Gaganpreet Kaur Basra, Birmingham Stories' Hub Manager
My name is Gaganpreet Kaur Basra and this is My Birmingham Story.
I'm 38 years old and I grew up in West Bromwich, just outside of the city. I work as a Hub Manager for the National Literacy Trust in the Birmingham Stories hub. It's a great role which really gets me exploring across the city.
My first memories of Birmingham have to be from the occasional shopping trips as a very young child, with my parents of course. These would include a trip to C&A Stores, Rackham’s, or House of Fraser as we know it today, British Home Stores, WH Smith and of course a cheeky Pick N' Mix from Woolworth's. This would then be followed by a lovely meal at the noisy Pavilions Loft food court.
The Bullring didn't exist in the way that it does today, we didn't have the shopping centre. But the best time to go shopping was definitely at Christmas because there was a lovely festive feel to the city. I remember being inspired by the great women that worked behind the counters and were in the food court restaurants. I remember thinking I wanted to be just like them when I grew up. Set myself very high aspirations.
I remember exploring, the excitement of exploring all of the floors at the old central library and getting lost in books whilst struggling to choose six to take home for the month. I'd often race my siblings to find the best books for me. The library was a very quiet place back then and if you did make any noise you often got shushed by the librarians. I can still picture the bustling Soho Road full of rows of shops with brightly coloured displays and the blaring music from the speakers as you drove past. We often drove past after a visit to the Gurdwara.
I went on to then study at Aston University for what were some of the best years of my life, and I made so many beautiful memories that I still cherish to this day. I'd often go in the summer months and sit on the side of the canal with my friends and we'd watch the canal boats go past whilst doing our assignments or just sitting to chatter or lase around for the afternoon.
They really were some great times. And that is My Birmingham Story.
Mark Billingham, Local Author
Hello! My name is Mark Billingham and this is My Birmingham Story. I’m 59 years of age and I write crime novels for a living. My story is essentially a story of how the two biggest passions in my life came about. My Birmingham Story is the story of me growing up because I was born and I grew up in Birmingham, for most of the time in Moseley.
I didn’t grow up in a house that was full of books, but every week my mum would take me to a local library in Kings Heath and we’d take books out and that was a trip that I’d just look forward to every single week, and I just read whenever I could and whatever I could. I’d read at school obviously. Of course you have to read stuff at school, but that’s stuff they make you read at school. These were books I was finding for myself and then when I had the chance to save up money and go and buy books I would do that.
So books became enormously important to me and obviously without books, without being a reader I would have never become a writer because one thing is not possible without the other. So without that library, without those trips every week up to Kings Heath I wouldn’t be doing this for a living, I wouldn’t be now telling stories for a living.
My other abiding passion for most of my life has been for music and that came a little bit later because myself and my two mates Dave and Simon, mates from school, every Saturday without fail from the age of about 14 onwards, 14 to 18 I think, we would get on the bus and go into town and spend the entire day wandering around the towns record shops and there were a lot of record shops in Birmingham city centre back then.
There were big chains like Virgin, where you could go in and you could listen to the records you could just go “oh can I put this on?” and you’d be able to sit and listen to it. And there was a small independent record shops that I absolutely loved called Cyclops which was down an alleyway and I remember, I remember sleeping out overnight in that alleyway because it was also the shop where you could buy tickets for concerts and I remember lying there with mates overnight in our sleeping bags so we could be the first in line to buy tickets the next morning. And there was a fabulous, fabulous little record shop called Reddington’s Rare Records that sold second hand records, you could sell the records you didn’t want and buy new ones and we would spend hours every Saturday just browsing through that shop and through all the other shops trying to get the records we wanted.
So for me my most abiding memories of growing up in Birmingham and there are many, it’s home after, all are those two things, books and music. Music still my abiding passion, I like to play it, I like to listen to it, and reading, without which I wouldn’t be able to tell stories for a living today.
And that’s My Birmingham Story.
