Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Community life in Digbeth? Monday 15 July

On Monday 15 July we went to St Anne’s Roman Catholic Church on Alcester Street to meet Father Patrick Brown. We talked about the Digbeth Speaks project and discussed potential people we could contact to record stories about the Irish heritage and spiritual life of the area. We found out that Cardinal Newman had founded St. Anne’s in a former gin distillery next to where the present church was built. Father Brown recounted some of his memories about Digbeth from the 1970s and talked about the ways it had since changed. We recorded a short interview with him to go into the archive - he had an interesting insight on the question of whether Digbeth has a ‘community’ today. While many of the church’s parishioners live across Birmingham, for those with Catholic and Irish heritage, St Anne’s brings that community together.

Next stop - SIFA  Fireside, a charity that tackles homelessness, alcohol misuse and social exclusion across Birmingham, situated in an old printing factory on Allcock Street. Development Manager Simon Hackett invited us along to their weekly forum to talk about Digbeth Speaks. We also found out about the fantastic work that the charity does as well as hearing from some of the service users about the positive impact that the centre has had on their lives. Rob told us the story behind the name of the band he is part of - Feed us Biscuits, we should’ve guessed by the digestives on the table! Check out their performance here.

We then stopped off for a lovely lunch at the Greenhouse Café in Digbeth, before calling into the Lakeside Gallery at the Custard Factory – where our exhibition at the end of the project is going to be held. We also called by one of the vintage shops on the way, where Carly bought this beautiful 1930s brooch!  

When we arrived at the gallery, we were greeted by an exciting exhibition of street art. Setdebelleza is a Spanish artist is touring galleries around the world.

After visiting all the people and places on that day I started to think about the whole range of reasons that people visit Digbeth, including eating, socialising, going to an event or exhibition, or shopping; for those that visit SIFA fireside, it’s a place that offers many of the same activities and it’s a lifeline to them; for parishioners at St. Anne’s it’s a spiritual home. While Digbeth might not have a traditional, fixed community, it welcomes a range of smaller communities and individuals as a modern, multi-cultural hub, but with reminders of its industrial past. 

Lauren Dudley
Project Volunteer

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