Coleraine Probus transported back to 1970s Birmingham

Julie Magee


Julie Magee


A LAST minute change of speaker gave club member Mike Turner the chance to talk about his work in Birmingham's 'inner city' area of Balsall Heath, and show some of the black and white photos he took there in the 1970s.

The Balsall Heath of around 50 years ago was an area of extremely poor housing, very limited play space, environmentally unhealthy and where anyone with any 'get-up-and-go' tried to move out as fast as possible.

Photos from that time illustrated this to the club members.

These photos and many more were presented to the City Council by representatives of the local residents who eventually got the Housing Department to change its policy and embark of a ambitious 'Urban Renewal' program across several inner city areas.

Working together, residents’ groups; local teachers and care professionals; volunteers and council officials were making a positive change to the area.

So much so that when Prince Charles was invited to visit the ‘New’ Balsall Heath, he accepted!

This got everyone very excited and it was decided to decorate the area with bunting (hand made by a group of ladies who worked in a couple of local garment factories – or ‘sweatshops’, to be more accurate).

It was a fantastic day for everyone and Prince Charles over-ran his stay to nearly three hours.

During the 70s and 80s Balsall Heath changed hugely.

Apart from the 'Renewed' houses and safe open play spaces, the area developed an adventure playground with an all weather track and games area; an Urban Farm with stables, allotments and a classroom used by local schools; a day nursery for 45 under-five's; a secondary school for children excluded from 'normal' schools; regular social and cultural events; a community workshop; a strong Residents’ Association with linked activities including a local history group, a drama club, social events, and so on. In addition, there was also a local 'Newspaper' - a monthly magazine reporting on events in and affecting, Balsall Heath. This was called (unsurprisingly) 'The Heathan'.

Mike's talk may have started with some depressing pictures of urban deprivation, but these were gradually changing to show an area that was gaining confidence and a place where people wanted to live, not leave.

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