THE BLOG

Rediscovering Birmingham's Reputation for Creativity and Manufacturing Excellence

04/06/2013 12:40 BST | Updated 03/08/2013 10:12 BST

When asked to names a European city associated with culture, fashion and design there will always be the usual suspects; Paris in France, Rome and Milan in Spain, Barcelona and Madrid in Spain and though some would claim it lacks the weather and is too crowded, you cannot exclude London.

But how about another contender which will come as a surprise - Birmingham.

I would happily accept that Birmingham certainly cannot compete on equal terms against the cities listed above and it's long since forgotten that in 1986 it was beaten in the bidding to host the 1992 Olympics to Barcelona.

However, for those who know their history Birmingham is a city with a long tradition of being a place where creative and inquisitive people come. In the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution it was known as the city of a thousand trades.

Birmingham is also associated with the so called 'Lunar Society' which was so called because when the members started meeting in the late eighteenth century they did so when there was a full moon to allow ease of travel as street lighting did not yet exist.

What is significant about the Lunar Society is that it consisted of some of the great thinkers and philosophers of the day; men who would make their mark in ways that would alter the world and create the basis for the industrial age to come; Matthew Boulton, Joseph Priestly, Josiah Wedgewood, William Watt and Erasmus Darwin.

Birmingham's development during the nineteenth century was accompanied by the rise of the politician and social reformer Joseph Chamberlain who though born in London had come to the city to set up a company making screws.

Birmingham's significance continued with its contribution to the manufacture of guns and jewellery (there is still a thriving 'quarter' which is a short walk from the city centre). And it should not be forgotten that the world-famous Cadbury chocolate was first made by John Cadbury in central Birmingham before the opening of the 'garden factory' plant in Bourneville where to this day it is still possible to smell the latest batch being produced.

Perhaps it is the rise and decline of mass motor manufacturing company Austin which many believe epitomises Birmingham's loss of status as an industrial city.

In 1905 Herbert Austin bought a disused print works in Longbridge.

Though in the latter years cars produced at this plant would be remembered for the industrial strife and, it is widely accepted, their poor quality in terms of assembly, many of the models before have been noted for their use of revolutionary technology and iconic design.

Car-making continues in the city though on a more limited scale. Indeed, the Jaguars produced at Castle Bromwich plant are sublime and are world-class when measured in performance and standard of quality.

Birmingham is still able to make goods that include the best design and involve creativity and innovation; just not in the archaic factories that once characterised the local landscape.

And it is not just manufactured goods such as cars; jewellery and fashion and art can be added to the list.

Possibly because Birmingham people don't tend to show off as much as citizens from elsewhere there is a sense that the city is not perceived as a key player in either the design or creation of brands which are world-beating.

Therefore, an event which is taking place in central Birmingham over the next couple of weeks can do no harm in helping the city and the surrounding area to rediscover its reputation as a place where people still come to produce wonderful products through the use of innovative design.

'Birmingham Made Me' Design Expo 2013 is intended to be allow visitors to be more aware of the amazing goods and services which the best creative minds have been involved in designing and bringing to market.

'Birmingham Made Me' Design Expo is a free event which commences this Thursday (6th) and will run continuously until 21st June at Millennium Point (which is easily accessible from the city centre) and will feature seminars including eminent industrialists and thinkers on many aspects of design and economics.

'Birmingham Made Me' is intended for all age groups and includes exhibitions by local students and schoolchildren as well as screenings the Skyfall and Prometheus films.

Who knows, maybe in the future Birmingham will be seen as being on a par with the cities mentioned at the beginning of this blog.

For more information on 'Birmingham Made Me' follow the link: http://birmingham-made-me.org/