Knit Toxteth: a labour of love



To cover (an object or structure in a public place) with decorative knitted or crocheted material, as a form of street art.

“knitters have yarn-bombed Toxteth”


The idea

“I want to yarn-bomb Upper Parliament Street with hearts.”

This was Chantelle’s idea. We had met just before Christmas through a mutual friend, and a bit through serendipity too, while I was working at Red Brick Vintage in Cains Brewery in Toxteth.

Chantelle and I bonded over the vintage loveliness of Red Brick and red wine. It’s always a relief to meet someone who gets you on a level that other people just don’t. And so we became friends.

Before moving to Liverpool, Chantelle and her family lived in Vancouver where yarn-bombing was a popular occurrence. Trees across the city were often found with bright yarn wound around their trunks. Practically anything screwed into the ground was fair game: bus stops, bike rails, parking metres, benches. Further afield such things have been yarn-bombed as a tank in Copenhagen, a bus in Mexico City and statues in Bali.

Yarn bombing is seen by many as a subversive act. It reclaims public spaces, drawing our attention to those things that usually go unnoticed. Yarn bombing can also be a way of delivering a peaceful protest with more and more people realising they can challenge the status quo and create positive change.

In 2014, Chantelle and her family moved into the vicarage at St Margaret’s church, set within the Granby Triangle in Toxteth, and while clearing out the cellar one day she found an old map of the parish: a bold line cut across the faded paper, running down Upper Parliament Street, along Windsor Street and onwards zigzagging through Toxteth. To Chantelle, the border symbolised a community where people live and work, and public spaces where acts of community take place. It was this map that inspired her.

The first plan was to somehow knit around the whole border but the distance proved unrealistic.

“I thought knitting little hearts would be a good idea. That way, lots of people could join efforts and knit together.”

Chantelle decided that a section of Upper Parliament Street would be enough to represent the original vision. This was the beginning of Knit Toxteth.

The parish

The public perception of Toxteth is not usually a positive one. The area received worldwide attention in 1981 for what was termed the ‘Toxteth Riots’ outside but is more commonly described as ‘the Uprising’ within – a time that was for many a response to years of institutionalised racism, being ignored and isolated politically, within a context of decades of police brutality. A yarn-bomb of hearts certainly wouldn’t change national perceptions of Toxteth, but quite simply our message would be love, love for the community, love for Toxteth. Our hope was that this love would be shared.

St Margaret’s parish has a population of just over 3000, within a small geographic area of Toxteth that mostly covers the Granby Triangle, the most ethnically diverse area in Liverpool and home to some inspirational community initiatives.

The Turner Prize-winning Granby4Streets Community Land Trust (CLT) has become world-renowned: four streets of beautiful Victorian terrace houses, previously marked for demolition under the Housing Market Renewal Initiative, are now being renovated due to the unwavering determination of the community and those involved with the CLT, bringing about ‘a thriving, vibrant mixed community, building on the existing creativity, energy, and commitment within the community, where people from all walks of life can live, work and play.’

Granby market, originally set up by the community, brings life and energy to the streets once a month with wonderful smells, music and dancing, local buyers and sellers. The vision for the market is that it will sow the seeds for the re-establishment of shops and businesses on Granby Street, which once thrived generations ago.

Beyond the Granby Triangle is Windsor Street, with its expanding community food production project known as the 100-year food street plan. Take a stroll down Windsor Street and you’ll see chalkboard signs promoting community food gardens such as the Grapes Garden, the base for Food For Real Film Festival which seeks to ‘explore the environmental, political, health and cultural impacts of the food we grow, eat, waste, and share.’ Further on, the soon-to-be-opened Toxteth Food Central is home to Squash Nutrition, a social enterprise and community-food organisation who ‘work with food as an ingredient to stimulate a more socially active, engaged, fair, and inclusive community’ and will house a local affordable fresh food shop, training space, and food garden.

At the end of Windsor Street is Toxteth Library, with a well-stocked children’s library and the base for literary organisation Writing on the Wall. WoW’s incredible team coordinate projects and events with all of Liverpool’s communities to celebrate writing in all its forms, supporting marginalised writers and giving them a voice, loud and proud. They have just finished their annual month-long literary festival, WoWFest 2017, with the timely theme of Revolution. The festival brought writers, activists, poets, journalists, commentators, spoken word artists, and audiences together. Akala, Gary Younge, Raoul Martinez, Margaret Aspinall, Chris Riddell, Natalie Bennett, Howard Gayle, Vicky Pryce, Phil Scraton, and many more explored their take on the palpable change that is in the air.

