Stirchley High Street Stories told through different lenses

Stirchley-High-Street-Stories-Fiona-Cullinan
Me and my dog – just one theme from Stirchley High Street photo stories

Stirchley High Street Stories was a community photography project which ran from March to June 2019. Last night it launched its popup exhibition and newspaper at Artefact in Stirchley. The gallery runs to Saturday, with a print run of 100 newspapers for visitors to view or take away.

The project

The project was organised by Ghost Streets CIC led by Tracey Thorne and funded by the National Lottery Community Fund. A group of volunteers met three times for photowalks along Stirchley high street, from Fordhouse Lane to Bournville Lane junction. We attended a workshop run by Photo School on how to tell stories with photographs. Then we each chose a theme or story to focus on.

Stirchley High Street Stories Newspaper, 2019
Stirchley High Street Stories newspaper with back cover featuring Stirchley Shutters

First I collected colour in the form of Stirchley’s shutters (which made a vertical grid on the back cover). But post-workshop I decided to get a different perspective and take a ‘camera dog’ for a walk down the high street – essentially a GoPro on a monopod.

I’m really pleased with the results. The wide angles and foot-high shooting position were perfect. I decided to process them in black and white because that’s how we used to think dogs saw the world. Apparently they do have some colour vision and see the world as basically yellow, blue, and grey (no red or green).

Other themes from the rest of the team include: curry houses, Hunts Road junction, Browell’s tobacconist, Stirchley swatches, shopfronts, things for sale, uncommon places, and fusions and tensions (with some lovely poetic captions from P-Bantz, aka Phil Banting).

A selection of photos is on Stirchleyhighstreet.tumblr.com and under the Instagram hashtag #stirchleyhighstreet. Here are some of my A Dog’s Eye View photo stories, including new ones not in the newspaper.

Final thoughts on ‘what next’ after the scroll…

The photos

Under the bridge to Stirchley School
Under the bridge to Stirchley School
It's a boy's world at the barber's, Stirchley
It’s a boy’s world at the barber’s, Stirchley
Dog meets dog
Dog meets dog at the barber’s, Stirchley
Stirchley curves
Stirchley curves
Patting the dog at Loaf
Patting the dog at Loaf
Waiting for human to go to the park
Waiting for human to go to the park
Human goes to British Oak pub again.
Human goes to British Oak pub again.
No escape from the Seven Capital hoardings
No escape from the Seven Capital hoardings.
Shadow lines on the demolished corner of Mary Vale Rd
Shadow lines on the demolished corner of Mary Vale Rd.
Stirchley Gorilla
Stirchley’s Kong presides over all.

What next?

Hopefully there will be a followup from this. Stirchley is changing massively at the moment and already the high street looks different with the Wild Cat reopening and others due to follow. See:

With everything in flux and several wastelands awaiting development, it would be great to have an Issue 2 next year at the least.

Personally I’m hoping for more multimedia stories, using video and audio – to create a living record of the transition and the community that is creating that change. A ‘Humans of Stirchley’ piece maybe, to bring the high street to life for future generations.

Who wants to be videoed or photographed/interviewed so I can practise my storytelling/photojournalism?

Or I might start to take my interest in Stirchley in new direction. I’ve enjoyed getting back to photography and taking a more artistic approach to my local area.

Ideas are forming… get in touch?

Stirchley retail park – deadline and suggestions for comments

derelict Stirchley houses now demolished

You have until this Thursday 9 May to submit comments on the preliminary planning application by Seven Capital. Link: https://eplanning.birmingham.gov.uk/Northgate/PlanningExplorer/ApplicationSearch.aspx

Search ref number: 2018/10370/PA

As someone with an ongoing interest in Stirchley’s development and being part of SuperStirchley’s Lidl campaign, I have submitted my comments (once a-bloody-gain) on the outline plans for Stirchley retail park. Please feel free to borrow and reword if you agree with any of them.

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Here we go again – will you listen to Stirchley community’s comments this time or ignore as previously? Will you be too scared to push back against Seven Capital and large-scale developers with unsuitable plans for fear of expensive legal appeals, as you did with Lidl? We are relying on you but we will be watching. You should know that Seven Capital has not, as it claims on its material, sought out engagement with local stakeholders; it has arranged but then cancelled an appearance at a Forum meeting. It says a lot about how much they care what they put into this space which may have a huge effect on Stirchley high street.