Jess Philips, Local MP
Hi I’m Jess Philips and I grew up in Birmingham, I grew up in Kings Heath in the south of Birmingham. I’m 39, nearly 40, which I’m a bit sad about and now I’m the Member of Parliament for Birmingham Yardley. Birmingham Yardley is where all of my family come from and where we all hail from.
When I was out knocking doors, before I was elected, I was going from door to door in the constituency I now represent and I knocked on the door of a woman and I said to her “Hiya I’m Jess Philips” and she said “I know who you are, you’re Jessie’s Jess,” and then she told me a story about how, when she was much younger, 50 years ago, she had been giving birth in her house and my nanny who was also called Jess, Jessie, had come over from over the road to help her. This was before the days where we had mobile phones and could just instantly get access, so my nan had gone to help her. And this woman in that moment, she remembered my nan. Because her baby sadly didn’t make it like so many back in those days and that my nanny who was there with her and looked after her, just her neighbour helping out.
And that is my Birmingham story because that is the story that tells me that it doesn’t matter when you came to this city, whether you grew up here, whether your family all come from here, I will be able to find a connection in the city of Birmingham between me and your family somehow or another, because whist we are a city of a million people, in one way or another, in this place we are all connected. And that is my Birmingham story.
George Garrett, Warwickshire County Cricketer
My names George Garrett I’m 20 years old and this is my Birmingham story.
So originally I’m from down south in a place called Harpington about 30 miles north of London, however now I’d like to call myself an adopted Brummie, having studied at the University of Birmingham for two years going into my final year now.
Also, since the age of 13 I’ve been travelling here to Edgbaston to play cricket for Warwickshire, making long journeys on the train and getting a few cabs and Ubers over to Edgbaston so I know this part of Birmingham pretty well. Now I’m at the University of Birmingham in my spare time I really enjoy going into the city centre, trying out all of the local independent shops. Obviously now it’s a difficult time so I’m looking forward to going back into the city centre when the time is right.
Started here when I was 13 and amazingly I remember watching my first game under lights here it was a T-20 game and then roll on seven years I managed to fulfil my dream of playing for Warwickshire and even managing to get the likes of Babar Azam out which is an amazing feeling and something I never thought I’d be able to do.
I now study history at the University of Birmingham really enjoy that. I love being in Birmingham especially a lot of new buildings also a lot if history, places like Digbeth, it’s just a great city to be in. Obviously the commonwealth games are coming up soon so it’s, it’s one of the places to be if you ask me. And that’s my Birmingham story.
Marie Kelly, Warwickshire County Cricketer
Hi my names Marie, I’m 24 and I’m a cricketer based at Warwickshire Country Cricket Club and this is my Birmingham story.
So I’m actually based in sort of Shirley, Solihull so just outside of the Birmingham border. My first experience of going into the city centre was when my mum and dads friend actually took me without them knowing and took me into the Aston Villa shop and I remember I had such a good experience that day. Obviously as a little girl the Aston Villa shop felt huge, I loved all the kit and I came away with some, and I wore it home, which was much to my mum and dads horror as they’re massive Blues fans as my grandad actually plated for blues during the war so, I reckon I’ve disappointed them a little bit, as I’ve supported Aston Villa ever since which could be, could be a bit of an argument.
Then aside from kind of football, Birmingham, for me over the years has always been kind of a great opportunity to meet my friends that aren’t necessarily based in Birmingham so within the cricket circle I’ve got quite a few friends that aren’t necessarily based in the midlands but are kind of spread out around the country so Birmingham has kind of provided us a place where they can travel pretty easily and come and meet me in the city centre and we spend the day kind of shopping, or going for food, might have even had a night out along the way as well.
So yeah, I guess That’s what kind of, Birmingham means to me and I think it’s quite reflective of Birmingham in general its very diverse it’s got loads of different cultures that kind of come together and it’s a fantastic location for people to kind of meet and experience what the city has to offer. So yeah, that’s me, and that’s my Birmingham story.
