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    I have no shelf control (Exploring Stirchley #2)

    I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library…

    Jorge Luis Borges said that, and I think if he’d made it over here, he’d quite like Stirchley.  It turns out that not only do we have two libraries, but we also have a small press and a raft of book clubs. Not bad for a small suburb.  Have a read to find out about the smallest library in Birmingham, and the best named book club too…

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    Stirchley Library

    Built in 1905 from red brick in Flemish bond with stone dressings, the Grade II listed building on Bournville Lane sits next to Stirchley Baths and plays home to the local library.  As well as being able to borrow books, the library has free WiFi, a children’s library and the ability to print and photocopy (at certain times).

    But things haven’t always been plain sailing for the library.  Under threat of closure, the council have agreed to keep the library open, with the support of volunteers now known as Friends of Stirchley Library (FOSL) group.  The group are responsible for covering some of the shortfall in reduction of hours, as well as fundraising to help keep the library going and host some very fun events including Lego Club, late night openings and the occasional silent disco.  To find out more about FoSL or to get involved, visit their website.

    This photo of Stirchley Library is from Fiona Cullinan aka Katchooo over on Flickr.

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    Books and a brew

    It seems that for such a small space, Stirchley has a *lot* of book clubs, ranging from the very general to the very specialist, so there should be something to suit everyone.  Here are just a few…

    • Is This Tomorrow is a dystopian/utopian reading group which have read the likes of Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale and Brave New World.  Their next meeting is on 6th June to discuss Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange.
    • On the first Wednesday of every month, Stirchley Baths hosts a book club from 10-11.30am.  The advice, according to the website, is simple; “Just turn up and enjoy a book with a cuppa.”
    • On the second Saturday of the month from 11am to midday, Stirchley Readers meet at the library for their regular book club. It’s an all ages group, so feel free to bring your kids.
    • Book Marx, the best name ever for a Marxist book club, meet every Wednesday evening (aside from the second Weds) at Artefact
    • According to their website, Stirchley Primary School will be starting their own book club 
      in the spring term but I suspect that will only be for pupils.
    • Artefact have also hosted the first Slow Food Club book club and there’s another one due in June, I believe.

    Side note, as far as I know, none of the book clubs above have read Slay and I actually took this photo at Kafenion in Bournville. But if you want a (young adult) book which is about a boyband who fight demons, think One Direction meets Buffy/Supernatural, then I can highly recommend it.

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    The littlest library in the land

    This adorable little find is nestled away on Bosbury Terrace, just behind Stirchley High Street.  Part of the Little Free Library, “the world’s largest book-sharing movement”, Stirchley’s one is in fact the only Little Free Library in Birmingham.  Which surely means Stirchley has Birmingham’s smallest library, right?

    Run by Elenor, a confirmed bibliophile and a part-time librarian, it’s home to a handful of books and regularly topped up – but feel free to return a book once you’re done.  Follow their adventures on the Little Free Library Stirchley facebook page.

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    Our own publishing house

    Did you know Stirchley had its own publishing house? Well, technically it might be based just outside of the suburb, but Splice is Stirchley in spirit and that’s good enough for me.  Not only is Splice a small press, publishing three collections of short stories as well as novels, they also release reviews on their website and then literally splice the work of their published authors.

    Listen to the second episode of the Republic of Consciousness Prize podcast for a discussion on one of Splice’s titles, Nicholas John Turner’s Hang Him When He Is Not There, which was long-listed for the RofC Prize. About 45 minutes in is devoted to an in-depth conversation between four writers about the ins and outs of the sort of books Splice publishes.

    To find out more about Splice, head over to Splice’s website.

    This is part of the semi-regular Exploring Stirchley newsletter.  To find out more visit the Exploring Stirchley page of this website.

    Birmingham, Music and Movies

    3 Seconds Divorce at Impact Hub

    3 second divorce

    One of the things I really like about the events at Impact Hub is that they always introduce me to new ideas or new ways of thinking about things. 

