Saturday, 30 March 2013

Eclectic Wedding Extravaganza, 24 March

On Sunday 24 March, Rachael and I braved the snow to head to the exciting Eclectic Wedding Extravaganza at the stunning Fazeley Studios in Digbeth. We were really excited about going to this wedding fayre, especially as it is the kind of pop-up event that characterises Digbeth’s creative community. Fazeley Studios is a beautiful venue. It was built in the nineteenth century as a Unitarian Chapel and now it hosts all kinds of events, including weddings, so it was the perfect place to showcase the wonderful designs and creative stalls that were being exhibited. We could have easily spent much more time looking at the stalls to design our perfect weddings but luckily we met lots of friendly people who kindly gave us their time to talk about Digbeth. We met a range of people, some that love Digbeth for its creative community, as well as some who felt that it hasn’t yet reached its full potential. There were quite a few visitors for whom it was their first time in Digbeth, so it was interesting to hear their impressions of the area.

Liliia’s bespoke dress designs, inspired by Pre-Raphaelite art – the designer of these dresses and event co-organiser, Vikki, told us that this venue was perfect for displaying her designs.

One of the lovely vintage dresses being modelled during the fashion show and some of the brilliant cakes and hats on display.

Chris Barber photography – Chris and his girlfriend gave us their thoughts about Digbeth, knowing the area well and working there.

The event was a great opportunity to meet people that live, work and socialise in Digbeth. We captured some great stories and anecdotes about the area and were able to spread the word about Digbeth Speaks. 

Lauren Dudley, Project Volunteer

Friday, 29 March 2013

Thanks Printbots!

A Digbeth company called Printbots printed all our promo materials for the project. They are based at Minerva Works, which is a small industrial space on the canal, which houses many interesting arts and cultural organisations, including Grand Union and Stryx, and you can often see the beautiful Ikon Slowboat moored at the canal! Read more about the tenants and their activities here. Below are some pictures of Printbots unit at Minerva Works, a smiley Lee who managed our order, and the great stickers and postcards that we are using for the project (which you can see modelled by some of our volunteers!)

Sarah Taylor Silverwood, Project Manager

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Arts and Science Festival, University of Birmingham, 22 March

As part of the University of Birmingham's Arts and Science Festival, on Friday 22 March we welcomed people to contribute to the ‘Digbeth Speaks’ project at an all day, drop-in event which took place in Red Marley, 32 Pritchatts Road, the marvellous home of the university's Research and Cultural Collections. 

The inclement weather forced many to abandon venturing out, so Daisy, Carly and I decided that we needed to brave the meteorological conditions in order to gather information from the insightful, enthusiastic and albeit a bit cold, students, staff and other visitors to the university’s campus. 

Equipped with an abundance of sweets and chocolate, fact filled flyers, irresistible brightly coloured stickers and a professional, shiny recording device we trekked about a snowy campus asking willing participants to divulge their impressions, recollections and three word sound bites concerning Digbeth. A fruitful day was had. We collected many stories from an assortment of individuals. We spoke to those who knew the area only vaguely as a place full of vintage fashion and creative delights, to people who discussed the industries involved in the area. Additionally we received information from those who had visited the area some time ago: some were part of the lively club culture of the 1980s, whilst others had gone to Digbeth purely to marvel at some of the centuries old buildings there, waxing-lyrical about its architectural panache.

Hannah Squire, Project Volunteer

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Getting ready for Flatpack Festival

Decisions, decisions. Too many events, not enough time!

Carly Hegenbarth, Project Manager

Monday, 18 March 2013

FoBAH's AGM, 16 March

On Saturday 16 March, Carly and I went along to the Friends of Birmingham Archives and Heritage’s (FOBAH) AGM. Carly is a committee member and gave an update about Digbeth Speaks, which has only been possible through the support of FoBAH. 

