In the 1980s, someone I worked with, Ken, often spoke about Birmingham in the office. Most of us had never been there but had heard the cliches about its dreariness and joked about it with him.
Ken stayed in London during weekdays but went back to Birmingham over the weekend. Eventually, he invited a few of us to stay with him in his Birmingham house. For about 20 years, that was my first and only trip to Birmingham.
From memory, Birmingham then was a gloomy place. The shopping mall at its heart, the first Bullring, was a heartless place. Built in the 1960s, it was a product of its time: a Brutalist-styled grey boxy concrete building. I suspect very few were fond of it.
But Birmingham has always had great potential. It is, for example, perfectly positioned in the centre of the UK. It is only four hours away from 90% of the UK by car or train.
Now, Birmingham, the second largest city in the UK, is completely different. The centre is thriving. It’s the youngest major city in Europe, with under 25s accounting for nearly 40% of its population. The new Bullring, instead of being an eyesore, hosts the dramatic Selfridges store, one of the most iconic buildings in the UK.
My favourite place is the Central Library, an equally stunning building and the cultural centre of the city – just as a library should be.
By a quirk of timing, I found myself in Birmingham on the day lockdown was announced in the UK. I ended up staying there until we were allowed greater freedom. I will write about it next time.
The photos below were taken more recently. I wanted to see the town as a tourist.