Best of Brum at Spring Fair 2018

I’ve attended various events at the Birmingham NEC over the years – for both journalistic and digital marketing purposes – but none so ginormous as ‘the UK’s largest home and gift show for the retail industry’ held earlier this month.

In stats… Spring Fair 2018 featured 14 show sectors, 19 exhibition halls and 2,500 UK and international exhibitors. It’s so big they added Autumn Fair a few years ago to help spread the load. Personally, I got a whole lot of exercise  in – clocking up 18k in Fitbit steps – just by visiting those exhibitors based in or around Birmingham

I wanted to do a pick of the Brum-related products that may be appearing in a store (or zoo or Birmingham art gallery) near you in 2018, and to make a few local connections and contacts. Here it is – I have to say I love the randomness of the products and stories on offer…

1. Bloom and glow

Electric flowers won’t be to everyone’s taste but the Blossom Collection’s products were surprisingly nice to look at. The company launched following a sourcing visit to China and has blossomed (!) ever since. If you have a black wall in your house (I have two), it’s the perfect backdrop for glowing roses, tulips, orchids or Blossom’s best-selling calla lilies.

2. Puns to make you cry over your chopped onions

I’m a little chilli but do nut worry…  Why oh why can’t I get a job writing food puns for chopping boards?

I was excited to meet Zodiac, a kitchen equipment company based in near to me in sunny Selly Oak, but a bit disappointed to find out that they are actually the UK arm of a Chinese company and not a local family business. But, hey, Cadbury’s…

As a content marketer, I have to say Zodiac had one of the slickest sites of all the Spring Fair exhibitors I visited, with related recipe and other support content around the kitchenware, an up-to-date news section, a listening/feedback area and a busy CSR section.

Tasty marketing chops.

3. An elephant memento never forgets

“It started with an elephant,” Kiran Chohan of Wildtouch says of his business handcrafting souvenirs, gifts, jewellery and other accessories for zoos, aquariums and other heritage sites around the UK.

The original elephant went to Twycross zoo and the company has since grown into a niche business supplying zoos and other leisure attractions with animal souvenirs from meerkats to monkeys, clown fish to killer whales.

Kiran also has his own range of jewellery and the firm is based in Birmingham’s famous Jewellery Quarter.

4.  Hanging tin

Jo Willis co-started Red Hot Lemon in 2014 after working as a sales manager at a metal sign firm that closed. She says the array of licensed metal signs attracts the rare  male buyer demographic with the VW Campervan one of their bestsellers. They have also expanded into selling a range of other tin products with that ever-popular retro-vintage feel.

5. Made in Sunderland (for Brummies)

My World may be based in Sunderland but Brum is their biggest client with a range of regional cards, prints, mugs and fridge magnets sold in BMAG, the Town Hall and the Library of Birmingham. Pretty surprised Brummies didn’t corner this market, though, especially since Created In Birmingham shop surfaced a lot of local artists a few years back. But it’s all fine and the Birmingham skyline print is a winner.

6. Cactus drinks jar for your mojito?

MD of KitchenCraft Matthew Canwell explained how the design and development (alas not the manufacture) of more than 4,000 kitchen and homewares products is done in Birmingham.

The company has been in Brum for 168 years and was founded by a local man named Thomas Plant on Edgbaston Street. The name only changed from Thomas Plant to Kitchen Craft in 1996 and the company has since grown to become part of Lifetime Brands inc, a global kitchenware provider supplying leading department stores and 80 countries worldwide. Another slick website – kitchenware is the place to be for content marketing.

7. ‘Winter is coming’ – fill your goblets!

AE Williams is possibly most famous for supplying its pewterware goblets to Game of Thrones but, says Stephen Johnson, a partner in the firm, there just isn’t room to show them at Spring Fair. In the absence of a GoT goblet, this whisky decanter stood proudly as king of all the Digbeth-based manufacturer’s exhibits

8. A subtle celebration of your memories

Charlotte Lowe graduated in 2009 and this is her seventh year at Spring Fair, showing jewellery made in her workshop in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. I like the way she encapsulates personal memories (pets, children, simple moments, photos) into items of bespoke jewellery that are obviously personal to the individual but not at all sentimental in their design.

9. A perfectly potty invention

I liked Pot Pal because it represents the dream of being an inventor – and bringing a product to market. Pot Pal is a vertical plant holder that evokes narrowboat paraphernalia with its colours and design. It was invented by Brett Cattlin, who started out making pet products in wood. Recently he partnered with Firstpress (Plastic Moulders) Limited of Ladywood, Birmingham to design, manufacture and distribute ‘Pot Pal’ products in a lighter, more cost-efficient plastic. The product has only been out since January ready to catch some spring/summer buying.

