If you’re, frankly, shattered by the riot that is modern life, there’s a life raft on the way in the form of Birmingham Heritage Week. Explore the city's history and get to know the corners of calm, creativity and cultural wows across Brum. Our own backyards are teeming with historical places and spaces and – great news – we’re still making use of all of them (Weoley Castle Ruins, excepted). So, shining a bold and bright light across the ‘burbs, this ten-dayer will unveil some of the lesser-known stories and spots, from September 8 to 17.
Sponsored by Birmingham City Council and organised by Birmingham Museums Trust, the events ride in a mere month after Birmingham Festival 23, pulling our heartstrings – again – and making us sobbingly proud of our dear little (but most populous, darnit) home. So strike while the iron’s hot and find out just why we’ve got so much to beam about. Popular places and events usually sell out toot-sweet for this week, now in its ninth year. So here’s a heads up on what’s happening, giving ample time to plan and grab what you fancy come launch day, on Tuesday August 1. Synchronise watches as every year we witness pure heartbreak.
ACCESS (ALMOST) ALL AREAS
After the resounding success of our Twitter top ‘o’ the bus tours, you’ll be thrilled to hear there’s a free vintage bus ferrying you between Snow Hill and Birmingham Museums Collection Centre. That’s the huge hangar with the humongous collection, which we visited last August. This is free and another rare chance to indulge your inner hoarder and see what the city’s decided it simply can’t part ways with. We won’t film it this time – the route, or the centre.
You 'orrible lot love the gruesome, so this is right up your alley. On Sunday September 10, the West Midlands Police Museum will open its doors as ‘The Macabre Museum: Stories of Murder and Mayhem' (pictured above). For dark stories of the Lock Up’s history, or the items and people that get slightly shifted under the carpet, get involved. And in the same vein, you can explore the working gun and ammunition testing facility at Birmingham Proof House. Maybe not on the same day, that might be too much of the macabre.
Pounding the pavements is a guaranteed way to really see the streets and experience the places we often merely pass through. Sign-up for something a little different and walk, run or cycle the city. There’s urban walks exploring local neighbourhoods in Acocks Green, Austin Village, Digbeth, Yardley, Moor Pool, Handsworth, the Jewellery Quarter and the city centre.
Have a gander inside local structural legends, getting up close to some of the wonders of architecture we immortalise in art but can never quite manage a trip to. Now's the time. Throughout the festival, you can take a nosey into places like The Rotunda, Highbury Hall and Blakesley Hall (pictured above) – plus loads more.
And for something completely different, take a stroll between Kings Norton and the University with the Black Country Geological Society for the glacial boulders walking tour. See the remnants of the prehistoric right there in the leafy suburbs. Uh-mazing.
BIG DAYS OUT
Throwing the gates open to some of our most beloved villages, there's Bournville’s Open Day set for Saturday September 9. With everything from the Serbian Orthodox Church (above) to the old Cadbury Works Concert Hall, there’s a veritable feast of buildings to mosey on down to in the chocolate district. A family fun day is also in the works at Moor Pool, the lovely, leafy estate in Harborne with a community proudly conserving its heritage. Worth a wander to admire the tennis courts central to the estate, it oozes Harbz.
It’s not just a quick wander round that’s on offer at these places, either. Many places offer you the full experience, whether it’s giving bowls a go at Bournville Crown Green Bowls Club during their Open Day, or taking a tour and a dip in Woodcock Street baths, the oldest still-operational swimming baths in Birmingham. Genealogists and ghost-hunters alike will love the guided tours and talks of local cemeteries in the Jewellery Quarter, Brandwood End in Kings Heath and Lodge Hill, Selly Oak. You can also get some advice – on tracing your family history, not funeral arrangements.
SURREALISM? WE MADE THAT
Brum is punching way above with its art offering, displaying some stone-cold classical stunners alongside contemporary absurdism. But a little-known fact is that we can lay claim to contributing to the Surrealist movement. That’s the one with the melting clocks, and the man in the hat with the apple on his face. Art historian Ruth Millington will reveal all in a fascinating talk about Birmingham’s artistic heritage and how it helped to develop Surrealism, exploring our forgotten artists. Like just about everything great and long-lasting, we made it here once upon a time.
And if you’re inspired by all these great people and places, there’ll be some excellent workshops with a heritage theme running throughout. Try Victorian fashion illustration, hone your historical fiction writing at the National Trust Back to Backs (above), or practise poetry and short story writing at the Pen Museum.
