What's the first thing that comes into your mind when you hear the word 'heritage'?
For me, heritage is our sense of place, and our community and our sense of being: it’s about giving meaning to our history and our achievements, and it builds our identity as individuals and as a community. It’s not just old buildings – it defines us all.
Tell us a bit about The Florrie
The Florrie (The Florence Institute) was opened in 1889 by a local philanthropist and ex-Lord Mayor of Liverpool called Sir Bernard Hall. He named the building after his daughter Florence, who sadly died at 22. In her memory, he created a place of recreation and instruction for the poor and working class boys of the city.
[quote]“It wasn't just about campaigning to save a building; it was a campaign to save a community.”[/quote]
It was the first boys’ youth club in the whole of the country. But sadly it shut down in the 1980s, and fell into disrepair. But then a local campaign was started to reopen it as a community centre. After years of campaigning, The Liverpool Echo got on board, and in 2008, even Prince Charles supported the campaign. Thanks to National Lottery funding, she finally opened again in 2012.
I can remember when I first came to the Florrie, someone said to me: “You'll never hear a more positive or empowering story than the one about the campaign to save The Florrie.” It wasn't just about campaigning to save a building; it was a campaign to save a community.
What’s an average day like for you as Chief Executive?
We are open 13 hours a day from 8am-9pm and not one hour in here is ever the same.
[quote]“For me, heritage is our sense of place, and our community and our sense of being... It’s not just old buildings – it defines us all.”[/quote]
Anyone can walk through the doors – Ricky Tomlinson likes to come in for a cuppa. The DJ Janice Long went on Celebrity Mastermind at Christmas, raising money for us, so we had everyone cheering her on on the big screen here.
People come in who have no idea what the building is, and others who have treasured memories here. People visit us to look for lost family members in our archives, to browse our heritage centre, or to go on a history tour. We also run a programme of free activities for the local community in subjects from genealogy to IT to a dyslexia support group.
What are the highlights and challenges of running a building like The Florrie?
The highlight is becoming part of her amazing story. You meet Florrie old boys and girls who have been connected to the building for over 50 years.
The biggest challenge is doing people proud, and carrying the torch for all the people who campaigned for and love the Florrie.
What inspired you to work in heritage?
I think what inspired me is being brought up and living in Liverpool 8. It’s an area of such rich history. We’re surrounded by heritage: local people are always involved in campaigning for or saving something, whether that’s jobs, houses, regeneration; it’s a very active community.
We’re only a mile away from the city centre’s world heritage sites, and in our area we have The Florrie, Toxteth Local Art, St James’ Church, The Welsh Cathedral, Prince’s Park. I think Liverpool is built on heritage. You’re involved in heritage here without even labeling it. It just makes sense to you.
What was the last heritage attraction you visited?
I went to Stonehenge recently and absolutely loved it. I went with my daughter, and I was fascinated not just with the history, but also by what’s not known about it. I enjoyed the unknown – it was mystical and magical.
Why do you think heritage is important?
It’s important because it allows us to define ourselves. Our future is attached to our heritage; it informs our way of life.
Who is your favourite historical figure?
Mary Seacole. She was traveller, a business woman, a nurse and a hero.
Do you have a favourite meal?
Indian food. Every day.
What's your favourite piece of art?
Absolutely anything from Jimmy Cauty - his Stamps of Mass Destruction is one of my favourites.