Deep Impact?

We last visited Digbeth’s Impact Hub as it launched a few years ago when hardly anyone knew what it was, and those that had a little bit of a handle thought the claims being made for it were outlandish and dismissive of the existing spaces and activists in Birmingham. Despite that – and may be very much because of that ambition – it has grown into a space that is one of the building blocks of what might be termed a revival of Brum’s thinking social-conscious. And now it’s gone. 

Danny Smith went back to talk to driving-force Immy Kaur to find out what’s next and talked to her for a long time…

I arrive a little early and Immy is having lunch with a bunch of people at a big table near the kitchen area. Even while eating she is talking about the breakdown of the site, I get the impression that she never really stops. The people around the table all are unconsciously deferring to her, and I mention it although I know she’ll hate me for noticing.

Last time we talked I mentioned the bells she wears on a bangle around her wrist, I notice she’s wearing them today too. She must be both busy and stressed. The Impact Hub has been running for five years and has now been hit with a huge bill to vacate the premises they spent a fortune turning into the friendly industrial space it is today.

Did you wear the bells especially?

No, someone tweeted at me the other day – in response to your blog post – that they hadn’t heard them on me for a few weeks. Because I’ve been running into work everyday. When I run they bang on my arm and hurt me so I’ve been taking them off, and I got my running bag and took them out and put them back on.

 

So, Impact Hub: why is it closing?

Two main reasons: one is that it’s getting too expensive in Digbeth… 

The ground rent?

The landlords are all speculating on HS2, and because they’re just sitting waiting for the values to go up they’re not putting any work into improving the area or the buildings. So we’ve been here five years, done loads to the building. We’ve bought loads of people here, we’ve attracted other tenants. But in return, not even the smallest of suggestions of how to make say, the car park more beautiful or to do something with the railway arches, or to be a good landlord. It’s not really a two-way thing, you might say.

I know that we needed to open when we did and have a great building, because, as you know from that time, there were a lot of people that was super excited, but there were also people that were cynical… So, to show it in practice, and we were finding buildings with the council or other people. So we just need to do this, so it was good for them, but now I’m frustrated that we locked in. All small businesses around here are paying for landlords to get rich and in return we get hardly anything back. 

 

It’s interesting the idea that HS2 isn’t driving renovation or any sort of change it’s encouraging stagnation while the landowners are waiting to see what happens. 

Yeah, and I think it will eventually, if the HS2 gets built. Eventually we’ll have that renaissance of stuff that Birmingham likes to talk about.

 

It seems that for the last 10 years people have been talking about Digbeth as the next creative quarter. And while 10 years ago there were interesting art things happening in the disused spaces they got bought up and nothing really happened. 

Yes, It’s getting harder and harder. As much as I love the first couple of iterations of street food and fancy things coming to  the area. I’m not going to pretend I don’t like going to cool places, it’s just that when the only identity is like how many more beer and street food nights can we do. That’s great, but what about the daytime? And what about inclusivity and accessibility for artists? Every corner is land waiting for something to happen and just turn into a carpark and I think the key thing for me is I don’t know that economy exists. 

It’s not like I didn’t know what we were getting into, the key thing for me is there is actually no integrity in for us, to be running is trying to be an accessible and equitable business when what we do is take money or from people are doing great work and us being middle men who and then post that off to landowners in Dubai. So the reason we want to move is to get a better deal.

I don’t mind, that we had to have a landlord for a bit. That we didn’t have the money to buy a building. And I know that the city is not in a place, because of austerity, to do radical things at the moment. It’s just about trying to hold on and surviving and making things that it actually absolutely needs to like dealing homelessness in the UK in 2019.

But it’s just that I know there are better ways of doing this. There is a better way of getting a property deal for us to focus in the long term. Rather than pouring hundreds of thousands in rent to someone sat in another country who doesn’t even care. So we decided we’re having a natural break at five years. Let’s celebrate what we’ve done, lets learn from it, let’s reflect, and let’s go do something deeper and longer term, and because now we see what’s happening in the city centre, all the massive developments…

 

The mixed use developments that end up being coffee shops and offices?