As well as these there are dozens of other great projects, charities, social enterprises, community-run businesses, seen and unseen, to explore in this small parish and throughout the rest of Toxteth.

Toxteth is rebuilding itself after years of deprivation. To this day St Margaret’s parish ranks as 23 out of 12,599, where 1 is the most deprived. Within the parish child poverty is at 50%, working age poverty is estimated at 30%, and pensioner poverty is 70% (ranked 2/12,599). There is still work to be done, of course, but help is coming from within the community. If you are wondering how you can help solve these and similar issues in your own community, do some research and find projects already doing something and connect with them. I know Squash Nutrition are very passionate about ending child poverty, so if that is something you want to help end, get in touch with them.

The call out

We did the call out in January for knitters and crocheters via Open Culture, Art in Liverpool, and Knit Toxteth’s Facebook and Instagram. There was no deadline.  We hadn’t decided when we would do the yarn-bomb. We intentionally didn’t push so we went with the flow to see if anyone was interested. Looking back should we have had a bit of a strategy worked out?

Chantelle doesn’t think so: “Having a strategy would have defeated the purpose of it. I just wanted people who were interested in coming along. I didn’t want to make people do it or convince them. I just wanted them to do it out of their own goodwill.”

In the lead-up to the yarn-bombing we received some media exposure through BBC Merseyside who approached us because they wanted to help. Chantelle and I were interviewed live on air on separate occasions, and we were able to hold a heart knitting session through BBC Merseyside’s Up For Arts project. That day around 20-25 people turned up to knit, crochet, and sew hearts, many of whom continued to support the project. Chantelle decided to launch the yarn-bomb on May 6th. This coincided with Voluntary Arts Festival – Up For Arts’ partner – which promotes community participation in the arts.

In the following four months we were inundated weekly with stunning hearts: some big, some small, some brightly coloured, others embellished with tinsel, buttons, tiny dolls, the Jamaican flag, some stuffed, some made from fabric and sewn together and attached to string. Altogether, over 1100 hearts were donated. We still aren’t sure how many people were involved. We’ve estimated about 50-60 but there could have been more. Families, individuals, knitting groups, social groups, and work teams all contributed.

Photo courtesy of @skatiecreates

And thank you, thank you so much if you are reading this and you are one of those who took the time, energy, and resources to be a part of Knit Toxteth. You have all been so wonderfully generous. We are also so grateful for the support and encouragement received from all of the organisations and the people behind them, who helped spread the Knit Toxteth message.

There is something so powerful in the word-of-mouth passing-on of an idea or message through trusted sources such as friends, family members and colleagues. A good idea in the right hands and at the right time can grow naturally and that is an important lesson this project has taught me.

The yarn-bomb

I woke up on the morning of May 6th so excited and a bit terrified. Doing anything public is scary but if I’d learned anything in putting myself out there, it was that there will always be a tiny minority who don’t like what you have to say or do. And if you allow them, they will make you angry with their opinions. But generally, in my experience, there is always a majority of people who will love and support a positive idea.

About 15 people met at the vicarage to help us hang the hearts – friends, family, contributors and those who just came along to get involved. After a quick cuppa we stepped out onto Princes Road with our bags and boxes of hearts. One of our volunteers immediately got cracking on the fences of the Greek Orthodox Church while the rest of us carried on to Upper Parliament Street. Hearts were hung on railings as we made our way to an overgrown grassy thoroughfare in-between two Georgian houses. We covered the iron bars there in hearts while Chantelle got to work hanging her Knit Toxteth sign. Half of the group broke off and carried on down Upper Parliament towards Toxteth Library then onto St James’ Church.

It was absolutely thrilling working with such a mix of people, some of whom I knew fairly well, some absolute strangers and those I’d met maybe once or twice, people similar to me and people who live very different lives.

“I felt there was a really good turnout of people who came to help,” Chantelle agreed. “It was really great to see people stopping and taking pictures and looking out their windows wondering what we were doing. I think the actual putting them out was quite fun and just seeing how it changed the whole street. And then seeing the online presence too was cool.”

Yeah, it wasn’t long before people started to notice.


We are still thinking about what happens next. There is scope for us to set up a regular group at the vicarage so we might do just that. We will definitely launch another project but we aren’t going to force it. I guess when it feels right, when things align, then that will be the time.

Knit Toxteth was our way of celebrating and honouring the wonderful community and beautiful things that are happening in Toxteth, and we were able to bring people together into the process at every step of the way. There is exciting and fulfilling work to be done in every community. What great things are already happening in your community? Connect with them. What issues are not being tackled? See what you can do about them with the resources you have. Get together with friends and talk about these issues and pool your resources. We need to be engaging with our own communities again, at neighbourhood level, even street level.