10. ‘Mini me’ tweeds

The husband and wife team behind Chand Textiles were lovely and we chatted for ages about everything from Tamil Nadu to digital photography. Based in Highgate, they were showing their range of tweed jackets, gilets and peaked caps for children that are perfect for a country set ‘mini me’.

11. A fluffle of bunny goods

Kate Sproston from Nuneaton – that counts as greater Birmingham, right? – drew me in with her range of rabbit-embroidered goods, including a Rabbit Egg Cosy shortlisted for Gift of the Year 2018. Kate also has a number of equally lovely collections that aren’t about rabbits but the law of small animal owners is that all talk must revert to pets so I introduced her to Profession Bunminster Fuller, Clementine Bundango and Joy (yes, we our pets have a website) and in turn she told me about their guinea pigs Frankie Valli and Alan Turing (from Hutch 6). Top punnage there.

12. See this cat? He’s a bestseller

Wolverhampton-based Dean Morris has the honour of being regularly demonised by the tabloids for his low-brow comedy cards (cries of irony!) but ‘smut, filth and swearing’ just sells so very well to the great British public (as any tabloid fule kno). Dean has been keeping it rude since 1999 and was the first to offer ‘Keep calm and carry on…’ cards. This one took me back to my days working for Moonpig just as they launched in 2000. Cards are a competitive business so fair play to Dean for his success.

Fiona Cullinan works as a digital content producer, editor and copywriter mostly for B2B clients. For further information, please visit The Subs Desk.

Visit to a parallel time

Modern stories of Victoria/Chamberlain Square, Birmingham #3 – my final and favourite photo narrative started out as a warm up exercise to get my mind into gear. I went to find a distant, deserted corner and found myself in a parallel Chamberlain Square where it was sometimes impossible to tell what was real…

[Photos taken for stories class of Matt & Pete’s Photo School; next up: Spaghetti Junction photo walk and picnic on 29 July.]

01 Parallel time
Continue reading “Visit to a parallel time”

The Yellow Backpackers of Chamberlain Square

Modern stories of Victoria/Chamberlain Square, Birmingham #2 – the second of three photographic narratives focuses on a group of European students – I think from San Marino – colour-coded yellow by their backpacks. Where were they (location shot)? How did they interact with the environment? Could I get any sneaky close-ups? Achieved more of a documentary feel with this one.

[Photos taken for stories class of Matt & Pete’s Photo School; next set of pix will be from their Spaghetti Junction photo walk and picnic on 29 July.]

Establish Chamberlain Square location.

01 Yellow tourists
Continue reading “The Yellow Backpackers of Chamberlain Square”

Abstract Birmingham

Photo School abstracts lamppost

This Sunday sees the fourth and final session (for me) of Photographing the City – Matt and Pete’s sociable, how-to photography course set on the streets of Birmingham and featuring a pleasant mix of arty/techy teaching, walking, socialising, photographing stuff (more egs below) and peer review.

More adventures from Photo School… Continue reading “Abstract Birmingham”

Photographing the landscapes of Birmingham

Photo School Landscapes-23

So today was week two (of four) of Matt & Pete’s Photo School. Last month, we played with finding the decisive moment in street photography, this time it was landscapes and creating huge panoramic vistas using the iconic buildings of Birmingham.

More adventures from Photo School… Continue reading “Photographing the landscapes of Birmingham”

Roller disco by the reservoir

It’s a disco but it’s on wheels. It’s roller disco! Back from the 70s/80s and currently going strong in 2012 at the old-school neon pink glitz of the Tower Ballroom by Edgbaston Reservoir in Birmingham. Tonight featured a very mixed crowd (from 18 to 70+), a punter being stretchered off to hospital by paramedics, the Cupid Shuffle line dance on skates, slamming into the bar, skating back from the bar with pint in hand, and lots of wibbly-wobbly laps. 10 out of 10. Go. Meanwhile here is some lo-fi vid featuring power ballads and Whitney-pop to whet the appetite… Continue reading “Roller disco by the reservoir”

A weekend featuring various artists

I don’t often write diary posts but sometimes a weekend is so full on, it’s a way to offload stuff and think about them later. So here’s the rather strange collection of activities and oddities that Birmingham presented this weekend.

