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Away from the chainstores and coffee shops Barbara Panvel opens the door on a couple of her favourite places in Birmingham.

There is more to Birmingham than shopping and entertainment. Some would include in their list of other attractions, the Warehouse in Allison Street, Digbeth and the listed Birmingham & Midland Institute in Margaret Street near the Council House.

These attractive heritage buildings survived the ‘60s demolition spree and are well used today.

I see the Warehouse - owned by Birmingham Friends of the Earth which campaigns at a local, regional and national level to protect the environment - as housing the region’s collective conscience.

Under its roof are people working for a cleaner, safer environment, a nuclear-free world and a strong regional economy. BFOE aims to improve public transport, waste collection and recycling, preserve local shops and green spaces and support measures which will reduce climate change.

Solar panels provide a supply of hot water for the building which has an information room, a cycle shop, office space, a meeting room for hire, an increasingly popular organic, vegetarian café and a wholefood shop. Many enterprises, such as Brumcan, started life here in its affordable rented offices.

Like the BMI it is independent, relying on its own enterprise in hiring rooms to cover maintenance costs – and both buildings are over a hundred years old.

Those who feel the need to stand back from life’s problems for a while should try stepping inside the peaceful, ordered premises of the BMI.

Founded by Act of Parliament in 1854 to ‘advance’ science, literature and the arts in the region, with lectures, concerts,

exhibitions, study groups and courses all open to the general public.

Independent societies affiliated to the BMI include Birmingham and District United Nations Association, the British Russian Society, the Institute Ramblers, the Midlands Spaceflight association, the Art Circle and the Midlands Archaeological society.

There are events for the young: bursaries, schools debating events , and a young historians’ essay prize.

Members, who pay a yearly subscription, have the best deal; they can use the well-stocked library which one of its early presidents, Charles Dickens, would have appreciated: it has an arresting display of the latest books, with thousands of volumes in the basement collection, including 18th century books from the original collection, founded in 1779.

Classical music CDs can be borrowed from the large collection housed in the library.

There are comfortable armchairs in the Members’ Room, which has newspapers, magazines and a writing desk. Freshly made sandwiches and soups made from locally grown ingredients are served in the Coffee House.

Above all, a warm welcome is given at the Warehouse and the BMI. Newcomers are greeted as warmly as regular visitors and some grow to regard these places as a ‘home from home’.

Where are your favourite "hidey holes" around Birmingham, the Black Country and beyond? Leave a comment on The Stirrer Forum.

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