Here are my concerns:

Impact on community facilities – Yes to the gym. It’s the least you can do after we lost one to Lidl’s aggressive landbanking. Yes to more things that help the national agenda against obesity and costly health issues. But can it be a council one to offer affordable health benefits. We want a Northfield gym/pool to replace the Fitness First and the old baths (especially now Tiverton has closed). The University pool is great but wait-listed.

Community facilities – No to a drive-through. We need to give young people proper facilities to use. We deserve replacement of both the indoor bowls, which decamped to Kings Heath thanks to Tesco, and the bowling alley we lost in the Lidl debacle. We deserve to get our assets of community value back.

Intensity of development re supermarket density. Give us yet another supermarket if you must, despite that fact there are existing in the area and many others within easy reach. But make it a Clean Kilo with no plastic impacts, or something that won’t kill off the Coop in a race to the bottom on prices. Some people find the Coop expensive but others value Stirchley’s Coop for their ethics and support of community projects, and their historic legacy of being on this site for a century.

Design and appearance – a plea for better architecture than that which is proposed. The site is next to the historic British Oak and community church, and brick terraces. A modern drive-through and supermarket next to it is not in keeping with the aesthetic and some of the buildings that were demolished on that strip. Stirchley high street shops are predominantly brick-built, individual units offering businesses that can react to community needs – such as, double use as co-working spaces, offering activity-based clubs (carving, drawing, meeting spaces) that build community. More of these and less of the big single-use retail monoliths with grey frontages that are born to die in a future of online shopping or provide a hiding place for crime (such as the nearby Farmfoods development). Look at the research into how retail parks must change to adapt to future high street needs. There is an opportunity here that the community wants you to consider – not just design and form but future function.

Loss of view/access – Give us our road back so the community can see through the estate and flow from the park through to Stirchley once again.

Traffic / highway matters– Give people a reason to visit on foot – people have suggested a plinth for changing artworks, or other public art that would fit with Stirchley’s unique and creative character. The triangle of land opposite the Oak needs to be open space with access (traffic crossings or even pedestrianisation as suggested in previous plans). This would fit with…

Clean air promises (highway matters) – live up to them by creating cycle routes through that will connect the Rea Cycle Route and potentially a route up to the new Bristol Road cycle route. Add planting and trees – there were trees before by the Working Man’s Club. Make car parks freely available for use by high street shoppers, to increase footfall and keep cars off the high street.

Highway matters – we are already clogged and a pinch point for an access to a retail park. Supermarkets and drive-ins encourage more cars and will just add to the problem. People are shopping online more and more and cars are polluting and create health issues. Give a parking space for those who have to drive but don’t actively encourage cars to drive to Stirchley.

Comments are here but there are also active conversations on Stirchley’s Facebook and on Twitter generally.

Stirchley seven years on

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes! Every few years I take a photographic snapshot of my local Stirchley High Street, Birmingham, to see how it has changed.

So here is Stirchley in 2018…

There is an empty space where the thriving gym and historic bowling alley used to be, demolished after Lidl supermarket pushed ahead with a presumptuous land purchase (they had their permission to build overturned). There is also a massive Tesco wasteland now boarding up a large percentage of north Stirchley. Let’s hope Seven Capital can do better, eh? Watch them closely. They were due to show at the Neighbourhood Forum meeting this Monday but have dropped out. It doesn’t bode well.

While the supermarkets and large developers try their frickin’ best to flip (thanks Kimmy Schmidt) with Stirchley, the independent scene is thriving (more on this in Viva Stirchley). Loving the fact that a spooncarver, fudge shop, martial arts supply store and houseplant shop are newcomers this year, increasing the bloody superb random nature of our high street. No homogeneity here, in 2018 at least. Pretty much all our chain stores are caged inside the Coop or shoved up the, ahem, business end of Stirchley.

Sad to hear Drums International, The (vegan) Pie Shop and Moso vintage clothing have closed and/or moved on. Drums International was one of my favourite does-what-it-says-on-the-sign storefront. The Belgian and Netherlands consulate is also a very sad loss, for quirkiness and international tourism alone. And Hairport – I miss that one for its punnage, although Iron Maidens laundrette is still the winner. There are other casualties – check the 2011 photos at the end of this post.

