Start-up Birmingham

The Startup Britain campaign have released some new stats about how many companies were started in the UK in 2013. They have analysed data from Companies House and have produced  a nice infographic.

The headline figure for Birmingham is that 16,281 business started up. Impressive. However, that’s actually a figure for the B postcode rather than for the Birmingham local authority area. Given that Startup Britain have also released the data they used I though it worth a quick analysis.


  • In postcodes that are wholly or partly within the Birmingham local authority area there were 11,248 start-ups.
  • B postcodes in Sandwell produced 1200 start-ups.
  • Solihull had 947 start-ups.
  • The top three performing postcodes in Birmingham are Birmingham City Centre (B2), Edgbaston/Lee Bank (B15), Winson Green/Hockley (B18).
  • The fourth and fifth best performing postcodes are within the city centre (B3, B1).
  • Castle Vale had the lowest number of start-ups (35, 0.3%) .
  • Digbeth (B5) had 268 start-ups, 2.3% of the total (13th in Birmingham).

You can the acces Birmingham data and some tables here:

Top 20 Birmingham postcodes for start-ups:

Postcode start-ups % Area
B2 998 8.9% Birmingham City Centre, New Street
B15 994 8.8% Edgbaston, Lee Bank
B18 804 7.1% Winson Green, Hockley
B3 781 6.9% Birmingham City Centre, Newhall Street
B1 383 3.4% Birmingham City Centre, Broad Street (east)
B11 372 3.3% Sparkhill, Sparkbrook, Tyseley
B28 331 2.9% Hall Green
B13 311 2.8% Moseley, Billesley
B19 306 2.7% Lozells, Newtown, Birchfield
B16 305 2.7% Edgbaston, Ladywood
B12 290 2.6% Balsall Heath, Sparkbrook, Highgate
B9 274 2.4% Bordesley Green, Bordesley
B5 268 2.4% Digbeth, Highgate, Lee Bank
B23 262 2.3% Erdington, Short Heath
B24 251 2.2% Erdington, Tyburn
B21 244 2.2% Handsworth
B8 243 2.2% Washwood Heath, Ward End, Saltley
B20 226 2.0% Handsworth Wood, Handsworth, Birchfield, Perry Barr
B10 221 2.0% Small Heath
B14 198 1.8% Kings Heath, Yardley Wood, Druids Heath, Highter’s Heath, Warstock

The Ten best unsung places in Birmingham

By ‘unsung’ I mean I can’t seem to find these places talked about specifically when Birmingham is marketed. By ‘best’, I mean that I have personally declared them the best based, as you’ll see, largely on sentiment. This list is not in order of bestness.

You can see the locations in the map below (click on the little arrows to zoom to the location. Bigger version). Also a Google Map version.

Harborne Branch Line Walkway.
What feels like a rural abandoned rail line in the centre of a city – marvellous. This starts in the corner of Summerfield Park and much of the recently improved path is in a slight cutting so you don’t really notice the surrounding busy roads (it goes under the Hagley road at one point). As you get closer to Harborne you emerge on an embankment but it’s not until you get to Chad Valley that you realise that you’re above roof top level as you walk over Park Hill Road bridge that would have taken you into Harborne station (long since demolished and replaced with especially dull housing). The line was ripped up in 1963 and the walkway created in 1981.

Alum Rock Road. 
‘The Rock’, as it’s known locally, is where I played my first game of Space Invaders, where I became expert at Pac-Man (I was really, really good), where I drank my first pint. I lived close by and spent much of my early teens in and out of its chip shops, video arcades (though the Pac-Man was actually in a Taxi office), and pubs. In the late 70s/early 80s it had two Tescos, a Boots and a Woolworth’s but in their place now is a vibrant stretch of independent retailers who seem to mostly sell Sarees, food or phones. The road layout and many of the buildings (upper parts at least) remain unchanged since the Victorian era. It remains as astonishingly vibrant now as when I was a lad.

Holder’s Lane Woods.
Running has helped me discover lots of new places. This small wooded area is a diversion off the Rea Valley cycle route and is well worth a look. It’s secluded, boggy and home to a lot of squirrels. The area to its south, off Dogpool lane, was once a housing estate of Pre-fabs, long since gone and, given its location, surprisingly left undeveloped. Once you leave the wood you can drop back on the Rea Valley route or take a right into the wooded area that borders Moor Green allotments.

