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

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.


How to borrow an ebook from a library

Here’a a post about my experience of interacting with the ebook loan system in my local library. I do some reflection on the value or otherwise of such systems in a column published in the Birmingham Post newspaper. There I summarised the experience as:

“After a fiddle and a couple of emails to the helpdesk, it actually worked”

Well that’s kind of true but the fiddling was prolonged at points and although it works it strikes me that lending books out in this way is hardly going to change the world of libraries forever. For the most part I’ll focus on practicalities since the copyright stuff is a bit bonkers to be honest.

So here’s what you need to do to get an ebook (audio books use a separate system) from Birmingham Library Services in the UK. I’ll mention what happens on a computer and on a mobile device such as an iPhone or iPad. I didn’t have a compatible e-reader to test it on. I’ve put all the screen grabs at the bottom of this post, there are links to them against specific step:

STAGE ONE – prep

  1. Join the library.
  2. Decide if you want to read books on a computer screen or a mobile device.
  3. Check if your mobile device is compatible on the overdrive website. Put away your Kindle – those are compatible for US libraries only.
  4. So you want to read ebooks on a computer? Download Adobe Digital Editions and sign up for an account with
  5. Still on your computer? Okay, open up Adobe Digital Editions (pic) and authorise it with your Adobe account details.
  6. Want to read a book on your iPhone or iPad? Download the ‘Overdrive’ app from the app store (pic)
  7. Authorise the app with your Adobe account details.

STAGE TWO – getting a book

  1. On your computer or on your mobile device (ignore that app for now) point your browser to
  2. Click on ‘My Account’ and from there enter your library card number (pic). Unusually, your library PIN number is not required.
  3. It didn’t work did it. I forgot to tell you, and they forgot to tell you, that you need to omit the last two digits (I’ve raised the issue so hopefully this will change. Now go repeat the above step.
  4. Take a look through the available ebooks (pic).
  5. Choose a book as long as it is available. Mostly there is only one available copy of each book. If another user has taken it our, it’s out. You can add it to a wish list and you’ll get it when it comes back in. That’s right, it’s just like a normal book (pic)
  6. ‘Add to basket’ and ‘Proceed to checkout’.
  7. At the ‘Confirm Check Out’ page you will notice that you can only have 3 ebooks out at one time and that the lending period is 21 days (you can return it early but it will auto-return/auto-delete from your device at that end of 21 days).
STAGE THREE – reading the book
  1. At this stage the process is slightly different whether you are on a computer or mobile device
  2. On a computer, clicking ‘download’ results in a small .acsm file being downloaded that will open in Adobe Digital Editions, prompting the download of the whole book. You can now enjoy your book.
  3. On the iPhone/iPad, clicking ‘download’ (pic) opens the Overdrive app and the book is downloaded to it.
  4. Navigation on the mobile device is easy to manage (pic and pic).
STAGE FOUR – returning the book
  1. See what I said in Stage two point number 7 above. On the mobile returning is pretty easy (pic).
  1. The reason I’ve navigated you via the web browser even if you are using a mobile is that all the Overdrive app does is send you there anyway to browse and get the books.
  2. The search function is flaky in the app. A search via postcode doesn’t work and browsing through the regions results in the alarming discovery that the West Midlands isn’t listed at all and that Birmingham is listed in the South West section. A search for ‘Birmingham’ lists all the US Birminghams as well.
  3. Once you have gone through Stage Two above using your mobile the app will then have a shortcut for Birmingham Library on it (pic). So you can then begin your journey using the app or of course just have a shortcut in your browser

And that’s it. Are you still with me? Did you enjoy your ebook? It’s complex, too complex perhaps and having to ‘authorise’ devices might put people off even before they’ve left Stage one. There are niggles to sort (the one about the library digits and the location of Birmingham on the app) but eventually, the book does get to your device and you can read it.

I’ll let others debate the restrictive practices of publishers but for the meantime it seems we’re stuck with the one copy, one lender restrictions (and get this, some publishers make the library re-buy the book after 26 loans).


