I was born, raised and still live in Birmingham, UK. For those of you who don’t know, it’s the UK’s second-largest city and boasts a community of over one million strong. We have more trees than Paris, more canals than Venice and more parks than any other European city. We are home to the famous Indian curry — ‘the balti’ and home of the industrial revolution. We are also extremely multicultural, in fact approximately 46% of the city is made up of people from a wide range of ethnic minority backgrounds. Oh and last but by no means least, we are the youngest city in Europe. Boom.
Now, before I explain why this is relevant, it’s worth noting I may use the term ‘Brum’ or ‘Brummies’. Brum is our way of saying Birmingham and Brummies is what we call ourselves. Ok, do continue reading now that little disclaimer has been added.
As you can tell, Brum is a pretty cool city. We have loads going on. We’re not as big and as populated as London but like so many other UK cities, we have so much to offer. The problem is, no-one really gets to see it because most tourists only know and want to visit London because you know, the Queen lives there, Parliament is there, most tourist attractions, most UK branches of international organisations have their HQ there and well, it’s London. We all know why we all go there and why we centre the UK around it but is it right to do so?
“So much of the UK that is shown to the wider world is through a London lens.”
When you grow up in the smaller cities in the UK, there’s a strange complex where you can feel completely disconnected and disregarded in the bigger picture of the country. So much of the UK that is shown to the wider world is through a London lens. In fact, London is so London-centric that almost every person I meet from London has never been to another city (unless they have the odd relative they went to see like 10 years ago that they can barely remember). They just don’t see a need because if everything you need and more exists within your city, why leave it right? Why go see a show in another city when Broadway is in London, why visit other hipster areas like the Northern Quarter in Manchester when you have Shoreditch in London? Why try the home of the balti in Birmingham when the world’s top chefs will cook you a curry in London?
For many Londoners, it makes no sense to leave their inner sanctum but what do you do if you’re not from London? Well, you go there because absolutely nothing and no-one is leaving there to come to you. The rest of us scurry around hopping on trains and catching coaches every day to get a slice of the London life. Seeking opportunities and work because it just doesn’t exist in our little towns (Birmingham is a city by the way, just to clarify).
So many smaller UK cities “lose their talent” because there’s nothing for us here. Even though I stated those seemingly cool facts in the beginning of this post, it means nothing when there is nothing being built from it or done with it that makes you feel like a proud Brummie. So instead, you share the facts and then pack up and head to London because if you want to get into film, design, fashion, finance, business and pretty much every career path you can think of — then you go to London because chances are, it’s all happening in the biggest and best way possible there. If you want networks, want to grow, create corporate and international connections — then you go to London. If you want better pay and more opportunities — then you go to London. Are you starting to see a pattern here?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been tempted to go and to take my start-up with me. I know in my head how I would have moved GirlDreamer (my company) into international spaces already. Who I’d connect with, how I’d do it, how much traction it would gain and how what will take me 5 years here in Brum, could easily be done within the first year in London. So why don’t I just go you ask? Well, because how will I or anyone in my city ever feel like we can achieve anything in the place we call home if we don’t try and build it here before thinking about taking ourselves out of the equation? No-one will ever see the need for wider growth in the UK and spreading some of those HQ’s, opportunities and tourist attractions out if we all make a silent deal with London that we’ll just come to it instead.
It’s something that happens or has the potential to happen in most countries but unlike us, others are doing something about it. Take America for example, you know so much about so many states as a tourist and a local that there’s no need just to go to Washington. Even for countries where the culture isn’t as well know as America like South Korea. I visited my friend there last October and she told me about something they’re doing to avoid this problem potentially rising. The capital is Seoul and within this very densely populated city, so much of the countries business and top attractions reside. Therefore, the government have decided that they should move their base from Seoul to a different city so that it can start to build the reputation, the economy, the businesses and the attraction for not only tourists who want to visit it, but for locals to move to other places around South Korea rather than just Seoul and even the country out a bit. Genius.
I recently had a conversation with my best friend and we always talk about “The London Bubble” as a real coined term and how it literally sucks up everything that makes it to the UK like some sort of huge tornado. Every start-up I know in Brum says the same thing “if I were in London, I would have easily achieved x,y and z goals by now” — heck some feel they’d even be famous or Buzzfeed worthy by now. But if you’re not living and working in London, it doesn’t seem to happen. Why? Because businesses, people and international news and organisations think that anything related to the UK comes from the capital city. Most international companies that have their UK arm are solely based in London, only operate in London, only employ people from London and only work in London but stick the letters ‘UK’ at the end of the company name. Why? If we’re being honest with ourselves, it should just be “(insert company name) London”. That’s a more accurate reflection of what it means.
We would like more businesses, people and the government to invest in us because believe it or not Vans, nearly every kid here wears your shoes. Believe it or not, my company set up the UK’s first women of colour skate crew and we’re based here and could do with one of your skate parks or pop ups. Google, believe it or not, we search everything on you too. YouTube, we live on you. Banks — we all have our money tied up with you. News channels — we all watch you. International cuisines — we all eat you. International companies — we all engage with you and buy your stuff too. What I’m really saying is there is a life outside of London and unless we as a nation address it, we can’t expect too much from the world outside. So my advice and ask of widening and spreading what the UK could potentially offer may be a little premature because there’s much work to be done before that can happen but if we can get the conversation going, that’d be some sort of a start. Right?
Us small timers are getting pretty tired out here. We want things a little more spread out so when we grow up, we feel included in this “UK” wide image the world has of us. Now, not all of our cities are ready for a big influx of tourists so don’t all hop on plane or train just yet because this lack of interest in us has meant we have more to offer locally than nationally or internationally. In a traditional sense anyway as there are not many obvious tourist signs or attractions or points of interest that are blatantly plastered around the city like London or New York but that is what gives us our uniqueness. If you want to see what the UK is really like, go to the cities where the people who were born and bred there live and explore it. We’re generally friendlier than Londoners (sorry London, we all think you could be nicer/are kind of rude) and are more than happy to show those interested what life in the UK is really like from so many different perspectives (depending on where you go and who may show you around).
I work with young people every day who see nothing for themselves in our city. It’s either go to London or leave the UK all together if you want something “more” and if not, then settle for what has always been and just get on with it. The difficulty is, we’re a young city; we are full of dreamers and doers and those with big plans and visions and we are hungry to take those ideas somewhere and make things happen. Therefore, it’s becoming increasingly frustrating to accept the way things are without this burning desire to try and change what we can so that we and the next generation of Brummies (in our case) can grow up in a city that supports us and a country that values us.
We need to burst “The London Bubble.”
P.s, don’t get me wrong, Birmingham and other UK cities have a lot to answer for as to why they’re not doing enough to better their own cities and work with London to make everyone feel a little more content with where they live and not just want to leave. But that’s another blog post — Birmingham, I’m coming for you.