    I’d heard about the three-times divorce (triple talaq) in Islam and hadn’t really given it much thought, mainly because I knew I didn’t understand enough about the context.  The screening of Shazia Javed’s 3 Seconds Divorce was, in some senses, what I thought might be what the three-times divorce might be if I was being pessimistic about it.  It was undeniably an emotional film and the story of the women who fought for what they believed in and for the protection of women in their country, a minority group within a minority group, showed a level of resilience that few would be hard pushed to be anything but impressed by.  Watching the documentary in a room that was mainly full of Muslim women and hearing their reactions to it felt like a real privilege at getting an instinctual reaction to the message of the film.  But that was only the beginning.

    The follow up panel was one of the most invigorating and educational I have been to in a while, and I don’t think I need to tell you how many talks I go to.  It was a shame Shazia had to dash off to get her train, but needs must, however I appreciated her input and it was great to hear more about the ideas and inspiration behind the documentary.  But the conversation between Dr Amra Bone and Dr Sabena Jameel was just superb.  I honestly can’t remember the last time I went away with some much new information presented in such an accessible way.  Lots of the topics covered, and there were so many, were things I’d heard lots about over the years but have never quite felt like I knew where to look for more information or unsure what was appropriate to ask.  Dr Jameel’s explanation of what she does as part of the Sharia Council, the system of Sharia rulings in general, the role of women in Islam, Islamic marriage and divorce, the cultural and religious understandings of triple talaq and probably a whole lot of other things I’ve forgotten to list was just phenomenal.  As someone that grew up in an Irish Catholic community, it was fascinating to compare and contrast the attitudes towards marriage and divorce, and hear not only from Dr Jameel as an academic and religious leader, but also some of the audience were kind enough to share their understandings of it, and answer some of the questions that I wasn’t brave enough to ask myself.

    I guess my feedback is just a really big congratulations, well done and heartfelt thank you for putting on an event that has given me so much more understanding than I thought possible from a few hours. I feel very honoured to have been welcomed into that space, able to watch the documentary, but also hearing from the speakers and members of the audience. A truly mentally stimulated evening which I gained a lot from.

    Birmingham

    Love is in the air (Stirchley’s Valentine Tree)

    stirchley_hearts

    What possesses someone to get up before sunrise and decorate a tree with origami hearts? I’m still wondering that myself.

    But that’s precisely what I did this Valentine’s Day.  I spent the weekend before sitting in a local arts space, drinking tea and folding around 60 origami hearts, with a break to teach a small girl how to make her own. The night before I turned them into hanging decorations, and then got up at 6am to walk to my local high street to decorate a tree on the high street before too many of the residents started their day.

    No one has really asked me why I decided to do this and I’m not really sure I have a good answer.  There are several small answers; I wanted to make the people who live in Stirchley smile, to challenge the Valentine’s Day sceptics that it’s only overly-commercial if you make it, and I thought it would be fun. But in all honesty, the real answer is that last year was pretty hard for me for all sorts of reasons, but one of the things that continued to bring me joy was the sense of community in my area – the enthusiasm and bread from Loaf; the wonderfully eccentric conversation and tea from Artefact; and the warm heart and beautiful houseplants from Isherwood & Co.  I wanted to do something for all of them to say thank you for helping keep me afloat last year, when treading water felt the hardest.

    valentines tree hearts

    The folding was pretty simple, because 2D hearts are not a complicated fold in the way many origami projects can be.  To start, I followed on online tutorial (is there anything YouTube can’t teach you), but after the first few I’d learnt the moves and muscle memory took over. Which meant I could sit in Artefact and start my own one-person production line.

    Cost wise, I made a few hearts from some paper I already had but most of them came from a £1.50 book of patterned paper from The Works, and the cotton and needle I dug out of my emergency sewing kit.  It probably took the best part of a day, all in all, but once I memorised the folding pattern, it was quite simple.

    Screenshot 2019-02-16 at 16.01.14

    And now…

    As the skies greyed and rain threatened, I took the hearts down. There were 45 left of around 60, so 15 or so have gone beyond that little tree in Stirchley. I suggested people take them, if they wanted them, and so I know a few have gone to good homes because they told me.  Ones have gone to people’s offices, to their homes, hearts were chosen by children and hopefully gone to be enjoyed beyond the few days they were up. 