The AGM provided a great forum to publicise our project and gather support and contacts from FoBAH's members. Everyone was really enthusiastic about the project and had lots of suggestions for people we could contact or places that could be investigated! It generated some interesting questions too, including what we considered to be the boundaries of Digbeth, which might be an interesting way of thinking about contemporary Digbeth’s identity. At the meeting the industrial heritage of the area was mentioned and it might be interesting to see how the spaces in Digbeth have transformed – e.g. how former factories are used today or whether they are derelict. There are lots of exciting possibilities and we can’t wait to hear people’s stories. 

Rachel MacGregor, Senior Archivist at Birmingham Archives and Heritage, also gave a lecture about the history of Birmingham’s public library. This was particularly of interest given that it is about to undergo a major change when it relocates to its brand new home on Centenary Square later this year. It was fascinating to hear about the opening of the library in 1865 and it being in keeping with the Victorian ethos of self-improvement. Rachel explored some really interesting aspects of its history including women in the workplace, the fire of the first library in 1879 and its subsequent re-location, as well as some of the books that caused scandal in the 20th century! It is great to know that the oral histories that emerge from the Digbeth Speaks project will go into the archive of the new Library of Birmingham, and that contemporary Digbeth will be memorialised alongside this period of change for the library. 

Lauren Dudley, Project Volunteer


It was an exciting day when our HLF badges arrived! We donned them for the first time this weekend at two events: FoBAH's AGM (16th March) and the St Patrick's Day Parade (17th March). Blog posts to follow. In the meantime, look out for our volunteers wearing the badges at forthcoming events in Digbeth...

Carly Hegenbarth, Project Manager

Question time

Imogen (our Team Leader for oral histories) and I had a productive meeting finalising our oral histories questions and information packs a couple of weeks ago. We really got to grips with what we wanted to get from the project and devised questions accordingly. Our questions fall into 3 main themes: origins, present and future. We're ready to go! If you have a story to tell, please get in touch.

Carly Hegenbarth, Project Manager

Monday, 11 March 2013

Radio Gaga

On Tuesday 19th February, Digbeth Speaks had its radio debut! I was invited by the nice people at BBC WM to talk about our project on the ‘Pete Morgan @ Breakfast’ show ( This was also my first radio appearance and I was a little nervous thinking about the thousands of listeners. Thankfully, the interview was lined up the afternoon before so I didn’t have too much time to fret. That having been said, seated in front of a mic at 6.50am, live radio going on all around me, it all felt rather surreal: before I knew it I was being introduced and I knew that my time was now! I soon settled into my stride and actually rather enjoyed it: it felt great to be telling people about our project, and hopefully inspiring them to tell us their stories. It seemed to be over very quickly, so I hope that there will be a chance to go back in the near future!

Carly Hegenbarth, Project Manager

Oral History Training

Gathered on the steps leading up to Birmingham's Central Library on a (rare) sunny afternoon in February, our 'Digbeth Speaks' volunteers caught a few precious sun rays before attending an oral history training workshop. We received a warm welcome from Izzy Mohammad (Community Outreach Officer, Central Library) and were led through rooms lined with rows of depleted shelving as the Library is in the midst of its relocation and transformation. There was a common sense of nostalgia among us, for all those period bookcases, now only displaying the very last resources to be moved to a brand new home. After entering a precarious, stomach-jolting lift, a few of us began to look slightly worried as to where this workshop might be taking place...But lo and behold, a lovely conference room was set up for our arrival! Now, this was a bit more familiar to us.

