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    Birmingham, My Thoughts

    Kerslake debate

    Last Wednesday I went to the city council chambers for a public hearing on the Kerslake Review, organised by Pauline from News in Brum. The event was organised because of the lack of debate around the report’s release; “We are bringing the city together to debate the topic the council won’t.”

    For those asking what is the Kerslake Review; “In July 2014, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and Sir Albert Bore, Leader of Birmingham City Council commissioned Sir Bob Kerslake to conduct an independent review of corporate governance in Birmingham City Council.” – Taken from gov.uk, where you can find the report in full.

    The debate itself was led by a panel. Chaired by Diane Kemp from Birmingham City University, the panel also included: Pauline Geoghegan of News in Brum; Alex Yip Vice-Chair of BCProject, Business Director; Sohail Hussain, a West Midlands Youth Commissioner; Catherine Staite from Institute of Local Government at University of Birmingham; and David Bailey, Professor of Industry  at Aston University . Deliberately not the usual faces but an impressive line up never the less, one panelist admitted to having not read the 68 page report he was asked to give an opinion on, which felt a little disrespectful. However the majority of the three hours, a strict timeline as the room was being paid for privately by News in Brum (helped out with an impromptu donations on the night), was given over to the floor.

    Whilst there were a few conspiracy theories and agenda pushing, these were thankfully minimal and the majority of speakers were considered and thoughtful. There was a real feeling of love for the city, mixed with a sadness that things have gotten this bad, but a desire to move forward and improve; “Birmingham used to lead the way, now what are we leading the way in?”  Speakers from the floor also questioned the links between regional/local government and central government, issues around devolved powers, and a feeling that Birmingham was missing out on funding compared to other areas of the country.  It was clear that there were a lot of informed and passionate people in the audience, with a real desire to see things improve.

    Ultimately, whilst the opportunity to talk seemed cathartic, I do wonder what good it will have.  A report on governance felt like it was asking the council to get its house in order, and as there’s been no official forum to debate within the council, it seems that ideas on improvement from residents are even less likely to be heard.  A video at the beginning of the debate illustrated that most people didn’t know about the review and with low turn-outs for local elections, it’s hard to really get a grip on whether residents really understand what their role is with engaging local government, and if they feel there is any at all.  Still at least through the evening’s efforts there is some record of the residents of Birmingham speaking up, officially or not.

    I left feeling like there were a lot of people wishing the city well, but no clear, agreed idea of how we the residents, the council itself and both groups together move forward.  I wonder; what happens next?

    ‘Kerslake Debate 2: Child Poverty in Birmingham’ takes place at Parkside Lecture Theatre, Birmingham City University, near Millenium Point on Friday 13th March, 6.30-9pm. To book a space, visit http://newsinbrum.com/

    Related articles

    My tweets from the evening https://storify.com/lauracreaven/kerslake-debate-my-tweets

    Birmingham Post – Birmingham development centres too much on ‘glamour projects’ http://www.birminghampost.co.uk/news/regional-affairs/birmingham-development-centres-much-glamour-8701880

    Chamberlain Files – Andy Howell slams council’s ‘shocking’ partnership record and ‘disgraceful’ refusal to debate Kerslake Review
    http://www.thechamberlainfiles.com/andy-howell-slams-councils-shocking-partnership-record-and-disgraceful-refusal-to-debate-kerslake-review/

     

    Birmingham

    Smiggle opens in The Bullring

    When I was about eight years old I collected erasers – or rubbers as we knew them.  I had two favourites; a rectangular purple rubber with gold Cadburys writing on it that rubbed-out well but could still be counted in my extensive collection and three horse rubbers about the size of your little fingernail with red, green and yellow tips that obviously couldn’t be used.  20-ish years on and my love of stationery hasn’t abated: I still have more notepads than I can use; coloured pens, markers and pencils; a collection of greetings cards and notelets for any occasion; and a bag full of stationery related craft stuff.

    DSC_0673

    And then Smiggle opened in the Bullring last week.

    As I stood wide-eyed in the shop, looking at the adorable erasers shaped like macaroons and ice cream cones, pencil cases with clickable compartments, colourful character festooned notepads and a collection of keyrings, I was immediately eight years-old again and in paradise.  Current-me was also pretty star-struck.

    DSC_0670An international stationery brand selling bright, colourful and quirky items, Smiggle was born in Melbourne, Australia in 2003 and made its way to the UK this year.    It’s nice to see a sense of inclusion amongst the stationery, which doesn’t just label ‘blue for boys, pink for girls’ but is more varied.  The current theme in stores when the Bullring branch opened was ‘konnichiwa’, with pandas and ninjas amongst the characters, giving an element of education as well as fun characters.

    A member of staff also mentioned that a lot of the items are designed to be tactile, with pencil cases having raised designs to help children learn.

