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  • Richard Langford

ARE YOU BIRMINGHAM-BOUND?

See our recommended TOP 10 event space in Brum...



I remember in the mid 90’s that most young Brummies’ at their earliest convenience would skip the mundane concrete mess that was Birmingham and gravitate to universities to take on degrees, or careers, in vibrant cities that had more to offer than one designer boutique and a string of dying nightclub chains.


Understandably, there was very little to come home for, which is arguably why so many Brummie urbanites settled down elsewhere and haven’t been seen since. That said I was one of the few Remainers, but for many years I felt like I’d missed the boat of opportunity out of here – somehow left behind to face a city on the verge of a complete creative-cultural collapse - certainly not a town that was about to experience a dawn of spectacular change.


At this point I must affirm that Birmingham was not totally deprived of a creative fix. Its underground dance scene was thriving and did hold one or two golden nuggets in its pouch. At Bonds nightclub the infamous Miss Moneypenny’s delivered glamourous hedonism, weekly - along with numerous early-morning ‘walks of shame’ – whilst the legendary Que Club, Wobble and Atomic Jam, were also regularly raising the roof.


I was operating a dance music magazine out of Birmingham’s Custard Factory in the late nineties and whilst Birmingham’s underground scenes were keeping our creative juices flowing, above ground it was not the same pretty picture. Whilst a handful of independent retailers such as Autograph, Donovan Love and Serene Order dressed us up for the occasion (along with the amazing Oasis centre), a pure lack of cultural confidence (and bodies) within the city meant that there were very few independently run venues, restaurants, or retailers. Basically, this was a city yet to establish an identity, a vision, or a creative direction.


Unlike now, where there’s a PR company, or a boutique comms agency, on every Birmingham street corner, most of the lifestyle content for my magazine in the nineties arrived by post from London communication agencies and rarely did we see anything land in the post tray from a Birmingham counterpart. Nearly all our celebrity interviews were conducted in the capital, or on a flagged-down tour bus at a service station, simply because Birmingham was not top of the itinerary.


Whilst you may read this and think, ‘Hey, this is unfair, you’ve already put forward a plethora of great reputations from Birmingham in the nineties’ I’d have to remind you that, whilst this would be a true statement, the offering I have provided is only what you’d come to expect from a large town or small city, not the country’s second metropolis.


Having spent 20 years checking the horizon for that returning ship I can concede (without displeasure) that it never did return – not even the tip of its crow’s nest appeared on my Birmingham vista. Which, in all fairness, I’m pretty smug about now because it seems that a superior ship with a cargo full of culture, confidence, creative flare and vision, just sailed straight over the horizon and spilt its cargo of opportunity all over the city, with an immediate effect.


Today the ‘I’m fleeing the city on the first boat out of here’ mentality has literally run aground and instead the city has become a Mecca for students and career seekers from other cities wishing to experience the new-found vibrance that Birmingham has to offer. The old mindset seems to have completely gone. Birmingham has finally arrived and it’s not just because of the Peaky Blinders!


There are more Londoners moving out of the capital to Birmingham than ever before, so the demand for new city centre living and a creative social infrastructure has never been higher.

Birmingham is now the second-fastest growing UK city over 2019 and with HS2 due for completion in 2026 - making London only 49 minutes away - Brum is, at last, catching a lot of people's eyes from around the world as an investment hotspot.


For me, the 20-year wait was well worth it– and with the wide variety of designer outlets, coupled with an abundance of new independent retail outlets, opinion-forming bars, restaurants and experience venues, I’m still not too old to enjoy it!


PERMISSION TO COME ABOARD THE CITY OF THE FUTURE?


Birmingham is now a city that wants to show off, not just its fascinating history, but its unique architecture and its exciting and varied gastronomy, which is claimed to be the best outside of London. A visit to Digbeth Dining Club will verify this. A multi award-winning street food event, Digbeth Dining Club has transformed the city's food landscape by turning some of the Midlands most unique venues, into vibrant, street food destinations. 


With a new high-speed rail connection and the Commonwealth Games on the horizon, Birmingham’s modesty will be put to the test as Britain’s second city becomes a place that gets better and better.


What we’re witnessing is a 20-year City Centre Masterplan. A vision to encourage and support Birmingham’s continuing transformation into a world class city centre for the future, that covers every aspect of the built environment. It includes creating 1.5 million square metres of new floorspace, over 50,000 new jobs, whilst contributing £2.1 billion to the economy each year.


The ’Master Plan’ is providing 65,000 square metres of new and improved public spaces, providing 28 kilometres of enhanced walking and cycling routes along with five areas of transformation supporting the growth of the City Core. One of these key development areas includes the Eastside area of Birmingham - helped massively by Eastside Locks. This £450 million Canalside regeneration scheme is billed as the most "exciting and important city centre regeneration scheme in Europe".


It includes significant improvements to the public realm and Canalside environment - described as "inviting courtyard spaces offering intimate and calm retreats from the busy streets".