Izzy's enthusiasm and passion for capturing the oral histories of Birmingham's diverse communities really came through in the workshop. Not only did his expert knowledge in the correct use of techniques when dealing with demanding contributors equip us with the confidence to apply our training in real-terms, but Izzy's probing questions on the pros and cons of oral history helped us to get to grips with our projects very own objectives. It allowed us to gain a deeper understanding of the dangers of careless interviewing methods. We were also provided with past examples of Birmingham's oral history projects which made for light entertainment! Listening back to audio excerpts from 2, 10 or even 40 years ago got us all very excited about our own project and the material that we may uncover when speaking to our contributors. We finished off the afternoon with an entertaining recorded interview from two of our volunteers for us to pull apart and examine. For a first attempt, the interview was executed beautifully. Our interviewer's time at the BBC as a Cultural Intern may have had something to do with this!

Over the next few weeks, our volunteers will be mastering the art of capturing oral histories through vox pops at live events, pop-up festivals, AGMs and interviews in and around the Digbeth area. Look out for our HLF badges!

Marie Giraud, Team Leader

Recording Equipment

Our recording equipment has arrived! These recorders and cameras are vital not only to the project but to the Friends of Birmingham Archives and Heritage, where the equipment will remain to be used for projects in the future. This ensures that the funding is used to invest in the future of Birmingham Archives and Heritage.

Sarah Taylor Silverwood, Project Manager

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Hello, world. Let's get listening...

Over the last few months, Sarah, Katie and I have been busy laying the groundwork for our HLF-funded project, Digbeth Speaks. The best way to describe what we want to do is to create a ‘time capsule’ of contemporary Digbeth. Digbeth is a unique area of inner city Birmingham: once the industrial heart of the city, today it is primarily made up of businesses, many of which are creative/digital SMEs (small/medium-sized enterprises), and residential inhabitants. Digbeth also has thriving grass-roots movements in small, often artist-led spaces and pop-up initiatives, and there are a number of long-standing community centres.

We hope to capture an essence of all the creativity and diversity of the area for the future, especially as there is limited archive material on contemporary Digbeth, and as there are plans for its redevelopment ( Our findings will be shared via an archive in the Library of Birmingham, a website and an end of project event, where we will bring together our volunteers and participants and all of the people who have supported us. We will be recording stories of a representative cross section of the Digbeth communities in different ways: through oral history interviews, vox pops (i.e. short recorded interviews) at venues, events and pop-up festivals, as well as through social media, particularly twitter (#digbethspeaks). Stories will also be documented visually, via an online album of uploaded images, which we welcome anyone to submit.

We found out that we had been awarded the funding in November, and since then we have been recruiting a team of dedicated volunteers, having meetings, researching and purchasing equipment. Over the next few posts, we’ll bring you up to date and tell you a bit more about some of these stages that we’ve gone through. One of the most important was receiving training in conducting oral history interviews: this was a major aspect of our funding application, and the whole day was incredibly inspiring.

We’re really excited to start recording and sharing stories relating to Digbeth. We’re ready and raring to listen. What’s your story? Please do get in touch, see How to get involved for more. Likewise, if you have any questions, please direct them to us via any of the contact details outlined on this site. On the ‘about us’ section, you’ll find information about our team.

Carly Hegenbarth, Project Manager

Photos from our first few project meetings over the past couple of months:

Press Release

Telling Our Story: Digbeth Speaks (Friends of Birmingham Archives and Heritage) celebrates £9700 Heritage Lottery Fund grant

The Friends of Birmingham Archives and Heritage is one of the first groups in the UK to receive a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) All Our Stories grant. This exciting project, Digbeth Speaks, in Birmingham, is devised and led by young members of the Friends of Birmingham Archives and Heritage. It has been given £9700 to explore and preserve Digbeth’s diverse heritage for the future by creating an audio and visual ‘time capsule’ of the area’s diverse communities at a pivotal moment of redevelopment.

All Our Stories, a brand new small grant programme, launched earlier this year in support of BBC Two’s The Great British Story – has been designed as an opportunity for everyone to get involved in their heritage. With HLF funding and support, community groups will carry out activities that help people explore, share and celebrate their local heritage.

The popular series presented by historian Michael Wood and supported by a programme of BBC Learning activities and events got thousands of us asking questions about our history and inspired us to look at our history in a different way through the eyes of ordinary people.