And those offices are only really for that can afford grade A prices: because we’ve seen that. I guess the final reason for closing, is we wanna get out of centre, we want to try and get close to where people live every day. We can’t go right to the edge of Birmingham because we still need to run a commercial model where we can still sell space to those who can pay, but we want to really see if we can put what we have somewhere where we can do both. Well, all the things we do, so we’ve had people would come on the train and come in and pay, and that’s a great as an office, but then we’ve also had a lot of parents, and families, and artists, and young people, who’ve used the space on work trade, so instead of paying they’ll give time skills or have benefited from things like Open Project Night or the other stuff we’ve done. 

So actually, rather than them travel in from wherever they are, I’m really excited to think about whether we can move what we done, take the best of what we learned, and be an everyday space for people as well as an office space, and event space.

All the best things have been when it’s open access, and that’s not me dissing the people who’ve paid – but the best moments here are the things like open project night, where the community is here and you use the space for free they can organise around whatever they’re doing, whether it’s getting behind a political candidate or whether it’s a new art thing or whatever, it is, and that’s what I’ve really really loved. 

So closing really is doing it from a position of strength and saying let’s pause let’s not prop up old system. Let’s stop and let’s negotiate and find something way better, which means that we might be around in 10 years time to hand over to somebody else.

 

So you could have carried on?

I think we could have, but actually the one thing that we haven’t really factored in is at the end of this year business rates relief is going be over in this zone and we never bothered to find out what these business rates would be. Having said that, if Andy our financial director was here, he’d say we couldn’t have carried on because that extra £8 or £9 a square foot would have thrown our costs out the window and we only just about made it work. So actually, no we couldn’t have carried on 

 

What would you class as your main achievements over the last five years here?

And there’s a few… Number one is surviving. Apparently only 38% of small businesses survive their first five years in Birmingham. 

We’re growing, we have grown a team we’ve thrived, we’ve reinvested and every penny we’ve had back into stuff, probably to our own detriment. So the first bit is still being here because I think we were quite excitable and bold had loads of ideas and translating that into as much of that that we could do as well as being sustainable and paying the bills and growing the team and looking after everybody that we’ve worked with.

I know that’s not like a ground-breaking thing but when it’s so hard in the city, I’m glad that we were able to stick it through and give other people inspiration and all support if they need to learn about how to do something like this. 

And given how hard it is for independent businesses and we’re not grant funded. We don’t have some sort of consistent funding that keeps us going. We have had support from funders, and different programs and stuff like that. It’s not like I’m saying we didn’t ever have any funding but we have made it work through some of the most difficult period of time.

Then there’s some specific things that I’m proud of so – it’s a really small part of the work we did, and it probably will very rarely ever be attributed back to us: but Andy did a piece of work called DemoDev, it’s a piece of work he did for almost a year where he looked at the land ownership data across the city, and he basically found loads and loads of small sites across the city that were owned by the council, that were not develop-able ‘because they were too small’, so developers wouldn’t come in. They are brownfield, they are uneven,  they’re things that people don’t want to touch. And he put together like a proposal of how you could use modern making methods of house building and he showed that you could build like 3000 homes worth of houses on these bits of land, or urban farms or whatever would be great on disused in communities.

It was a really meticulous piece of work that he did to find this out and show and model it and it won awards with the Combined Authority. Now there are some politics between the Combined Authority and the council, so it hasn’t flourished here, but other people like in Bristol, and one of our partners took the idea and did the same in her neighbourhood and found 16 homes worth of land, and has just secured money from Homes England and Bristol City Council. Affordable homes built by the community, for the community, and in some of the poorest parts of Bristol.

 

So lots of that has been in the background, right?

It’s not the thing that people necessarily can see and feel straight away. So I feel really proud that we were saying that there were new ways of combining data technology communities to do cool stuff. We’ve got some really good examples of that and we have in two or three other things, so I’m proud of that.