Rob Yates and Ethan Brookes, Warwickshire County Cricketers
Hi guys! My name’s Rob, I’m 20 years old and I am a batsman for Warwickshire Country Cricket Club.
Hi I’m Ethan Brookes, I’m 19 and I’m an all-rounder. Thanks for sending through your questions we’ll answer them now.
Ethan what’s your first memory of Birmingham?
I think my first memory of Birmingham would probably have to be when I went to the Bullring with my grandad and we always used to, after visiting the bullring we always used to visit the fishmongers, and I just remember as a little kid waking through there the sights that you’d see and the smell of the place was off putting I’d put it that way.
A bit like your changing spot that isn’t it!
Mine is probably when I was about two or three, I mean, it’s a vague memory but I was with my mum, it was a rainy day out to the Sea Life centre in the middle of town. Since then, similar to yourself, lots of trips to the Bullring, occasional night out, and a huge memory which will stick with me for life will probably be my experience of the University of Birmingham, I mean, most people that go to university don’t forget that in a hurry.
So, what’s your first thing you hear when you hear about Birmingham?
When I think about Birmingham, probably the university again, because currently, that is what I think about when I hear about Birmingham. Edgbaston cricket ground as well. I spend a lot of time here and that’s a huge part of Birmingham for myself, and also Aston Villa biggest club in the inner city so it kind of springs to mind straight away really.
That’s your opinion that isn’t it
Mine would have to be peaky blinders just because obviously its set in Digbeth, and the famous put The Garrison is near one of the football grounds.
What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t a cricketer?
I’d like to think I’d use my English language degree to some extent and potentially go down a path in journalism. Who knows though? That would be my initial direction to go if I wasn’t already playing cricket.
Mine would also be, probably, university routes, trying to study sport science or something along them lines. As a youngster I think everyone has a dream of playing sport or being a policeman or something like that. I just remember loving action movies and action documentaries. I always wanted to be a police officer when I was younger, but I think I’ve grown out of that stage now.
So, who inspired you to get into cricket?
Definitely my dad, he’s got brothers that used to play cricket at Olton and West Warwicks. So I went down, down to the ground every Saturday with both my brothers, older brothers, Just used to be in the nets all day, bowling, batting, footballs, rugby balls, anything, everything was played there and I’d been doing that since I was about six. So I’ve just over the years kept doing that and obviously got here now where I am.
I’m probably similar in terms that my dad was heavily involved. Cricket wasn’t his main sport but he enjoys cricket a lot. My grandad as well over on my mums side, a Yorkshire man, a Yorkshire family on that side really, you kind of have to play cricket and since playing it in the garden with my dad and grandad, about two or three I then joined Mosley cricket club when I was eight and I’ve always loved the game and continue to do so really.
Finally, the most important question, what’s your favourite book?
Favourite book, I know you said you like Stormbreaker from the Alex Ryder series. I remember when I was about ten or 11 reading Eagle Strike which is one of the sixth or seventh in that series, I really enjoyed that. Can’t really remember what happened in it because it was so long ago. Currently I’m reading The Book Thief, I’ve heard it’s quite good, had a few recommendations, I’m about 150 pages in so, yeah so far I’m enjoying it.
Out of how many?
I think it’s about 400, 500, - long way to go – yeah a long way.
You stole my thunder there mine, mine’s Alex Ryder Stormbreaker. That was just a classic when I was 13, 14 just used to get in bed, do some bedtime reading so I finished all of them series.
Thank you for your questions. That is both of our Birmingham story.
Benjamin Zephaniah, Local poet, novelist, musician and actor
Hello! My name is Benjamin Zephaniah. I’m a poet, novelist, musician, actor and my mum says I’m a naughty boy, and my mum is always right.