The most important thing about this project was the connections that were made: the families, friends, and groups that got together to create hearts, new friendships formed, and the connections the hearts made with people as they walked past. More than ever, we absolutely need each other. We need to be able to have open, honest, and real relationships and we need to build our communities on these relationships.

We hope that what we have done together will inspire others to do something similar. Ideas like Knit Toxteth aren’t owned. We have merely given it a go.  It worked.  Hopefully it will work for others too.

“Just like each of those small hearts,” says Chantelle, “if we do our own little bit in our communities, we can build and create something extraordinary.”


We need to talk about human trafficking

When I was a child my mum became a member of Friends of the Earth and was their Liverpool coordinator for a time. I have very fond memories of those years. I remember going along to protests at B&Q, watching my mum’s weird mates holding handmade wooden placards shouting at customers for buying wood from Brazil. I remember once sitting on a big green sack filled with leaflets and pamphlets at the back of a white tented stall in the middle of Church Street while my mum and her mates would give curious kids and lippy teens a badge of a big beaked bird with the words ‘you toucan save the rainforest’ emblazoned across. I loved that badge. I remember overhearing a lot of talk about how it was absolutely necessary to only buy dolphin-friendly tuna, which we never did because ours was, naturally, a vegetarian home.

Sometimes I forget this childhood and tend to remember instead having handstand competitions against the school wall and playing manhunt while simultaneously trying not to get smacked in the face by a football hurtling through the air. Yet, being exposed to these global issues and environmental injustices at such a young age has most definitely paved the way for me to bring to light those causes I believe are the greatest injustices of our time.

When people started to become aware of the possibility of bits of dolphin being found in their tins of tuna, they were horrified and many did something about it, especially in the USA. They boycotted any tinned tuna company that did not state that theirs was dolphin-friendly, later rebranded as ‘dolphin-safe’. By 2004 dolphin mortality rates dropped by 97% thanks to the dolphin-safe commitment made by tuna companies. Nowadays ‘dolphin-safe’ tuna is the norm and is expected by consumers and for a while it seemed that the world had been made right-ish.

Fast forward 20-odd years and recently, before the refugee crisis hit our shores, there were news stories coming out on a near daily basis about thousands of people being enslaved as fishermen for brutal Thai fishing captains and other forms of forced or bonded labour across the world. Many victims trafficked by people they may have initially trusted. Just because these stories are no longer flooding our media doesn’t mean it’s all been fixed and we can go on our merry way.

In fact, it has been widely reported that traffickers are cashing in on the current refugee crisis. Lest we forget the 71 people – 59 men, 8 women and 4 children – who were found dead in the back of a lorry, abandoned beside an Austrian motorway.  It was illegal people smugglers, traffickers, with their networks and logistical knowhow who are behind incidents like this.

So now, let me remind you of the full extent of the problem.

A New York Times article, Sea Slaves: The Human Misery That Feeds Pets and Livestock, investigated the experiences faced by those, mainly Cambodian and Burmese men and boys, who were promised a job by traffickers within their home country only to be faced with years of indentured servitude as they work, and occasionally die, in horrifically oppressive conditions at sea: ‘the sick cast overboard, the defiant beheaded, the insubordinate sealed for days below deck in a dark, fetid fishing hold.’ All to fulfil the needs of the United States’ cat and dog populations.

The findings of investigations like the New York Times’ article have prompted lawmaker Gabriel Mato, a Spanish member of the European parliament and its committee for fisheries, to suggest the possibility of refusing imports of Thai fish products into Europe. In the meantime, as we did with tinned tuna, a boycott of Thai fish products by European consumers would send a strong message. There are plenty of websites giving useful recommendations for how this can be organised. is a good place to start.

Already we are witnessing the Thai government moving into action. It was recently reported, after the discovery of 36 bodies in the south of Thailand – all believed to be migrants from Burma and Bangladesh – that over 100 people, including 15 state officials, have been arrested for crimes of human trafficking within the fishing industry. The Thai defence minister, having received a letter from the EU detailing their concerns, has admitted to 3,000 unregistered fishing boats being used nationwide.

To be clear, the definition of human trafficking is “the recruitment, transport, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a person by such means as threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud or deception for the purpose of exploitation.” It’s worth pointing out that every country is affected by human trafficking, as countries of origin, transit or destination.

Trafficking happens in your country. A quick Google of ‘human trafficking statistics UK’ provides ample evidence that it is rife in my country. In 2014 the National Crime Agency published a report which stated that an estimated 2,744 people, including 602 children, were potential victims of trafficking in 2013. A 22% increase from 2012.

