The Custard Factory – a lesson in avoiding gentrification

This is pulled in from the Birmingham Post for which I write occasionally. I won’t cross-post like this in future as the sidebar shows updates from other sites I write for but as this references a post here I’d thought I’d make an exception: 

I wrote an entry on my own blog last week that’s been niggling away at me ever since. Catching up on the many pictures of the train derailment in Digbeth in March I mused over how the hole in the wall created by the goods wagon would be the right place for an entrance to a Custard Factory train station. I was writing with tongue slightly in cheek, particularly when pointing out how that same train line may one day have a direct connection to the boho enclaves of Moseley and Kings Heath.

However, it does make some sense and there is precedent here as the Jewellery Quarter station has only been there since 1995 and was built not on the site of a previous disused station but was created specifically to serve that creative quarter. The same could happen at Custard Factory. Imagine a direct connection from CF to JQ – a truly well connected, joined up Brum. It might even open up the Custard Factory to more visitors and before long we’d have more than two cafés and the newspaper shop would open before 9am and have some ice-creams in its freezer. In essence we might get what we don’t want (and it’s a leap but bear with me) – a long slow slide towards gentrification.

I’ve worked around the Custard Factory for over two years now and sometimes it drives me bonkers. The speed at which the clampers work in the only available carpark, the limited choice of food outlets, the impossibility of finding anywhere for a fry-up first thing in the morning, the lack of general public footfall throughout the day (how do those quirky independent shops survive?). Okay so it’s a giant leap from proposing a train station, to a Custard Factory full of Costa Coffees and Starbucks but might opening it up and making it easier to get to result in the one thing that would kill it off? Despite years of discussion over Eastside and what it might become, actually working around the Custard Factory feels like you’re part of a well-kept secret.

Shifting an area from light manufacturing to creative industries, as has happened over the last 15-20 years is part of the process of gentrification itself but there’s still a significant industrial/creative mix around the area and what’s particularly interesting is that where the creatives have gone, retail hasn’t really followed. During the day there is virtually no visitor economy – at 3pm on a weekday afternoon the place is semi-deserted.

I’m not sure we agonise as much about gentrification here as they do in London. There are certainly some voices out there but the discussion seems unfocused. The Custard Factory feels like a place that is incomplete, like someone started to gentrify it and then gave up, realising it was just too far from the centre of Brum for most people to bother with it. That’s what I quite like about it at the moment and despite the train nerd in me thinking otherwise, maybe better public transport is the last thing it needs.

One thought on “The Custard Factory – a lesson in avoiding gentrification

  1. I really agree with what you have just said in that post.
    I have a studio in digbeth and i crave for more people to come and join in.

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