FRIDAY: Trampolines and New Romantics

1. The 28th Trampoline and Tumbling World Championship, NIA
I’ve never paid to go to a sporting event before but I was fascinated to see what the world’s best offered in terms of sports that basically involved jumping, bouncing and general boinging.

Continue reading “A weekend featuring various artists”

Secret Stirchley, flashers and goodbye tearoom

Secret Stirchley-4

After donating my teenage memory of ‘being flashed’ to the Secret Stirchley crew at the pop-up arts tearoom, this weekend my embarrassing memory became the stuff of a Stirchley promenade street theatre narrative.

Performed by three actors as part of the Inhabit programme of pop-up tearooms, the stories they had collected from Stirchley residents over the past five weeks were woven into a narrative, relived and professionally delivered by actors as we wandered around the local streets. In this environment, it was hard to tell who was part of the show and who was incidental.

We listened in on the story of a grandmother and her grand-daughter, as well as other characters who overlapped with their lives, from the ghost of a father who went to war and came back shellshocked…

Secret Stirchley-7

to the grunge boyfriend met in the British Oak…

Secret Stirchley-3

to a street mugger re-enacting a bag-snatching…

Secret Stirchley-9

– and to a young girl who was once flashed by a man standing in the reeds of the River Rea, followed by the ensuing police visit asking for rather intimate details and distinguishing marks.

While I enjoyed the show, however, I’m not sure Stirchley is quite ready for such artiness – a feeling which was underlined by two events ahead of the opening Friday performance.

1. The neighbouring solicitor had apparently thrown quite a wobbly about a bit of chalk saying ‘Sweet shop’ on the pavement outside his shop (which was, you’ve guessed it, formerly a sweet shop).

Secret Stirchley-2

He told them he was trying to conduct a ‘proper business’ and was insistent that they remove it, which they did despite this being a public pavement. His uncompromising reaction seemed unwarranted – especially since the passing promenade didn’t even raise the two front-room workers’ heads as we passed by. And yet his over-reaction forms another B30 tale as I had been to see them the day before and now feel quite disinclined to do business there. Stirchley may be strong in community spirit, but at the same time it has always had its bullies, though maybe that is too strong a word – perhaps he was just having a bad day.

2. The second incident happened when a passing young mum with a pushchair had to be reassured that the mugging wasn’t real, just in case she didn’t spot the unconcerned crowd and phoned the police.

But the show must go and after 40 minutes or so it circled back to the tearoom for the final scene, followed by tea and delicious cakes…

Secret Stirchley-12

Personally, I think the show would have worked better for me as a direct documentary of Stirchley memories, flowing between characters but without the narrative hook. I suppose I wanted to focus on Stirchley and wanted to hear other people’s memories. I don’t think they needed the plot device, or perhaps I was slightly distracted by the fictionalised performance, which made the memories seem less real somehow.

Still, I have very much enjoyed the tearoom over the past few weeks and I think it will be missed in Stirchley, which is a high street of diverse businesses but none of which offer a particularly sociable stop-off or gathering place (unless you like to go to the pub in the daytime or the ‘Society Cafe’ in the Coop, that is).

The tea-room now moves to Hodge Hill. Lucky things. But I hope that it – or someone else with community spirit – moves into our empty shops soon.

If you want to catch a performance of Secret Stirchley, there is one day left to see it – at 1pm and 4pm tomorrow (Sunday 13th March). Performances are free and start at the shop, on the corner of Ivy Road and Pershore Road.

The Sound of Moselele

One of the great things I did last year was join Daz Wright’s Moselele group, aka ‘the second best ukelele group in Moseley’.

Sometimes it ain’t pretty, sometimes you need to sing songs by Spandau Ballet or Bonnie Tyler, but it is always entertaining.

Occasional extras include bongos, saxazoo, bass acoustic, sleigh bells and shakers, but tonight it was just us, the music, a single kazoo and the lowest fi mobile phone video known to man. It had to be done…

PS. The Moselele Facebook group is here!

Black Swan Sunday

Today was one of those chilled blue Sunday afternoons, perfect for going walkabout with cameras: destination, the concrete jungle of central Birmingham. Scenes from Black Swan, which we saw yesterday at the Electric, must have embedded themselves inside my mind but when I uploaded the images I found out just how much I had focused on windows, reflections, shadows and mirror images.

Look into my eyes

I love me

Len Lye post office film 2

Len Lye post office film 3

Window self-portrait

Reflected reverse ziggurat

Birmingham Central Library windows

Snow Hill Station in reverse


Here’s the full set of photos from today’s photowalk on my Flickr. Pete was on an FM2 so will have to await processing in the good old-fashioned way.