    For those who prefer statistics, Twitter tells me the initial tweet had 4,674 impressions, 482 engagements, 74 likes and 13 retweets.  The tweet telling people they’d be up for a while and to help themselves to a heart had a further 3444 impressions and 60 likes, a further 1713 on a tweet when I couldn’t bear to take them down after just one day.  Which means the Valentines Tree, as someone called it, went beyond just the people who walked down the high street, especially as someone had added it to Reddit.  My favourite response was from someone who said they made a point of driving down the hight street to see them again.

    Those 45 hearts are in a bag and ready to go to a new home, for other people to enjoy.  I’d already found a home for the ones that stayed up the longest, and that’s the thing about doing something a random act of kindness – it usually goes beyond just the place you intended.

    Birmingham, Online stuff

    Social Circle #5 at 1000 Trades

    social circle 5

    What’s in store for social media in 2019? After all the negative press, will Facebook lose its grip as one of the biggest social media platforms? Is Snapchat still relevant?  These were just a few questions posed as part of Social Circle’s first meeting for 2019.

    Having never been to a Social Circle meeting before, I was curious to discover more, and maybe learn about the latest advancements in social media marketing.

    Social Circle began as monthly drinks between friends Kirstie Smith Katie Underwood, Katie Mellers-Hill and Natelle Williams. The group would meet to catch up on the latest in social media marketing, learn a little more, swap stories and better themselves.  They decided to open the circle up wider than the friendship group, and now Social Circle takes place in the upstairs room of 1000 Trades, in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter.

    The evening began with introductions and then each of the team took on looking at some of the world’s biggest social media platforms, and what might be in store for the upcoming year.  It was clear the team are really interested and really knowledgable about the various platforms, and created a welcoming atmosphere that saw some really interesting contributions from the audience.

    Here are a few of the notes I made…

    Predictions for social media in 2019

    Twitter

    • They will leverage second screen viewing – examples already within PGA (golf) and NBA (basketball) in the UK – NBA allow you to follow one player in the second half
    • Twitter is grouping conversations, will we see more of this?
    • Twitter events dashboard – consumer facing to allow people to follow an event
    • Focusing on user experience, similar to Facebook groups, with conversation starters

    Facebook

    • Demographic is getting older – 25% of users are 25 – 34 years old, but only 7% are 13 – 17 years old
    • Did Facebook struggle in 2018? People feel the algorithm made it difficult to get organic reach, but then the adverts are reaching less people too
      • Facebook’s ability to target certain demographics is great, but it’s not hitting as many people
    • Stories are set to stay
    • If you boost an advert it’ll fo into stories
    • Facebook is moving away from doing everything and instead releasing lots of apps – eg Facebook workplace
    • Facebook has about a quarter of the users of Instagram stories – it’s still a big amount of users, but comparatively not that many
    • Facebook chat bots are becoming more popular – only 30% of businesses use them, but 60% of millennials say they prefer to text them than call
      • does AI technology need to be better to be more successful
    • Voice interaction will become more of a focus with Alexa etc

    Snapchat

    • 188 million daily users, with 71% under 34 years old
    • Layout change saw a massive drop in users, not helped my Kylie Jenner tweeting out her dislike for it, which saw another drop in users
    • Ideas implemented rapidly feature on Facebook and Instagram
    • Growing market outside of US and Europe
    • Is it sustainable? Losing money and users
    • Could it be saved by going back to the old layout

    LinkedIn

    • Their Top Voices list of people who create great content is worth a look
    • Locations haring for messages between connections is useful
    • Can create job alerts for any companies you’d really like to work for. This will then tell the company you’re interested in working for them
    • LinkedIn stories being tested with US college students

    Instagram

    • Rumours of stand-alone shopping app – Instagram Shopping
    • Do people want another app? Instagram for the pictures and stories, shopping app for more of the shopping – people want separation?
    • Bringing in parent / child for brands – ie one large brand with multiple locations
    • Fake authenticity – Lil Miquela, a fictional character who will be 19 forever
      • Are people getting fed up of fake influencers and followers – Instagram doesn’t feel as connected, more quick fire
        • do people feel more connection to influencers on YouTube?
    • ‘Instagrammable’ locations are becoming a big thing in physical locations to encourage people to upload to Instagram
      • Like Tattu in Birmingham – everyone’s seen lots of photos of the location and people in it, but what’s the food like?
    • More gamification in Instagram?