But, I’ve got to tell you something. I was born and bred in Brum. Yeah I love to say that, Born and bred in Brum, it’s a bit like a poem yeah. I love my city. I loved growing up in my city and I remember when I first went to school how I loved school but I struggled to read and write and it was very frustrating.
All the kids were getting on so well and I just couldn’t keep up with them. In those days when you struggled to read and write they called you dunce they called you stupid. Sometimes teachers would tell me to go and stand in the corner of the classroom and put my hands on my head. It was terrible.
Then I went to secondary school. It didn’t get much better. In secondary school there were these clever kids and then there were these other kids that weren’t so clever. I started to hang out with the kids that weren’t so clever and we started to get in trouble. Then we got excluded from school. We used to call it expelled. Just left on the streets to do nothing and so we started to get in trouble.
I always loved doing poetry, I started doing poetry when I was five years old my mum said, as soon as I started using words I was using poetry. But when I started to get into trouble I could see, I had to change my life around. One day I just stopped and went, I don’t wanna do this anymore. I wanna do good things. I want to do things with poetry. And I started to perform my poetry. Wrote my first book. They called me a writer and I thought ooh I’m not really a writer.
So I went to adult education classes and in one of those adult education classes they told me I was dyslexic. I’d never heard the word before, it was such a strange word. Didn’t know what it meant. So the teacher told me what it meant and as soon as she told me what it meant I said “Yes, that’s me!”
I’m still dyslexic, but now I’m able to read and write. I do find reading difficult. Sometimes it’s a struggle. I write books and I still find reading books difficult. Isn’t that strange. The thing is you see, I don’t let it stop me from having ideas. There’s some great people in the world who are dyslexic. Some great minds, some great thinkers, some great inventors, some great architects who are dyslexic. So, I don’t let it stop me from having ideas and because I know there are some great ideas in books I don’t let it stop me from reading books.
Yeah I may take a bit longer, it can be hard work, but I know that reading is a great thing. Sometimes I travel by bicycle, sometimes I travel by car, sometimes I travel by car, I’ve travelled by boat, I’ve even travelled by aeroplane, but the best way to travel is by book. You can go anywhere you like. If there’s a destination you want to go to and you can’t see it, create it, write it, tell your story.
I’m Benjamin Zephaniah. You are wonderful. Bye.
The Very Reverend Matt Thompson, The Dean of Birmingham
My name is Matt Thompson and this is my Birmingham story. I’m 52 years old and I grew up in Pelsall near Walsall in the West Midlands and I’m now the Dean of St Philips Cathedral here in Birmingham, and all my life long I have always loved books. When I was a kid, one of my highlights of any year was to visit Hudsons bookshop. My brother and I used to catch the 158 bus into Birmingham during the school holidays. It used to take the best part of an hour to get there as the bus wound itself around Barr Beacon to get into the city centre.
Back in the 1970s and the early 80s Birmingham was still a smoggy, smoky place, but Hudsons always seemed like a palace to me! All the way there, we would make a wish list of the books that we wished to buy, storybooks, novels and lots of history. We both loved the Horatio Hornblower sea stories by C S Forester.
To a small boy Hudsons seemed huge. It spanned between New Street and Stephenson Street and on both sides of Burlington arcade. I remember the books were just everywhere, piled high in all directions. Even now I can feel the raw excitement and how fast my heart used to beat as we opened the front door and headed off to see what treasures were waiting to be found. And on the long journey home with our bags filled with new books, we would compare our purchases and plan our next book buying expedition in the summer or after Christmas. Already we could hardly wait. And that, is my Birmingham story.
The Right Reverend Anne Hollinghurst, The Bishop of Aston
My name is Anne Hollinghurst and this is my Birmingham story. I’m 57 and I’m the Bishop of Aston. That’s my title, I don’t just work in Aston I work alongside my colleague the Bishop of Birmingham and right across what we call the Church of England diocese of Birmingham.
This covers not just the city but surrounding region as well. There are around 195 churches and some newer churches serving every community across our city and region, so I support these and the ministry of the clergy and others who lead locally.
