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    Birmingham, Sustainable transport

    Birmingham Transport Summit

    Birmingham Transport Summit (2)

    With around 250 decision makers, transport planners, activists and enthusiasts, Birmingham Transport Summit was a day to celebrate what is good about transport in the city and look to the future of what Birmingham’s transport offering will look like.

    The morning began with community visits to explore what transport challenges people living in the city face on a daily basis, what works for then and what really doesn’t.  Then it was back to Aston University for lunch and the start of an afternoon of talks.

    Councillor Waseem Zaffar, Cabinet Member for Transport and Environment, welcomed delegates to the summit and talked briefly about the challenges Birmingham faces, the population growth and the brave choices made by the current administration, like the Clean Air Zone. 


    Birmingham’s Transport Journey from 1800 – present day

    Councillor Zaffar then passed over to Phil Edwards, Assistant Director – Transport and Connectivity, Birmingham City Council who talked about Birmingham, a city on a journey.  Phil started by talking about Birmingham in the 1800’s where the population was around 74,000 people, the canal network was in full working order and the birth of the railways.  Moving through to the 20th Century with the age of the tram and then the car, followed by the tram being replaced by buses and the birth of the concrete collar.  Fast-forward to 2001 and the pedestrianisation of New St and the re-emergence of the Metro. He then described Birmingham in 2003 with the re-opening of the new look Bullring, The Mailbox and a population of 1 million.  Looking at 2019, we see Birmingham as the place most Londoners choose if they move from the city, the introduction of 20mph zones, dedicated cycleways and the preparation for the Clean Air Zone.  By 2031, Phil envisioned further intensive development for the city, with a population of over 1.25 million, rapid transit Sprint, the Camp Hill line in operation. Passenger trains would return to the Sutton Park Line and expansions to the Midlands Metro and Midlands Rail Hub would see improved connectivity between Birmingham, Leicester and Nottingham. Interestingly, Phil also talked about the regeneration of East Birmingham, not just in terms of transport, but also housing too, both of which will bring skills and vitality to an area often forgotten.

    Phil’s presentation also included a number of emerging principles which talked about “the delivery of a public transport system fit for a global city” and a quote that received a lot of positive responses, both from people in the audience and on Twitter: “We will create a city centre where public transport, walking and cycling are prioritised in an environment free from traffic and pollution, restricting road space to access & servicing by removing through trips, including downgrading the A38.” Ultimately, Phil’s presentation ended on a positive note, suggesting that this is just the start and a request for the audience to actively engage and get involved.


    Inspiration and lessons from Enjoy Waltham Forest

    Jon Little, Director at Bespoke Transport Consulting was up next to talk about their Waltham Forest Mini-Holland project.  One of the eighteen outer London boroughs, Waltham Forest has a population of about 280,000 people, with a young average age and a diverse community with significant numbers of people with Eastern European and Asian heritage.  As part of the of the London Mayor’s Transport Strategy, they won a successful with a bid for £27 million to create a world-class commuter route which made room for cycling and complementary measures.

    Engaging the audience with dry humour, Jon talked about how they knew that if they wanted people to enjoy the scheme, they needed to connect and involve people from the outset.  One of the preliminary activities they undertook was to ask business and customers wanted from their areas and discovered that it was quite different; businesses thought parking was a priority, but customers didn’t consider this a priority. 

    A trial began, which saw areas of the High Street walled off to vehicles, improvements to cycling and whilst there was a visible negative reaction, this was countered by a lot of positive comments, with residents asking them to “finish the job”.  Forty-three streets were filtered and the outcome saw more people taking up active travel, with an average increase of 41 minutes increased walking/cycling than before.


    Barriers to behaviour change

    Next was a panel discussion looking at barriers to behaviour change for citizens and radical solutions, chaired by Steve Rose, Deputy Chief Executive of the Active Wellbeing Society.  The panel included Polly Billington, Director, UK100; Joy Anibaba from the Joyful Bellas and Fellas Community Cycle Club; Dr Ewan Hamnett; Zeddie Lawal, Head Of Community at Free Radical, Beatfreaks; and the previous speaker, Jon Little.