On the total flip side, I’m also really proud of the fact that we were the first hub and still one of the only spaces in the city, in the region that did affordable and all free childcare. So we had families that are members here, we had a child who joined us at three months when we opened: he came back to the closing week and six years old. He had been through the crèche. And that, again, people can’t do that because the sums don’t add up. So other spaces are like ‘child care’s too risky, it’s too expensive. We’re not going to touch it. I feel proud that all those things that we wanted to test, we jumped in, with two feet and where they cost us money, we were like… No, this is a good loss leader, to test. Like how does it work? What does it mean? When we did the same things like that like for Open Project night. Sometimes our events team and a financial team and we would like battle over it, and Iny, our event director would be saying ‘the Monday nights you’re giving out for free I could be bringing in another grand a week and we can’t pay our rent’ and our FD would be like ‘I can see both sides: we’ve got to keep it inclusive accessible. We also go to pay the  bills’ but we always work together and figured that stuff out and we stayed together as a team. Loads of the hubs around the world don’t retain their teams, but we’ve not lost anyone, we’ve not lost a Director. No one has fallen out no one has got fed up. 

And we take risks all the time, doing the crèche and carrying it on, open project every week to eleven o’clock the space was open and we were here for five years. Helping communities do their thing. 

I feel we got better every year we did more events. We’ve got more people here, we did more free stuff. We generated more revenue. Our feedback and relationships have got stronger and stronger and I feel proud of that because we weren’t just like this excitable group of kids that just lost energy and gave up. We actually feel like we’ve gone the other way.

 

You put your money where your mouth is? 

Yeah, and then every day I feel really proud, I fucking do. All I ever wanted to do was say ‘the world can be different and we can come together in different ways and I don’t know how we’re gonna figure it out’. I wanted to be able to show some of what that could look like and I feel proud of getting the commercial and the community in good balance. To the point where actually the community say to us, ‘You need to charge for that’. And they’re actually saying ‘I bought this member and for an event, they’ve got loads of money make so charge properly for it’ to the point where actually community don’t  resent the fact that we need to make money and in fact they work with us. Or when someone’s done well and come out of the work trade and say we ‘we can pay now’. So I don’t want to be exchanging skills or time I want to be a paid member’ and I feel like that’s been a good success because it’s two worlds that can sometimes crash into a nice balance.

 

So you mentioned the other impact hubs: do you have a lot of contact with the other hubs? I know It’s not necessarily a franchise, it’S just like an idea that you take do what you can with it?.

The way it works is that you get a license, and that license is around a set of values. But you’re your own independent business. So this is a good time for me to say when we close here, we leave the Hub Network as well. There’s a reason for that. So in the early days, we had lots of good contact with the other UK hubs, but particularly Oakland in San Francisco.

I was really inspired, and I remember in that initial interview, I talked about that, maybe I spent too much time in America. Just the way the people are organised there just affected me. I was just, amazed: in Oakland, they were having so many issues with gentrification, like here. Oakland has a long history of incredible black culture, and black entrepreneurship and gentrification was wiping out the heart of it. Oakland is the home of the Black Panthers and the civil rights movement. 

I was like ‘yo these guys don’t give a shit about any of the rules’. I was younger and I was following what everyone was telling you. And these guys didn’t care if they were making this space, they were on the main broadway. they are put in black activism at the front and heart of what is still the community work-space and event-space. They were just amazing.

So I stayed in touch with them and have been out like our anchor. I’m always talking and connecting with them to understand what they’re thinking, what they’re doing next how they’re organising. Because when I spoke to you five years ago the situation in the UK was different. I had a lot more hope in our democratic structure. I was young, I’m young, I never knew that you could go forward and then go fly in back with a couple of decades. I’ve not lived through that before, where as my dad would be like ‘Yeah, we’ve lived through this before’ I hadn’t, I never understood how far we could go. And then we just come rolling back. 

