The Big Debate. What if I don’t want to work in Birmingham?

Like many people, I’ve been looking at Andrew Brightwell’s blog post on yesterday’s Big Debate event in Birmingham. I agree with all the action points there, especially on the issue of unused office space and places – I’ll come back to that in a tick.

I thought it might be useful to pull out one point.

One thing that struck me, especially when I was putting together the word cloud showing the entire facilitator notes from the day, was that we tend to talk about Birmingham as a default position, when the question was, Can the Midlands creative industries revolutionise the UK economy? Not even the West Midlands, as Jon Hickman pointed out to me, but the Midlands. I live in Wednesbury, in the Black Country, borough of Sandwell. It looks a bit like this:

View Larger Map

And here’s the town centre.


Traditionally, and today, I guess, it has been a home for industry and has a history in making metal tubes and gun barrels I think. These days there is still a lot of industry and manufacturing going on, and business based here. The air often permeates with the smell of burning tar from somewhere or other. Red Mill Foods are based there, who make bar snacks and crisps. The largest B and Q in Europe is based there, as is the area’s local Ikea.

However, to my knowledge, there aren’t a great number of ‘creative industries’. Or are there? Theer are two possibilities.

  • There are creative industries, but they either operate online or operate outside my field of view – obviously, that’s very possible.
  • There aren’t a significant number or a cluster of creative industries.

I’m guessing it’s the latter. In Birmingham, the cluster and activity is very visible one way or another. Maybe it’s because I work within the field in Birmingham and if I was working in this same area in Sandwell, it would be more obvious to me. Maybe it’s because I have a ‘switched off’, ‘I am at home, not work’ relationship with Sandwell that I’m not aware of the creative industries. But, assuming there isn’t that same clustering and networking of CI business in Wednesbury, why isn’t there?

After all, Wednesbury has great transport links. It’s a minute drive to the M6 and 5 minutes from the M5. The tram network passes through, with 2 stops in Wednesbury, linking to Birmingham (20 minutes) and Wolverhampton at the other end of the line (15 minutes). If you’re commuting, the Metro is also pretty cheap – a month pass is £40.

We have broadband here. Maybe not super fast, but we have it, to the level you’d need to run an online presence. I worked from our home in Wednesbury for several years quite happily in that respect.

There are probably enough local potential clients in the area, especially when you look at how tightly packed and populated Sandwell is. We’re not talking about setting up a business in the country here, this is a sprawling mass of town merging into town, one after the other. And if the clients aren’t on your door step for those face to face contacts, we have the internet and transport connections I mentioned.

I guess there are two questions to this.

  1. Does somewhere like Wednesbury need a spread or cluster (2 different things) of creative industries and:
  2. Do creative industries need to be based somewhere like Wednesbury?

Well to tackle 1, I’d guess there are probably studies out there showing how creative industries injected into an area help the overall economy and quality of life.

And the benefit to the businesses basing themselves there?

  • I’d assume rent is cheap, if house prices are anything to by. There are unused buildings and land, in various states of disrepair, that could offer office or creative spaces. I’m sure in many cases these aren’t even council owned so private relationships might be managed.
  • If you’re the first business of one type in that area, you’ll have an advantage, especially if you work with companies that build trust through face to face meetings, local Yellow Pages listings, etc. I’m not sure how easy it would be for a larger design agency, for example, to be working with clients like Coca Cola from a Wednesbury office, but in theory, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t happen.

I feel there are probably other advantages, and it would be good to hear from creative industries based in these smaller towns or boroughs. However, at this point, I’m losing steam and probably rambling…

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9 Responses to The Big Debate. What if I don’t want to work in Birmingham?

  1. Anonymous says:

    This is precisely why I ended up moving to London after university life in Exeter. There are very few ‘creative hubs’ in England. Probably about 70% of all creative industry is based in London, with the rest split between the likes of Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester etc. I’m not sure why it is like this other than companies wanting to work in the centre of where things are perceived to be happening. it is also a chicken and egg situation. Most people wanting to get involved in the creative industry will look for work and move to a large city, because that is where the companies are based.

  2. Anonymous says:

    That’s true, after studying Media Art at uni, the default position for so many people is, move to London because that’s where the work will be, even without having any job lined up. I wonder if people now move to other cities in the same way. i.e. would people move to Brum just out of uni because they perceive that to be the place for jobs / clients?

  3. claire says:

    I reckon the creative industries based in small towns are the ‘industry’ bit … not the swanky, glass office, fancy biscuits design agency but the people that actually print the stuff, manufacture the circuit board, laminate the signage, ship the technology across the UK etc. I have no evidence for this by the way. Search for Creative Industries here, some good stuff …

  4. Anonymous says:

    Wow, I’d love to work in fancy biscuits design agency.

  5. tobybarnes says:

    and this –, from Paul Pod

  6. tobybarnes says:

    both from very Urban, Computer types

  7. tobybarnes says:

    but.. you need inspiration, and a creative place to work in. you need to bump into the account manager of agency X at lunch. This wont happen in the local stores. local towns are great to work from but it’s no different than working from home, why not live right out in the countryside, in a village with great views, and close to the M1, and spend the other 3 days in London getting, and managing the work.

  8. alan says:

    a bit late coming to this discussion – just came across it now. but a quick search founds lots to support the economic benefits of creative industries on local economies… … but an interesting artilce by Kate Oakley echoing some of the comments about the need for a sympathetic or supportive local culture

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