www.close your eyes and see tenants.org


The Internet TV project tenantspin has been hugely successful and gained

respect from many artistic and social agencies. In is first three years the

project has webcast around 250 live shows on subjects as diverse as

E-Democracy, green homes, Elvis, tenants’ rights, Jamaican Rum Cake

recipes, anti-social behaviour, Alexei Sayle, money, care, the paranormal,

pensions, robots, HAT and demolitions. It has involved members of the

community over a lengthy period of time and consistently unearthed and

drawn in new participants. It has collaborated with major cultural figures

and created some extraordinary opportunities for participants.


Slowly evolving out of the first experimental project at Coronation Court

in 1999, the tenantspin has been based around a relationship between a

Liverpool-based arts agency (FACT), a community of high-rise residents and

a Government housing body (HAT). In understanding how this relationship has

developed it is important to reflect upon the period in question as it is

to some extent a never-to-be-repeated period in Liverpool’s housing



The first project was housed in a modest high-rise community flat (sharing

with a hairdressers salon and Tenants’ Association office) in the

Coronation Court tower block. Built in the mid-fifties, the ten-storey

block stood eight miles from Liverpool city centre and in 1999 around half

of its community was aged over 70. It was proposed that the Internet TV

project, as a channel for community generated content, could become a means

for the isolated Coronation Court tenants to find new networks and new ways

of dealing with developers. The system used was one designed by some

creative workers and technicians in Copenhagen and there was an initial

excitement over the new technology. One tenant commented:


I cannot believe that these young people from Denmark are interested in



As with many such ventures, it was left to a few to actually carry the

baton for a supposed new democratic tool. Interactive TV researcher Stuart

Nolan makes the interesting point that:


You can throw as much technology as you want at a community but if they do

not have an existing context of communication and participation in

democracy they will not participate electronically.


The ageing population perhaps understood the relevance of the new project

but when they did contribute to decisions affecting their future it was

through the long established culture of voting for a representative

(someone more confident, more articulate) to attend lengthy centralised

meetings in their place. 


It is from this context that the tenantspin grew and grew up. It would

strive to see the larger city-wide picture. It would be managed and

overseen by The High Rise Tenants Group (HRTG) and would thus encompass 67

tower blocks with a population of around 2,500 (of whom around 70% were

over 60) – isolated communities facing either demolitions or



Crucially, tenantspin would look forwards rather than backwards. The

content would not be nostalgic the channel would enable individuals’

contributions to tomorrow’s situations to be heard. FACT would continue

working with the tenants, commissioning artists and writers to find fresh

avenues of discourse and participation.


From these beginnings and aspirations, tenantspin has developed an identity

that is both local and global. Part of its appeal is in its constantly

changing format, its flexibility and sustainability. At the time of

writing, the project is about to enter another exciting new phase. After

one year in Coronation Court, two years in the Cunard Building sharing a

floor with the HAT and two years in the newly built FACT Centre on Wood

Street, it is going home to a community setting.


Choices have been made a decision to focus activity around 5 remaining

tower blocks in South Liverpool and an invitation to Arena Housing a

replace HAT as project partners. A new community centre is being built in

front of one of these tower blocks and permission has been sought to embed

a little tenantspin studio in this centre. The studio will directly link in

to all 300 flats across the five blocks and in response to concerns over

access to computers we are exploring the possibility of enabling

residents to view tenantspin on their regular TV sets.


We are taking some risks but resisting a push to supersize. Something we

at FACT have learned from HAT is that it is important to be able to put

faces to names and if this means keeping projects at a manageable scale

then that downsizing must be done.


If I close my eyes and reflect upon three-and-a-half years of working with

tenantspin, FACT, HAT and HRTG, I see people. I see people smiling,

frowning, debating, plugging in, filming, recording, editing, disagreeing

and challenging. I see HRTG tenants in Denmark, Germany, Sweden and on

Broadway in New York, waxing lyrical about this project of theirs called

tenantspin. I see tears and screams of laughter. And the beauty is that you

can see most of this too as every single tenantspin show is permanently

archived on the website (www.tenantspin.org).


Whatever the merits of computer-based community projects, it cannot be

denied that tenantspin, while not directly reversing a decision to

demolish, has in a unique way contributed to an attempt to genuinely

consult people. When consultation is sometimes confused with getting your

own way perhaps a project like tenantspin can fill that gap with mature,

balanced, passionate and respectful debate.