Screen shot Digital Editions

Library ebook screen grabs

library sign in screen

Screen shot main page

Screen shot choose book

Screen shot download

Library ebook screen grabs

Library ebook screen grabs

Library ebook screen grabs

Library ebook screen grabs

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.


Edinburgh Festival Fringe weekend

Now that was fun. Breaking my Edinburgh Fringe virginity at the age of 42 with a short sharp weekend of comedy, haggis, Elvis and an octogenarian light entertainment legend. This is just a few notes on what I saw and given I can’t resist it, some advice for my home city.

[From the outset, it’s worth noting that Matthew Somerville is blogging his long stay at the fringe and he’s doing mini-reviews as he goes along. It’s a great read.]

Who I saw, in the order I saw them:
Nicholas Parsons Happy Hour – It was only afterwards I realised he was 86. That’ll explain both the slight forgetfulness but also the immense warmth that the audience showed towards him. Happy Hour is Parson’s talk show that he’s done for the last 10 years on the fringe. Guests this time around included Nina Conti (a ventriloquist, amusing when her puppet spoke, nervous as herself) and Jason Byrne (very funny, seemed to be able to spark off anything). Overall a lovely introduction to the fringe in the Caberet Bar at The Pleasance.

Reginald D Hunter – Always funny when I see him in brief spurts on TV but for a full hour his material seemed light on big laughs. He was totally thrown when some members of the audience left early and one went for a pee. He chided them for their bad timing but then couldn’t get back on track. He’d lost us by then anyway. He had a general theme about how a bit of bullying in childhood keeps you on your toes in adulthood.

Mark Watson – I knew little about Watson yet he was playing in one of the bigger venues. Reviews suggested he was good so we booked him as a safe bet and indeed he was very good. Full of nervous energy, playful with the audience and reflective about the nature of his comedy (he was a bit ‘meta’, talking about which jokes were working with which parts of the audience). His themes, about being someone people vaguely know and about needing to change direction now he’s a new dad, worked well enough. Big laughs throughout.

Long Live the King – the only bit of theatre I saw (sorry other art forms but I love comedy too much). But wow, this was superb. A one-woman play about Elvis, emigration, family, motherhood and lots more besides. This was actually what I thought the fringe would be like. Small room, few people, Asian woman dressed as Elvis. I think half the audience was in tears by the end as writer-performer Ansuya Nathan switched between various characters from her family and The King himself. I think it’s because theatre done this well packs such an emotional punch that in general I’m a bit scared of it.

Stewart Lee – best of them all. I’d never seen Lee live though always admired him. This show was in a tiny comedy club and was billed as him prepping new material for a future TV show. That material was in two sections, some about charity and some about politics. The former worked best and saw him produce very funny attacks on Adrian Chiles and Russell Howard. Lee has this was of stretching a routine almost to breaking point yet it still working. His imagining of an episode of Antiques Roadshow in which a piss-filled Toby Jug (representing Adrian Chiles) sells for £6million (Chiles current salary) was inspired.

Doc Brown – he has a rap about an O.H.P. projector, who can beat that. Very funny former British rapper who has produced something that’s more of a one-man theatre show than pure stand-up. He’s relaxed and would be hard to dislike. It’s autobiographical stuff, with pictures, and even when he’s light on the laughs towards the end we’ve so warmed to him that we’re hanging on every word.

Grainne Maguire
– an hour in which Grainne takes a not uninteresting idea (why can’t life be like C19 novels) and does nothing interesting with it. It had one promising section in which she plays out a scene in the style of a Victorian melodrama but the rest was short on laughs and high on cringe. The damp-smelling venue and sparse audience (real authentic fringe feel then) didn’t help but neither did her inability to be funny.

Other Fringe Virgins note:
I haven’t too much to say about how to ‘do’ the Fringe. All I’d say is a certain amount of planning helped as you can then leave gaps for food or the off-chance someone thrusts a flyer into your hand for a show you actually might go and see. It also avoids box-office queues. We tried to arrive early at venues so we could get our bearings – our tickets would say ‘Pleasence Courtyard‘ but there’s about 15 venues in that one place so it’s worth talking time to find exactly where you are meant to be. You can bring beer into the venues and some queuing a little ahead of time (about 15 max) helps you get a decent seat. We stayed in a booked-very-very-far-in-advance hotel.

