Free University of Liverpool, full of love

23 Sep 2011 jane

(a personal view…)

“Why free?”
“Who is it?”
“What scares you?”
“What trouble do you expect to get into?”
“What existing structures and conventions of universities do we want to ditch?”
“How Liverpool is it”?
“Are we students? Who are we?”
“How will we know when people/we are committed?”
“Is it about curriculum or freeness? or both?
“How will it function as a protest?”
“How will it end?”

These were some of the questions we asked, tickled and answered last weekend in the Next to Nowhere social centre in Liverpool. A group of maybe 20 people, from Liverpool and elsewhere got together to think where this protest goes next…
On Saturday we walked to Everton to move over 500 books that had already been donated to the University down to Next to Nowhere. We talked about books and libraries and power, and how we know what we know. And who told us we should know it.

We talked about how we feel about burning books, banning books, and sticking labels in the front of certain books that say “Warning, this book will damage your self-esteem/ethics/soul/neighbour”. We talked about a library that reveals a library: people take the same heap of books and re-categorise it to reveal different biases and how knowledge is constructed. And how you decide this together…. or not.

We talked about how the Word dominates formal education and how that excludes all kinds of people who learn best through their bodies and discredits their way of knowing, and stops us from connecting everything up. From flow. Capitalistic knowledge that would have us conveniently cut ourselves up into marketable categories: “Now I’m doing sport, I should buy this”. “Now I’m studying I should buy that”. “Now I’m cooking, I should buy these”.”Now I’m at home”. “Now I’m at work”. “Now I’m a lover”.

And what ‘young people’ want and need… and who are we to know? And isn’t ‘university’ already a huge deterrent to lots of young people? Who’s this for? Who IS this for??

We had a COMPLETELY delicious vegan lunch cooked by the social centre. The treacle tart was out of this world.

Later – during the exercise where we each read a book we’d chosen from the library we’d heaved down the hill – one facilitator fell asleep on the sofa and the other was so engrossed in reading about not working that the group, organised along horizontal principles, just collectively and silently decided to keep on reading. Although some of us were fidgetty.

We spoke about desire. The sleeping facilitator later said how lovely it was to take a nap. The reading facilitator spoke about feeling engrossed and not wanting to be responsible. Feeling narky for one reason or another. We spoke about honesty. When are teachers/lecturers/facilitators filled with desire or feel able to be honest? Then we temporarily lost interest in books and wanted to talk about kindle, apps, blogs, twitter and youtube… We went to the pub.

On Sunday, a growing sense of incredible nourishment and excitement. Three young brothers aged 10, 8 and 4 facilitated the warm-up, including some quite complicated maths.
“Everyone answer our questions!” [Groan] “But without the attitude!”
They improvised some ground rules which flowed out of them as easy as can be:
“Lesson No 1: Always listen to us
Lesson No 2: It’s for your own good.
Lesson No 3: Do your homework
Lesson No 4: There is no homework today
Lesson No 5: Always listen to us
Lesson No 6: (there was no lesson no.6)
(Nor 7)
Lesson No 8: Always sit down
Lesson No 9: Always put your hand up
Lesson No 10: There is no bullying
Lesson No 11: Treat us as you want to be treated
Lesson No 12: Do what we say or you’ll get a smacked bottom and sent to bed
Lesson No 13: Don’t go to the toilet in class time
Lesson No 14: Do you think I do this for my own good?

Nuff said.

There was a bit of impromptu singing, and those who refused to sing. There was a sudden performance on a violin. There was talk of the emotional orchestra, and we became for a few blissful moments a Feral Choir. There was talk of someone’s grandad’s accordion, and how it kept nagging away as being something to learn, learn together, and learn from. Accord. Accord. Accordions like the Book Block’s shields.


We were asked: What do you want to learn? And what do you want to teach?

When, in teacher training or in colleges or universities does anyone ever ask you that?



HOW TO DECOUPLE FROM THE STATE AND FROM STERLING. GROUND IT IN LIVERPOOL. 33 Housing Coops. 2 Food Coops. It’s all here. Liverpool’s radical history…


HOW TO LEARN THROUGH THE BODY: SATISFYING POLITICS. Making, doing, touching, cooking, sounding, moving, tasting, feeling but embodying how power operates, how to love the senses, how to resist the chain, chain, chains.

And how the Free University of Liverpool will unfold.

Emerging from basement into Liverpool’s hubbub: Hope Street Festival, post Tottenham-Liverpool football crowds, karaoke oozing from pubs, boarded up shops next to art installations. All mesmerising, all possible. All gorgeous somehow. Had a hug and tickle with the Ken Dodd statue in Lime Street station. He’s so nice.

Off southwards. A feeling that this is very important. And exciting. And two fingers. Loads of two-fingers. Movement-building. No wonder so many academic ‘names’ have signed up to be faculty (although this faculty can be anyone at all…). ‘Students’ can’t be healthily ‘taught’ by ill, sick, alienated, burnt-out teachers or lecturers. They would all weep with joy at this. It’s been so long. Me, i think this is at first about reclaiming the joy of learning, which is all the more, when we learn together from whatever starting point…. Experiments in learning, in public.

So eyes open for the Scratch Orchestra for Democracy… over-experience or no experience necessary. Bad attitude essential.

Focus Areas