    Each of the group introduced themselves and talked a little about what they do, with Joy talking about the inclusive and supportive environment created by the community cycling club and the support they’ve had from the council, talking about the free bicycles Birmingham City Council gave out to some residents.  Dr Ewan Hamnett talked about the rise of type two diabetes and climate change and the impact this would have on people, and the need to turn the hierarchy of society on its head and make the environment and health the focus.  Polly Billington, from UK100, a network of highly ambitious local government leaders, warned about the need to stop telling people what to do and start facilitating things which involve working with people who just want to get around safely.  She talked about the need to ‘mainstream’ the message, without pitting people against each other (eg bus users vs cyclists), but also accept there will be resistance, even if you get people on board. 

    BrumTransportSummit_panelJon Little talked about getting what we design for and putting a mirror up to people to ask why they think they’re more important than things like air quality etc.  He recognised that whilst this might not be politically great, people would seemingly rather have children die from the effects of inactivity rather than let them cycle.  Zeddie Lawal from Beatfreaks talked about the importance of really engaging with young people and making sure they’re truly consulted and not just engaging with primary school children.  The idea of asking young people and the elderly and infirm whether they want to be driven everywhere, or whether they’d prefer other more active methods of travel was also proposed.

    Chair of the panel, Steve Rose of the Active Wellbeing Society talked about a conversation he had earlier in the day with a young boy who knew that walking and cycling weren’t considered on equal footing within the transport dialogue, and Steve wondered what could be done to change this.  Dr Ewan Hamnett was the first to respond, talking about how we engage people outside of this room, and the Vision Zero project to aim for no fatalities or serious injuries involving road traffic.  Jon thought the answer was simple, but required planning for people to be able to get to a shop and home without needing to use cars.  Polly Billington spoke about the need to include everyone from the ages of eight to 80. Even though Birmingham might currently be a young city, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will always be the case.  She also said residents needed to hold things to account, and that air quality doesn’t respect local authority boarders, so infrastructure shouldn’t either, and should be integrated. Joy Anibaba picked up on the idea of getting more people outside of the room involved, and the need for more volunteers to encourage schemes like the community cycle clubs.  Zeddie Lawal spoke about the need to ensure there is more communication between residents and the council.  The session was brought to a close with a sobering reminder that air quality has real consequences. Steve Rose told a story about a mum with an asthmatic child, who realised the effect the city’s air population on their child when they holidayed in Wales and the child reported how much easier it was to breathe there.

    birmingham canal

    Transport Supports development and inclusive growth

    Newly appointed chief executive for Birmingham Airport, Nick Barton, spoke next.  He talked about how Birmingham was a growing airport, and how they’re a good indicator of economic growth.  That said, people visiting friends and family is a really important value, and that whilst only 17% of visitors passed through the airport for business reasons, it was important they enjoyed their experience as it might encourage them to return for a holiday.

    Nick said the airport was looking at how to grow sustainably as possible, and commended the airport for being one of the best connected in the UK, both by road and rail. However, this needs to be better, to work all of the time.  Rail was considered to be fundamental to their transport considerations and they would love to get all passengers to use it, but currently usage is only just over 20% and considered to be very important for overseas visitors.  The airport is also trying to discourage people from being dropped off at the airport as it generates four trips, rather than two if passengers parked at one of the car parks.  Nick also said that whilst they need to focus on economic benefits and they fully recognise the costs of growing and will do what they can to minimise the impact.