Some thoughts for my home city:
Birmingham will never have an Edinburgh of course but we do have lots of events that together, aren’t far off the ingredients for a whopper of a festival experience. Trouble is we spread them out presuming we’d never gain an audience for them if they ran concurrently. I say to hell with that. For one year let’s put the whole lot on at the same time and see what happens; see how much of a buzz it creates. Give it some vague branding if we must but give it a central booking portal for sure.

I realise that Marketing Birmingham are obsessed with the ‘Business Visitor’ but for one year we should ask that it lays off the marketing it does for that (they’ll still come I bet) and instead focuses on getting as many people to Brum for a one-month Brum-fest.

Next year I say we put all these on at the same time:

Any more? No doubt some stuff will end up with an audience of one man and a dog. So what? That was actually the ‘authentic’ fringe experience I was after (and almost got at the Grainne Maguire show).

And when to have it? March. So that in the middle of it we can have a great big parade.

(pic: thewidewideworld)

Birmingham’s Creative Industries – the ‘business case’

Whilst admiring the yellow courgettes growing on my allotment yesterday I thought to myself: “someone should really write a blog post about Birmingham’s Creative Industries and the whole Local Economic Partnerships thing. Hey, that’s something I could write about”. Fortunately, Chris Unitt on the Created in Birmingham blog got there before me and has got some good discussion going. This therefore is the ‘further reading’ to that blog post: some stats to help set the context and a modicum of opinion.

‘Punch Above Their Weight’
We could do with a restatement of the national picture of the size and scope of Creative Industries (CI) and their contribution to the economy. That’s the ‘Creative Industries’ sub-sectors as measured by government since the late 90s. The last economic estimates for CI in the UK puts them growing at 2% above the rest of the economy, accounting for 6.2% of Gross Value Added (GVA) in the economy and responsible for 4.5% of exports. That GVA figure is worth pausing on. In general CIs are a bunch of sectors that are ‘high value’, the goods and services they create are bought at a high price compared to the cost of producing them. So although in scale CI aren’t vast, they tend, in jargon heavy policy documents at least, to be described as ‘punching above their weight’.

Birmingham’s CIs
So what about locally? Back in 2007 there was a report called ‘Making The Business Case’ (not available online), funded by the City Council, commissioned by the Creative Birmingham board, which articulated Birmingham’s case for continuing to recognise the importance of the CIs: “Birmingham’s creative industries are important to its economy. They generate real jobs and income and respectable amounts of GVA.” They reckoned the sector was worth £1bn or 8.7% of the city’s GVA (Manchester has a figure of 10.9%).

An updated report was commissioned in 2009 which used a slightly different methodology so the two reports aren’t comparable. For example, its GVA figure for 2007 is £663m (see below) but is calculated in a different way and, if I recall correctly, the researchers were very sceptical about the accuracy of calculating GVA at city level. Much of this updated report is summarised in a report in the Birmingham Post from October 2009 but the report itself remains unpublished. It’s a good read though, if only you were able to read it.

Here are some tables from it. Stats only go up to 2007 and even if revised again now would only go to 2008:

So in summary, Birmingham’s Creative Industries do just about ‘punch above their weight’ and remain an important part of our economy. But other smaller cities seem to do a bit better than us – we’ve got less creatives than Leeds and less as a proportion of overall employment than Bristol. We have a growing number of employees in micro firms but a decline in overall creative employment since 2003/4. That’s evidence perhaps that policy that focuses purely on start-ups needs to be supplemented with support for growth of larger firms along with a focus on inward investment.

Not a Charity Case
It’s inevitable that whatever LEPs form in and around Birmingham, the ‘Creative’ sector will be articulated within them. But how they articulate them is really quite important. There is established methodology about what the CI are and despite its flaws at least it’s there and established. I worry whenever I see those definitions rejected. Jerry Blackett, current chair of the Creative Birmingham board is arguing for just such a rejection of established definitions and even for a shift in focus towards philanthropy. That feels wrong. Birmingham’s Creative Industries need a business case, not handouts.