    Guest speaker – Roshni Natali

    The second half of the evening was a talk by Roshni Natali, digital communications specialist and GirlDreamer’s academy facilitator.  Roshni talked about working in London before experiencing burn out that turned into a month of sleep and a gap year to have a clear out.  But more importantly, what she learnt from this, looking at why people have stopped dreaming and offering six steps to being a Daydream Believer

    1. Understand your daydream believer – what does success look like?
    2. Identify your goals – break them down, look at where you are and where you want to be…how do you get there?
    3. Write down your why – and remember it
    4. Find a buddy to keep you on track
    5. Create an action plan – but allow for flexibility
    6. Review – set targets and look at how you’ll measure success

    With less time because of the discussions around social media marketing predictions, the audience weren’t able to try and create their own action plan – but we were left with the steps to think about on the way home.

    The next Social Circle event will take place on Wednesday 27 February at 1000 Trades. Tickets are free but you need to register.  Find out more on their twitter page https://twitter.com/CircleBrum

    Birmingham, Culture, Music and Movies

    Movies I watched in the cinema in 2018

    watching 100+ films in 2018 (1)

    After realising in June I would easily do 50 films at the cinema in 2018, I doubled it to 100.  And by the end of the year I’d seen 105 showings.

    There were some duplicates: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Avengers Infinity War (once in IMAX, once is 2D), and Crazy Rich Asians I saw twice each.  Three Billboards surprised me because I thought it was going to be one of those dreadfully worthy Oscar films, so I saw it early and thought it was great, so when a friend who couldn’t get to the cinema much wanted to see it again, I agreed.  Avengers Infinity War I could’ve left at one viewing but a friend wanted to see it in IMAX and it was certainly worth it for some of those epic views of Wakanda, but not a film that needs a second viewing.  And Crazy Rich Asians I had the chance to see on preview, and then with some friends who have Chinese heritage and I really wanted to hear what they felt about it – and I love a good romantic comedy, and Hollywood doesn’t seem to churn them out like they used to.

    And I didn’t just limit it to current Hollywood blockbusters, I also saw a rerelease of Heathers to mark its 30th anniversary, a showing of 2012’s Sightseers and a Q&A with actress Alice Lowe, and two black and white Christmas movies, The Shop Around the Corner and It’s A Wonderful Life.  Blue Brothers I saw as a surprise birthday celebration for Simon AKA Mr Brum Breakfast Club, and I finally saw the original The Italian Job, only it was accompanied by a live orchestra.

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    I saw a few documentaries too: The Prince of Nothingwood; Can You Dig This and Syria’s Disappeared, both as part of Kopfkino held in Stirchley, which aims to show films to get you thinking; Invisible Women as part of SHOUT Festival; and the problematic Three Identical Strangers.

    There were a few non-English movies too, including Timecrimes aka Los Cronocrímenes, Indian comedy-drama Padman (which I adored), Love Sonia and Cycle as part of Birmingham Indian Film Festival (BIFF), A Prayer Before Dawn and Under the Tree as part of Shock & Gore festival, and the Japanese movie Shoplifters.

    I tried to make sure I put my money where my mouth is and see more films made by women, including In the Fade, Pin Cushion, Lady Bird, A Wrinkle in Time, Leave No Trace, The Butterfly Tree, The Spy Who Dumped Me and The Rider.

    I also spent a lot of time listening to podcasts, my favourite of which still remains Eavesdropping at the Movies. It’s locally recorded which means if I wasn’t already planning to see it, I can usually catch it on someone nearby.  Hosts Jose and Mike are clearly knowledgable about film, and they discuss the movie in depth without namedropping obscure films for the sake of it, and it feels like listening to two smart friends discussing the film on the way home. Because that’s pretty much what it is.

    Here is the whole list of all 105 films.

    electric

    What did I learn?

    Basically, I spent a lot of the time at the cinema, and a lot of time researching what was on.  I quickly came to realise that my Cineworld Unlimited card was excellent value for seeing all the big Hollywood blockbusters and very occasionally less well-known gem.  I wish they’d do more of that, both from a cost perspective for me, but also because it often feels like we don’t have a lot of places doing the less well known stuff.