    Frankly I’m not the right person to be giving you a grown-up’s view of this place.  I’m a big kid at heart and my inner-child was clearly in awe of Smiggle.  But what I liked about the store was the great sense of fun.  Sure, it’s very bright and colourful and this might not be to everyone’s tastes, but there’s some fun things in there for most people.  Perhaps it’s just my sense of humour, but I loved the large erasers for ‘Big Mistakes’ and have bought a couple for friends’ emergency kits.  That’s one of the good things about Smiggle’ for a shop solely dedicated to stationery they haven’t hiked up the prices and you can get a number of things for your pocket money – ideal at this time of year for stocking fillers.

    I’m already planning my next visit and taking my stationery-loving friends along for moral support (for our purses)…

    http://www.smiggle.co.uk/

    Disclosure: I was invited down to Smiggle as part of a bloggers event and given a goodie bag. I wasn’t required to say anything nice and they definitely weren’t expecting an insight into eight year-old me’s obsessive rubber/eraser collection. I also may have bought another notebook (please don’t tell my mum). All photos are my own, please don’t use them without permission.

    Birmingham, Cooking and Eating

    Where have I been?

    I haven’t been posting on here as often as I’d like, as I’ve been concentrating on my food and drinks blog.

    fulltothebrum_wFull to the Brum is a Birmingham-based blog which celebrates the exciting food and drinks scene in the city.  Since I restarted it in June I’ve been focusing much more on the personal experience side of it – restaurant, cafe and bar reviews as well as product reviews, news and info about events and even the occasional recipe.  I wanted to celebrate the great food and drink adventures I found in and around Birmingham.

    This means that Ants in Her Pants has taken a bit of a back seat, but I’m hoping to update more often on all the other adventures I’ve been on – and maybe even occasionally mentioning some of the stuff from Full to the Brum too.

    http://fulltothebrum.co.uk/

    Birmingham

    Lush Christmas

    Screen shot 2014-11-23 at 12.54.51It seems Christmas is everywhere, but back at the beginning of October I had the pleasure of being invited to Lush in Solihull for a preview of their festive offerings.

    This year Lush have gone a sort of Frozen meets Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with some Nordic Pop influences thrown in for good measure.  That’s to say there’s a nice mix of tradition with some more modern influences.  I particularly liked the idea of the 12 Days of Christmas, with a lovely Lush treat to take you through to the epiphany.

    But for me Lush is all about bath bombs/bars/melts.  Ordinarily, I’m more of a shower person, but sometimes life calls for a bath and when it does I always think there should be some bubbles.  I was particularly taken with a couple of the non-Christmas range; the sparkling pumpkin bubble bar with all its glitter and a swirling cylinder which let out an array of colours – just like a firework!  But there’s plenty of adorable Christmas bath bombs, bars and melts too; snowmen, penguins, mini-drums and even one present shaped with a little gift inside.  I admitted to not really understanding the bubble bars (I throw a bath bomb in and wait for bubbles) and one of the lovely ladies at Lush Solihull took pity on me and gave me a demo on how they worked – turns out some of the bars can be broken up and used a few times.

    Snow fairy, the delicious Christmas-only shower gel is back too, as are some lovely festive soap.  I picked up some of the Yog Nog which had a lovely creamy feel and smell and a delicious rich red soap both of which I’m looking forward to using.

    The lovely ladies and gents of Lush Solihull were great hosts; they took us through the range, taking time to explain the products’ inspirations and development.  I even got a free massage and left with a very glittery arm, which was mighty fun on the bus home.

    Roll on Christmas!

    Disclosure: I was invited down to the bloggers event and given free samples to take home, however I wasn’t required to say anything nice abut the event of products.  I also spend far too much of my own money that evening, because I’m a big fan of the bath bombs.

    Birmingham, My Thoughts

    Death Cafe Birmingham

    20140730-180319-64999737.jpg

    Ever given up a sunny Sunday afternoon to sit around and talk death with a bunch of strangers?  I did last week for Birmingham’s first Death Cafe, which took place as part of The Electric’s Shock and Gore festival.

    The Death Cafe is a voluntary group, developed in London by Jon Underwood and Sue Barsky Reid.  There objective is simple: ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives’.  Birmingham’s first meeting was held in The Victoria Pub and organised by Carrie Weekes, a soon-to-be undertaker, and Sharon Hudson, a palliative care nurse specialist – with sweet treats from Conjurer’s Kitchen, and a room rather surreally decorated for a themed Dr Sketchy’s later.

