Creativity, Collaboration and Community:
Falling in love with Birmingham
“I fell in love the way you fall asleep. Slowly, and then all at once.”
— John Green
I first arrived in Birmingham as a love-struck 16 year-old during the latter half of 1999, bewildered by the busyness, witnessing a city in the midst of a rebirth. It became a sanctuary of sorts in those early years, hiding away in the tranquility of Bournville. When I moved here permanently in 2004, the sentimentality of those early years was soon lost, and I struggled to find a home in the city. Back then I was a creative without a vocation, an academic without a purpose, and I often found myself feeling like a body without a soul. It was the time of economic wealth, and there was money available for creative endeavours. By proxy I was involved in the independent film scene, but I never found myself a proper place in their community. I needed to break out on my own to be able to discover the things that made me tick
Despite yo-yoing backing and forth, I never managed to quit Birmingham. I had a brief and passionate flirtation with Bristol which left a long lasting impression. The community and creativity emanating from Bristol’s streets is evident everywhere, from the people to the graffiti. In Bristol, the people have a way of getting things done, of nurturing their creatives and welcoming outsiders. I pined for Bristol for quite some time, thinking it was the only place I would want to live. However, unexpectedly I was pulled back into Birmingham. Again, love was the catalyst, but this time it was different, this time I put down my roots.
In the first year I felt isolated, and I failed to properly connect with my surroundings. However, it began to dawn on me that this was partly my responsibility, that I wasn’t giving anything to the city so how could I ever expect it to give back to me. By this point I had firmly found photography as a creative outlet, and I had traveled the world alone taking photos, from New Zealand to Boston. The one thing that I had learned is that experiences only happen when you allow them. In the act of letting go, resentment and fear tends to fall away, and the space created can be occupied by something unexpected, causing a change in perspective.
I opened up a map and started to explore the immediate area around where I live in Acocks Green. I discovered that I was only a mile from the canal and that became my first foray into exploring the city. Imagine my delight to discover a quiet, beautiful place existing in the middle of the hubbub, and my surprise to witness Kingfishers dart up and down the still water. I began to realise that there was beauty everywhere, I just wasn’t looking hard enough.
Soon, I traveled further afield, one foot in front of the other, one photograph after another. I discovered new places and rediscovered the old and on the way started to feel part of the buildings and the infrastructure around me. The city was coming alive before my eyes and in sharing my images, I was helping others to see that too.
There was just one thing missing for me; community. Being a photographer can be lonely existence, and I don’t believe a creative spirit can be fostered in isolation. We need our peers, we need our contemporaries to be part of the process. Without this, it’s like a flower that never sees the sun, it cannot grow. Through the power of social media and sharing my images, as well as the work of others, connections were made and I soon found myself a home with an idealistic, hard-working group who loved Birmingham, and wanted to see what they could do to bring positive change.
Being involved in the Maker Team of Impact Hub Birmingham has placed me right in the middle of the most encouraging and inspiring community I’ve ever experienced. To me, that means the world. It signals a shift in the way Birmingham operates. It’s indicative of a wider change where people are beginning to disrupt the old ways of doing things, and starting to work together from the grassroots to build a greater city, a more collaborative city where creatives like me are welcomed, and encouraged.
Impact Hub Birmingham is a space where that can happen, a place where businesses can co-exist, fostering opportunity and supporting the outside community. The words ‘building a better city’ can seem particularly vague, but there’s real potential in the idea of having a collaborative space. It’s not just about the people who will work there, it’s about the opportunities that will be created for those who currently exist under the radar.
Birmingham has become part of me. I want to see it grow and flourish. I believe we’re on the edge of a great movement that will change not only our own, but the world’s view of our brilliant city. The time to get involved is now. Make a pledge to help Impact Hub Birmingham become a reality, but even more than that, come and see the space, come and meet the team, be part of this. We’re open, we’re enthusiastic, we’re audacious, and we believe in you.