 

I grew up in the eighties and it is like the eighties out there: dogshit, concrete, and racism. I never thought those things would come back and it’s all back. It’s genuinely scary.

I feel like what we need to be about has to be much more intentional now. So, I thought five or six years ago, in my head, I was like ‘I can see this vision of this thing that I wanna do in Birmingham, I want things to come together, I want more talent that is traditionally marginalized or pushed to the sides to come up through the middle and really have a platform to thrive. I want to use all this creativity that the social innovation space is talking about to actually do real shit with housing and with childcare and just with stuff that every day.’ 

And TEDX and stuff had made me super excited about this, particularly about black and brown talent, But that black and brown working class Brummie talent wasn’t being seen in the ways that other things were. And then with everything that’s happened and now: Shit. We’ve gone back 20 years. For some of these guys that’s got kids and stuff, we’ve got a responsibility to actually show them that the future isn’t a dead miserable horrific one where we all just drown because we can’t adapt to climate breakdown.

Now, everything in the city is crumbling, you can see it, you can feel it, but somehow we keep telling everyone it’s okay ’cause we’ve got the Paradise development, and all this other stuff coming. So now I’m like ‘shit’ the role of something like us has to be much more radical, much more grassroots, more back to the heart of the city that we really know, because our problems have changed. So for that reason, people like Oakland still remain a huge inspiration because they are much more intentional about their activism. 

 

I’m really interested in how your religion plays into these values that you have. All the sikhs I know are the good guys, lots of community activism,  defending businesses during the riots and back out clearing up afterwards. Is that something you’ve thought about?

We were called to be spiritual, intellectual, social, physical warriors. In every way, we should be at the forefront of that fight for justice. So it’s easy to reconcile those two things. Remember that service is at the front of what we’re meant to do. 

And I think the other thing that it’s really, and a lot of the team who are sikh, we tell you. I don’t talk about my faith a lot, but it’s had a massive influence here, like just how we deal with food and alcohol and things like that. All those things are allowed, but the dominant narrative here is that those are things that you ask for permission if you want to do them. If you wanna bring alcohol to an event, we’ll chat about it and then fine as long as those people look after it. We try to make the dominant narrative of this place as the one that is not exclusive of other types of people. And it’s good to see how that will play that because nothing’s ever been a problem, but people just have a lot of respect around everything they do. I really, I like that because it doesn’t just assume that it’s normal to have meat or alcohol, But actually people negotiate with each other much more and that’s just ’cause I’m a sikh ’cause I there’s lots of different faith and beliefs here. I just enjoy watching people come around that. 

But even if you look at this, you know, the dilapidations bill we’ve got. Dilapidations are well known as a way of landlords extracting wealth from you at the end –  we’ve got a bill for £138,00

Shall we talk about this separately?

Yeah but the faith thing on this, is all the advice I’ve had from people trying to help us do people trying to help us, lawyers, everyone, has been the easiest thing for you to do is: pay off your small suppliers, go bankrupt, open up in a new company, with a new name and all your debts will be wiped.

Everyone’s told me to do that: literally even property owners and lawyers, this is what everyone does. And I can give you a whole list of people who’ve done this. It’s called phoenixing your business. People do it all the time. Yeah, good people we respect right? Yeah, and I said no way, I am not doing that ’cause this is for me is something entrenched about how you behave in the world and that is my faith, the end of all the things I could be motivated to be just a shit and just completely fleece everything and everyone and get redundancy pay off the government and set myself up. No, I’m not doing this because we don’t learn anything from doing that, number one. Two There is a faith bit, for me, which I don’t behave like that it’s not the sort of integrity I want. I don’t want to be part of this story where what the landlord is doing is OK, that’s not OK to go bankrupt, to put all our debts onto someone else and the government picks up all the things that we didn’t pay. That’s where my faith actually keeps me on the straight and narrow: I’m not gonna do that, 

And if I’m talking about system change, I’m talking about oppressive structures and things that we need to change. I have a responsibility to surface them. Not game their system. 