I think this position comes from the confusion of thinking that the subsidised Arts sector has much to do with the Creative Industries sector. There’s overlap of course but in Birmingham the two most significant contributors to Creative Industries value have been Architecture (32% of GVA in 2004) and Software (35% of GVA in 2004). Music and Performing Arts are low-value sectors in economic terms (1.1% of GVA in 2004).

Writing in 2006, Calvin Taylor noted that it was:

“significant that the arts lobby mostly uses the creative industry tag. Very few other sector bodies, representing other components of what are taken to be the creative industries, use the tag in their sectors promotion work.”

He went on to warn that in the regions, advocacy for the creative industries must rise to

“the challenge of developing a credible evidence base, without allowing judgements of the attempts made so far to be circumscribed by the pressure to deliver yet more advocacy.”

But this can’t be all about stats. People matter, and how we feel about creativity in the city matters also. There’s a really useful research paper (PDF) that looks at regional creative clusters in Birmingham Newcastle/Gateshead. In their conclusions the authors point out that:

“the city-region is a place for cooperation, not just competition […] personal and emotive dimensions are key factors in the decision of creative practitioners to be located in both city-regions. This personal dimension is often underplayed in the development of creative industries…”

[A version of this, without the fancy tables, will probably make it to my column in next week’s Birmingham Post]

I want monorail NOW

I’m in Kuala Lumpur (KL) in Malaysia for a few days with work and in between work stuff I’ve gone out of my way, as I often do in cities, to experience as many different forms of rail-based public transport as possible. KL has three different types: light rail, heavy rail and monorail. And of those, monorail is the one I want to bring back with me to Birmingam. I want monorail and I want it now.

It’s irrational of course. In fact, ever since that episode of the Simpsons no city in its right mind would ever seek to buy monorail. But gosh it’s a thrill. Towering over busy streets it makes your city seem both futuristic and hopelessly outdated at the same time. Monorails seem to embody a 1930s notion of the future, a future without cars where everybody would be sleekly transported from their living quarters, to work, to shops in air-conditioned, cigar-shaped monorail carriages.

KL’s monorail is a bit like that. It takes you between air-conditioned shopping malls, of which there are many, and seperates you out from the traffic-choked streets, of which there are also many. In fact given how cheap the public transport is here (we paid about 40 pence for a 6 mile journey) one wonders what it would take to get city-dwellers out of their cars. The thinking here seems to favour the idea that in general, more transport overall is a good thing. More cars, more buses, more trains – it’s all good, let’s build infrastructure for them all until we’ve got nothing left to build on. It’s a JFDI culture gone mad.

For Birmingham though I think monorail can transform our city. I’ve already started planning Line One of the route which goes from Castle Vale, through Hodge Hill and takes in Alum Rock as that’s easily one of the most conjested roads in the city and I reckon would look fab from 30 feet up in the air (also making it easier for my Mom to get across to us for babysitting duties). It finishes next to the new High Speed Rail terminal in Fazeley street. Consider this a feasibility study. I offer it up to Centro free of charge.

View Birmingham Monorail Phase One in a larger map

Oh and as I’m always telling people, the Birmingham to Wolverhampton tram commissioned a ‘tram song’ for its launch that was then quietly shelved before the event. Presumably someone had heard the ‘Monorail Song’ from the Simpsons and thought better of it:

Dear local councillors, fix my mom’s street

Date: 18 August 2009
From: Dave Harte

Subject: demolition/regeneration of houses on Naseby road, Alum Rock

Dear all,
I am a former resident of Hazelbeach Road in Ward End (B8 3HL) and am writing on behalf of my mother, still a resident there, about our increasing concern regarding the condition of properties and land on Naseby Road. For quite some time now, a number of years as I recall, the houses on the south side of the street have gradually been vacated and demolished due to subsidence. However, a couple of the houses still remain occupied and therefore adjoining houses remain undemolished. The street is falling into significant disrepair with fenced off patches of land between the undemolished houses becoming overgrown, vandalism on the houses themselves and graffiti appearing on walls.

