest areas are no stranger to a revamp of an old warehouse.

The Baltic Triangle can be seen as one of Liverpool’s biggest success stories. In the last twenty years, its derelict buildings have been repurposed to house some of the city’s most notable hospitality and nightlife venues, including Manifest, Camp and Furnace and the Baltic Market.

Its latest addition came last week, with Canning Hall reopening as BOXPARK, the dining and entertainment complex which is the business’ first outside London.

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Speaking to the ECHO, BOXPARK CEO Simon Champion said the move had been a long time in the making.

Simon said: “We looked at over 300 sites over the past ten years and we’ve only got four. We’re very happy to open in Liverpool.

“BOXPARK is about music, sport and events. We do over 600 events per site, per year. Liverpool itself has great history in terms of that. It was an obvious city to go to.”

BOXPARK's CEO, Simon Champion, and COO, Ben McLaughlin, during the company's launch in Liverpool
BOXPARK's CEO, Simon Champion, and COO, Ben McLaughlin, during the company's launch in Liverpool -Credit:Peter Byrne/PA Wire

The area is cited as one of the ‘coolest’ areas in the country. The Daily Telegraph included it in its list of 15 neighbourhoods last week, while Time Out declared it as the 11th coolest in the world.

Groups such as the Baltic Creative CIC were amongst those responsible for the transformation of this city centre district. Its CEO, Lynn Haime, joined the company a few years ago but argues its work has been crucial for a long time.

She said: “It was a pretty run down part of the city. It was about to be designated as a red light zone apparently. We got involved in conversion of fairly bland warehouses into the Baltic Creative.

“It was the catalyst for change because it brought a critical mass of digital and creative businesses. The initial premise was to protect the creativity that was in the area, albeit a bit dispirit, and give everyone a safe place to continue that edginess that was present and build on that.”

The Baltic Creative now houses a series of creative businesses and the 92 Degrees coffee shop. However, the area has taken on a new quality in recent years.

Huge towers of accommodation blocks have been constructed while some of its original businesses have gone, including the Constellations bar and radio station Melodic Distraction, which left the Baltic in 2020 and has since shut down entirely.

BOXPARK Liverpool before its opening night
BOXPARK Liverpool before its opening night -Credit:Liverpool Echo

Simon insists that BOXPARK is there to enhance the Baltic’s offering and promote existing businesses in the city. He said: “We actually looked at the Baltic in 2017 and said no.

“What impressed us over the last few years is that people have trailblazed the Baltic before. Things like Bongos Bingo, Camp and Furnace, it’s great to see the Jacaranda here too. Our job is to fit in there and grow the Baltic overall.

“What we've been really impressed by is our food operators. There are more established ones like Crazy Pedro's. We've taken more of a chance on others such as Pukt.

“Our 600 events a year are going to be local musicians and local businesses helping us. We’re not a big brand - we only have three other sites. We very much are about championing the local area.

“What we hope to achieve is that, the people of Croydon, for example, feel it's their BOXPARK. We want the people of Liverpool to feel like it's their BOXPARK.”

However, there’s one thing that Lynn and Simon both argue is needed for the area. A new train station has been mooted for many years.

Progress has been made recently, with the old St James train station secured to be redeveloped as Liverpool Baltic on the Merseyrail Northern Line. Construction has been delayed until 2025, although Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram is aiming for it to be completed by 2027, a year ahead of schedule.

Simon said: “The station, for us, is vitally important. Yes it's great being all independents, but if people struggle to get there on public transport, it does have a limiting effect. We really hope that there is a station built there. It will be a game-changer.”

Lynn added: “We desperately need it. I think it would be a gamechanger. I got excited when I first joined thinking it was a relatively new idea before I was told it had been talked about for 10 years.

Lynn Haime, CEO of the Baltic Creative CIC
Lynn Haime, CEO of the Baltic Creative CIC -Credit:Emma Case

“We do a tenant survey every year. Far more than should drive given the location and the vast majority say they would use the train if it was more accessible.”

Despite being a short walk from the main shopping area, some complain the Baltic is slightly too far away to visit. Lynn believes a train station would address this complaint.

She said: “It's a perception. It's 10 minutes from Liverpool ONE. If there was just another stop on the northern line, that would open it up for more people who dismiss it currently.”

When the ECHO visited the Baltic this week, no-one explicitly criticised BOXPARK moving to the area. However, there were mixed views about the general state of the Baltic and what the future holds.

Mark Owens, from Huyton, is the co-founder of Svara Radio which broadcasts live every day from its headquarters on Bridgewater Street. He has an optimistic view.

He said: “I think it's all positive. Just driving up that section of Upper Parliament Street, the Baltic’s getting better and better. There’s something here for everyone.

“We’ve been there for three years. Month by month, it's looking more and more how it should look. I see it as a positive - people can still visit the Baltic Market as well as visiting BOXPARK. It's an ecosystem where everyone feeds off each other.”

Sisters Noura and Futoon Qusairy, founders of Yamama Cafe on Parliament Street
Sisters Noura and Futoon Qusairy, founders of Yamama Cafe on Parliament Street -Credit:Colin Lane/Liverpool Echo

Speaking about the impact of BOXPARK on numbers in the area, Futoon Qusairy, 30, who runs Yamama, a Middle Eastern café and kitchen on Parliament Street, said: “So far I can't really tell. I'm still trying to guess.

"It's been open for a week now but I can see there's a lot more people in the area, and I think it would be good for us. This business started from an art project and we want to focus on supporting artists and musicians, and we thought the Baltic would be the right place to be in.”

Jack Saunders, 24, who works at the Seven Store clothing store across the street, feels the area is losing sight of what sparked its redevelopment. He said: “Some would call it genetrication. When I lived here six years ago, it was all about culture from the grassroots.

“Now Constellations has gone, Melodic Distraction has gone. Places like that are getting priced out. It’s overdeveloped. There’s a danger the area loses its soul.”

Caroline Rooney, 29, who works at Ditto Coffee on Jamaica Street, is interested about what BOXPARK will bring but believes new initiatives do not incorporate those who live in the smaller, low-rise housing estates close to the Baltic that pre-date modern developments.

She said: “I think this area doesn't actually have anything to do with the community that existed in it before. I think as well, this area would have been used so much for industrial purposes and warehouses.

“I think one of these buildings would have been great to have something like a museum on what this area actually means, because people don't understand why it's called the Baltic Triangle. But I think the way it's kind of like becoming this digital creative hub is quite cool.”

New apartment blocks tower over houses on the low-rise housing estate
New apartment blocks tower over houses on the low-rise housing estate -Credit:Liverpool Echo

One man, who did not wish to be named, lives on the low-rise estate, which encompasses several streets of detached, semi-detached and terraced housing. He claimed he and others have yet to see the benefits of this regeneration.

He said: “I don’t think it has helped local people. I get the argument about improving the area. But a lot of people will move here from London with their parents' money. They’ll see the property as an investment.”

He claims he could not afford to downsize from his house and move into one of the newer flats due to the higher rents.

“They say it’s for young people, but how can they afford to live there?

“There’s no community any more. There used to be. Now, no-one wants to know. They’re all strangers.”

Jan Walsh, 70, who also lives on the estate, enjoys living there but feels very distant from the raft of new apartment blocks and bars opening on her doorstep.

She said: "It’s nice around here. But it has changed a lot. It feels separate. It’s nice around here but there are more strangers.”

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