So that this whole process of showing people what the landlord has done has made lots of people go ‘hold on, what?’ I was like. ‘Yeah, if you negotiate a building, the first thing you need to look at is the delaps process’. It means people have said have come in to interrogate it and said, ‘What are they saying?’ It means people that come and had conversations with me. It means Sunday. We had, I think, 60 people throughout the day come and help and do stuff and connect at each other.

 

And it means you’ve still got the moral high ground to talk about it

And I can go out and say actually, one of the worst things about private landlords isn’t just how much are charging, but how naive young hopeful creatives are going into relationships that they don’t understand, and then don’t have the skills or whatever. And we need to do something about that. 

 

So talk about the delapitations bill…

So when you take on a private lease, there is normally a dilapidations process which needs to go return the building to how you find it. Sometimes, if you have the right consultants, they can help you show how much value you added you say. And then that can be reduced. So our landlord preferred the narrative that we hadn’t added any value and that we need to strip everything back to know which makes no sense. There’s beautiful glazing, doors. We’ve done so much. Even at all of the power and stuff, it’s all beautifully done, not big plastic boxes it’s all in the theme of the industrial building.

And so they got dilapidations consultant to come in and do their survey, just to do that survey, they wanted to charge nine grand, and then they said it would cost £138,000 to turn it back to how we found it. So if we had just walked out, that’s what they would charge: of which £39000 was fees for them to manage the process.

On the report they a big list of everything and the cost attributed to it, and they also price it assuming that a different contractor would come in and do every different bit. 

 

So they cynically bump up the price?

A floor they gave a five grand contribution to do they said 12 grand to redo it…

 

Hang on, they contributed to the floor?

Yeah, ’cause there was no floor in we here 

 

But they want it back to having no floor, that’s ridiculous. How is there even a legal argument for that?

Because the way they word everything, which we now know in the original agreement, was returned it to normal and return it to how we found it is basically, take strip everything out.

I just had a good way of thinking. That we would do amazing things to the building. They’re not gonna make you rip the electrics out: but they actually are. Next door when they left, they had them rip up the black tile carpet flooring, so they ripped it out and stuck it a skip, now they’ve refurbed it and put in exactly the type of carpet. So dilapidations is well known as landlords exploiting: and people pay it as well. If you’re a big company, you ain’t doing anything, you pay for it. But also, not it’s regenerative, it’s not good for the planet as it’s wasting this much shit and chucking carpets that are perfectly usable away rather than just giving things a deep clean.

So then we had loads of options. People suggested to us, like I said, everyone in your scenario just goes bankrupt. Or they pay for a delaps consultant to come and fight that, then you can get about half taken off the bill, that consultant will cost you loads of money. Alongside that we already had an idea that when we made this space, we built it all together, and that wasn’t just about free labour, it was about what happened in the community and what they learned. People learning new skills around making and creating. We did it all together. So over the years has been a lot more community ownership of the space. When shit breaks just come and fix it ’cause they’re like, ‘oh yeah, I remember putting that together’. So that’s been really good. So we already had an idea that we were gonna break the space down in a community-driven way because of principles of regenerative design. How can we use things to be reusable, and all of that sort of stuff. And then we knew a dilapidation bill was coming, maybe 30 grand, we thought that’s fine, we’ll be able to do most of that work and it would be a few thousand at the end. And we never could have expected, like £130,000, that’s £60,000 more than the space cost to do.

So, that obviously gave us even more of a motivation to show what’s going on, show why it’s not right and say: look, we’re not taking the easy way out, we’re not just gonna go bankrupt and be part of a corrupt system that the city literally thrives on and the rich business owners do all the time. 

So, what we’ve done this last month is broken it all down, we’ve been tackling it bit by bit and gamified it so we can mark off how many thousands of work have we done and it’s creating loads of good conversations. There’s three or four members who are planning on making an art hotel, so they’re looking for places. And for some members. It’s really opened their eyes to all the stuff you need to be aware of.