Lancaster Circus. 
It’s the most elegant part of what’s left of Birmingham’s inner ring road. The A38 sits on concrete stilts above a large open space which is often populated with skateboarders. On one side is the Children’s hospital, now a bit of a rag-bag of old and new buildings; but on the other is the former Central Fire Station which is very grand indeed. The city centre used to have a lot of spaces like Lancaster Circus, isolated and cut off by subways, but none felt this wide open or imposing. We should list it.

Fazeley/Grand/Digbeth canal loop. 
Start where you like but what a great urban 10k(ish) run/walk/cycle this makes. It takes you through the conservation area of Warwick Bar and to the cathedral-like bowels of Spaghetti Junction. Along the way you’ll go through narrow tunnels and get a terrific glimpse into the Birmingham’s industrial present and past. And you’ll see a heron, probably somewhere near Star City. Oh, and I once saw a naked man swimming in the canal near Saltley.

Cofton Park. 
Cofton Park is massive. Hilly and massive. I’ve not participated in my running club’s regular Saturday morning training session there for a while as I’m rather intimidated by it. It sits just past the former Longbridge car plant and is right at the edge of the city. It has a high ridge which is a bugger to run up with tired legs. It’s often used for events (the pope came here once) and there’s no better sight than a  100+ cross-country runners powering over its undulating terrain.

The Cross City rail line. 
50 minutes and 19 miles of urban railway through quiet suburbs and busy industry. You get to see the whole city on the Cross City Line. We should be advertising this as a thing to do: “Hop off at historic Aston.” It could be so much more than a commuter line. In order to stay within the city you have to start/end at Blake st. and Longbridge, but extend your journey to Barnt Green and you’re at the foot of the Lickey Hills. In the days when my life was focused around getting the most value out of an off-peak bus/rail pass I did this journey often and enjoyed it every time.

Cole Valley Cycle route. 
Glebe Farm used to be the place to go on a Sunday to play/watch Gaelic sports. As the adults did so, us kids would go wandering off along the nearby River Cole. The river could be crossed quite easily and we would spend hours playing on its banks up to the limit of the bridge on Cole Hall lane. Beyond there lay the hinterland of Shard End. When the day’s sport was over we’d often walk as a family back along the Cole to Stechford. There was no cycle path then as there is now but a worn path took us the mile or so back to the 14 bus route and home. You can continue along the Cole as far as Small Heath and it makes up on of Birmingham’s fantastic green, cyclable, corridors.

Hodge Hill Common. 
Birmingham like any city still has a few ‘commons’. I can’t remember what the deal is; can I keep sheep on there? Whatever way, I include Hodge Hill for sentimental reasons and for its refreshingly unkept nature. If I ever drive past it it always looks like it need a good mow. Maybe you’re simply not allowed to mow a meadow – I really don’t know. I used to walk past it and over it in my youth as we sometimes ventured to Castle Bromwich to see family friends. Even then I thought it was an odd but endearingly scruffy patch with a row of ‘too posh for Hodge Hill’ house on one side of it.

Is this area still called Duddeston? It may be Nechells. I’m sure we actually used to refer to it as Vauxhall as the station was once called that. Confusingly, the rather lovely local library is called ‘Bloomsbury’. This area is framed by the railway on one side and dual carriageways on the others and is home to Birmingham’s first tower block, built in the 1950s and still standing today. The community centre there was where I learnt Judo and the whole area always felt quite modern to me. The blocks are really imposing and in my young eyes this felt like a perfectly sensible way to reorganise cities. Nearby Alum Rock had tightly-packed terraces whilst Duddeston had, seemingly, space.

Birmingham’s 10 best blogs

A list, decided by me, of the 10 best blogs by people based in Birmingham (as of now – May 2013). Sometimes they talk about Birmingham, sometimes not. In order of bestness.

1. But She’s a Girl
“In respects other than my interests, I am resolutely female […] I don’t find farting amusing”. Geek, film buff, Kate Bush fan, collector of fountain pens. This is simply the most useful blog I read as it veers from advice on which RSS reader to read in the post-Google Reader era to useful reviews of cheap speakers. But it also covers the personal and domestic in a refreshing, witty tone. In all, it’s quite rambling and unexpected, with a tendency to use footnotes of which I approve. The author moved to Birmingham in 2004 and has been blogging ever since.

2. Birmingham Central
Planning porn. Tons of detail about the endless changes to Birmingham’s landscape. It rarely editorialises which is refreshing, instead presenting plenty of pics and distilling details from submitted planning documents. It’s the work of Simon Felton who is partly doing a really good job of saving us from having to trawl the Skyscraper City forum for useful Birmingham stuff, and partly making sense of a city which changes so fast it’s difficult to keep up. Blogging since 2008. To note: the Urban Buildings blog does a great job in a similar vein whilst UrbanPivot covers a wider strategic view of the city.