The programme and HLF All Our Stories has proved a real hit and now Digbeth Speaks is one of hundreds of successful projects around the UK to receive a grant. Digbeth Speaks will record stories relating to this unique area of inner city Birmingham, for an archive that will be housed in Birmingham Archives and Heritage and made permanently accessible to the public. The project will capture a snapshot of Digbeth as it is now, recording the diverse arts organisations, small businesses and community groups, as well as the thriving events and festival scene. The project will be carried out by young volunteer researchers who will gain invaluable experience in project management and community engagement projects. They will also have the rare opportunity to have training in conducting oral history interviews and recordings, equipping them with the skills to continue to engage with communities and lead exciting heritage projects in the future.

TV presenter and historian Michael Wood, said: “We British love our history, and no wonder: few nations in the world, if any, have such riches on their doorstep, and so much of it accessible to all of us. It is really tremendous that the people of Birmingham have been inspired to get involved to tell their own story and to dig deeper into their own past. It’s brilliant that so many people are being given the chance to get involved through the All Our Stories grants. Having travelled the length and breadth of the British Isles this last year filming The Great British Story, I am certain that fascinating and moving stories will be uncovered which will not only bring to life the excitement of local history, but will illuminate and enrich every community’s connection with the national narrative.”

Commenting on the award, Carly Hegenbarth said: ‘It’s fantastic to have been awarded this grant; we’re all really delighted. Digbeth is a fascinating area of Birmingham with such a rich variety of communities, and this will enable us to record some of that for the future. Contemporary culture isn’t often captured in this way and we’re really looking forward to being able to share what’s great about Digbeth now with generations to come.
Reyahn King, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund West Midlands, said: “Clearly the success of All Our Stories has reinforced the fact that we are indeed a nation of story tellers and that we want to explore and dig deeper into our past and discover more about what really matters to us. This is exactly what the grant will do for Digbeth Speaks as they embark on a real journey of discovery.”


Notes to editors

About Friends of Birmingham Archives and Heritage (FOBAH)
The Friends of Birmingham Archives and Heritage is a charity that promotes and supports the work of Birmingham Archives and Heritage in making its heritage collections available to as wide an audience as possible. They organise a variety of activities, including: archive open evenings, guest lectures, exhibition tours and walks. FOBAH also develops opportunities for volunteers and provides a forum for consultation and dialogue between Birmingham Archives and Heritage and the general public/interested parties.

Heritage Lottery Fund
Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) sustains and transforms a wide range of heritage for present and future generations to take part in, learn from and enjoy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage.  HLF has supported 33,000 projects, allocating £4.9billion across the UK. Website:

BBC Learning
BBC Learning plays a central part in meeting the BBC's purpose of promoting education and learning. Utilising the power of the BBC's big brands and key talent, the department puts learning right at the heart of the BBC and provides a variety of resources and learning opportunities for children, teachers, parents and adult learners. Working with partners and in local communities, BBC Learning aims to stimulate interests and encourage engagement through a variety of campaigns across all BBC genres and platforms.

Project Managers
-          Carly Hegenbarth is a second year AHRC-funded PhD student in History of Art at the University of Birmingham, and committee member of the Friends of Birmingham Archives and Heritage (FOBAH).
-          Sarah Taylor Silverwood is a Studio Manager for K4 Architects in Digbeth. Sarah is also a visual artist currently Artist in Residence at The University of Birmingham.
-          Katie Hall is the Exhibitions Officer at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG). She graduated with an MA in History of Art from the University of Birmingham in 2010 and subsequently worked for the Barber Institute of Fine Arts and Research and Cultural Collections and was a University of Birmingham Cultural Intern at BMAG.

For further information, images and interviews, please contact
Project Managers: Carly Hegenbarth, Sarah Taylor Silverwood and Katie Hall, 07837031152