Monday, 29 April 2013

Once upon a sunny afternoon in Digbeth...

On Saturday 20 April, Ralph and I went to the Catapult Club Archive hosted by Vivid Projects in Minerva Works, Fazeley Street. Seeing as it was such a beautiful, warm sunny day (the first one of the year?), we thought it would be a great opportunity to have a wander round the streets of Digbeth.

We started on Digbeth High Street. After buying two punnets of strawberries from the market, we wandered off onto Oxford Street and Coventry Street with The Old Wharf and Birmingham Central Backpackers on the corners, and always with the arches of the railway line towering overhead. I’d never realised quite how dominant this massive structure is on this side of Digbeth; wandering up and down the streets you go backwards and forwards underneath it and it’s always there in your sightlines.

Having had a good look at the graffiti on Floodgate Street we discovered the back way to the Custard Factory and crossed the bridge over the River Rea. The river used to power watermills but is now essentially a storm drain for the city - the canals feature far more heavily as waterways here. From the Custard Factory we looped back round to Heath Mill Lane, back under the railway and up to Eastside Projects where we saw their Puppet Show exhibition and Karl Nawrot’s Mind Walk #I, both definitely worth a visit. 

Then onwards up to the crossroads of Heath Mill Lane, Fazeley Street, Great Barr Street and Liverpool Street, featuring afternoon drinkers enjoying the sun outside The Forge Tavern and a Victorian public urinal on the corner of Great Barr Street! From there we headed up to Minerva Works for Vivid Projects, Grand Union, Stryx and Ikon’s Slow Boat and took a break in the sun to eat those strawberries I mentioned earlier….

The Catapult Club archive at Vivid was posters and demo tapes from Birmingham promoters, The Catapult Club which was founded in 1989. The tapes were set out in massive rectangles on the floor and the posters arranged chronologically on the walls. You could pick out tapes to listen to on the tape decks provided. A dad was there explaining to his kids how you played a tape, which made me feel a bit old! 

While we were in Minerva Works we also checked out Grand Union’s exhibition 999321 by artists Kjersti G. Andvig and Lars Laumann, as well as Stryx’s great group exhibition next door. Stryx is an artist led studio, project and exhibition space formed by Fine Arts graduates in 2012 and an exciting addition to Minerva Works.

Then on the move again, past the Barn Street Diner and across the high street to Alcester Street where we walked past The Spotted Dog, the Chinese Community Centre, Irish in Birmingham and St. Anne’s Roman Catholic Church. There are fantastic views back to the city from Alcester Street which are well worth a visit to this part of Digbeth for... or a ride out of town on the No. 50 bus, which gets you even better views from the top deck! 

After Alcester Street we headed down the hill to Lombard Street and the PST private members club, where this time last year we experienced all sorts of weird and wonderful sights at Fierce Festival's Holy Mountain party. Although today the entertainment was limited to kids enjoying herbal refreshments on the corner. Further down the hill is The Market Street Tavern and the Moseley Street CafĂ© decked out with Irish flags. It feels like a more abandoned area down here but amid the warehouses is Muthers Studio on Rea Street South, which has practice rooms, a recording studio and gig venue. The lonely-looking Lamp Tavern sits on Barford Street and further up the street are a couple of now boarded-up warehouses which used to serve as a practice space for bands – you either rang a bell to be let in or just rolled up the metal shutters.

After Barford Street we’re onto Sherlock Street (where the 45 and 47 buses come into town) and then up Hurst Street and out of Digbeth for this afternoon, armed with a lot of photos and in serious need of a snack!

Katie Hall, Project Manager

Friday, 26 April 2013

Tweet, tweet

We've reached a bit of a Twitter landmark. We now have over 100 followers! Join in on the action - you'll find us @digbethspeaks and can also tweet using #digbethspeaks.

Carly Hegenbarth, Project Manager

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Chinese Community Centre, Bradford Street

On 15 April Tessa and I met with Kate and Anna at the Chinese Community Centre to talk about their involvement with the project. It was a positive meeting and we are very much looking forward to working with the Centre. We hope to be able to document one or two of their events and interview a couple of their members.

On a tour of the building we received a particularly warm welcome from 3 of the older members, who enthusiastically poured tea and presented us with biscuits and chocolates! It was also great to meet some of the Centre’s volunteers and to hear about their work.

Inspired by the meeting, we have produced a version of our postcard with Chinese script. Our thanks to our volunteer, Tessa for providing the translation and to the Chinese Community Centre for their support of this.

Carly Hegenbarth, Project Manager

Monday, 22 April 2013

Our first oral history interview!