The 13-acre site will be transformed into apartments, a 175-room hotel as well as shops, bars and restaurants – as well as the re-opening of the old Typhoo building.


Neil Rami, chief executive of West Midlands Growth Company, said: "The unprecedented rise of new enterprises here is demonstrating how the region can outclass London as a central hub of innovation, productive and long-term future prospects."


The transformation of New Street Station from shamefully drab train station to ‘Grand Central’, an inspirational travel hub full of desirable shops and restaurants, seems to be at the epicentre of this regeneration explosion – and with such a speedy rate of development I literally can’t keep tabs on what’s new in the city anymore. These days I mostly rely on my better-informed, younger, colleagues to keep me pointed in the right direction. But to be honest, Birmingham has become a place of discovery where I rather enjoy not knowing what delights await me around the next corner.


Birmingham’s rapidly changing culture is not just a social one. As Creative Director for Theming Service, an events company based in the region, I can see first-hand the positive impact that this change is having on the corporate world. With Birmingham attracting inward investment from companies choosing the city to set up flagship outlets and headquarters, so is the demand for supportive creative agencies to follow them to the city and set up shop around them. Birmingham now boasts some of the most recognised and highly awarded creative communication agencies in the UK.


In the events sector Birmingham is currently experiencing an event’s boom from the local market. With so many diverse venues and spaces to choose from Birmingham is becoming a magnet for event managers. Our own client roster at Theming Services is accommodating a fast-growing number of local creative agencies, unique venues and an increasing number of locally based corporate clients wishing jump on the events bandwagon.



Our clients are hosting events that blend both business with pleasure - ‘Bleisure’. Corporate events and experiences are becoming more socially extravagant and event managers are using every square inch of the city as a platform to deliver mind-blowing experiences, in unique environments – some corporate events are even reaching a fully-blown festivalisation stage.


‘According to industry reports 92% of planners and property professionals said they believe events are more likely to be booked outside of a hotel than they were five years ago. Last year, the Global Meetings Forecast predicted a 4% increase in the use of non-traditional venues. In 2020, the race is on to see who can think the furthest outside of the traditional ballroom box to create more enticing, millennial-friendly experiences’ - could Birmingham be the perfect stomping ground to do this?


Smaller events (circa 100 attendees) are poised to capitalise on trendy, boutique spaces. But for larger events, planners will need to get more creative to secure similar atmospheres.


SO, NOW THAT YOU’RE ON BOARD, SIT BACK AND ENJOY THE JOURNEY!


With the events sector in mind, I decided to enlist the help of the ‘Theming Services’ experts in my office to help me compile a list of 10 unique event spaces in Birmingham; that even the most informed event space seeker will find useful. Maybe your next event will be ‘Birmingham bound’ – and if it is, then why not go off-piste and discover spaces that offer your guests a real taste of Birmingham spirit.


1- Digbeth


By far Digbeth is ‘the place to be’ right now – and this is where you’ll find Birmingham’s coolest and most ‘option-forming’ clientele. Modern-day Digbeth is the site of the ancient hamlet that founded and grew into Birmingham city. Digbeth was established on the banks of the River Rea, and their outdoor space sits right above the river’s edge.


In September this year the Digbeth streets were closed off to the traffic and taken over by thousands of peak-capped Peaky Blinders fans – as they descended on Digbeth, Birmingham to raise a glass to their favourite anti-hero, Tommy Shelby. The Legitimate Peaky Blinders Festival took over the whole of Digbeth to create an immersive re-creation of the Peaky Blinders world. The festival, that was also held in Digbeth Arena, saw performances from Primal Scream, Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes, Anna Calvi and Liam Gallagher.


The team here at Theming Services played a key part in the event, providing writer Steve Knight and his team with a full production fashion show to present their range of official Peaky Blinders clothing - Garrison Tailors.


1.1 - Digbeth Arena


Digbeth Arena offers an array of flexible and impressive infrastructure to producers, agencies and brands and provides the most unique provides the most unique backdrop for exhibitions, experiential events, live music concerts, DJ-led shows and much more!


2 - The Engine Room - Digbeth's best kept secret


We love The Engine Room - and it true that ‘good things come in small packages’. This is an intimate events space and private hire venue nestled in the industrial heart of Birmingham – and has already attracted private functions for several high-profile brands and personalities. The building has been many things over the years, from a vehicle repair shop to an antique furniture warehouse. It is now an independent, multi-functional venue and is a proud part of the thriving Digbeth community.


3 - The Compound


The Compound on Water Street, between Hockley and the Jewellery Quarter, is the foremost creative space in Birmingham. Originally a 10,000 sq. ft. former textile factory, The Compound has now been converted into an incredible creative space. The attention to detail as well as the high standard of decor means that it attracts some of the leading players in the film, music and media industries.


Some of the features of this incredibly versatile space include bridges, balconies and mezzanine floors. It also contains a 25-seat cinema, a speakeasy bar, an art studio. In addition, there are three self-contained living spaces which are located across multiple levels. It’s multi-functionally means it can easily be transformed to suit many different creative styles.