    Thankfully we have the mac arts centre in Cannon Hill Park and the Electric Cinema, which meant that I got to see a lot of the films I’d heard about but weren’t exactly going to knock the latest superhero movie off from its multiple screening perch.  Thankfully finances allowed me to spend a lot more time at both of these, partly due to taking up offers like the concession costs at The Electric with my Independent Birmingham card, and the Screensaver deal at mac, which meant I bought a chunk of tickets in advance and had something to look forward to.  Because multiple trips to the cinema are expensive.

    Screen Shot 2018-09-27 at 23.29.45

    What’s 2019’s movie challenge?

    Repeating the challenge feels a bit pointless, and upping the number feels a bit extreme.  Whilst I’m well on my way to watching a good amount of movies this year already, I spent a lot of time at the cinema last year at the expense of other things.  Having the challenge in 2018 made me spend a lot more time looking at what was on and I certainly want to keep doing that, because I saw some things I never would if I wasn’t actively looking.

    I want to continue exploring cinema beyond just the big blockbuster Hollywood films.  One thing I miss about the demise of video rental stores is seeing more foreign films, so I’m going to try and challenge myself to do that more (and regain the ability to watch a movie at home without getting distracted).

    I also want to try and hunt out more people doing interesting things in Birmingham.  I’m off to the first Stirchley Open Cinema screening of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri (despite having seen it twice) to support them, and I’m going to try and make it along to more community film screenings like Journey Film Club and Birmingham Arthouse Cinema.

    I’m really exited about the CineQ Queer Film Festival coming up in March, and I’m still torn between getting a weekend pass or booking for individual screenings (mainly because I like to know I’ve got a seat before I show up).  And then of course there’s Flatpack Film Festival from 30th April – 5th May in my diary, and Cine-Excess and SHOUT Festival worth keeping an eye on too.

    I will be continuing to get good value from my Cineworld Unlimited card, and I intend to try and spend as many of my spare pounds at the mac and Electric as time / money will allow.

    Birmingham, Sustainable Travel

    Green Travel Open Project Night #2

    greentravel nightThe follow up to the inaugural Birmingham  began with delivering the first of the previous meeting’s asks, that representatives from Transport for West Midlands be represented. And they were, in the form of Hannah Dayan, the cycling charter co-ordinator and Deborah Fox, head of demand management for Transport for West Midlands.  Sadly councillors Olly Armstrong and Liz Clements had been called away to an emergency meeting (unsurprisingly given the week’s news), but had asked that the session focus on action, as they recognised that similar meetings have existed in the past and wanted to avoid having the same conversations on repeat, and instead enact some change.

    Hannah Dayan started the evening with a whistle-stop history of the West Midlands Combined Authority and Transport for West Midlands, looking at its values and determination to strive to be better every day.  She talked about her role within the cycling and walking development team, a relatively small team within Transport for West Midlands, but determined to do some good for active travel in the area.  She admitted there were some concerns about cycling and walking being linked together in this way, but that they were careful not to dilute the two and understood the importance of working with groups.

    One group highlighted as having a real impact and enthusiasm was the cycling charter steering group, which works with lots of partners including Canal and River Trust, sustrans etc.  Hannah also talked about the need to be more fluid and engaged with lots of groups, and when questioned about how Birmingham compared to Manchester, admitted that Birmingham has a lot of catching up to do because of its history, compared to Manchester’s existing network, and (predecessor to TfWM) Centro’s previous focus on public transport.  But Hannah believes that by staying hopeful and looking at new initiatives which show the value of what they’re asking for, that there is real chance, particularly as organisations are looking at more innovative and collaborative ways to fund new schemes.  David Cox, Cycling UK’s retired chair of trustees, pointed out that Manchester  having previously focussed on Oxford Road was now working on the comprehensive and co-produced walking and cycling Bee Lines project, using the same pot of money that the West Midlands Combined Authority had chosen to spend on the tram. And that whilst there are some improvements in Birmingham, other areas of the WMCA are not faring so well, with the Black Country having poor provision for cyclist and Coventry’s decision to remove bus lanes signals going backwards in terms of space for cyclists.