    Nick was then joined by three other speakers, including Laura Shoaf, Managing Director at Transport for West Midlands and David Reid, Vice President for Sales and Growth at Jacobs, for a panel looking at inclusive growth. The panel was chaired by Phil Edwards, Assistant Director – Transport and Connectivity, Birmingham City Council.  Each of the panelists were given time to speak about the topic for a few minutes, before a Q&A.  David Reid spoke about how inclusive growth is about giving everyone the change to grow, not just economics, and that whilst Birmingham has an incredible opportunity, it should use it positively and not further the inequality that already exists.  Laura Shoaf echoed this, talking about the need to ensure economic growth is shared fairly across society and that whilst people see it in the city centre, she questioned whether people also saw it outside of this area.  Nick Barton talked about how airports have been guilty in the past of being in a bubble, but now they are conscious of needing to bring the community with them in order to grow.

    50bus_newbusThe first question from the floor was about sustainable transport to and from the airport. Nick replied that whilst they primarily look at customers, they’re also aware they have 7000 staff but the airport is geographically sparse and requires access 24/7 for three shift patterns, cycling and walking journeys are limited, though they do have plans to encourage this.  Nick again praised the airport’s connectivity with rail and said that in his short time in this role, he had already used the train more to commute than in his last three CEO roles combined.  The next two questions looked at cultural shifts and the way roads are designed, as well as the issues over the cost of public transport.  Laura Shoaf said Transport for West Midlands would love to set the fares, as they understand some people do consider this a barrier, but they can only do this for the Metro.  There has been a high patronage of public transport in the Black Country when fares were reduced and this is something they’re keen to explore further.  David Reid pointed that it is difficult to affect the price of fares because of regulation, but even the lowest of fairs can be too much for some and that is can be more than just connectivity and more about subsidising costs.  Laura talked about how WMCA have put their limited resources where they can and have recently introduced half price fares for 16 – 19 year olds.

    Due to time, questions were bunched together, with topics including provisions for disabled passengers, whether we should deregulate buses, the sustainability of the Birmingham Cycle Revolution, and whether there will ever be an integrated transport service which feels safe.  Nick Barton talked about how heavily regulated the requirements for disabled passengers were, but that the airport would go above and beyond regardless.

    David Reid commented that technology is advanced enough to offer some real solutions for improving access for disabled passengers but requires more co-creation and research.  Phil Edwards from Birmingham City Council talked about how vehicles which were non-compliant with the Clean Air Zone, including buses, will be charged and that they are working on emissions from trains at New St Station but they it does need more investment which is unlikely to come from central government.  Laura picked up on the safety question and talked about the innovative work of the Safer Travel Partnership, which does not happen everywhere.  She also said that integrated public transport is the goal and the need to get car drivers to think about the true cost of ownership.  Nick Barton talked about how seven districts own half the airport, with profits going to the WMCA, and that we shouldn’t undersell what we’ve got in this city.

    boats_canalAnother set of questions looked at whether we could have a congestion charge in the city, whether Transport for West Midlands would commit to reducing their reliance on fossil fuels and whether the airport planned to reopen the loop from the East Midlands to Hampton-in-Arden.  David Reid talked about the possibility to use technology to combine with things like congestion charges to work more smartly, like looking at time of the day people travel, which might allow us to challenge which journeys we want to discourage.  Laura said there are a number of ways they’re looking at reducing the reliance on fossil fuels, namely congestion and idling cars.  She said that they’re prioritising public transport, but that they have to keep things moving. They are also working with bus companies to shift to more environmentally friendly bus fleets.  Nick Barton said that although he did not know about the train line, he would ask his senior management team.

    Keynote from Shadow Transport Secretary

    The final keynote of the day came from Andy McDonald MP, Shadow Transport Secretary for the Labour party.  He talked about how air pollution was a major issue but the current government was failing to take the issue seriously. He felt central government were pushing the issue to local authorities without including the appropriate funding.  He also said the current transport structures don’t work and wanted to see transport in the Midlands and North to match that of the South.  Labour felt that more municipal buses would be better and Labour had pledged to support local authorities moving to this system.