3. B31 Voices
I’ve written about B31’s extraordinariness before. My point in that post was that B31 was more than a so-called ‘hyperlocal’ blog, it was a powerful, citizen-led network of knowledge that offers a genuine challenge to ‘official’ knowledge. It’s the ‘networked public sphere‘ (PDF) in action. Run by Sas and Marty Taylor it covers news and events in a big chunk of South Birmingham – the poorer bits. They write a dozen or more stories a week and have excellent links with the Birmingham Mail who increasingly rely on them as their ‘beat’ reporting duo.

4. Two Brides to Two Mummies
“Mum, I’m bisexual, I’m in love with the blonde lady in Casualty”. Regularly updated since January 2012 to chart the progress towards the civil partnership of two women (due in July 2013). It’s the detail and honesty that’s refreshing and of course what makes it unlike any other wedding planning blog is that in this instance the personal is also political. ‘Straight’ couples don’t have ‘coming out‘ stories or detail the ways in which they won’t in fact be married at all. The charming, bubbly protagonists just want to be wed – if only we lived in a country sensible enough to let that happen.

5. Mark Steadman
I’m drawn to Mark’s blog partly because he’s a former student that I taught briefly in the early noughties – I like to see former students getting on and doing okay, I’m fatherly like that. The main reason though is that Mark is my barometer for Birmingham’s tech scene. If Mark is buoyed up and working on one of his many side projects then I always presume the scene around him is in a good way too. His blog switches from the personal to the professional, sometimes discussing his journey into entrepreneurship and sometimes declaring he’s giving it all up (an April Fool it turns out…). Like a few of the blogs I enjoy I’m never sure what’s coming next.

6. SmokeandUmami
Having been lauded by The Observer’s food critic (and TV person) Jay Rayner, this blog hardly needs further endorsement. I like that it veers from restaurant reviews to cake recipes. It’s run by a ‘bioinformatician’ based at University of Birmingham with a thing for barbecued ribs. The restaurants he chooses to eat at are the places I might end up going to – kebab houses, chip shops, a decent place to get a fry-up. Also worth a read is Brummie Tummy.

7. The Hearing Aid
At one level just a whole load of gig/music reviews but given there’s been over a 1000 of them since 2006, all by one person, this is obviously a whole lot more. I’m not even a big gig-goer myself yet I find this a must-read. Birmingham seems to be a good place for seeing half-decent bands in small suburban pubs. Wish I could see that said in more glitzy City brochures and websites. Similar stuff with multiple authors and nice pics at Gig Junkies.

8. Bread and Circus
This was tweeted in my direction when I mentioned I was creating this list. It turns out it was in my RSS Reader anyway but its miscellaneousness means I sometimes mistake it for being multiple blogs rather than one. Surely everyone needs a blog in their feed reader that is generally just nice to look at? It’s curation of art, music, food, travel feels hip without being hipster. In a similar space but just focused on design is cmykern (who once attacked my allotment with an industrial-strength strimmer, for which I am forever grateful).

9. The Iron Room
“You always find surprises in the archives”. The blog of the Archive and Heritage department of Birmingham Central Library Library of Birmingham. Likes others in this list it’s the unexpected that delights. I imagine (wrongly) the authors work in a crowded, unkept office where they occasionally trip over an uncatalogued box of photos and documents of Birmingham’s history. And in that way they choose what goes on the blog this week. However they decide it’s genuinely enriching to get an ongoing glimpse into Birmingham’s past. See also ‘Mapping Birmingham’s Georgian and Regency Streets‘ for more history goodies.

10. Paradise Circus
It’s a bit self-consciously writerly at times (though by that I also mean writerly in the Barthesian sense) and seems to have only male writers at present but Paradise Circus is at least attempting to curate a view of Birmingham that is a long way from the corporate gloss the city’s image has been subject to in recent times. It’s at its best when it’s most straightforward – Craig Hamilton’s seemingly throwaway anecdote about an encounter with a Hollywood star at Birmingham New Street station being a good example.

Birmingham New Street station – some behind the scenes photos

I managed to get myself a behind-the-scenes tour of Birmingham New Street station. It is currently undergoing a major transformation due to complete in 2015 that will see a new concourse built and a new shopping centre (called Grand Central) above it.