And then we have had wicked days like Sunday, where as hard as it is it’s a really great way to close this era as well.

And I underestimated how it’s all affected me. I was a real dreamer about how you could do stuff, I would constantly go around Birmingham and other places and think ‘why are they behaving like this? Why is this happening? why is that happening?’. a couple of years ago and I won’t say who it is ’cause everybody will know it, a business that I know really well totally fleeced everyone who worked for them phoenixed opened up a new business, and recently sold it for a load of millions, and the taxpayer picked up all those redundancies.  

And I thought, fuck, why would you behave like that? And then I started the hub and I realised how hard it is. Everything incentives you to behave how everybody behaves and I fought against it and it’s been really hard. I try really hard to be a good citizen, and a good business citizen. Even though I know the system around me isn’t a great one, and I just feel like this final bit is just us finishing in the way that is right for us to say, OK we’ll get it done, that’s fine, we’ll turn it into something where again we’ll show the power of community’. But I would just stay quiet about it.

I won’t be quiet about it. And as soon as it’s done, and we’ve given the keys back I’ll talk about it even more because I want to show people if you’re looking for a building. These are the things that you need to be aware of, and that it’s a really bad unregenerative system. So that’s what we’re doing. We’re on the last two weeks and we’re just getting it all done.

 

What have you learnt about Birmingham, or Birmingham people in the last five years? 

That there’s just an incredible abundance of talent here. I could never have imagined. Being here has just made me realize that there are just thousands and thousands of incredible people, and if they just have access to a few things, they do incredible things. I’ve learnt that people here are full of energy and optimism, but the city can make you quite pessimistic and cynical. And I remember when Birmingham’s twitterati, were not very happy with me when we set up the hub. I have thought about that quite a lot in the years afterwards, and I’ve kind of reconciled a lot of it, because a lot of those people I talk to or people became members here, or whatever. And lots of people were quite cynical. That story turned around. What I learnt is a lot of people, they’re not angry at people doing new stuff, they’re broken hearted because for 20 or 30 years people have been doing really hard stuff here, and really working to build stuff. I feel like brummies are quite proud about what we’ve done because we’re in constant pressure because of cuts and the council, that people can actually come across this quite hostile, but it’s not hostile at you, its hostile towards being hurt by a system over and over again. 

 

I think that with your original kickstarter and the video, a lot of the problems people had with it was the language, it was buzzwordy and impenetrable. It didn’t say what you do.

And that’s still the same, I still don’t say what I do in plain language. I think people have warmed to it, or at least given up having a go at me about it. So I think I’ve learned this place is full of unending talent at every corner you turn. 

It’s just as a city, we don’t know how to nurture it in a just and equitable way. And people are doing really amazing work with neighborhoods everywhere, but they just have to have the resources and to be able to do what we really need to. So that’s ultimately the final one, which is that If I thought that I didn’t want to go to London, before I came back here to start this I definitely don’t want now. There’s nowhere where things are better. All it is is that we just need to actually value people’s talents. I love it here. 

So the other thing I’m sad about is that over that same period of time is all the creators and artists that have left and gone to London I’m sad that we haven’t been able to have more impact on that stuff. I’m sad that we haven’t been able to influence the high street strategy or something. So I think I just thought we’d be able to do all that a lot quicker and faster, but it’s actually really slow 

 

Are you actually going to take a rest?

Hopefully, two weeks in December and the whole of January. I do really need it. 

 

So what’s next? You’re gonna get a space like this somewhere else, closer to the suburbs?

Yeah, so I can’t unfortunately tell you too much about it because it’s legally up in the air at the moment. So we’re hoping to go a couple of miles away from here. Not too far from the train stations, but far closer to where people live and where outcomes are really divided, rich and poor are segregated, and we’re going to be in the heart of that, but we’re not just gonna make a work space, an event space there. So the future product is called Civic Square. We’re leaving the hub network because it’s been great, it was good for a while. Now we much more understand what we want to do here and we want to grow our own thinking. So Civic Square is about a really simple thing, at its heart is an idea of what social infrastructure means in a neighbourhood. So like a library  now the last place where you can walk into and just be, and it has the resources and it has, in theory, people who give a shit about and how you do, and it’s meant to be a place we dream and create, and feel safe. So at the heart we want to use our commercial savviness to create a place to just be open and free access and then design the space to use things like a maker factory, a children’s hub, a community theatre.

