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    Birmingham, Theory

    Dreams, dreamcatchers and public engagement

    dreamcatcher libraryThe Stirchley Dreams project was born out of frustration and a desire to reposition the community back into the centre of an immediate decision which was due to be made, as well as provide some ideas for the future. And if I’m honest, a lot of it was curiosity.  Having worked in communications roles for years, assisting in campaigns which aimed to consult with the public and internally with staff, I knew only too well how hard this could be to get people to engage with consultations.  But I’d also learnt a lot about why people don’t engage and I wanted to do something which would benefit my community, using the skills I had.

    Why did I want to do it?

    There is a tendency to create a lengthy questionnaire, send it out and expect people to fill them in. Now I love a good questionnaire, but they’re also problematic if the questions aren’t written well, if they’re too long, if they lead people in a certain way with too many closed questions (yes / no type questions) and can take a long time to collate if there are too many open questions. They’re also really easy to ignore.

    A good consultation works to the people it is looking to engage with, so the consultation had to be something that reflected the area – a creative, passionate and fun community.  So it needed to be something that would spark people’s curiosity, but also be relatively simple and cheap to produce as there was no funding.

    The consultation requirement came off the back of an issue which was complicated and had a long of history; there were a lot of nuances but that if you boiled down what was being discussed it wasn’t about nuances of planning legislation, it was about improving the town centre. I took the core of the question, how would you like to see your high street improved, and looked at a creative way to reframe it.

    And so the idea of a dream-catcher was born.


    How did I do it?

    Getting hold of a hula hoop and ball of wool was relatively easy, which probably says something about the creative community in the area.  Watching a few YouTube videos and some practice meant that making the large dream-catcher wasn’t as difficult as anyone seems to think. Labels were made from cardboard that would’ve gone into the recycling.

    But more importantly, I engaged other people in helping, initially to sense-check the idea, but also gain enthusiasm and help spread the word.

    If you’re asking the community to engage on something, it is at best naive or at worst arrogant to expect them to come to you.  Instead I took the hula-hoop-come-dream-catcher, the labels and a pile of pens to the local monthly community market.  In the space of four hours we got about 65 labels filled out – some people did more than on, others put more than one idea on a label. After that, I was donated another four hula-hoops and local venues were asked or offered to host a dreamcatcher. So I’ve made more dreamcatchers, more labels and it has engaged more people offering to help.

    The project is currently ongoing, but I’ll report back once it is complete. What I do know is that it has piqued the interest of other areas, so the dreamcatchers may go on tour.

    Birmingham, Culture

    If you go down to the woods today…

    you’re sure of a big surprise…If you go down to the park today, you’d better go in disguise!  Just kidding about the disguise, but you’ll definitely be in for a big surprise if you haven’t been to Stirchley Park recently.


    You may have noticed a big black wooden box has appeared in a corner of Stirchley Park, which overlooks the car park for Stirchley Baths.  It’s actually a Camera Obscura, an ancient optical device which uses a natural optical phenomenon to flip the image upside-down.  Take a look through the hole in the side nearest the Stirchley Baths’ car park and see a whole new view of the park.

    The project is the latest in a series from Stirchley-based duo, Hipkiss and Graney, who crowdfunded the cost of the materials to build this impressive large-scale, permanent camera obscura.  The Arts Council and University of Birmingham have also supported the project.

    (This photo of the Dead Shrine is from Green Stirchley  over on Twitter)

    Jonny and Dale

    Who is responsible for this?

    That would be Jonathan Graney and Dale Hipkiss, a visual arts duo who live and work in Stirchley, based out of Ingot Studios.  Through large-scale interactive installations, performances and workshops, Hipkiss and Graney explore ideas around collectivity, community and counter-movements, particularly focusing on political and environmental issues.

    Using magical realism to bring these ideas to life, The Dead Shrines Project is Hipkiss and Graney’s latest work; a series of public sculptures scattered throughout the West Midlands.  The Shrines are designed to look out of place, like they’ve fallen from the sky into parks and high streets around the region.  Whilst Stirchley Park might be the location of their latest artwork, it’s the fourth instalment of the Dead Shrines Project, which has seen pieces installed at the Midlands Art Centre, Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Arts and Artefact Projects.

    You can visit their website at

    Moonlight Symposiums

    Learn by moonlight

    As part of The Dead Shires Project, there will be a series of workshops and free talks taking place over the month of June.  The workshops include learning to make your own camera obscura, personal shrines and masks – I’ll leave you to find out more about them until the booklet is released.

    The free talks are being presented by a number of experts, including academics for the University of Birmingham, looking at everything from experiences of refugee camps to the influence of the media.  There’s also an interactive trading game which takes place on Sunday 16th June, which I’m really looking forward to.  It is worth noting that there will be limited space as the talks take place in a specific area of the park.

    Free talks

    • History of Camera Obscura – Sunday 9th June, 6pm
    • Social Justice and Climate Catastrophe – Sunday 9th June, 8.30pm
    • What is the EU? – Sunday 16 June, 6pm
    • Accounts from Refugee Camps – Sunday 16th June, 7pm
    • Influence of the Media on Behaviour – Sunday 16th June, 7.30pm
    • Fair Trade Orange Trading Game – Sunday 16th June, 8.30pm
    • Political Myths vs Historical Evidence – Sunday 23rd June, 7.30pm
    • What is National Identity – Sunday 30th June, 7.30pm

    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…


    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.

    unnamed (1)

    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.

    unnamed (2)

    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.


    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.


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


    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


    • 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


    • 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


    • 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


    • 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


    • 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