In April 2013 (actual date to be announced later in March 2013) the old concourse will shut and half of the new concourse will open allowing the other half of the new concourse to be built. The whole of the new concourse will then eventually open some time in 2015.

So, this new half-concourse is what I got a tour of. Pictures are below and I’ve put some notes with them to try to give you a sense of the layout.

My tour was by their comms person who is former BBC journalist Sue Beardsmore. Thanks to Nick Booth for suggesting I might be a useful person to take round.

Some points I noted as I went round (apologies for any inaccuracies):

  • Until the whole of the new concourse opens in 2015 you won’t be able to access the station from the Bullring side. You will go down a new alleyway at the back of the Odeon cinema and emerge on Stephenson street where the new entrance is.
  • There will be an exit during switchover on Hill street (and when John Lewis is finished in 2015, a much grander exit in that place).
  • Every platform will have escalators and lifts (platform one will just have lift and stairs during the switchover period).
  • The new car and taxi drop runs alongside the new concourse with a short stay car park above it. It’s actually in a section that was the old Pallasades carpark. You enter on Hill street, drive along a covered roadway and exit on Navigation street (where Taxi pick-up will be).
  • The new concourse has a ticket side and a non-ticket side. Much the same way it’s set up now.
  • Everything feels bigger. I think that’s because the ticket/non-ticket sides use the full width of the station whereas currently only the ticket side stretches all the way down.
  • There were lots of people working there. So even though the pics seem to suggest there’s a long way to go it did seem that there were enough people on site to make the switchover date happen as planned in April.
  • Once the new half concourse is open there seems to be a ton of concrete to take out of the old one. You can see why it’ll take another two years.
  • Part of the old concourse will remain open as otherise there wouldn’t be a second exit from platforms. The old ladies toilet will still be in use for a while. The gents will get a refurb.
  • The route from the ramp (you know, the one with MacDonalds on it) to the Bullring bridge will stay open, as will those shops. However, from switchover day the escalators down to the station will be closed and there will be a longish corridor route down to the new concourse.
  • See also the info at:

Feel free to re-use the pics as you wish. You can download the hi-res versions and the licence is set to Creative Commons (link to set). I’ve added more detail in the notes below the pics.


Mr Grumpy

I actually have some pyjamas with Mr Grumpy on them. So it comes as some surprise to discover that former local councillor Martin Mullaney (Lib Dem, Moseley & Kings Heath) seems to know something about my nightwear of choice:

Obviously he’s right, the evidence is there on my pyjamas and in my occasional grumpy posts on this blog (entries on Created in Birmingham and on Social Media use by local councils are examples I guess). In general though I do try to produce evidence to legitimise my grumpiness. I’d like to apologise for those occasions when I have failed to do that and just released my grumpiness into the ether, to hang there like a bad smell.

Mullaney had reason to make his accusation because I’d been grumpy about his response to an article on the city council press office website about smoking on TV. It wasn’t so much Mullaney’s protest at the bandwagon-jumping nature of the article that made me grumpy, more his ‘nanny state’ remark in response to it. It’s one of those expressions, like ‘political correctness gone mad’, that’s usually the recourse of someone who has run out of ideas about how to engage in public debate.

I must resist engaging with political types on twitter as it never ends with the non-politician winning. But to a degree I enjoy it; it makes me think a little about what it would be like to enter politics myself…

Anyway, the whole exchange is here:

Second city, second class – the data

So folk in my network keep tweeting this article from The Economist which is about Birmingham’s economic woes. Us Brummies love to agonise about our city’s failings so it’s had wide retweetage with one person (I won’t link) even laboriously tweeting sections from it.

I immediately took a dislike to the article due to the way the journalist starts by gazing of the train window and using the dereliction they witness to shape the reader’s view of the city. Of course one can’t blame the journalist for that; the fault is journalism itself. But that’s for another post.

Anyway, I love an excuse to go find the evidence on which claims about our great city are made so I went hunting for the documents and spreadsheets that are the basis for the article’s claims.

As you might expect from The Economist, almost every claim made in the article can be backed up (though I’m pleased that I could pull them up on the nerdy train facts). I’ve tried to confine myself to instances where statistics are cited.

So here’s the evidence for The Economist article in case you ever need it (as embedded google doc below or on a separate page).

I hope you find this useful. When I start on these things I can’t help but carry on digging for the facts. I guess now the question is, given the City is in a relatively poor state, what are we going to do about it?