GREEN SPACES GALORE
Birmingham is green. While the facts aren’t bandied about like our ongoing Venice canals beef, we’ve still got some solid ones to shout about. National Nature Reserve, Sutton Park, is one of the largest urban parks in Europe, designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and human use dates back to the neolithic age. She old. If you don’t mind a sprinkle of heavy breathing with your views, try Run of a Kind's The Sutton Tales and Trails 6k tour, running between its historic pools with, you've guessed it, dogs very, very welcome. Fact-laden and reward-heavy at the finish line, you'll add to the repertoire for the general knowledge round and feel like an athlete.
There are vast swathes of simply gawjus green spaces and tended gardens, many of which have been bestowed on us by benevolent moneybags. Cheers, lads. The Botanical Gardens and Winterbourne Gardens are both hosting events, or you can opt for the easier, guided stroll version of Sutton Park's tours. Catch a performance at the MAC about philanthropist Louisa Ryland, who donated Cannon Hill Park to the city, simply because it would be good for us. She wasn’t wrong. Fun fact: Cannon Hill was designed by T J Gibsons, who also landscaped Battersea Park.
GODS, GLASS AND GILDING
Quite the religious hotpot, we’re not at Sagrada Familia levels, but we give our buildings a fair go – and they’re finished, Barca! Dozens of churches and religious buildings will open their doors, including three cathedrals (yes, three; take that, Lichfield). St Chads, St Philip’s, and the Greek Orthodox Cathedral in the JQ will all be welcoming you inside, as will Holy Trinity in Sutton Coldfield. Add to that the Dhamma Talaka Peace Pagoda, a Buddhist temple with a gilded dome near Edgbaston Reservoir. It’s celebrating its silver jubilee and planning to show off the recently restored and regilded dome. Phwoar.
With the old beauts about, it's hard to even contemplate there being even more stunners, but we've got two very impressive, grade II listed Modernist churches to boast of, too. Take a tour of these actual hidden gems outside of the city centre, at Our Lady Help of Christians in Kitts Green and St Thomas More, Sheldon (its stained glass pictured, above).
The pigeon-pestered Birmingham Cathedral is sensitively restoring the stunning Edward Burne-Jones stained glass windows as part of The Divine Beauty project. Work’s well underway, so they’ll be offering scaffolding tours (with high vis selfies aplenty), as well as a Divine Beauty-themed family craft day and concert. The Scientologists are sitting this one out.
The full schedule launches on Tuesday August 1 and you'll need to book most events
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT
Ever been in here? Crikey O'Reilly! It's like Santa's workshop only it's calmer, they're not limited to making toys and you don't have to be an elf to work there. I've honestly never seen anything like it.
At its core, Birmingham City University's STEAMhouse is a dumbfoundingly creative co-working community, for all ages, where they specialise in linking tenants up with other tenants so their skills combine and complement one another. You might be good at painting and they might be good at canvas making or... you know... something much less obvious than that.
Just a 10-minute amble from the absolute centre of town, behind Millennium Point, STEAMhouse’s home is the newly refurbished Belmont Works Factory. Originally built in 1899 and with beautiful period features that remain, it was the headquarters of the Eccles Rubber and Cycle Company. The building lay derelict for a number of years after a devastating fire. Having undergone extensive redevelopment with impressive new facilities, there's a new life to it supplied not just by the flash fit-out but the creatives who populate it.
It's absolutely ideal for those with smaller budgets who work for themselves, are sole-traders, freelancers or small businesses. It's so affordable, in fact, that it might even work for hobbyists who have some time on their hands to explore new creative avenues or who already have a sideline passion, but nowhere to put it into practice. Perhaps you're sick of working from home or you have a production stumbling block you can't overcome without a little help. STEAMhouse offers it.
You'll get your own desk (as above) in a studio filled with natural light and like-minded creatives. This isn't hot-desking, it'll be your desk to do with what you wish. You'll be surrounded by people in a similar boat but with, most likely, different skills and passions. That desk and all bills paid-for, is £150+VAT per month which for central Brum is bonkers value, but you'll also get access to the busy programme of events, workshops and socials.
But STEAMhouse isn't just about desk space and community. For £50 more per month you get access to their 6000 sq ft Production Space. After ten years of writing about Brum's hidden (and not so hidden) gems, it takes quite a lot to make my jaw drop, but this state-of-the-art fabrication workshop — a small fraction of which is pictured above — is truly mesmerising. It's like a Wonka factory for non-consumables with significantly better health and safety practices. It's the perfect place to experiment and work with print, wood, metal, textiles, sustainable materials and digital technology.
During my visit I got chatting to Danielle, a tenant who was making paper out of waste mushrooms. No, I wasn't tripping, I have it on dictaphone. Not only that, though, she was working in partnership with another tenant who was developing botanical ink grown from her allotment that could be used on Danielle's mushroom paper. The two hadn't met before they became STEAMhouse members and Danielle tells me she never would have found herself making mushroom paper had she not joined. Something tells me she's probably right! The plan, of course, is to sell the products in the near future. Danielle had spent that morning learning to work a dye-sublimation printing machine. I didn't know what that was but it sounded cool.
