Smithdown Road: Spotlight on the transforming Liverpool street
For decades a student hub, Smithdown Road and its surrounding suburbs have long been a bustling mix of homes, businesses and cultures.
Now a growing assortment of popular bars and restaurants, coupled with an evolving demographic, means the area could be experiencing its biggest image change in almost half a century.
Words by Lawrence Saunders
Referenced as far back as William the Conqueror’s Domesday Book, Smithdown has a rich and storied history.
From workhouses to umbrella repairers, butchers to bakers, and even a doll and teddy hospital (which is still there); if you can think it then it’s probably been a shop on Smithdown Road.
And as varied as its retail offer has been, the area has long boasted a vibrant mix of cultures too – from recently arrived migrants at the north end to a significant student population in the ‘Dales’ neighbourhood.
Now is undeniably an exciting time for Smithdown Road with the relocation of Archbishop Blanch School during recent years, inclusion in Liverpool City Council’s Homes for a Pound scheme and an increasing mix of cafés, bars and restaurants helping to make the locality popular with a wider range of househunters.
Prime time properties
Brought to national attention via Channel 4’s ‘The £1 Houses: Britain’s Cheapest Street’ programme, the council’s vision to bring thousands more empty homes back into use was first unveiled back in 2013.
Initially launched as a pilot scheme which attracted 1,000 applications for just 20 properties around Granby Street and Arnside Road, the latest stage of ‘Homes for a Pound’ was announced in 2015 – this time focusing on vacant terraced properties located directly off Smithdown Road.
The empty homes targeted are located in and around Britannia Avenue, Altcar Avenue, Childwall Avenue, Dorset Avenue, Bird Street, Richardson Street, Garrick Street, Tunstall Street and Webster Road.
In November 2017, the owners of the first refurbished house as part of the second phase welcomed Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson into their four-bedroom end-terrace on Webster Road.
Sam and Rachael Kamau (pictured) spent 12 months transforming the run-down property, which had a leaking roof, no floor in the bathroom and plaster peeling off every wall, into a comfortable family home.
A council spokesperson revealed to YM Liverpool that the Smithdown phase of Homes For a Pound is now entering its final chapter.
With 43 homes already renovated and the revamp of a further 28 underway, by the spring it’s expected the remaining 26 will be ready to begin their makeover.
Watch out Lark Lane
From Dafna’s Cheesecake Factory and Kelly’s Dispensary to the Willow Bank and the Tavern Co, it’s been a long time since Smithdown Road has been bereft of places to grab a bite or a pint.
Likewise, the successful Smithdown Road Festival has been attracting new visitors to the area every May since 2014 with its blend of live music, comedy, theatre and food stalls.
In recent times, however, the road has experienced a notable influx of well-regarded food and drink spots.
Meet some of the owners and entrepreneurs helping to make Smithdown Road increasingly one of South Liverpool’s most unmissable leisure locations…
Co-owner of Tiny Rick’s Café – A quirky cereal and board game spot.
“A lot of the time people dismiss Smithdown as just a student area but it’s so much more.
“It’s vibrant and full of young professionals, families and also residents that have been here for generations.
“We looked specifically at Smithdown Road as we felt that outside of the city centre it was very much the spiritual home of modern independent business alongside Lark Lane.
“We felt it was somewhere our business could grow organically as part of the community.”
Founder of Fritto – Award-winning pop-up known for its deep fried calzone which is hoping to open on Smithdown Road by the end of June.
“The reason we are opening [on Smithdown Road] is because more than two years ago we applied for one of the Shops for a Pound – a council scheme which aims to help regenerate the area.
“Fritto is a social enterprise aiming to use food as a tool to bring the local community together, so I thought that the whole project was perfect for us.”
Co-owner of Little Furnace – An authentic wood-fired pizza pop-up turned restaurant.
“We’ve always liked the idea of the classic neighbourhood pizzeria like Robertas in Brooklyn or Gorizia in Naples – the kind of places that are often packed out, known and beloved to everyone in the area, and where you see a lot of the same faces.
“We wanted Liverpool to have that and we wanted it to be us.
“[Smithdown] is becoming a better place to socialise by the week. I love being a part of it and long may it continue.
“I don’t think much new has happened, just that people have spotted something about the place that’s been here for ages.
“It’s always had the potential – it just possibly took a couple of risk-takers to pave the way forward.”
Co-owner of Belzan – A stylish bistro given an enthusiastic review by Guardian food critic Grace Dent.
“I love what’s happening at the moment on Smithdown Road – the area has no airs and graces.
“The shops along the street are a good size to be transformed by keen young people and rent and rates are really competitive.
“We wanted Belzan to be a bistro that felt part of a neighbourhood with a community we could really serve – not just another addition to a saturated street of restaurants.
“There’s just so much life in Smithdown – there’s not a day that goes by when it’s not moving, changing and evolving.
“We’re only five minutes away from the city centre but surrounded by green spaces, schools, great pubs, cafés and shops with a real sense of community.”
“Smithdown is becoming a better place to socialise by the week. It’s always had the potential – it just possibly took a couple of risk-takers to pave the way forward.”
On the market
As Cliff from Tiny Rick’s handily points out, Smithdown is much more than a student sanctuary, and with a number of quality homes currently on the market it’s somewhere that caters for a multitude of tastes, requirements and budgets.
For example, an immaculate three-bedroom terrace property on Kenyon Road, just a stone’s throw from the Tavern Co and its legendary breakfasts, is currently seeking offers over £165,000.
A thorough renovation has resulted in a new modern kitchen, elegant tiled bathroom and contemporary décor for this home which should be of interest to first-time buyers.
After something bigger? A four-bedroom end-terrace on Russell Road welcoming offers over £230,000 is well worth considering.
Ideally situated to take advantage of both Smithdown and Penny Lane amenities, the property boasts enviable proportions throughout and at the rear, where a flagged yard complete with patio and artificial grass makes the perfect space for al fresco dining.