All the hardcore old-school Stirchley businesses are still here: P Browell tobacconist, Phull Watch Co, Mirror Image, Oulsnam (they’ll always be Laing to me), Stirchley Alterations & Dress Making, JJ’s Flooring (which has added a rooftop King Kong as you do), Maginnis opticians, Printigo (now snuggling in the bosom of the main high street), OJ Fallons plumbing supplies, Noct Offs, Wards, the British Oak – to name a few. Domestiks is still here but now sells appliances not ex-catalogue clothes, so that’s less useful (to me).

Alongside them and hoping for similar longevity are the hardcore ‘newbies’ creating most of the buzz: Loaf, Artefact, The Bike Foundry, Alicia’s Micro Bakehouse, The Wildcat Tap and other local breweries (no longer is Stirchley just a balti Mecca).

I have to give a special mention for the lovely Stirchley Wines & Spirits. Just because. #injoke #keepstirchleyshabby

Also Stirchley Library and Baths – important sources of community spirit, as well as free knowledge and tasty chocolate brownies at the monthly market.

>> Stirchley in 2018

The previous album ‘Stirchley Village’ was taken in 2010 and 2011. Enjoy now in case I don’t cough up for the forthcoming Flickrgeddon and my pictorial histories are deleted in a few months:

>> Stirchley in 2011

 

Viva Stirchley!

Stirchley is cool right now. I would even say it’s at its peak. So what does that mean? I’ve been thinking about my home neighbourhood of Stirchley, B30, not necessarily coherently but I need to write about it because, well, I’m a writer and occasional local reporter and I was actually born and bred here, so there.

So here I am on a Saturday afternoon, thinking about how Stirchley is at that point of pre-gentrification while tottering at the edge of becoming something far less likable in future years. Such pronouncements of coolness are kind of ridiculous and subjective, but there is still a sense of it being true in the way that old travellers remember with nostalgia how this or that place ‘was so much better and less touristy back in [year]’ and ‘you should have been there back then’. Except in this case, back then is right now.

I think I’m saying this because there is a definite Stirchley ‘scene’ going on. It’s not exactly Liverpool in the ’60s or Bromley in the late ’70s but something is happening and there is an excitement and feeling of connectedness in the air. For years, there was little reason to go to Stirchley high street, unless you wanted an antiques shop treasure or a hydroponics set-up or a Saturday-night balti. Now it’s like a private members club whose playground is a shopping parade of weirdness unlike any other local high street. Everyone knows everyone and strangers are welcomed – if they fit (the criteria is kind of loose but there, judgmental in that you should be non-judgmental and open to joining in). Or maybe this is just the view from my seat.

Stirchley responds…

A lot of positive change is happening. In fact, I’d rather be here than anywhere else in the UK right now (that isn’t on the coast or in the mountains) because what is happening is a rare, beautiful and organic thing of a community coming together in interesting ways. In a way, this is my love letter to Stirchley – a place I left at 19 and never thought I’d return to because, to be honest, it was rough as guts in my childhood.

A practice session in Hazelwell Park.

Now there are micropubs and breweries, a community bakery and cooking school, a community market, a bike foundry, coops, cafés, a houseplant shop, vintage clothing, record and music shops, art spaces, even a spoon-carving, clog-making wood crafter, plus other odd independents creating a miscellany of shops on the main strip. There is a mini version of Birmingham’s famous King-Kong gorilla, who sits above the carpet shop and get’s lit up with festive lights at Christmas (who needs a local BID and a budget for fairy lights – we make our own fun). Online, multiple Twitter accounts organise and extol. There is a hashtag: #vivastirchley, which started as a pisstake and has now been adopted. Unicyclists and alpine horn players have been spotted.

Artefact is a big part of this shift from people being visiting consumers to active community members. This art café space, together with Stirchley Baths, Stirchley Library and other community spaces host so many interesting events and groups that there is little need for the Stirchillian to venture beyond B30 for her social entertainments.

I’ve even stepped up and put on my own events (cybersec sessions, Interrogang discussion group, Glass Room pop-up), something I couldn’t imagine doing in a more commercial, less community-oriented high street. Artefact made it more than easy to start something up, actively welcoming and encouraging participation. Word must be spreading – they’ve had both an Edinburgh Fringe comedian hire the space and a secret gig booked by well-known band.

