10 things I’d change about Digbeth and the Custard Factory

Custard Factory

I spent my last working day in Digbeth last Friday after two and a half years. On Monday I shift to the Jewellery Quarter where I’ll be working for Digital Birmingham. I liked working around Digbeth (Bromley street to be precise) but it wasn’t without its frustrations so here’s 10 things I’d change about it:

1. Less galleries, more cafes. The fry-up options around the area are very thin on the ground. Rootys will do you one although the board advertising it is well hidden. There are a couple of cafes back towards town but that’s about it. Maybe if Vivid served a good bacon sandwich I’d be inclined to go use the place.

2. Shut the Custard Factory newsagents. Until it starts buying in more newspapers that is. The shelves in general always look a bit thin but I’m not bothered about that – I just want to be able to buy a paper. If you go after 9.30am there’s a good chance they’ll have sold their entire stock.

3. Build another carpark. Okay so maybe building carparks isn’t a useful or practical suggestion nowadays but as long as the current owners of the main carpark have a monopoly they’ll continue to clamp your car with glee.

4. Calm the traffic on Heath Mill Lane. The Custard Factory is an island surrounded by busy roads and a river (of sorts). Stopping Heath Mill Lane from being a busy cut-through to the middle ring road might make the walk from CF to The Bond a tad more pleasant (especially in the rain when every car thinks it’s funny to splash you).

5. Make Fazeley Street the main route to Digbeth. This is a straight, fairly quiet road that leads from the city centre directly to The Bond and the new Fazeley Studios. Digbeth High Street is just a dull dual carriageway. Fazeley Street could be a tree-lined boulevard if we gave it half a chance – oh, and planted some trees of course.

6. Signposts Please. NOTHING is signposted. I mean NOTHING. Not within the area or to the area. Why aren’t the wonderful canals pointed out? If you’re at Millennium Point you might be pointed back into town but not to the Custard Factory. Signs – it’s basic stuff.

7. Start selling stuff people need. Go on, admit it. When’s the last time you purchased something from a Custard Factory shop? They’re not helped by the lack of punters around there of course but an elite hi-fi shop? A violin shop? Homeopathy? Sometimes I just want to go buy a bag of nappies without going all the way to Morrison’s.

8. Open a restaurant. I did hear of one in the pipeline – anyone confirm? Seems curious that our leading creative quarter has such a mono-cultural nightlife. Drinking and music and that’s it. Jewellery Quarter has a few. In fact Digbeth-based Clusta boss, Russell has a place up there – I presume he didn’t think there was enough potential clientele in Digbeth.

9. Move the bus stops outside Digbeth Cold Storage. It’s the single biggest barrier between town and Digbeth and its made of people. Putting the stops for the 37/50/58/59/60 etc. on a narrow pavement is a ridiculous planning decision. Go do the walk now between Bull Ring and Custard Factory. Difficult isn’t it? Now go do it with a push chair or a wheelchair and fight your way past a load of grumpy people waiting for a bus that’s already 20 minutes late.

10. Gentrify/Don’t Gentrify – make your mind up. All those galleries – I mean come on, it’s gentrified whether you like it or not now isn’t it (and what are they doing down there anyway? why are they hiding from where most people are?). It’s still an industrial area of course and is a million miles away from what happened in East London but we need some clear thinking right now rather than simply hoping that an economic downturn prevents the worse of the excesses.

Pic by lamentables

22 thoughts on “10 things I’d change about Digbeth and the Custard Factory

  1. The new Fazeley Studios are planning to have a bistro but not sure if there are any takers yet. Can we add to this list:

    Turn one half of Digbeth/Deritend itself into a pedestrian area.