    Buses in Birmingham Transport

    Councillor Waseem Zaffar was up next to present a brief look at the recent Birmingham Bus Survey, which saw over 6,500 responses.  4057 responses were from people who used the bus, 2943 of which used it frequently and 2457 didn’t use the bus.  Whilst there was a whole host of reasons why people don’t use the buses, frequency was a common response, and the team intended to drill down on the data to discover more outcomes.

    The final session of the day was a panel looking at the buses in Birmingham.  Chaired by Alex Burrows, Director of Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education, University of Birmingham, the panel included Councillor Kath Hartley, Birmingham Councillor (Ladywood Ward) and chair of the WMCA Transport Delivery Committee; Councillor Brian Parbutt, Nottingham City Councillor and Council representative to Nottingham City Transport Ltd; Ali Bell, Head of External Communications – UK Bus, National Express; Matt Rodda, Labour MP for Reading East; and Lynda Waltho, Regional Director, Confederation of Passenger Transport.

    Ali Bell from National Express talked about the improved journey times and the high satisfaction amongst passengers, along with the success of the West Midlands Bus Alliance, which was working together to make positive changes. She felt this was a better option than deregulating as Birmingham City Council had left the alliance to get on and change things, rather than being too prescriptive.  She also said that buses don’t get the attention they deserve nationally, but that they do in the West Midlands and that the mayor asks about them.  Councillor Kath Hartley pointed out that four out of five public transport journeys are by bus in the West Midlands and that there are more people using buses than other modes of public transport, due to priority measures that have been put in place encouraging usage. 


    Nottingham City Council’s Brian Parbutt is chair of the bus company which is owned by their council and talked about how bus passenger users are typically likely to be poor and not have a strong voice politically, nor in the media as often journalists don’t use the bus.  He praised Birmingham City Council’s Waseem Zaffar for focusing on the buses and said that buses need to be a bigger part of the transport story.  MP for Reading East, Matt Rodda talked about the crisis in local transport and that current government is encouraging car culture. Funding for young people to use the bus would reduce the start of people being car drivers.  He also talked about funding cuts since 2010, which has amounted to about a 45% reduction.  Matt also felt that the success would also be integrating it with active travel so people could do things like walk to the shop and get the bus back, but that this would mean integrating public transport from the start.

    Former black Country MP and current Regional Director for the Confederation of Passenger Transport, Lynda Waltho echoed the need to shout more about the buses, particularly given how loud the car lobby is and that within the media and MPs the focus is on trains and trams.  She also talked about needing to work with what we’ve got by controlling the car, vans and lorries and they’re a big part of the problem.  Bus usage is falling, but it needs the political will and to be practical about what to expect.   Things in Birmingham are working up to a point, Lynda believes, and things can happen – she cited Councillor Waseem Zaffar taking on MPs in his own party over the Clean Air Zone and that the major bus companies in the area are on board because they were brought into the conversation early.

    As with other panels, the conversations were grouped with the first set looking at free parking at hospitals, the marketing around bus users, getting local authorities to buy into buses by using the West Midlands pension fund to purchase shares, and the justification Highways England use to justify major road building. National Express’ Ali Bell said that the marketing might not be perfect but they were focusing more online than traditional billboards, with a lot of online marketing targeted to the under 24 year olds.  Brian Parbutt from Nottingham Council talked about how he wrote the guidance on workplace parking and they weren’t allowed to include hospitals.  He talked about major trusts in his area who charged drivers using levels of parking, with admin staff working office hours having less freedom than medical shift workers.  Brian also talked about a free bus which starts at the Medi-Link park and ride scheme, and Nottingham’s workplace parking levy.  He said it was easy for employers but that the problem was more that unrepentant car drivers would park elsewhere and that the real objective should be to want to discourage people wanting to park in the first place.  MP Matt Rodda echoed this and talked about it being a wider issue that needed to disincentives car use.  He also said there is evidence that suggests that young people who are heavy bus users delay when they learn to drive.