Artefact in Stirchley.

My own favourite Artefact nights FWIW are the Felt Tip Bender, the crazy rambling What is a Watt? quiz with Johnny’s live art news round, Stirchley Collage Club, the regular art show launches and our co-founded Interrogang discussion group talking about the opportunities and dangers of the data economy.

This is the good stuff. But I’m also starting to worry about the dangers of gentrification and local development planning. Some crazy planning applications have gone in – one recent one was for 40 student flats in a tiny corner-shop bit of real estate. Another by Lidl UK ended up razing the popular Fitness First gym and bowling alley to the ground, and has stalled because of ‘reasons’. Then there is a rash of new housing being built at the old Arvin Merritor site, which could bring new customers to the high street but also swamp it with traffic. More development is expected at the vast Seven Capital wasteland that Tesco sold off after sitting on the land for 17 years.

Who will these new residents be – and will they want a homogenous high street of big money chains like Boots and Greggs over the strange but unique collection of shops we already have? Will Birmingham City Council factor in or ignore the impact on Stirchley’s changing character and community and independent businesses when more developer applications come in, or will they fold in the face of big money?

The Tesco wasteland in Stirchley.

At present, Stirchley is still fairly downmarket in feel and a bit dowdy of look, and the West Midlands Police helicopter circles overhead regularly late at night to catch the drug dealers and car thieves. That people are calling Stirchley ‘cool’ is amusing in many ways. And it’s odd to hear friends talking about moving out of their beloved Moseley to supercool Stirchley, discussing the property prices and availability while bemoaning our terraces with their lack of driveways and on-street parking. Stirchley is not the new Moseley; you don’t move here for the real estate. Here, we only joke about where is best to live: the Riviera or the Marina end.

How Stirchley develops is at a turning point. The large empty spaces offer potential for greater community cohesion but I fear this will not be realised because, so far, no supermarket developer has done anything more than offer token efforts at working together with the community and what we value. For them it is a money exercise; our views and petitions don’t really matter.

For me, the close sense of community and the independent/cooperative rebirth has almost been born out of a reaction to the greed of large commercial interests, which have tried to gobble up Stirchley’s tiny shopping strand for themselves and instead mobilised a grass-roots alternative to the endless planning fuckups and resulting wastelands.

At the moment, this couple of hundred metres of high street and its hinterlands has a new sense of identity that is the strongest I’ve ever seen it. I really hope we can hold onto that.

Houses knocked down for a Tesco supermarket that never arrived.

Viva Stirchley!

Some Stirchley community, coop and independent business accounts to follow on Twitter:

  • @artefact_bham
  • @bikefoundry
  • @boardlygames
  • @britishoakbirm
  • @brumbrewery
  • @caneatcafe
  • @corkncage
  • @fruitnutvillage
  • @glasshousebeers
  • @greenstirchley
  • @hipstirchley
  • @isherwoodandco
  • @jigsstirchley
  • @loafonline
  • @marylockelabour (local councillor)
  • @stirchleybaths
  • @stirchley_forum
  • @stirchleyhist
  • @stirchleyonline
  • @stirchlibrary
  • @stirchleymarket
  • @stirchleypark
  • @superstirchley
  • @stirchleywines
  • @theinterrogang
  • @wildcattap

How do you engage a city of a million people on data privacy?

Tl;dr:

I’m using my Mozilla Open Leadership Project to find activists, artists, data researchers and other collaborators in Birmingham, UK, to connect and kick-start activity around online privacy and security issues. The aim is to build a collaborative community offering citizens greater digital literacy so they can take charge of their online lives.

I’m working open so that the project can develop in new ways, scale and be sustainable. End documentation will guide other regions how to kick-start their own hubs of activity.

I’m also asking for help and subscribers. Update: project is now up and running here: Observed.City.

***

Mass data collection is a reality that many are not aware of. Through our daily digital interactions, information is being collected about us, stored, sold and used to profile us in an increasingly ‘quantified’ world. Humans and machines are making decisions about us based on this data – some benign, some dangerous. The details of what information is collected is buried in the small print of terms and conditions and gained through our ‘consent’. Our connections with the internet feel less open and healthy than they did.

What this means for us as individuals and as a society, both now and in the future, and what we can do about it isn’t always clear. For most people, it isn’t even a topic of conversation.