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    Cyclist Ian Wacogne talked about a recent meeting with the WMCA Mayor’s chief of staff, Andrew Browning, in which they talked about funding for transport, and that money for the tram had been pre-committed to. Ian admitted that whilst it is an expensive endeavour it is not something that he would want to see stopped, but instead he believed that the second tranche of transport funding ought to be top-sliced for cycling. It is through asking for what we as a green travel, and specifically cyclist community, and keeping the mayor to account that Ian believes we will see some improvements, and questioned the links and influence Transport for West Midlands has over organisations working with a wellbeing remit.  Hannah mentioned that they are in talks with some organisations looking at housing and regeneration, but that as a small team there is only so many ways they can reach out to people.  But they are try and they do get there.  She also impressed upon the group the need to respond to consultations, something her team does, and of particular importance of women and families, as cycling in particular is seen to be a male-dominated arena and they need to show a wider societal impact.

    Politics came up again as a question with co-founder of Impact Hub, the venue for the Green Travel Open Project Night, Immy Kaur asking about the countdown to the second election of the WMCA mayor and whether as a community, we are influential enough to have real impact, or whether it needs to be bigger, and more diverse.  David Cox mentioned a hustings for the previous election organised by a cycling group which saw one of the larger attendances and that the 5000 people who signed the Protect Brum Cyclists petition showed that as a group there is a way to make an impact, particularly as the mayor joined the slow ride which accompanied handing in the petition.  Hannah commented that whilst the numbers of people cycling to work are relatively small, media perception is what politicians see and that there needs to be more positivity around this, particularly by widening it out and showing the impact of liveable cities and on mental health.

    Before moving on to Deborah Fox’s session, the final question was about the age-old problem of collaboration amongst the WMCA area, with another comparison to Manchester, which seems more tight knit than efforts in the West Midlands.  The answer to this is complicated, and many agreed that by rotating the meetings it would be unlikely that people would regularly attend if they were having to go to other cities within the area, but that other areas are having meetings and there is a need to develop a plan which is co-productive.

    Photo by R~P~M, used under creative commons license: https://flic.kr/p/9uTEuN

    Photo by R~P~M, used under CC license: https://flic.kr/p/9uTEuN

    And with that it was over to Deborah Fox, head of demand management for Transport for West Midlands.  Deborah started her talk exploring her perceptions of starting a role in Birmingham and being confronted with the very real issue of congestion in the city, and how even four months on she can still takes the congestion.  Recognising that a lot has gone into the plan around congestion, particularly with all the large-scale building works in the city, Deborah said that she knew the people in the room got it, but with congestion causing a significant amount of nitrogen dioxide, it’s about convincing the people out there in their cars to understand the problems.  This is particularly important as the higher levels of congestion makes bus travel less attractive and pushes more people into cars, but Deborah believed there is a real opportunity with younger people who are used to using public transport.

    And with all that talk it was time for action, with the group being tasked to think about issues and solutions for model residents in the WMCA area to use more green travel.  Whilst the audience were split into several groups, there were a lot of common themes, particularly around awareness to pollution and whether it’s something that needs to be talked about more, and if schools could teach about air quality.  The hope was that by educating school children it might encourage them to hold their parents to account, particularly around modes of transport to school but also around things like dangerous driving.  There was also a lot of talk about trying to rebalance things so that it was made harder to drive and easier to walk, cycle or use public transport and some small initiatives like zig-zag lines on either side of school roads might be one option to consider.  Deborah particularly commented on the idea of flexible working, which she thought was an interesting idea and wondered how many employers offered this and if this is something which could be encouraged.

    To finish it was a look to the future, with 2019 looking like a great year for green travel in Birmingham.  A number of strategies are due to be released, including the Clean Air Strategy, which will go beyond compliance, the Local Cycling & Walking Infrastructure Plan and the Birmingham Bus Survey.  There are also a number of green travel related summits planned, including the Living Streets’ National Walking Summit, the first time it will be held outside of London.  And of course the Birmingham Green Travel Open Project Night will be organised for a third session – date and time to be released shortly.