Birmingham Marks World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day BirminghamEvents to mark World AIDS Day took a welcome new direction in Birmingham this year. On Monday a free gala concert was held at the Town Hall featuring singers, dancers, comedians, cabaret and theatre from diverse groups across the city. On World Aids Day itself, students from South Birmingham College staged a fashion show in the iconic Selfridges store, which was immediately followed by a red lantern parade.

Despite awful weather, I joined about 100 hardy souls on the parade route from the Bullring up to Birmingham Cathedral, where a short (non-religious) service of remembrance was held.

A “wall of love” was made available for people to light candles and leave messages in rememberance of loved ones lost to HIV/AIDS.

This annual visual act of remembrance is so important to keep up the awareness about HIV and AIDS. As I commented on Lynne Featherstone's excellent blog post, if even just a few of the onlookers went home to google the subject, then it was worthwhile.

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SHOUT – How Was It For You?

SHOUT Festival 2009On Sunday the closing party of the first ever SHOUT Festival took place at Birmingham's Nightingale Club, featuring lesbian comedienne Clare Summerskill and the brilliant talent of singer-songwriter Declan Bennett.

The LGBT cultural festival was the brainchild of the Birmingham LGBT Trust and has been run as a pilot with a view to sustaining a permanent event. I was asked to join the steering committee over a year ago because of my involvement in founding Birmingham Blaze Football Club in 2005 and running the Distraction alternative club night for three years. I was quick to accept as it seemed a great opportunity to help explore an alternative to the commercialised party that Birmingham Pride has become in recent years.

I co-led the sports strand helping to write a successful bid to Sport England, organised a gig night at Eden Bar and advised on the use of social media.

It's been hard work but the year of planning really paid off as the programme of visual arts, performing arts, sports and community events was successfully delivered. Highlights for me included the successful sports taster sessions, the DIVAS night at the Glee Club and Queer Question Time at the Hippodrome.

We'd really like to hear what you thought of the Festival, so please take the time to fill out a short evaluation if you attended one or more of the events.

Roll on SHOUT 2010!

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Frankfurt Market Back in Birmingham

Birmingham German MarketA few weeks ago the German Market arrived in Birmingham - Christmas is officially here! Selling the usual trinkets, toys, gifts, food and drink, the market has already drawn huge numbers and we've only just entered December.

Despite the price rises there seems to be a friendlier, more jovial atmosphere at the market this year, perhaps people getting into the festive spirit after a troubled year?

There had been complaints from local publicans that the market takes trade away. But what happens when the market closes at 9pm? People make their way to the pubs!

The market is open from 10am - 9pm every day until 23rd December.


Jewellery Quarter – November Update

It's been a busy few weeks for me and I've fallen behind with my blogging, so here are some of the things I missed from around the Jewellery Quarter:

Shout Festival projection on to Big Peg
  • As part of Birmingham's SHOUT Festival, 30 LGBT artists from around the world saw their work projected on to The Big Peg (image above!). The Birmingham Queer Open drew entries from around the globe and selected artists represented countries as diverse as Canada, USA, Russia, Israel and Italy.

  • The Jewellery Quarter’s farmers market, 24 Carrots, continues to do well. The Christmas special market takes place on Saturday 5th December.

  • An invite-only stakeholder consultation day for the Jewellery Quarter’s “Golden Square” will take place on Tuesday 15th December.

  • You can view the latest proposals for Albion Square here.

  • The Vaults on Newhall Hill slipped into administration but it is hoped a buyer will be found.

  • Last week the Jewellery Quarter’s themed Christmas lights were switched on and as is now custom, a three-legged Santa Race took place! MyJQ captured the fun on video:


Birmingham Concert Crush – Never Again

I arrived home from Plymouth yesterday to see news reports of the crush injuring 60 people at Millennium Point.

Watching the video coverage above it seems cancellation was the only option. But that's about the only thing the organisers got right on the day. Where was the emergency access? Who on earth didn't realise JLS would attract that many people at a free event? We need a full investigation now.

The Christmas lights switch-on has become increasingly popular year-on-year and adding acts such as JLS and the Sugababes was only going to increase the demand.

Any future free events like this should be wristbanded in advance to protect capacity, keep people safe and prevent such a stupid incident happening again. It's a small price of inconvenience to pay for ensuring people's safety.

Update: This new question on Help Me Investigate will be worth following.

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Oxjam Brum Raises Thousands

Idiosync at Oxjam

This Saturday saw the showpiece event of the Oxjam Brum festival as six venues, 40 bands and hundreds of gig-goers demanded action on climate change until they were blue in the face. We're still in process of counting all the money but early indications show we raised approximately £3,000 for Oxfam. AWESOME!