I’ve been Bishop of Aston since 2015 and that’s where my story with Birmingham really begins, with the announcement of my appointment as one of the first female bishops within the Church of England and as the local papers here put it here at the time “Brum gets its first woman Bishop.”
I remember that it all felt quite overwhelming. I never expected to become a Bishop. In fact when I first felt that God was calling me into ministry women couldn’t be priests at that time. So I guess my sense of call has always been one of a call to serve in whatever way that worked out. But I’ve learned that, you know God is a God of surprises and following Jesus is a great adventure in which you can find yourself doing thing you never thought you could or would do.
I was born in Liverpool and I grew up in the North West. My life in ministry then took me to several different cities. As I did quite a bit of travelling my first relationship with Birmingham centered around New Street Station or driving over Spaghetti Junction on the motorway. I remember I used to look out at the city stretching as far as the eye cans see and just wondering what sort of city Birmingham would be like to live in. Well when my appointment was announced people who knew Birmingham said to me you’ll find people really friendly and welcoming and you know, that’s been my experience form the start really.
All cities have their challenges, but I do believe that Birmingham has something special going for it. I love the diversity we have here. How different faiths, cultures and communities live side by side and how there is so often real friendship and relationship.
I’ll always remember my first experience of a Birmingham welcome at St Philips Anglican Cathedral where a special service of welcome was held. When I got there the cathedral was packed with well-wishers, but the thing I remember the most was a song that was performed by some children from Hillstone Primary School. 2015 was the year that the cathedral celebrated its 300 anniversary as a place of worship and connection at the heart of the city and the young people sang a special anniversary year song. They had such energy and joy and the song was called Believe in Birmingham.
Well I very quickly learned to believe in and to love Birmingham and as the song said, it’s the place to be. I still believe in Birmingham, I believe in what we as communities we can build together here, especially as we emerge from the pandemic, and I believe in the surprising things that god can do in every person’s life. So, that’s my Birmingham story.
Rachael Wong, Local Author
Hi my name is Rachael and this is my Birmingham story.
I’ve lived in Birmingham for 15 years. Before that I lived in the north, the south, the east and the west in that order. My first impressions of Birmingham were a really dynamic, diverse and vibrant city and I still feel that way now. I like the people too. They have a really strong sense of family and community and they don’t take themselves too seriously.
It’s that sense of family and community that brings me to Edgbaston Cricket stadium today. I spend more time here than anywhere else in Birmingham. Edgbaston Cricket Ground is known the world over, and yet if you walk around the ground on a match day you’re always going to bump into somebody you know to have a chat and a laugh. It’s at the same time both very international and also local and familiar.
When my first children’s book was published in 2015 we did the book launch here at Edgbaston. It was a lovely July evening and the Birmingham Bears were playing Derbyshire in a T-20 match. The character in the book, the main character is called Morvidus. He was the Ancient Lord of Warwickshire and he thought the giant in the forest and inspired the legend of The Bear and the Ragged Staff which is on the Warwickshire shirt today.
My actor friend Chris dressed in a full suit of armour played the role of Morvidus and formed part of the guard of honour as the payers walked out onto the pitch. Legend has it that the Birmingham Bears opening batsman, a very famous cricketer called Brendon McCullum was so inspired by Morvidus that his bat took on special powers. He went on to score 158 runs not out of 64 balls. It was an amazing evening, ball after ball reined into the stands, the crowd cheered, and as the sunset over the Birmingham skyline we all realised we’d seen something very, very special.
So that’s my Birmingham Story. I hope you’ll join us here at Edgbaston Cricket Ground in the summer. There’ll be two new teams, the Central Sparks and Birmingham Phoenix, setting out their own journeys, making their own stories. With some brilliant Birmingham cricketers such as Moeen Ali, Amy Jones and Chris Woakes.
And if you see me walking around the ground I hope you come and tell me your Birmingham story. I would really love to hear it.