4 - Iron House


Iron House is situated in a historic industrial building located in the heart of Birmingham’s fashionable Jewellery Quarter. It offers a unique opportunity for artists, event planners and local businesses to create memorable events. Iron House has a ground floor space of 3,600 sq. ft, fully air conditioned with disabled access and parking opposite for 200 cars.


The venue has been designed with a mix of different environments for events while maintaining easy circulation to make the experience of discovering the event enjoyable. All the spaces have Iron House's signature mix of industrial and commercial design.


5 - Canalside, The Cube


The Cube offers a more centrally-based contemporary setting in one of Birmingham’s most icon buildings – that overlooks Birmingham’s Mailbox and its picturesque waterways.


With tailored packages available to suit 50-400 visitors, the Canalside venue provides an ideal setting for both formal occasions and informal celebrations, making it as popular with high-end product launches, conferences and private birthday parties. Thanks to its modern sliding doors that open directly onto the city’s famous canal network, Canalside also has the unique ability to bring the outdoors in.


6 - The Alchemist


To enter The Alchemist on trendy Colmore Row is to enter an entirely different realm, every step presenting an opulent embrace of the senses, every turn revealing a lost paradise beyond imagination.


Since 1879, the grand hotel has been one of Birmingham’s best-loved and most famous buildings. Imposing vaulted ceilings provide the perfect setting for our distinctly dark artworks and suitably sinister taxidermy, where better for the food and drink of theatre served?


A basement over a century old provides the perfect laboratory for experimentation and the first ever nitrogen infused negroni tap brings the ridiculous to the sublime. Why not enquire about booking the private lab for a truly unique celebration?


The Lab can accommodate up to 80 guests standing with drinks, canapes or bowl food, and music. The space is perfect for corporate events, networking events, gin tastings, client events, Summer parties and Christmas parties.


7 - Revolucion De Cuba


Our team popped through the doors of Revolucion De Cuba last Christmas for a few drinks and were pleasantly stunned by this venue – and found it near on impossible to drag themselves away from its reassuring squeeze. Its small restaurant shopfront, at street level, opens into a magnificently opulent event space.


The venue lies at the heart of Birmingham city centre. Nestled on Temple Street, a short walk from Grand Central, lies this rum-lovers paradise within the hustle and bustle of Birmingham’s social scene. With two floors to lose yourself in Birmingham’s own little corner of Cuba, we promise you won’t be disappointed. 


8 - The Coffin Works


The coffin Works is a grade II listed building near popular Summer Row. It features a unique museum about coffin making, with tours and stories of the funerals of famous people in history – definitely an event space with an educational twist. But despite its melancholy history, the Coffin Works and its wonderfully cute courtyard presents a unique setting for team meetings, workshops, concerts, corporate and private parties, and as a film location.


9 - The O2 Institute Birmingham


The O2 Institute, which was built as an Institutional Church in 1908, will be a worthy trip down memory lane for many nineties’ clubbers. In 1998 the Institute re-opened as the ‘sanctuary’ and was the original home of clubbing brand Godskitchen. It also played host to other events such as: Atomic Jam, Uproar, Slinky, and Sundissential. The main auditorium (capacity 2000) with seated balcony, is suitable for awards ceremonies, exhibitions, product launches, corporate conferences and Christmas parties that are guaranteed to impress any client.


With two additional smaller rooms (capacity 600 & 300) All rooms are unique, feature state of the art production, with outstanding facilities and can operate independently, or simultaneously. With onsite catering facilities, staging, AV/Technical equipment and event management support the venue can offer a unique experience to suit any event.


10 - Symphony Hall Birmingham


Symphony Hall Birmingham is our coup de grâce. It is a venue close to our hearts and one that we think knocks the socks off any venue across the globe – not just the UK. Widely considered to be one of the finest concert halls in the world, Symphony Hall is a truly unique venue in the heart of Birmingham City Centre within walking distance of local hotels, car parks, mainline train stations and Arena Birmingham. 


Symphony Hall is a flexible event space with the ability to transform from a concert auditorium to a venue for banqueting or cabaret style events using the Next Stage concept. The ‘Next Stage’ is an award-winning innovation for Symphony Hall developed by our very own Staging Services team; a floating flat floor which can be installed over the entire stalls seating area of Symphony Hall, helping to create 600 sqm of new event space – giving Symphony Hall the ability to house a vast array of exclusive private events including drinks receptions, dinner dances, banquets, conferences and even weddings.


We'd love to hear your feedback. Do you think that we missed something out - or do you think that Birmingham is NOT the destination of the future? Or, if you've a great story from Brum in the nineties, then please share it with us!


If you would like to be part of Birmingham's event culture then please feel free to get in touch with me or my team. richard@themingservices.com / +44(0)1922 405 111 - we'd love to guide you through the opportunities that are on offer: www.themingservices.com

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