    With a three-course list of questions, we sat in groups of eight and discussed attitudes to death, end of life care and what we’d like to see at our own funerals.  It was interesting to see the diversity of ages and experiences – from those working with people at the end stages of their lives, to people caring for elderly relatives and those who were just curious.  It also fascinating to see people’s experiences of talking about death in the everyday; from parents whose children didn’t want to discuss ‘what happens if…’ to those who’d written wills and had paperwork sorted for every eventuality.  Topics of assisted suicide, organ donation and the debate about knowing how long you have left were all covered too.

    Cake pop & menu

    Cake pop & menu

    It sounds strange, but I left the Death Cafe feeling oddly energised.  It gave me the opportunity to think about my own experiences with death, how better to live and questions to ask of loved ones.  For a few hours talking about death, I felt oddly more appreciative of my family and my life.

    Would I go back?  You know, I think I would.

    Check out http://deathcafe.com/deathcafes/ for information on the next Birmingham Death Cafe.

    Birmingham, Internet and social media, My Thoughts

    Congratulations on the smug political status update

    I’ve wanted to write this for days, but it felt a little improper to do so before polling stations closed and results were read out.

    Pre-election and even on the day, my social media feeds have been full of mockery of political parties, jokes about delayed election days for certain voters and a number of other equally silly things.  I’m sorry, call me a killjoy but I don’t get the joke.

    I like democracy; sure, I think my opinion makes the most sense (otherwise why would I hold it) but I like that democracy is ultimately about the masses deciding.  The right of a political party to exist, no matter how much I agree or disagree with their policies, is part of what makes this a great system.  But a philosopher once told me that you argue against something’s strongest points not its weakest.  It’s why I’ve always been against no platform policies and more recently why I’ve been annoyed at these Facebook statuses and tweets – and I love sarcasm.  Sure, mocking something is kind of arguing against it; but is it really an effective way to changing people’s minds – are you even reaching those people who are genuinely planning on voting for those parties you vehemently dislike so much?  Maybe the question should really be were you even trying to reach them via social media?  Because to me, at least, it just looked like a group of smug self-congratulating updates which spectacularly failed to do anything useful – and the results seem to agree with me.

    So here’s my plea – and you may call me idealistic for it.  Next year it’s a general election and if you care so much about whom people vote for, get off your bums and do something useful.  If you’re passionate about a political party then join them and hand out flyers and speak to people to convince them to your party is best.  If you’re passionate about not voting for a certain political party then effectively debate with people who might be tempted to vote that way about why that party’s policies are incorrect and what the alternatives are.  Point out flaws in an argument in a way that will actually engage with people.  Talk to people who feel disengaged, tell them to register their dislike of all the parties by spoiling their ballot so their voice is counted.  Stand for election.  Hell, start your own party if you like.

    But above all, do something that might actually count.

    Birmingham, Books

    World Book Day – three Birmingham authors to check out

    Today it’s World Book Day in the UK and what better way to celebrate than by picking up a good book by a Birmingham based author?  Here are three contemporary authors which i think are well worth checking out…

    Benjamin Zephaniah

    Writer, poet, lecturer and born in Handsworth, he is well worth seeing speak live as reading some of his work.  Having published (and performed) a slew of poetry, he has also released several novels aimed at young people.  He also did a blinder of a talk at the University of Birmingham’s annual Baggs Memorial Lecture on the topic of happiness and was in BBC TV show Peaky Blinders.  If you’ve never heard, seen or read anything by this man you’re really missing out.  http://benjaminzephaniah.com/

    Katharine D’ Souzaparklife2

    I read Katharine’s first novel Park Life a couple of years ago and adored it.  It follows the lives of two people who live in the same block of flats, with South Birmingham being almost a supporting character – and those in the know will be able to spot references to Kings Heath / Moseley, which just added to the book for me.  Katharine has since released a second book which I’m looking forward to reading soon. http://www.katharinedsouza.co.uk/

    Mike Gayle

    Ex-agony uncle (no really, check out his website) and author of a stack of bestsellers, Mike Gayle in a Brummie born and bred.  He’s also set a few of his books in Brum, namely Turning Thirty and its sequel Turning Forty, which is also set in South Birmingham.  But his other books are set in London, Manchester and there’s even a non-fiction book, The To Do List.  His books are light-hearted (except maybe My Legendary Girlfriend, that one’s a bit darker) and often confusingly called chick lit.  If you’re looking for a beach read, then you can’t go wrong with some of Mike’s novels. http://www.mikegayle.co.uk/

    Some other authors with links to Birmingham worth checking out are: W. H Auden (you know the Stop all the Clocks / Funeral Blue poem from Four Weddings), R J Ellory, Catherine O’Flynn (her first novel What Was Lost is set in a shopping mall which may or may not be Merry Hill), Lee Child, J. R. R. Tolkien, Arthur Conan Doyle (spend some time working in Brum) and Malala Yousafzai.

    So, what are you reading this World Book Day?