Today I attended the funeral procession, around the Eldonian Village that he created, of Tony McGann MBE.
Tony was a fierce fighter for the people of what was Eldon Gardens. These were a set of three and four storey walk up flats that were being demolished, as were all similar blocks by the then Liberal Democrat controlled council. In all cases residents were being transferred to housing cooperatives which they would run and would commission the design and then management of the buildings into which they would move.
All was going well until we lost control of the Council. Labour exerted its authoritarian instinct and immediately stopped the cooperative housing programme which, at the time, was the biggest in the whole of Western Europe. The estate which had been designed to be run by the residents was going to be a standard council estate. This was at a time when the Council was still an atrocious landlord with estimates of necessary repairs running up to £1billion!
Labour under estimated Tony McGann and the determination of the community to stay together as some of those families had done down the generations. Tony went into full fight mode and recruited three key figures. In no particular order they were Archbishop Derek Worlock, Bishop David Sheppard and, thanks to the persistence and support of those two, Michael Heseltine.
Michael Heseltine got his department to swing into action for the residents and against the Council. Land was found on the old Tate and Lyle site, the money was found by way of grant and mortgage, architects were instructed, and the Eldonian Village was created next to the canal. This enabled the community to move together and avoided the problems of so many clearance schemes that destabilised communities and families.
For decades, the Village flourished and still does as a prime residential area close to the City Centre. Other plans were not so successful. The garden centre designed to provide work and a ‘natural’ experience for did not work well. The Village Hall fell into disuse as the old guard who had created the venture aged and were not replaced by people with the same passion.
Things came to a head last year when the community took back control of the estate and all its assets after they found out things were happening behind their back. I can only hope that things are once again going well and looking good.
You might ask why I as a life-long Liberal should attend the funeral of a life long Socialist. You might think that we had nothing in common. You could not be more wrong. When I pushed the housing cooperative programme I did so because I believed that people with ordinary backgrounds from ordinary communities were more capable of running their lives than people with fancy pants job titles and large salaries. There is no such thing as ordinary but some people like Tony McGann were extraordinary.
Tony was the epitome of that. Who knows what Tony and millions of people like him could have done given the life chances that others start with? But they could not have done what he did. Most of them could not or would not take on the Council and the Government because of their absolute conviction that communities and communitarian principles really matter. Their conviction, which I share, that we all have the right to a decent home in a decent neighbourhood which is green, clean, safe, and well managed.
It became clear to me today that Scousers will never be defeated. What I saw today was, in the very best sense, a gathering of the Everton clans. Great grandfathers to great granddaughters met. The spirit between them was great. They will still be there looking after each other when posh politicians have well followed Tony to the grave. They have a real sense of community and of family. Tory aggression and Labour indifference will not beat them.
He did not call it the Eldonian ‘estate’ but by using the concept of a village which can cater for people throughout their lives with all the facilities that they need reinforces the mutual way in which we can and should support each other on our life journeys. Too often both the public and private sectors have just provided housings segregated by age or class rather than trying to mould the sort of communal and supportive way of life that is the tradition of a village.
There’s only way of paying tribute to the life of Tony McGann and that is to ensure that his dream of a great community in a great village continues to thrive and that the people of that area have access to the same amenities and lifestyles as those in more prosperous areas. As I have made clear to his family and his friends, I remain committed to Tony’s ideals and will do anything that I can to sustain his village and his community.
It was a tribute to be invited to attend the procession today and see his mortal remains escorted around the village that he created. May he ‘Rest In Peace’ after a life well lived in the service of his family, his community, and his City.