    The next set of questions asked about making buses virtually free and how to improve Birmingham’s connectivity.  Councillor Kath Hartley talked about seeing examples of free travel and that they have seen higher usage but a reduction in walking as a result.  She believed the city needs to look at the parking policies but that this leaves to issues, and as the ward she represents is covered by the Clean Air Zone, they were having to look at things like residents parking, but ultimately it was about getting drivers to realise they have a responsibility for where they leave their car.  Lynda Waltho thought the idea of getting councils to put their money where their mouth is by investing the pensions into shares in the bus company was a brave idea and something she would look into. She also talked about the frustration of buses having ticket machines which don’t talk to each other, which leads to a lot of confusion for passengers. Ali Bell from National Express talked about the free travel for pensioners, but said that a lot of the reasons people didn’t use this reflected the results of the Birmingham Bus Survey.

    And with that the Birmingham Transport Summit came to an end.  It had been a long and tiring afternoon, with lots of information and ideas presented.  It will be interesting to see which ideas are picked up by decision makers and what will come of some of the ideas shared.

    Birmingham, Online stuff

    Social Circle #6 at 1000 Trades

    social circle 6

    After enjoying last month’s Social Circle, I returned to 1000 Trades for another evening of learning more about the world of digital marketing.

    The evening started with the usual introductions and look towards what’s new in the world of digital marketing.  There was a look at the Twitter prototype programme, a ‘beta’ way to test the new platform which is aimed to fix Twitter.  It is being touted as an easier to use system, which uses shapes and colour to denote replies and follow responses.  LinkedIn are looking at testing reactions (think like the ones on Facebook), which is being aimed to encourage engagement.  There’s also the opportunity to place powerpoint presentations in LinkedIn, so people are no longer having to link to external sites.  Facebook Messenger is possibly looking to link together all messages from platforms owned by the company, such as Facebook and Instagram.

    Facebook has also bought GrokStyle, an artificial intelligence shopping startup.  Questions were posed about what this might mean for Instagram, especially as it allows people to search for products and see them in context.  Instagram is also testing new stickers, like donate buttons and quizzes with multiple choice.  Instagram’s IGTV is appearing more about more in people’s feeds, and Instagram is heavily investing in it so it is more of a seamless experience.  But people hate that you have to watch the whole thing, so Instagram are also looking at the YouTube style pull to the base screen.

    It’s a bit late to the game, butLinkedIn are looking at live video, and are seeing more popularity and engagement in it.  YouTube are testing split screen on web / desktop, like you can on the mobile.

    Instagram sent a press release to say that they’re looking at safeguarding and will be removing some posts, even things like healed scars from self-harming.  There were questions on whether this is a sense that we need to have some responsibility on what we consume, but also how effective this policy will be.


    Pinterest with Rebecca Meekings

    The main talk of the evening was from Rebecca Meekings, Paid Social Manager for iProspect, a digital performance marketing agency.  Rebecca’s talk looked at Pinterest, a platform she believes that it’s often a bit forgotten about in social media circles, especially in marketing.

    Rebecca’s focused on five areas: leverage the mindset, focus on brand discovery, benefit from search places, less crowded advertising space and paid pins live on organically.

    Rebecca told the audience that people using Pinterest are actively looking for products, and rarely just killing time in the way they might mindlessly scroll through another platform.  Over 90% of users were said to plan purchases with Pinterest, and 47% more likely to find new brands using the platform than others, and take an average of 3 – 6 month to prospect.  Typically people search for something without including a brand and there is easy wins with basic retargeting.  Marketeers can use Pinterest to make sure their adverts really target the right users by adding a number of keywords to ensure they’re relevant. With Pinterest being a less crowded space, there is often better value found spending advertising budget on Pinterest over more heavily advertisement-saturated platforms.  Another benefit was that once a paid pin is no longer in its advertising space, it will still live on organically and earn engagements after the campaign has ended, unlike other social media sites.

