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I remember in the mid 90’s that most young Brummies’ at their earliest convenience would skip the mundane concrete mess that was Birmingham and gravitate to universities to take on degrees, or careers, in vibrant cities that had more to offer than one designer boutique and a string of dying nightclub chains.
Understandably, there was very little to come home for, which is arguably why so many Brummie urbanites settled down elsewhere and haven’t been seen since. That said I was one of the few Remainers, but for many years I felt like I’d missed the boat of opportunity out of here – somehow left behind to face a city on the verge of a complete creative-cultural collapse - certainly not a town that was about to experience a dawn of spectacular change.
At this point I must affirm that Birmingham was not totally deprived of a creative fix. Its underground dance scene was thriving and did hold one or two golden nuggets in its pouch. At Bonds nightclub the infamous Miss Moneypenny’s delivered glamourous hedonism, weekly - along with numerous early-morning ‘walks of shame’ – whilst the legendary Que Club, Wobble and Atomic Jam, were also regularly raising the roof.
I was operating a dance music magazine out of Birmingham’s Custard Factory in the late nineties and whilst Birmingham’s underground scenes were keeping our creative juices flowing, above ground it was not the same pretty picture. Whilst a handful of independent retailers such as Autograph, Donovan Love and Serene Order dressed us up for the occasion (along with the amazing Oasis centre), a pure lack of cultural confidence (and bodies) within the city meant that there were very few independently run venues, restaurants, or retailers. Basically, this was a city yet to establish an identity, a vision, or a creative direction.
Unlike now, where there’s a PR company, or a boutique comms agency, on every Birmingham street corner, most of the lifestyle content for my magazine in the nineties arrived by post from London communication agencies and rarely did we see anything land in the post tray from a Birmingham counterpart. Nearly all our celebrity interviews were conducted in the capital, or on a flagged-down tour bus at a service station, simply because Birmingham was not top of the itinerary.
Whilst you may read this and think, ‘Hey, this is unfair, you’ve already put forward a plethora of great reputations from Birmingham in the nineties’ I’d have to remind you that, whilst this would be a true statement, the offering I have provided is only what you’d come to expect from a large town or small city, not the country’s second metropolis.
Having spent 20 years checking the horizon for that returning ship I can concede (without displeasure) that it never did return – not even the tip of its crow’s nest appeared on my Birmingham vista. Which, in all fairness, I’m pretty smug about now because it seems that a superior ship with a cargo full of culture, confidence, creative flare and vision, just sailed straight over the horizon and spilt its cargo of opportunity all over the city, with an immediate effect.
Today the ‘I’m fleeing the city on the first boat out of here’ mentality has literally run aground and instead the city has become a Mecca for students and career seekers from other cities wishing to experience the new-found vibrance that Birmingham has to offer. The old mindset seems to have completely gone. Birmingham has finally arrived and it’s not just because of the Peaky Blinders!
There are more Londoners moving out of the capital to Birmingham than ever before, so the demand for new city centre living and a creative social infrastructure has never been higher.Birmingham is now the second-fastest growing UK city over 2019 and with HS2 due for completion in 2026 - making London only 49 minutes away - Brum is, at last, catching a lot of people's eyes from around the world as an investment hotspot. For me, the 20-year wait was well worth it– and with the wide variety of designer outlets, coupled with an abundance of new independent retail outlets, opinion-forming bars, restaurants and experience venues, I’m still not too old to enjoy it!
PERMISSION TO COME ABOARD THE CITY OF THE FUTURE?
Birmingham is now a city that wants to show off, not just its fascinating history, but its unique architecture and its exciting and varied gastronomy, which is claimed to be the best outside of London. A visit to Digbeth Dining Club will verify this. A multi award-winning street food event, Digbeth Dining Club has transformed the city's food landscape by turning some of the Midlands most unique venues, into vibrant, street food destinations.
With a new high-speed rail connection and the Commonwealth Games on the horizon, Birmingham’s modesty will be put to the test as Britain’s second city becomes a place that gets better and better.
What we’re witnessing is a 20-year City Centre Masterplan. A vision to encourage and support Birmingham’s continuing transformation into a world class city centre for the future, that covers every aspect of the built environment. It includes creating 1.5 million square metres of new floorspace, over 50,000 new jobs, whilst contributing £2.1 billion to the economy each year.
The ’Master Plan’ is providing 65,000 square metres of new and improved public spaces, providing 28 kilometres of enhanced walking and cycling routes along with five areas of transformation supporting the growth of the City Core. One of these key development areas includes the Eastside area of Birmingham - helped massively by Eastside Locks. This £450 million Canalside regeneration scheme is billed as the most "exciting and important city centre regeneration scheme in Europe".
It includes significant improvements to the public realm and Canalside environment - described as "inviting courtyard spaces offering intimate and calm retreats from the busy streets".
The 13-acre site will be transformed into apartments, a 175-room hotel as well as shops, bars and restaurants – as well as the re-opening of the old Typhoo building.
Neil Rami, chief executive of West Midlands Growth Company, said: "The unprecedented rise of new enterprises here is demonstrating how the region can outclass London as a central hub of innovation, productive and long-term future prospects."
The transformation of New Street Station from shamefully drab train station to ‘Grand Central’, an inspirational travel hub full of desirable shops and restaurants, seems to be at the epicentre of this regeneration explosion – and with such a speedy rate of development I literally can’t keep tabs on what’s new in the city anymore. These days I mostly rely on my better-informed, younger, colleagues to keep me pointed in the right direction. But to be honest, Birmingham has become a place of discovery where I rather enjoy not knowing what delights await me around the next corner.
Birmingham’s rapidly changing culture is not just a social one. As Creative Director for ‘Theming Service’, an events company based in the region, I can see first-hand the positive impact that this change is having on the corporate world. With Birmingham attracting inward investment from companies choosing the city to set up flagship outlets and headquarters, so is the demand for supportive creative agencies to follow them to the city and set up shop around them. Birmingham now boasts some of the most recognised and highly awarded creative communication agencies in the UK.
In the events sect