I looked after the volunteers on the day and was bowled over by their commitment to the cause, most people turned up early and worked far later than they had been asked to. They also persuaded the majority of punters to back the Oxfam "Here and Now" campaign by getting their faces painted blue. GREAT WORK!

I caught some of the acts at Island Bar, including Is I Cinema, Idiosync and Tantrums - all were great and all had big crowds. Northfield-based Tantrums are a band to watch with their hat-tip to Birmingham's musical past. They bought into the day big style, appearing on BBC WM's Janice Long show in the morning and hanging around supporting many of the other bands. If you want to check them out, they're playing the Flapper on 9th November with Youves.

We've had some fantastic feedback since the show but we'd welcome any more - positive or negative. I am hoping the nationwide festival as a whole is as successful as our event was and that Oxfam choose to continue it next year - I'd certainly be up for doing it again!

If you're wondering why we did all of this, please spend a few minutes browsing the Oxfam website which is currently dominated by the Here and Now campaign. Watch some of the video clips and please, sign up to the campaign and donate £1 a week, if you can afford it.


Oxjam Brum – This Saturday!

oxjam-bullThis Saturday finally sees the showpiece event of the Oxjam Brum festival, as six of Birmingham's premier gig venues turn blue to help fight poverty!

I'm proud to have been involved with this year's Oxjam as the Community Participation Coordinator, responsible for involving as many volunteers in the project as possible - through encouraging them to host their own Oxjam events to volunteering on Saturday.

The "blue faces" campaign (demand action on climate change until you're blue in the face) has been a huge success all through the year - and we're hoping to paint over 200 faces this Saturday! We'll also be promoting The Wave which takes place on 5th December, just before the crucial global climate change talks in Copenhagen.

The big names playing include Dinosaur Pile-Up and Tantrums, with a whole bunch of local artists performing alongside them, across the Flapper, Island Bar, Victoria, Basement, Sunflower Lounge and the Prince of Wales.

Tickets are still available online until Friday night and cost JUST £6! A ticket to see just ONE of these acts could cost more than that. It's an absolute steal, so be sure to get yours now! On the day you'll need to head to Basement Bar (next to Greggs at the Victoria Square end of New Street) to exchange your tickets for wristbands. You can also buy wristbands on the day.

See you there!



Queer Question Time Announced

Peter Tatchell and controversial UKIP MEP Nikki Sinclaire are two of the panellists invited to participate in an LGBT discussion event as part of the SHOUT festival in Birmingham.

Queer Question Time takes place on Wednesday 11 November at the Patrick Centre, part of the Hippodrome Theatre complex in Birmingham.

All eyes will be on Nikki Sinclaire who was arrested the last time this event took place, prior to the 2005 general election. Her outburst during her election at this May’s Euro count, accusing all members of the “Lib-Lab-Con” of being fascists (and then cheered off by the BNP), angered many activists in the LGBT community, so many are expecting another fiery evening.

Other invited guests include Birmingham city councillors Iain Bowen (Lib Dem), Gareth Compton (Con), with the Labour candidate yet to be announced.

200 tickets are available and these are expected to sell out fast. You can buy yours now for just £5 by clicking here.

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Bloc Party Play New Academy

Last night I paid my first visit to the relocated Birmingham 02 Academy and thoroughly enjoyed the gig and the venue.

The old Dome makes a wonderful new home. The main room is very similar to the old Academy venue with a large floor and upstairs balcony, but there are improvements including numerous bars placed around the room, rather than in one area.

As for Bloc Party - a huge improvement over the last time I saw them. Whether it was the music or the venue I don’t know, but they created one heck of an atmosphere, one you’d expect to find at a rave rather than a gig! Hopefully the two photos snapped on the iPhone capture some of the atmosphere…

I’m looking forward to enjoying many more gigs at the new venue.


Launch of Cardinal Newman Project

Last week I attended the launch of the Cardinal Newman Project at the Norman Power Centre in Ladywood. The project seeks to investigate the impact of Cardinal Newman and his work on the Ladywood area of Birmingham. It also aims to promote intergenerational learning. As well as obtaining information from elderly residents of Ladywood using techniques such as reminiscence, the children from the Oratory Primary School will be filming the various events and visits to produce a DVD of the project.

I was honoured to meet Father Sebastian and Father Anton from the Birmingham Oratory. Despite being openly secular in my beliefs, both were keen to hear about my involvement in the project and in particular my views on the area. I also met several parishioners of the Oratory and residents and management of the Norman Power Centre.

As part of the project steering group I have set up a simple website for the project to promote the work and events that are taking place. The site should make it easy for members of the steering group to give updates and for residents to contribute.

There was a lot of excitement about the potential visit to Birmingham of Pope Benedict XVI in 2010. If confirmed, the visit will bring a whole new meaning to the project and hopefully result in many more people benefiting from the project's work.