    The Golden Circles

    Having run out of time last month, the Golden Circles took place to judge the favourite marketing campaign of 2018.

    Five campaigns were put forward: Three, Burger King, Spotify, Nike and Iceland.  All five were championed by one of the Social Circle team and it was put to public vote in the room by which was considered to be the best of the group.  In the end Three was considered the winner, with special shout outs to Royal Navy’s snowflake and Mastercard’s ‘goals for meals’ campaigns as being particular bloopers.

    The next Social Circle Birmingham will be on Thursday 28 March, at 1000 Trades in the JQ. Tickets are not yet available, but check to find out more.

    Birmingham, Online stuff

    Brighton SEO on tour in Birmingham

    brighton seo

    If you’re interested in digital marketing you’ll know how well-regarded the Brighton SEO conferences are.  A search marketing conference, which takes place twice a year, and series of training courses, the Brighton SEO team decided to take the show on the road. They visited Birmingham with a trio of talks looking at search engine optimisation.

    Lionel Kappelhoff from Oncrawl was the first speaker of the evening. As well as sponsoring the event – and welcome drinks, he talked about Oncrawl, an SEO crawler that helps people understand how Google trawls their sites and improve SEO performance.  The service allows people to see in real-time what Google is doing and understand the impact of SEO optimisations.  The system allows people to understand that SEO is a science, not an art, and can see how long between when people hit publish on a page and when bots crawl your website.

    Local lad Luke Carthy warned us about his dinner before launching into one of the funniest presentations I’ve heard in a while.  Luke works in e-commerce SEO, and talked about what happened when he removed several hundred search URLs from the company’s website.  In short they saw a year on year growth, and Luke talked about why this might be, why sites like Argos, which rely too heavily on search might be problematic and why category URLs are more important than search.  He warned the audience that if you search for a website on any popular search engine, the search page results shouldn’t be one of the top results.  Luke talked about ways to possibly recreate some of the successes he’s seen by de-indexing search URLs which don’t have any traffic and discouraging colleagues from linking to search results, instead they should be linking to the category pages.  He also reminded people to keep tabs on your organic traffic and monitor your KPIs to ensure that the activities you’re doing benefit what the organisation require.

    Last but not least was Kirsty Hulse.  Kirsty is a freelance SEO specialist and talked about some of the challenges she’s faced whilst in the role for nearly 10 years.  With plenty of examples, Kirsty’s talk was probably the most accessible.  She started with a frustration shared by SEO specialists and public relations consultants alike – when newspapers strip out links to brands from their news stories.  Kirsty also contacted a group of people to ask what they think the role of SEO is about, and the perception from those working in the industry and those who employ SEO people was quite different.  For a lot of people, SEO is still about ratings and link building.  Kirsty also talked about the crossover between SEO and traditional PR in terms of what often builds links, such as piggybacking relevant news and gift guides for upcoming events sent months in advance. More broadly, talking to journalists about what they’re working on, building real connections and focusing on creativity and not tired formats were other ideas Kirsty suggested would have real benefits.  She’s written up a lot of her talk into a blog post, which can be found on LinkedIn.

    Attendees were invited to stick around afterwards and continue the conversations, but it was a Monday night and my brain (and notebook) were full.

    Birmingham, Culture

    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 warmth 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.

    Screenshot 2019-02-16 at 16.01.14

    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 an 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.

    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.

    stirchley heartsFor those who prefer statistics, Twitter tells me the initial tweet had 5036 impressions, 487 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 3658 impressions and 62 likes, plus a further 1870 on a tweet when I couldn’t bear to take them down after just one day and various people put it on Instagram too (102 of my Facebook friends reacted positively to the photo too).  Which means the Valentines Tree, as Fran (tweet above) called it, went beyond just the people who walked down the high street, especially as someone had added it to Reddit too.  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

    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

    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.


    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.


    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 transport

    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.


    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:

    Photo by R~P~M, used under CC license:

    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.