Nearly two weeks ago I had the very great privilege of being able to conduct the first oral history interview for the Digbeth Speaks project. My excitement was matched only by my nerves, but I couldn’t have asked for a nicer interviewee for my first attempt and, with Dave Robinson (aka the other half of the dream team) by my side, I had a very supportive team mate.

Pete Smyth, joined half way through by his wife Emma Case, provided a vibrant, lively and thoroughly interesting account of Digbeth as it is today. Together they shared accounts of how Digbeth has been so important in shaping both their business and their personal lives, and it was a pleasure to hear. Being privy to such personal stories and experiences is one of the main reasons I became involved with the Digbeth Speaks project. As well as satisfying my naturally nosey nature, hearing the interviewees speak perfectly highlighted why such projects are necessary - it is important that we make efforts to preserve the memory of such dynamic places before they change forever.

I feel lucky to be taking part in Digbeth Speaks and cannot wait to conduct more interviews.  

Rachael Heaven, Project Volunteer

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Digbeth Residents Association (DRA) meeting at the Old Crown

So what DOES a group of young fashionistas do to kill time in Digbeth before a DRA meeting? Answer: browse the vintage shops of course! In fact, Digbeth's offering is Birmingham's finest, many of the area's boutiques are destination hot spots. Carly and I enjoyed trying on endless revamped jackets and skirts in Cow's warehouse but left spending only a healthy 15 quid. Phew! Next stop, coffee break at Yumm Cafe with Sarah (Project Manager) and Imogen (Team Leader) in cosy cafe Yumm to discuss upcoming events, prospective oral interviews and yes, you've guessed it, all things retro. Still another 20 minutes left of valuable shopping time before work commitments! Making a teeny tiny detour via Urban Village, I left very chuffed indeed with a nude leather shoulder bag, before trying on an array of hats and commenting on the beauty of every other item on display (everything really was amazing, promise).

Round the corner and travel back in time (about 600 years'll do it), you'll find yourself at the Old Crown pub, a surviving architectural archive of Medieval Digbeth. An absolute gem, the Old Crown is frequented by some serious locals, and the bar staff are friendly and relaxed. Meandering through the corridors, and smaller dining areas, all with original features, we made our way to back of the pub to meet the residents. A big thank you to Pamela Pinski of the Digbeth Residents Association for inviting us along and for showing wonderful interest in, and support of, our project.

The team met passionate residents, property developers and an adrenaline seeking charity worker. We discussed renovations and expansion for The Woodman Pub in the hope of boosting Digbeth's recreational backdrop. The minimal disruption and arrests on St Patrick's Day celebrations on Digbeth's High Street was also mentioned. Approximately 80,000 visitors walked through the High Street on that day and a nominal total of 5 arrests were made. Then, the team presented the project's ideas and objectives and some great contacts and suggestions were made! And finally, back to that adrenaline seeking charity worker...On 8th June, Abseil for Acorns are hosting a charity abseil event off the Custard Factory walls, and we hope to be capturing the excitement and sounds at the bottom before some our own volunteers are kitted out to conquer their fears, watch this space!

Marie Giraud, Team Leader

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Oral Histories Refresher Training at Central Library, 2 April

On Tuesday 2 April we rounded off the Easter break by attending another great Oral Histories training session with Izzy Mohammed in Birmingham’s Central Library. To read the post about our last training session, click here. We discussed what ‘History’ and ‘Heritage’ are and what they mean for oral history projects like Digbeth Speaks.

We found that oral histories are a way of capturing personal stories, memories, experiences and feelings that do not usually get recorded in official documents, and may also not be passed on through the generations. They’re able to give an idea of the diversity of an area – that is everything within a given locality or system (to use Izzy’s words!). Digbeth Speaks is aiming to capture stories and feelings about Digbeth today that would otherwise be lost and preserve them for the future in Birmingham’s archives. Exciting stuff, especially to think that what we do now, and the stories that are shared with us, will be there for decades, or even centuries (!) to come!

We listened to some examples from previous oral history projects including Block Storeys, which looked at the stories of people living in tower block communities in Birmingham, and an oral history project that recorded stories relating to corner shops. We were all absolutely riveted by what these people had to say about their experiences and memories. It’s so evocative and engaging to listen to someone’s thoughts and feelings about their lives and communities.

We also got some great advice on carrying out our interviews, including preparing the interviewee really well and remembering to ask for key facts such as how old someone was when something they mention happened. This means that we can create a timeline and cross-reference information in the interviews, which is also fantastic for future researchers using the Digbeth Speaks archive.

All in all, it was a really enjoyable afternoon and thanks to everyone for coming along. We’re all set and ready to get interviewing!!

