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The Pete Millington Column

BIRMINGHAM FOR THE PEOPLE

07-08-2006

If you're going to be made redundant, it may as well be at the start of the summertime. That's what happened to me earlier this year, after 16 years working full time at one place I found myself joining the ranks of the great unshaved … well, there's suddenly no need really is there?...asks Pete Millington

On the negative side there's the mounting anguish about how you will continue to pay the mortgage and put food in the mouths of babes. On the positive side you get to wander aimlessly round town in your Villa shirt and sit in the sunshine with a beer watching the world go by.

Another thing that happens to you when you're out of work is that you start to consider the great dilemma of whether to keep buying the Mail on Thursdays and the Guardian on Wednesdays in search of that opportunity to rejoin the rat race as quickly as possible, or do you see this as that golden opportunity to become Richard Branson in a month and set up that business empire you always dreamt you'd one day run?

The psychology is interesting. I suddenly found myself reading motivational books by Paul McKenna, Wayne Dyer and Jonathon Jay. Waking each morning and refusing to feel pissed off at the web of incompetent and insensitive gits who put me and my beloved family in this dismal situation not of our own making. No! Negative thinking is a barrier to the source energy and infinite abundance that, right now, is on it's way into our lives!

.....no! But it is.

The consequence of this change of psychology is that the aimless wandering around town in your Villa shirt (well, alright, Blues or Albion shirt if that's your added disadvantage in life - you see, every cloud has a silver lining!), becomes an exciting opportunity to conduct market research.

And so it was that I found myself sitting down at the canal side on the opposite bank to Birmingham's International Convention Centre the other week, eating a very overpriced cheese burger and attempting to work out how entrepreneurs prosper in this wonderful new regenerated environment that is Brindley Place.

Ok there were a couple of narrow boats serving coffee and sandwiches, lots of expensive bars and restaurants, but actually very little else that I could honestly say would attract the tourist. No shortage of people on a sunny day, but just not a great deal to engage their interest.

Sure there are some impressive big attractions down there like the Symphony Hall and the Sea Life Centre, but what seems to be lacking is the buzz of excitement and the throngs of tourists that you find in places like London and Edinburgh.

Compare Brum with Stratford, where I took the children for a day out today. The place is alive with activity and things to take your attention. Yes, of course Stratford has the huge advantage of the world wide fame of Will Shakespeare and then add to this the picturesque river teeming with swans and of course the theatre.

But actually I believe it is more than this. Stratford has street theatre and it has buskers. It has the colour and vibrancy created by entrepreneurs. It has the atmosphere of somewhere that doesn't control and over regulate it's creative community.

Ok, Birmingham City Council do put on some fantastic events, often in partnership with big business or local media. But the rest of the time the place seems to be lacking a creative impulse. One rarely hears spontaneous live music and I can't remember the last time I saw someone performing street theatre.

On top of this are the jobsworths. I remember wandering into the Symphony Hall one evening (wearing a football shirt I might add) to take a few digital photographs of the empty hall that my taxes have paid for over the years and being more or less escorted out of the place by two over zealous security men. One of them even switched all the lights off and pulled the door to as we left. Shame I can't be so equally discriminatory as to withdraw my contribution to their salaries from my council tax.

But the bottom line is this, I'm one of those people who thinks that Carl Chinn has got it absolutely right, Birmingham has a heritage and history which is extremely rich and we should be selling it to the world. Our tourist potential is massive.

We all know that our manufacturing industries are in decline and that thousands of skilled and potentially entrepreneurial Brummies are being put on the dole every month. But the environment for creative people to flourish seems to be stifled by our paternalistic local authority and I'm not just on about buskers and fire eaters (though that would be a start) but independent tourist guides and small traders and crafts people allowed into the city centre.

The very values that made our city great in the first place, the enterprise and ingenuity of ordinary people seem to have been regulated out of the heart of the city in favour of big names, big businesses and big reputations.

I say it's time we started winning Brummagem back for it's people.

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