Finding Phyllis Nicklin

Nicklin pictureEvery now and again over the past three years someone in my social media network ‘discovers’ the amazing Phyllis Nicklin archive of images of Birmingham from the 1950s and 60s. It feels like coming across some lost treasure, yet these images were never lost in a physical sense but in digital terms they seem to drift in and out of view. The story about why that happens might tell us something about digital archiving, funding and the social web.

Back story: Nicklin was a geography tutor at the University of Birmingham Department of Extra Mural Studies during the 1950s and 60s. She died in post in 1969 but took hundreds of slides of the city as part of her teaching. The images belong to the University of Birmingham and the physical slides are stored there (or at least they were in 2004 when they were digitised).

Digitisation: In 2003 a project (called Chrysalis) wangled some funding (link to PDF of bid) to “establish a repository that will be used to provide resources and materials to support Learning, skills development, information literacy and provide some access to wide ranging resources relevant to the local history and cultural identity of the West Midlands.”

That resulted in a selection of Nicklin’s slides being digitised. That work was done by ‘Digital Capture Solutions‘ which are in fact a branch of my own university‘s Library Services which received funding (from the Higher Education Funding Council) in 2001 to acquire digital imaging equipment. The images were stored in a ‘digital asset management system’, called Media Vault, hosted at what was then the Technological Innovation Centre, again part of Birmingham City University.

Project Chrysalis: Nicklin’s digitised slides sat quite happily on the website for Project Chrysalis from about April 2004 until 24th June, 2007. The project was part-funded by the (gone-by-March-2012) Advantage West Midlands and the (gone-by-March-2012) Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. The application for funding was to the ‘Advantage West Midlands Challenge Fund’ and was submitted in the name of West Midlands Higher Education Association Libraries Group.

Clearly the project failed to meet one of its aims to “secure the future of the repository and the service” and the site went down in June 2007. You can still view the site on the internet archive but the images aren’t accessible.

Keith Berry: The June 2007 date is gleaned from the blurb written by amateur photographer Keith Berry who downloaded some of Nicklin’s images before the Chrysalis site went down and then re-published 291 of them on his web photo storage space of choice, PBase.

D’Log and Created in Birmingham: My ‘discovery’ point of the slides came from a post on D’Log’s site who drew attention to Berry’s storage of the files. A further post on the CiB site involved some useful digging around in the comments where some of us seemed to find our way into the above-mentioned ‘Media Vault’ (or ‘ebank’ as it seemed to be called, am sure it was the same thing though) and were able to access the hi-res versions of the images. At some point though, this backdoor was firmly shut.

Epapers: On the Birmingham History forum in January 2010 there is this post: “I’ve just had a very interesting email […] from Edward Craft, the Digital Library Systems Specialist at the University of Birmingham who is developing a web site to make the 446 Phyllis Nicklin photos available to all. The photos are the *unretouched* scans of the original slides from the 2004 Chrysalis Project. The site is part of the ePapers project.”

The epapers website seems a bit of a curious space. A place for the University of Birmingham to store stuff that academics produce that sometimes falls out of being pure research. There are discussion papers and commissioned researched as well as some digital images from their archives.

And this is where the Nicklin archive is now stored. 446 images. All geo-tagged, properly referenced and in high resolution. Epapers is a frequently updated internal resource rather than a project reliant on external funds from relatively short-lived organisations so there’s some hope that the images will be accessible here for quite a while.

Flickr: The copyright notice on the images states: “The photographic image is available to download and redistribute for non-commercial purposes.” So it makes sense then that some of Nicklin’s images are on Flickr. Some have been repurposed and others have left the ‘All Rights Reserved’ setting at default, effectively asserting their own copyright on the images.

That aside, I think these images being out there on a platform like Flickr can only be a positive – certainly a better alternative to building a platform like Project Chrysalis. But that was 2003, coincidentally the same time I began a secondment with Advantage West Midlands when you couldn’t move for people saying we need a portal for this or that. Put ‘portal’ on a funding application and it was a shoo-in and Chrysalis feels like a result of that hit-and-hope era of the web compared with the social internet we inhabit now.

There’s more to the Nicklin archive as I understand it. The scanned images were a selection. It’d be great to see the rest getting digitised and I’d like to suggest the funding application read something like this:

“There’s these great images, they blow people away when they find them. We’d like to scan every single last slide we can find and then let them roam free over the internet. Honestly, it’ll be fine.”

I’ve been as accurate as I can in researching for this post but if you have further details or points of clarification do post in the comments.