  2. Hmm, thought-provoking. My knee-jerk reactions:

    1. Surely the two aren’t mutually exclusive. More galleries! More cafes! Let them multiply together and cross breed interestingly!
    2. I think someone mentioned on twitter that it is closing. Might just be a rumour.
    3. I take it they only clamp people if they’ve not paid to be there. Not had a problem there myself. Perhaps it shows an encouraging level of vigilence – I once left a window open all afternoon and the car was still there when I got back.
    4. Couldn’t really comment.
    5. I quite like that idea.
    6. Yep.
    7. As long as something comes along to complement the existing shops, rather than being at the expense of them. I like that the place harbours the esoteric emporia.
    8. Maybe start with a curry house and go from there. Or a restaurant/cafe in one of the galleries, Ikon-style
    9. Yep
    10. Nowt wrong with a plan, I guess

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  4. Some good thoughts there Dave. As a meat eater I would struggle to find a greasy option for breakfast in the area. My main thought is about signposting and people finding their way to the CF area down Fazeley Street . The railway bridge at the top of the street should be “decorated” somehow to indicate that there is something beyond other than “dangerous” territory. Maybe turn it into a colourful “media” arch like you have a Chinese arch on the way into many China Towns?
    Also , to get people to make their way down Fazeley Street we need more commercial development to pull people through the arch – when is Warwick Bar going to happen ? That old building next to the canal is scaffolded but nothing is being done. Guess the credit crunch (overselling of massive houses to Americans funded by Chinese cheap labour) has put paid to that type of development.

  5. i’m not sure about your experiences at the CF but the thing that ‘s WOEFULLY lacking is liason between the CF and the’frontline’ retailers. I’m now hearing rumour after rumour about whats coming , who’s going, this unit willl be that, that unit will be this (an internet cafe?, a ticket outlet?, a new reception? )and so on and so forth. ‘Urban Village Frank has supported that place nigh on Eight years (one of the first retailers in the place) and even he seems in the dark about whats what. i seem to remeber Shad(?) had a job that involved working as a gobetween but as far as i’m aware no-one has taken his place. seriously it’s a frickin’ joke.

    Midge Diabolik (the cult DVD shop no-one comes in, Gibb St)

  6. Here is my recommendation:

    Make the flea market booth operators actually show up. Even if the weather isn’t great. I’ve been to the Custard Flea once. There was only 5 people selling stuff because it looked like it was maybe going to rain. If the weather is good enough that I can bike down then it is good enough for the sellers. I haven’t been since and probably won’t since I don’t feel like gambling on whether the sellers will bother to show up. This is England. You can’t bail because the weather is crap.

  7. Spot on comment re: Flea Market no shows . Maybe if they were offered reduced pitch fees on the condition they have to pay/book a month in advance. It might encorage more people to show up reguarlly regardless of weather.

  8. and another thing…

    I’ve heard people complain about the lack of footfall past the CF. Last weekend I popped by just as thousands of people were walking back from the Blues game. It was interesting seeing the huge number of people who walked into The Crown and the equally huge number who turned a quizzical head down the CF alley but carried on walking.

    There’s nothing to cater for those people and nothing to indicate what’s down that alley. Surely someone (Rooty’s? The Kitchen?) could set up a food van/stall near that entrance or someone could stand there with a sign or something.

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  11. How about a bloody cashpoint that A) worked and B) didn’t charge you £1.75 to get your cash out?

    I’m sick of having to either plan in advance to bring cash out or fork out a withdrawl charge when I want to access my own money. Us creative types are spontaneous people and I for one would probably hang around bars, pubs and clubs in Digbeth more if I could sontaneously access funds to do so.

    Case in point- I was in the rainbow the other night when two lads tried to access the (premium rate) cash machine. The barmaid told them that not only was it broken but the nearest alternative was in the Bullring! Needless to say they were unlikely to return to the rainbow to spend their wages after a mile-long schlep to the nearest hole-in-the-wall. Ridiculous.

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  14. Both the CF and Millenium Point suffer from the same problem – even though they are quite different in appearance and function. Both are currently disconnected from the city centre by about 1/2 a mile – which in retail terms might as well be 100 miles. Until there is a clear reason to shop/entertain/eat your way down to either then these problems for them as visitor destinations will remain. Both were ahead of the times as “outposts” in the new Eastside, but with the credit crunch now hitting development, how long until there is a legible link to both from the city centre?

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  18. I am currently developing the old victorian block on the main high st deritend, which is on the same side as Rainbow Pub. We are planning on opening new retail units on the main high street. I would love to hear your suggestions on what would serve the area best. I personally think a good well stocked up convenience store would be great for the area. Let me have your thoughts please. You can call me on 0845 021 21 91 or email me on boss0786@hotmail.com.

  19. I’d move the south birmingham college somewhere else, i honestly hate walking past it to get to the custard factory

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