A common cause?

Hodge Hill Common- David Parker

by David Parker

The spaces of our childhood never leave us even if we move away from them. Yet more than the nostalgic afterglow of youthful sun-drenched summers spent on Hodge Hill Common makes me lament at the Common’s present state.

The Southern expanse between Coleshill Road and Stechford Road which previously played host to countless games of cricket and football, dozens of dog-walkers and strollers is being left to grow wild. Clumps of unkempt trees, tangles of Japanese knotweed, branches jutting onto the footpath are all evidence of a cycle of neglect – the more overgrown the Common gets the fewer people walk on it, the taller the grass, the trees and the weeds become, the less safe it becomes for children to play.

The larger Northern sections of the Common have occasionally played host to traveller caravans undeterred by the tokenistic fence posts and verge trimming which are the only traces of City Council care and attention. The demise of St Phillips and St James Church adds to the sense of relative abandonment.

Site where St Philips & St James Church once stood- David Parker

Hodge Hill Common deserves better. It is both the heart of the area and a much-needed pair of green lungs. A 2005 Wildlife Trust report noted the Common’s value as a rare example of dry acid grassland in an urban area and called for its designation as a Site of Importance for Nature Conversation. At that time the Common provided a favourable environment for the house sparrow and supported a number of floral species rare for Birmingham such as Harebell and Small Timothy. In practical terms the Wildlife Trust recommended the removal of some of the sprouting trees and shrubs and a concerted effort to eliminate Japanese knotweed.

Hodge Hill Common- David Parker

Given current public spending constraints such measures are unlikely to be a priority for the City Council, so perhaps the residents of Hodge Hill should take matters into our own hands and organise ourselves into a band of gardeners, seeking funding and tools, for example from Groundwork?

Unless something is done to correct the neglect, the current generation of children will be denied the simple pleasures of a precious open space on our doorstep.

More about the history of Hodge Hill Common can be found at William Dargue’s History of Birmingham Places and Place Names.

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Pop Up Arts Tearoom arrives on Bromford Drive

Jane Baker / Greensnapper Photography

Driving through the Bromford Estate, it’s hard to spot- blink and you’ll miss it. Tucked away amongst the other shops on Bromford Drive is The Hub, home to Hybrid’s latest ‘Inhabit’ pop up arts tearoom project for the next few weeks.

Birmingham City Council funded the project that came into action after a tender was put out to fill empty high street shops around Birmingham. The project fuses artwork, tea and community spirit and has been successful in Handsworth and Stirchley. Hodge Hill is the latest area to play host to one of these unique pop up tearooms.

As I peek through the door, the woman sitting at the nearest table beams at me “Are you here for the tea room? Karen is over there.” I carry on walking past the old round tables and pretty cake stands accompanied by vintage cups and saucers when Karen pops up from under the counter.

Karen Meng, project assistant at Hybrid is working at the Hodge Hill tearoom over the next few weeks.

“It’s really culture on your doorstep,” she explains, “We want to bring people in to an arts space, it’s a great way to engage people with art work.”

The Hub already holds after school clubs on a weekly basis, so far the project has been popular amongst children and parents in Hodge Hill.

“When the children come in they get really excited and parents have been stopping for tea too,” says Karen “we sit at one big table so we try to encourage people to get chatting.”

There are a variety of different activities on offer at the tearoom involving several different independent artists commissioned by Birmingham City Council. Although the project does encourage local independent artists to come forward and they have the opportunity to host a workshop of their own at the tearoom.

“We have had different characters in each tearoom,” says Karen “from children to older people, the homeless and local workers who stop by for tea.”

So far, the project has been publicised through the use of Twitter and promotional post cards and has had attention from BBC4 and The Guardian.

Karen explains; “We like to take the soft approach, the project aims to target the surrounding area so usually we get a lot of publicity just by word of mouth.”

The project was funded from April 2010 and is due to wrap up at the same time this year. Many visitors to the pop up arts tearooms have been sad to see them go, so what does the future hold for projects such as this one?

“It wasn’t something that we anticipated would carry on, we knew from the beginning it would only last until April 2011. People could really benefit from permanent tearooms, just as momentum has built up with the tearooms it’s time for us to pack up again, particularly in Stirchley- people really wanted us to stay.

But what are the chances that a similar project would come round again? Due to Government cuts it’s not guaranteed that the project would receive funding again.

“It depends what funding is available and how the local council feel about the outcomes of the project. However it’s really not about the council, we hope that we have made an impact upon people and that a local business or local citizens decide to set something like this up through the social enterprise model.”

The next stop for the pop up arts tearoom is the Pavilions Birmingham, which opens on Thursday 10th March.

Find a full schedule of activities at the Bromford tearoom here.

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