A scouting mission to wild Birmingham

We’re working with Birmingham City Council on a project to rewild Birmingham. ‘Wild’ as in outdoors, active, in nature, as well as resilient, cohesive, connected, and open.

Like any Swarm-shaped project, we start with our ears to the ground, listening and learning, and gathering collective intelligence from the local community. So last week, four of us embarked on a two-day learning journey in Birmingham; Dan, Stephen and I (Matt) from Swarm, and Mark from The Wild Network.

Our first stop was lunch at Ladywood Health and Community Centre in Birmingham where The Real Junk Food Project serve healthy meals made from intercepted food waste. We enjoyed a three course meal; carrot soup, veg stew, and bread and butter pudding with rhubarb. It was good grub and I was pretty chuffed that it was in my belly, not the bin. Big up Ann Gallagher and team, thanks for lunch.

Joining us for lunch was Karen Creavin who heads up Birmingham’s wellbeing services and Councillor Lisa Trickett who leads the city’s green environmental agenda. We discussed knitting, bridges, and scaffolding. Not literally, but metaphorically; knitting services together, building bridges between communities, and scaffolding to support the innovators. Not bad for our first hour in town.

The words ‘build bridges’ echoed throughout our two days in Brum – an appropriate metaphor for a city that has more miles of canals than Venice.

Birmingham is home to many diverse community groups, each plugging away doing awesome work, but without the systems that allow them to be brought together into a coherent whole. In light of cuts to central government funding, the city is calling for dots to be joined to unlock the latent value in the system.

The opportunities in Birmingham are plentiful. Not least because it is the youngest city in Europe, in terms of population. And the greenest.

We heard that the city needs new stories. And we met some of the wonderful people and projects whose stories need to be told. We loved meeting the movers and shakers who are rewilding Birmingham. Here’s a the lowdown of our highlights:

The City Council’s 5,000 bike giveaway that is helping citizens commute to work, easing traffic congestion, and helping people get fit and healthy.

Carey Baff, from Friends of the Fields community group, who kindly took us on a tour of Holders Lane and Pebble Mill Fields to discuss the role that ‘Friends of’ groups play in the future of parks.

Liz Wright who manages a community orchard in a neglected corner of the Highbury estate, with input from volunteers, local beekeepers, forest school educators, permaculturists, and Park Rangers like Alf Dimmock who runs a weekly outdoors session for home-educators there.

MAC Birmingham – an impressive arts centre on the edge of Cannon Hill Park where we learnt about Green Lungs, an art project that introduced recently settled refugees to the city’s historic Cannon Hill Park.

We attended the first meeting of the Greener Birmingham Coalition, hosted by Birmingham and Black Country Wildlife Trusts, to discuss future funding possibilities for parks.

Immy Kaur, Cofounder of Impact Hub Birmingham – a community of purpose driven makers, doers, entrepreneurs, activists and dreamers committed to building a better city and world.

Andrew Walton from Bioregion Birmingham and Nick Grayson from Biophilic City – two think tanks looking at how to joining the dots in Birmingham.

Emma Payne who runs one of the few remaining play organisations in the UK, Birmingham PlayCare Network and shared tons of insights collected over years of delivery.

And that was that. With heads full of wisdom and hearts full of love, we boarded trains and headed off; one to each of London, Sussex, Bath, and deepest, darkest Devon.

It was an epic trip. We want to say a massive thanks to everyone who contributed to the mission. 112 people responded to our pre-trip survey which gave us a big head start.

We’re looking forward to going back to Birmingham next month where we hope to take the project to the next stage, bringing together many more of the groups and individuals to start imagining how we can solve the problems.

 

If you’re interested in being involved in the project, please answer the short survey below. And if you know someone we should speak to, be in touch at hello@swarm.gd