Stats are not easy to come by in terms of measuring the size and impact of the human trafficking industry; traffickers, pimps and madams don’t particularly enjoy being quizzed about their business dealings. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have identified that forced labour, such as what we see happening on Thai fishing boats, amounts to 18% of those who are trafficked contrasted with 79% who are being sexually exploited. Due to the fact that those who are sexually exploited are more visible, to an extent, and those who are forced into labour tend to be hidden, especially out at sea, the distribution of these figures may be due to statistical bias; forms of trafficking other than sexual exploitation are less frequently reported.

As consumer activists we need to consider the fact that human trafficking for sexual exploitation cannot be boycotted and therefore it is harder for governments to give the ‘red card’, and sanction into action those nations that contain sex trafficking networks.

Compared to what we are able to do as consumers for those in forced labour, the average concerned citizen can do a number of things to raise awareness of human trafficking for sexual exploitation. You can help by campaigning and fundraising for organisations such as Stop The Traffik, a global movement of activists around the world who passionately give their time and energy to build resilient communities and prevent human trafficking.

The work Stop The Traffik do in terms of awareness raising for sexual exploitation cover campaigns such as the No Room hotel campaign which enables you to ask local hotels to say they have No Room for trafficking. Or if you or someone you know is a taxi driver then Stop The Traffik can provide support for how to deal with a potential trafficked victim in your taxi. Drivers across Liverpool are now issued with a sticker (see below) when they renew their license.

Taxis against Trafficking
Courtesy of Stop The Traffik

A Cambodian-based non-profit, Sak Saum, provide vocational skills and training to women who have been trafficked and sell an array of handbags and accessories. Buying from a business such as this and telling people about the story behind your purchase is a way to raise awareness.

Whenever you read an article about human trafficking for sexual exploitation you can share it on your social networks and raise awareness that way. If you want to do something more visible within your community you can walk a mile barefoot.

19th July 2010, Dr Jeff Brodsky visited Cambodia in order to support a feeding programme. His visit took him to a rubbish tip in Phnom Penh where many children lived who were at risk of being taken and sold into brothels. Jeff noticed that most of the children at the tip were barefoot. Later that evening, back at his hotel, Jeff wondered how it would feel to be without shoes every day. He decided that for the next year he would live barefoot.

Jeff said the day his barefoot year ended he went to put on his socks and ‘sat on the edge of my bed, socks in hand, and was ready to feel the warmth and softness of those socks around my feet. I stretched them a little, brought them towards my foot and then something very strange happened. I couldn’t get them past my toes!’ He believes something that day stopped him from putting on his socks and he saw the children who motivated him, children who had no choice whether they would wear shoes or not. He has never worn a pair of shoes since.

Since 1981 Jeff has been working with the poorest and neediest children of the world with his organisation JOY International. In 2014 Jeff visited a church in Coshocton, Ohio where the youth group decided that they wanted to help JOY International somehow. After some discussion they came up with the idea that they were going to walk a mile barefoot. Their local community participated and together were able to raise over $12,000 while bringing awareness of child trafficking for sexual exploitation to hundreds of people.

My own experience walking a barefoot mile was powerful. It was the five year anniversary of Jeff being barefoot, and the first international event, outside of the USA, of its kind. Held at the Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh, it couldn’t have been at a more appropriate location, chosen because those we were representing that day may never get the chance to participate in the sports and events that take place there. Due to construction on the running track we did four laps above the seating area. Although it was raining constantly the weather was ideal for being barefoot; the hot Cambodian sun would have made it a painful experience. As each lap ended Jeff would speak about something on his heart, the growing crowds of Cambodians and other nations being represented were left tearful yet motivated to continue.

Dr Jeff Brodsky – photo courtesy of JOY International

After the event, Kelly Treat, Joy International’s National Director of The Barefoot Mile told me ‘Our hope is to expand our Barefoot Miles in many more countries to raise awareness and the much needed funds to continue rescuing these precious children. Together we can make a huge difference in the lives of these children.’

The funds raised through hosting a Barefoot Mile go towards rescue missions, rehabilitation efforts and other projects that allow JOY International to combat child trafficking. If you would like to organise a Barefoot Mile event in your local community then contact Kelly Treat at for an information pack.

Imagine thousands of people across the nations walking barefoot in solidarity for the oppressed, the powerless and voiceless. You’re stood waiting for the bus. You’re not wearing shoes because you’re being sponsored by friends and family. Someone asks you ‘why aren’t you wearing shoes, mate?’ and you tell them that you choose to be shoeless for those who have no choice. A powerful statement and one which, although initially mocked, will be remembered for a long time after.

You have more power than you realise. Use it to make this world good.

Photo courtesy of JOY International