Katie Hall, Project Manager

Thursday, 11 April 2013

March Meeting

Here's a snap taken at our last team meeting in March. It's always great to get as many of the Digbeth Speaks gang together as possible. We fedback on the events we'd been to, discussed future events we'd like to attend, ran through the questions and procedure for the oral history interviews and also had another play with the recorders! 

Carly Hegenbarth, Project Manager

Friday, 5 April 2013

History Quest, University of Birmingham, 26 March

My quest: to inspire historians of the future at the University of Birmingham's annual event for local school groups. At 11.25am, 30 year 9s from Moseley school bustled into my classroom, having been treated to a rousing lecture by Prof Carl Chinn (attended by 300 students!), which they described as being really 'fun'.

Over the course of my hour-long workshop, I told them all about Digbeth Speaks, showed them lots of photographs of what we've been up to and played them some vox pops, in order to really get them thinking about history. We talked about 'what is history?' and thought about 'whose history' we usually study. They were rather surprised to hear that I was leading a project on the history of Digbeth which researches the 'here and now' of their own city. We thought about how the project was different to the history that they study at school, and whether documenting history today and of everyday people was important (they thought that it was! Phew!).

For the last half of the session the students split into small groups to make their own time capsule, 'Moseley Speaks'! I got them thinking about who they would talk to and why, what 3 questions they would ask, which buildings they would photograph, which events they would document and what viewers of the time capsule would learn about Moseley in 2013. It was great to get them talking about what Moseley means to them, and they had some fantastic ideas.... they'll be doing my job in no time, I'm sure.

They left for lunch and a campus tour with smiling faces and Digbeth Speaks stickers and postcards. Later in the afternoon they all took part in a big history quiz, hosted by Carl Chinn, which went down a storm: it was lovely to hear the chatter of young people being inspired and engaged by history. It was a great day, and a real privilege to have been invited by the Outreach Team to be involved.

Carly Hegenbarth, Project Manager

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

St Patrick's Day Parade (well, nearly!), 17 March

Looking down the top end of Digbeth High Street, speckled with touches of orange, white and green, the gathering of people for St Paddy's was impressive. We made our way down to join the celebrations and catch a glimpse of the floats. The urban landscape, defined by industrial warehouses, market stalls and concrete walls embellished with vibrant graffiti, was broken up with parade-goers in their multitudes. Cleverly (or so we thought!) we attempted to follow the thickest part of the crowds in the hope that it would lead us to the parade itself. After asking a few punters, we soon realised, we'd missed it by about 30 minutes! Not letting this momentary blip get to us, we launched straight into collecting some vox pops. 

Flanked by our arty photographer, Nikolay (slim jeans, knitted accoutrements and cigarette in hand), Carly, Katie and I, equipped with all the professional gear that'd make any big-time journalist feeling somewhat 'ordinary', headed for small groups of people seemingly in intense conversation... And they were! They let us kindly interrupt their heated debate on the values of the younger generation and were delighted to hear about our project, especially one participant by the befitting name of Patrick. After capturing the variety of voices and opinions, as young as 10 and as old as 70, we found ourselves by a BBC van. 'Aha! An opportunity to show the long-standing experts how it's REALLY done' we thought! The gods were on our side, after a successful chat with the producers and great sound bites to add to the record, our lovely local historian, Carl Chinn, joined our discussion. Author of many books on Brum including Birmingham Irish. Making Our Mark (Birmingham, 2003), the University of Birmingham professor wasn't going to slip through our vox popping hands without offering his words of local history gold to add to our time capsule! 3 minutes of tape, 5 stickers and one photo later, the 'Digbeth Speaks' gang walked away very chuffed indeed!

Our onward journey was pleasantly interrupted by Margaret and her Irish-costumed Yorkshire Terrier puppy, named Buddy, 'but today he's been renamed Paddy'. After another accolade of atmospheric sound bites, from clowns (yes, clowns!) to local lads, we found ourselves amidst the market stalls. Requiring skills of suppleness, quick-thinking and a magnitude of courage, we leant over market stall after market stall to capture our contributors insightful voices without getting in the way of their trade. I did say courage...after one recording in the petting zoo, Carly calmly appeared over my shoulder with a tarantula held out in her palm! Jokes with creepy crawlies over, we headed to the fairground. The sun was finally beginning to shine! The pubs were full to the brim with people dressed as Guinness pints, leprechauns and were alive with merriment. 

Two hours later, the Digbeth Speaks A-team slowly headed back to New Street following the streams of punters and Irish flags also calling it day. Engaging with a diversity of people (and animals!), joining in with St Paddy's celebrations and capturing the smiles and excitement of the area isn't too bad for a day's work really!

Marie Giraud, Team Leader