My writing to you now was prompted by the relatively recent vacation and boarding up of the corner house on Naseby/Hazelbeach with the result that graffiti has now appeared on the wall facing Hazelbeach. Having watched my mother, now 78, tolerate this for many years now I feel the situation must be brought to some kind of resolution.

I spent all of my childhood, up to the age of 19, on Hazelbeach road and it is an area that I remain extremely proud of. My mother continues to live there because she too is proud of the area and feels safe in a neighbourhood and house she has lived in since 1967. Yet the appearance of her immediate surroundings are being allowed to deteriorate and I find it simply unacceptable. Ward End and the area around Ward End Park are, I’m sure you would agree, hard-working working class neighbourhoods where people like my mother have spent their working lives trying to improve. Yet here we are with the City planners content to let this situation on Naseby Road drag on for years and let a proud area descend into decay.

I implore you to do all you can to intervene and help support the residents of Hazelbeach and Naseby roads to once again feel proud of their streets.

Date: 27 September 2009
From: Dave Harte
Subject: Re: demolition/regeneration of houses on Naseby road, Alum Rock

I still haven’t had acknowledgment of this. Can you update me on progress of this query?

My Birmingham Half Marathon 2009

First off, what a well-organised race this was. All the various races (elite men, women, wheelchair, mass) started on time, the baggage drop-off was managed well enough and I didn’t have to queue for a portaloo. Support along the route was great, especially around Bournville where obviously it helps to have Bournville written on your running vest

I came 251st in 1:27:21. A full four minutes off my best but I was pleased enough as my training drifted a little in recent weeks. A full season of cross-country over the winter should see me posting better times in the new year hopefully.

Well done to everyone that took part and especially to the masses of colleagues from Bournville Harriers. Some really impressive times amongst club members but Mel James’ 1:23:04 and 6th woman back (first in her age category) was the stand out. I think it was actually Mel’s first ever half marathon.

Here’s the map from my Garmin if you want to see how my race panned out:

(pic: Pete Ashton)

Almost there – Birmingham Half Marathon 2009

It’s almost here. This year’s Birmingham Half Marathon has over 12,000 entrants and one Paula Radcliffe. The numbers have been sent out (well mine has anyway) and letters have gone to residents along the route telling them to shift their cars the night before the race. They’re even re-tarmacing the race route within Cannon Hill Park.

My training has been a bit lacklustre. If you follow my updates on twitter then you’ll have noticed that I’ve done about 3 or 4 runs a week with a recent tail-off due to a recurring hip injury that for once buying a new expensive pair of trainers didn’t cure – it usually does, honest. It’s not bad enough to pull out of the race (lots of ibuprofen gel will help) but it means that I’m not able to push my training just ahead of having to taper.

They haven’t sent out a race guide this year in an effort to be a bit greener presumably. You can download it (PDF link) and it gives you all the details you need about baggage arrangements and start times for the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships.

Paula and the rest of the women start at 9am so they’ll be close to finishing by the time the rest of us start at 10am. As I said to my family, if they want to see Paula they’ll have to be loitering around Maryvale road in Bournville at about 9.30am. They’ll then have plenty of time to pop home, get a cup of tea, some toast, watch some telly, before I appear at the same point about 10.40am. They should actually hang around for the elite men at about 10am as that line-up is impressive.

The race is again billed as the ‘Race Against Climate Change’. Shame then that the public transport arrangements for runners seem ill thought through. There are no early local trains on the Sunday and I can’t see evidence of extra buses being laid on. In fact, where I live all the buses will presumably be diverted due to closures on the race route. The race information that goes out for the London Marathon makes it clear that taking the car is pointless and then lists all the train times to get you to the start from various points of the capital. If the race grows in numbers again then we’ll really have to address this issue. If you do go by car then there’s a document about car park closures (PDF).

If you are travelling by public transport here are some useful links:

Best of luck to all the runners.