Elsewhere a 3D printer was printing mini toy diggers with moveable joints, and these diggers were inside beautifully cute mini digger cases. This wasn't a four or five separate printing jobs kind of a deal, it was one. A toy, with joints, in a case, ready to go, in one printing.
Another machine, this time metalwork, was carving out beautiful recycled aluminium bottle openers. In this laboratory, of sorts, people have been making alternative plastics out of seaweed that are sea life safe should they end up back in the ocean — another chap has made a fox's skull out of nylon powder and he did it using scans from his iPhone. It's like witchcraft, but they'll teach you how.
Tenants are ideating and prototyping their own creations, and they're not from manufacturing backgrounds — they're people who have just had ideas they want to see turned into a reality. If you don't know how to use the machines and, let's face it, you probably don't, they'll bloomin' well show you — a technician called Greg reckons he can have tenants welding within 40 minutes of training. They'll help you get your idea made, whatever it is.
The future is happening now and it's hidden inside this beautiful building in central Brum. You've got to check this place out if you've had an idea germinating, or even if you haven't. Check it out if you're just looking for a desk next to like-minded people. Check it out if you're just being plain nosy...
A series of STEAMhouse open days will take place on August 8 & 22, then September 5 & 19
FRIENDS, LIKE THESE
Ross, in Season Five of Friends, when he starts to go a little, erm, off-kilter, remains one of the funniest periods of character development in sitcom history. From his "moist-maker" sandwich to the leather trousers incident via the PIVOT! couch scene, his demise into borderline crazy remains just as hilari-lolz today as it was back in — brace yourself — 1998.
And although they won't be supplying air-tight trousers or gravy-soaked sangers, reliving that stairwell sofa scene is one of many Friends moments you can recreate at The Friends Experience, which has been given an extended run at the NEC, Birmingham.
Brum is the first UK port of call for the show that has already taken in Paris, Brussels, Boston, D.C., Chicago and, of course, New York — so you can beat the rest of the nation to some ace photo ops. From Central Perk coffee shop on that orange sofa, to recliners at Chandler and Joey's place (below) and kicking back at Rachel and Monica's, they've got all the major locations tied up for your posing pleasure. As well as these iconic photo ops, there’s also plenty of behind-the-scenes content to take in, including Rachel’s infamous 18-page letter… front and back!
Tickets for The Friends Experience: The One in Birmingham are now available from July 31 to September 3 and start at £22. A full walk through of the set will take about an hour and time slots are available every 15 minutes. Book
NO ORDINARY PIZZA
In what absolutely needs to become an annual thing, Edgbaston's Naples-inspired pizzeria, Smoke + Ash, has won the first ever Fire In Your Belly food competition.
Birmingham Phoenix, Brum's team in the incredible The Hundred cricket tournament invited local restaurants to create a dish that encapsulated the city. When whittled down to the final two — a process I Choose Birmingham was proud to be involved in — Smoke + Ash faced Eat Vietnam in a titanic head-to-head.
Stirchley stalwarts Eat Vietnam created a bean paste curry with burnt curried hispi, a dish they said "bridges different cultures, and represents the diverse communities who have settled in Birmingham". Unsurprisingly it was brilliant. Bags of flavour, lip-smackingly tangy and with a delicious curried warmth, the balance of acidity from lime juice, umami from the bean paste and smoky charred cabbage was a masterclass. If you see this on the Eat Vietnam menu, promise me you'll order it.
It took something quite incredible to beat that and Smoke + Ash pulled out all the stops. Less about big flavours — which was the route Eat Vietnam went — their roasted curried cauliflower pizza with marinated chickpeas, caramelised onion, fior di latte mozzarella, chilli flakes, fresh coriander and mint yoghurt dressing (above) was all about restraint. Smoke + Ash played a game of pure poetic subtlety. On paper this shouldn't work but it does because they let this pizza, for all intents and purposes, be a Neapolitan pizza. It was no gimmick — they tested it with big curry flavours then pared it right back until East met West in perfect working harmony. The toppings gently brought in flavour twists, pops and bursts of spice and warmth with cooling yoghurt, none of them taking away from the perfect charred base and refined tomato sauce." The pizza will be served to 100 guests at Edgbaston Stadium for the first home-match of Birmingham Phoenix's season, on August 5, and you'll also find it on the Smoke + Ash specials board, August 4 to 11.