So lots taking lots of the things we’ve learnt here into a space and then offset that commercially by doing the thing that we know is has brought us a lot of money. That is not actually individual members, they’ve been important but it’s actually been small organisations based here that make us the rent. And then when these small organisations have social purpose it’s even better because they create jobs, they create opportunities for people.

And then events, because we think quite deeply in the last 10 years, particularly in this country, we’ve just decimated the places where people come together where they can connect, breach divides. And we’ve got no imagination about how to save the high streets, because it’s all about who’s going to be the next Woolworths or Marks and Spencer, as opposed to how do we unlock the citizens so that they can take them over like we know that entrepreneurial communities can do. If you go to Sparkhill you do see that as a failing high street everywhere you look the shops are bursting onto the pavement, where we understand community of entrepreneurship and how communities spend their own pounds and stuff, where communities have not given into the Marks and Spencer or whatever they’re thriving. And where we’ve got a big organisations folding like Thomas Cook they’re folding the high street. So, we wanna really show how you can reimagine some of these spaces to have to use shop units in ways that are different and creative. So Civic Square is gonna be a physical space, it is going to also be a housing project. It’s looking to have bespoke spaces for children, designed by children, and then have commercial on community elements. In theory, the way I am hoping the business model works, because we don’t want to be reliant on funding is that we get the commercial bits it’s really right and that basically offsets completely open access, a place where communities can come together. 

 

And attracting the sorts of businesses that support that sort of thing?

Like here, but a more upgraded version of here, the office spaces and the events will still be super high quality right? So people will still be attracted to them because I want a nice place to work. And then we can re-invest all that money into creating spaces where people can just come, work, connect. Have coffee. So rather than do things like – this is really crass. I would never actually ever say this – but like it’s a programme poor kids that can’t read or something. We wanna go and put really beautiful things, like breakfast clubs, like reading clubs, like play streets into the work that we do and just the really heavily focus on making sure we engage the people most unable to be able to be part of that.

So for example, We’ve designed a community kitchen into the space and sometimes we’ll be able to sell that commercially and make money from it which will be great. But one of the ideas we’re really working on is if you were to move beyond the food bank which is that people can still come here if they wanna come to learn to cook, or batch cook, they can share food, they can connect. I wanna create more humane version of the things that we know we’re gonna need to live together better.

 

I can’t do anything about the conditions that created austerity Britain. But what we can do is show examples of how that stuff can be more empowering, more human, more connected to multiple things. Ninety percent of the people in the future are going to have to cook and eat more locally, are gonna have to share more resources are gonna have to be able to do all this stuff and I still believe in this idea that we can do that in a way that beautiful and connected community-centric. Or we can do it in a way that’s shit and everything’s terrible.

***

The Impact Hub leaving Digbeth is Digbeth’s loss, for me. Impact Hub was the last of that early 2000s energy and dynamism. They took the vague utopianism and veneer of idealism that dripped out of start-up culture and early social media and made it real. 

Immy isn’t going away and I’ll be supporting whatever her and her crew do next, but I’m not sure what’s next for Digbeth, and I don’t think anybody is. Some would be happy for it to turn into the street-food and urban carpark quarter, while I remember it being a petri dish of artists clubbers and machine workshops.

It seems the council have been courting gentrification for years without actually spending anything on infrastructure or investing in anyone. Most of the land is owned by overseas investors waiting for the HS2 windfall, until then the stasis continues. 

 

By Danny Smith

Danny Smith is a writer and malcontent. More at edgetrinkets.co

Danny Smith is a writer and malcontent. More at edgetrinkets.co

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