I’m an editor, not a technologist, but my own experiences with data privacy and cybersecurity projects over the past year have taught me that, for the average person, cybersecurity is at least on the ‘to do’ list, while data privacy feels like much less defined with less obvious impacts and, consequently, it is easier to push aside.

I’ve heard people say things like ‘I’m not important enough to be surveilled’,  ‘I don’t want to live in paranoia’ or ‘I don’t care if they read my emails and serve me some targeted ads’. At least these people are having a conversation about it.

I’ve also seen fantastic debates buried in Facebook comment threads – ‘why do people willingly install commercial surveillance equipment in their houses?’ and ‘is it ok for parents to post pictures of their kids on Facebook without their permission?’ and ‘why does the Parkmobile app need my full name, gender, DOB and full address as well as my licence plate and payment card details?’ – and I wonder how can we bring these discussions out into the open where more people can join in?

Raising awareness is a massive hurdle. Everyone is busy. Everyone is shouting. Everyone wants your attention. As well as the ‘I don’t have time’ response, there is also the ‘I don’t care’ factor. Data privacy needs to be a lot more engaging and a lot less overwhelming.

Much of this work is London-based with many free or funded talks, projects and exhibitions available for people to attend, and large privacy groups, such as Privacy International, Liberty and Big Brother Watch, based there.

In the Midlands, we have 2.5 milion population – 1.1 million in Birmingham alone – who would benefit from knowing how they are affected by the data economy and how to navigate it. There is some great work going on by the Open Rights Group and others but the topic is huge and outreach is hard for reasons already stated. How can we engage more people and build on this in the second city?

These are the questions that I’ve been thinking about since my training and experience working in The Glass Room London last October. Curated by Tactical Tech and produced by Mozilla, The Glass Room was a three-week pop-up store on the Charing Cross Road with a data privacy twist. It hosted over 40 objects in a gleaming white high-tech store, with an accompanying programme of talks, workshops, film screenings and tours attended by nearly 19,000 visitors. Physical and interactive exhibits let people come to the topic on their own terms and draw their own conclusions. It had people queuing to get in the door and look into their online lives more deeply, while most of the free talks and workshops ‘sold out’.

That level of engagement was a real eye-opener.

The experience made me realise that people DO care about their data privacy – if suitably engaged – and that there needs to be WAY more opportunities to have a conversation about this stuff and its implications.

So… I applied to Mozilla’s Open Leadership Project with the idea of trying to find other collaborators, connect the dots and maybe try some new things in my home city. Two weeks ago, I was amazed to read an email saying I’d got a place on the programme.

I’m not a campaigner or an activist. I’m a communicator who is fairly average internet user and who just wants to ask the dumb questions about this stuff and hopefully, as a result, make better choices in my own online life.

To do this, my initial plan is simply to start gathering information and events around data, arts, tech and activism in the city, and collate them in some way, most likely as a regular email out to an online community. (UPDATE: the first issue has now gone out – see Observed.City for details] This will involve building connections with people who are working in this space and from there I hope ideas and collaborations may start to bloom and grow.

One project has started already through discussions with music academic Dr Craig Hamilton – a data reading group called The Interrogang is starting at Artefact Cafe in Stirchley next Tuesday 27 February from 7.30-9pm. The next one will be held on 28 March, and at six-weekly intervals after that, each covering a different data-relevant theme. The reading for next week will be around the use of our data in advertising by services such as Netflix and Spotify – and has been posted up on the group’s Twitter: @theinterrogang

And if you are interested in the Mozilla project an new data privacy newsletter, this is now up and running. Info and subscribe details below:

Sign up for the ObservedCity newsletter

Also:
Follow @ObservedCity on Twitter
Join the ObservedCity Facebook discussion group
Website (work in progress): Observed.City
Get in touch: observedcity@protonmail.com

Finally, in the Spirit of #WOLO (work open, lead open), perhaps you are interested in helping the project develop. This is the first week of a 14-week project so it is at an early stage but if you want to be involved, I envision needing some editorial help and people willing to attend and write up events. I’ll also be collecting listings of data-related events in the city from April/May onwards so if you are involved in running an event, workshops, talk or other activity, please get in touch via Observed.city.

Mass data collection and surveillance is one of the biggest issues of our age – the least we can do as its key human products is have a conversation about it.

Photocollage: @editoriat