The Hundred — if you've not been yet, ye gods it's brilliant — is action-packed cricket that fuses world-class players with blockbuster entertainment. A short, fast format, each game lasts less than three hours (so entire days of hard work can't be scuppered by rain) and it’s simple: 100 balls per team, most runs wins.
Tickets for the opening tie are sold out and there are only three more opportunities to get to a Birmingham Phoenix home game, tickets for all of which can be found right here.
BIRMINGHAM FESTIVAL 23: 'DANCING TO MUSIC YOU HATE' BY JASMINE GARDOSI
It feels odd talking about the closing day of a ten-day celebration that hasn't yet started, but the curtain drop on Birmingham Festival 23, on August 6, promises to be one of the event highlights. Featuring local cabaret legend, Ginny Lemon, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Casey Bailey and plenty more, it promises to be a fitting swansong for this summer's must-attend do.
But highlight of those highlights, in my opinion, will be Birmingham Poet Laureate, Jasmine Gardosi (above), who will take centre stage with her five-piece band and her inimitable mix of poetry, beatbox — which she learnt during lockdown — and Celtic dubstep, at 3pm.
The 90-minute slot will be a festival edition of her touring show, Dancing to Music You Hate, that has been travelling the length of the country for the last three months and will finally finish with this homecoming.
"It's called Dancing To Music You Hate," explains Jasmine "because of a time I found myself in a hellish Broad Street club, as a teenager, before I knew I was gay. Everyone seemed to love the music and I was on the dance floor with my friends who were 'slutdropping' and sexy dancing and I was standing there thinking, "I'm just not feeling this at all", you know? That moment has lived with me ever since. 'Dancing to music you hate' feels like a fitting description of pretending to be straight, which, in hindsight, is exactly what I was doing. The show is about that time in my life. It's a show about gender identity and me coming to terms with being a gender queer person.
"That said, I think pretty much everyone will be able to relate. It's a show for anyone who has ever felt like perhaps they're putting on an act to fit in — whatever their background or sexuality. And even though the show was born of a tough time in my life, it's an uplifting show, a fun show, a show that'll get people moving and laughing."
Dancing to Music You Hate has been bagging beaut reviews and recently won Best Spoken Word Show in the Saboteur Awards. Brummie dramaturg, Yaël Shavit, has helped shape the show into a festival edition specially for this Centenary Square gig. On top of that, Jasmine has invited three guest poets to pepper the spot with their own unique styles. Singer-songwriter, Aayushi Jain, will be bringing her blend of poetry and music while Brummie queer poet and music-maker Samiir Saunders will be mixing poetry with rap. Completing the triumvirate of guests is Lee Jenner, a Tallinn-based poet and the host of Estonia's first ever queer poetry slam, during Baltic Pride, when the country was on the cusp of legalising gay marriage. Estonia has now become the first ex-Soviet state to pass the law.
"I can't wait to come home and perform," said Jasmine from a Leeds hotel room, where her next tour gig was scheduled. "I'm so proud to be from Birmingham and I never thought I'd be able to make a living out of being a poet based there. But the Birmingham poetry community is a remarkable one — it's a beautiful ecosystem that builds your confidence up and keeps it up.
"What Birmingham Festival 23 is doing is throwing artists together that may not have had the chance to work with each other without it. Our power is in collaboration and the legacy of the festival needs to be harnessing that power. Once the festival is done and the budget is spent, I hope we keep those connections in place and also forge new ones ourselves — and to facilitate connections between others that don't even include us. I can't begin to tell you how important that is for Birmingham's creative scene."
Birmingham Restaurant Festival starts tomorrow (July 28). The line-up is a total dream and some of the deals are spectacular. Details —
Ever heard of an art form called Mughal Miniatures? It's well-fascinating and there's a talk about the significance of it with some learned experts, followed by a dance performance inspired by the Miniatures. It all takes place on July 29 at Aston Hall, where they have a miniature on display. Ordinarily £18 but you can get 20% off using the code PAINTING20. — Paradise Summer Live — a selection of fam-friendly events including shows and workshops, ice cream giveaways and more, is taking place in Chamberlain Square, Aug 1 to 12 . —
Starting tonight (July 27) and running until July 30 Matt Wilden, the extremely skilled chef at Upstairs (Kings Heath) is doing a taco pop-up at Deadbeat in Stirchley. More —
The Bull's back and our bull badges are flying out as a result. Come get some. Only £8pp —
Fancy seeing Birmingham Phoenix, in style? Hospitality options are live for The Hundred cricket team's Edgbaston matches against Trent Rockets, Welsh Fire, Oval Invincibles and London Spirit. Prices start at £175 per person. More —
There's no issue of ICB on Aug 3. Back on Aug 10. Be excellent to each other.
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