What a day. A beautifully sunny morning in Runcorn, and while Malcolm went to collect Steph in his car, the 7-day walkers travelled together in Willie’s van to the Runcorn Town Hall rendevous, with the Poet Austeriate, who had returned yesterday, happily in our midst. A journey I will never forget, as we sang You’ll Never Walk Alone, being led in signing it as well as singing by Christine, and we almost took the roof of the van off. A special shared moment among people who had shared the week, roads and canal tow paths together.
We positioned ourselves near the Reception of Runcorn Town Hall, and were delighted when new walkers joined us one by one, including Michael Lavalette of Liverpool Hope University, who spoke on behalf of the Social Work Action Network. Working in Liverpool, Michael was able to invite us to look ahead to our walk through its streets later in the day, pointing to the deprivation and suffering imposed on many in the city by austerity measures.
It was also good to have the Halton social workers who had been at the meeting the previous night joining us, and for Katie to send their good wishes with us from Runcorn. Donna read out Peter’s poem from Day 6 and I read an updated ‘Austerity in the UK’ version of the famous Pastor Niemoller verses by a Leicester social work friend of mine. Both are in the poems section of the website.
We set off in force, our extra numbers being added to during the day, in Hale Village, in Speke and as we walked through Liverpool, so that it ended up being our biggest group of walkers of the week. Before we left Runcorn, we stopped at the Runcorn Old Town Bloom Library, a wooden cupboard placed in a garden just off the High Street, by a huge Runcorn mural ‘Of Heroes and Industry’, which is always open for people to put books in or take them away. We placed a copy of Austerity Bites by Mary O’Hara in there, as a gift from the Boot Out Austerity walkers to the people of Runcorn (next to a Jeffrey Archer novel).
The next part of the walk was quite dramatic, as we walked across the great iron Runcorn Bridge, high over the Mersey, then turned left on the edge of Widnes to walk along the Mersey Way, singing Homeward Bound (written by Paul Simon at Widnes Station) as we moved towards Liverpool. When we got to Hale Village, via Pickering Pasture, a welcome surprise awaited in the form of tea and cake in the Hale Youth Centre. Willie and Malcolm had gone ahead, spotted the place, and discovered they had been expecting 29 cyclists who for some reason didn’t turn up after all, so we could have the spread waiting for them. One person’s misfortune is another person’s gain and all that.
We entered Liverpool at Speke and the difference from Hale was marked. It grew from being a small village of 400 in 1930 to a huge estate of 25,000 by the middle of the 20th century. Hard hit by the closure of major factories from the 1970s, by the end of the century it had become the second most deprived ward in England and Wales according to the 2000 Index of Multiple Deprivation.
The streets were quiet this lunchtime, as we marched towards the Leeson Centre which is almost right in the middle of the estate. Run by PSS, Person Shaped Services, the centre provides support for people living with anxiety, depression and emotional distress. PSS was formerly called the Liverpool Personal Service Society, a venerable charity approaching its 100th birthday that was instrumental in the development of organisations such as Citizen Advice Bureaux and Age Concern. We met some of the staff and centre users and heard about a walk they are doing themselves later this year around the Wirral coastal path. I was waylaid by an interview during our break there, so wasn’t able to engage in much conversation myself, but it was a good place to spend lunch, a large centre with friendly staff and users.
Then began the long afternoon walk through Liverpool to the Pier Head. First along the busy dual carriageway of Speke Boulevard, heading towards Garston, where we turned off to walk along the shopping street of St Mary’s Road, getting slightly lost in the process. We rejoined the A561 and continued to walk towards Aigburth, picking up more walkers, and getting lots of supportive hoots from passing traffic and interest from pedestrians. We paused occasionally for toilet breaks, to take photos of road signs indicating how we were nearing our destination, or just to regroup, but this was a determined forward march of growing excitement and anticipation, knowing that each step took us closer to the Pier Head and the end of our 7-day walk.
A quick left and right turn took us onto Park Road and into Toxteth, where we were greeted by a darkening sky and sudden downpour. We were also met first by the Liverpool Socialist Singers, who serenaded us as we walked - and were to later sing for the crowd at the arrival rally - and then by members of the Merseyside Pensioners Association. Before we turned onto the road that would take us down to the Albert Dock and from there to the Pier Head, we got into formation, with the ‘7-day walkers’ at the front behind our long banner, closely followed by all the other walkers, some who had joined on Saturday, some on Sunday, some yesterday and some today, placards aloft, followed by the Singers and the Pensioners under their banners.
The rain had now gone, and in returning sunshine and a strong wind off the Mersey we walked slowly but surely along the open area by the Albert Dock, turning left at the Port of Liverpool Building, the first of the Three Graces, the iconic Liverpool Waterfront skyline and UNESCO World Heritage site. We sang all the way, those two great songs of the walk, the Boot Out Austerity Blues and the Social Workers Chant. A right turn took us onto the promenade between the Three Graces and the River Mersey, past the Cunard Building, and then into the waiting crowd of supporters standing in front of the Royal Liver Building and an outpouring of emotion and celebration.
Celebrating a walk that in the 21st Century should not have had to take place, a walk aimed ultimately at ending the iniquitous austerity measures and all the misery and suffering they bring in their wake. We had made it to the destination of this walk, but we knew it was just one step in a campaign that goes on.
Guy Shennan, BASW Chair