Tale of Two Cities celebrates

On 18 July 2015, Grow Wild’s England flagship project, Tale of Two Cities, celebrated its launch at Everton Park, Liverpool. We asked Len Grant, a freelance photographer, writer and blogger, to return to the park and savour the experience.

Four months after we sowed wild flower seeds here in Everton Park we’re back. This time the sun is out and dozens of local people and supporters are sitting next to the glorious poppies and cornflowers listening to local historian Ken Rogers. 

“On this elevated site were 110 terraced streets, some of the steepest in Liverpool,” he says. “Our doors were never shut – we didn’t have anything to steal – and we were a real community.” 

Today it’s the Take a Walk on the Wild Side event to celebrate Liverpool and Manchester’s joint success in winning Grow Wild’s England flagship award. With children dancing with over-sized bees; their parents photographing wild flowers and preparations being made for the afternoon’s Out of the Blue concert, it feels very much like a community again.   

Already this morning Ken has launched an archaeological dig on the other side of the park. Overseen by experts from the city museum, a bright yellow digger is excavating the foundations of the Queens Head Hotel, famed as the birthplace, in 1879, of Everton Football Club. 

I’m delighted to catch up with Ann O’Brian and her granddaughter Lauren, last seen ankle deep in mud scattering seeds on a rainy Sunday morning. Ann lived here when she was a child and so has witnessed a complete turnaround in this neighbourhood’s fortunes. “It’s fabulous, isn’t it?” she says. “I’m really, really made up. They’re beautiful. 

“After we drop Lauren at school, me and my daughter come here of a morning and just sit and meditate. What with the flowers, the view, the peace and quiet… it’s like another world.” 

Sporting a Grow Wild T-shirt, I ask Ann if she is volunteering on a stall. “Not today,” she says, “We’re just enjoying the fun.” 

Over the ridge, also enjoying the fun, I chat to local resident James McCarthy with his partner and three daughters as they help draw a huge panorama of the city. As a warden, James used to look after Everton Park which, he admits, still holds a special place in his heart. 

“Most people have been delighted to be honest,” he says when I ask what his neighbours make of the flowers. “It’s made a real positive difference to the park. At first there was some apprehension because occasionally we get anti-social behaviour – lads on motorbikes – but thankfully nothing’s happened.” 

As a Tale of Two Cities event, today is much more than the wild flowers. It’s about making connections between the two communities of Everton and Manchester’s Hulme. As the day unfolds I see more and more of those connections. 

There’s the young people from Venture Arts in Hulme, who I last saw on a photography expedition a week or so ago, snapping the wild flowers underneath the Mancunian Way. Today they’re enjoying making ceramic birds with members of Everton’s local Chinese youth orchestra

And today’s special guest is Manchester poet, Lemn Sissay, recently voted Chancellor of the University of Manchester and the first official FA Cup bard. I last photographed Lemn in Manchester’s Alexandra Park, the site of yet more Grow Wild sowing later this year. 

Manchester poet, Lemn SissayBefore reading one of this poems, Lemn reminds us of what binds Everton and Hulme: the slum clearances, the utopian ‘streets in the sky’ that spectacularly failed, and the slow rebuilding of community. “Change is intrinsic to what we are,” he says, philosophically. “Change and growth… it’s happening all over the world.” 

Keeping the Two Cities connection going, and with his tongue firmly in his cheek, the Liverpudlian MC later reads a poem from a Mancunian poet. “It’s from a collection called God is a Manc,” he says from the concert stage, “which, ladies and gentlemen, is obviously wrong, because of course God is a Scouser.” 

Before I reluctantly leave the festivities I hunt out Richard Scott from the National Wildflower Centre, the driving force behind Tale of Two Cities. 

“You must be feeling happy today,” I suggest. 

“Extremely,” he says, “I’m relieved it’s a beautiful day and I’m pleased the flowers look great.” 

“Was there ever any doubt? About the flowers, I mean.” 

“We had one of the driest springs for a long time,” he says, “which was a bit frustrating, but seeds are always a delight when they perform. 

“Using the flowers today to link with the music and the poetry is just great. Tale of Two Cities is much more than a wild flower project and that’s what’s exciting for us.” 

Words and images by photographer and writer, Len Grant.

For updates on Tale of Two Cities, visit the National Wildflower Centre’s website and Facebook page