The Jewellery Quarter has had a long and twisting journey since it stopped being the Colmore family’s backyard to New Hall Manor around 1746. Its fortunes, and those of the people living and working here, have waxed and waned in ceaseless tempo with the economic and political forces of the times, just like anywhere else. There have been boom times, international fame, economic depression, broken promises, unfulfilled potential – and more recently a new influx of residents and evident tenacity from the jewellers and allied metalworkers whose livelihoods and reputations have been made in this bit of Birmingham.
What makes the JQ unusual, though hardly unique, is the cheek-by-jowl nature of the people who live here and those who make their living here. This has not always led to harmony, but the establishment of the Jewellery Quarter Development Trust, comprised of JQ business organisations and the JQNF, signals a step forward in bringing together the people of the JQ for the benefit of all who live and work here.
I don’t believe that the JQNF should just hitch a ride on the coat tails of the business elements of the JQDT, providing some ‘local resident validation’ to decisions coming out of that body. I believe that the residents, through the vehicle of the JQNF, have a key role to play in what happens to our bit of Birmingham now and in the near future. Those places that can provide inspiration for what might be achieved – Greenwhich Village in New York (or indeed TriBeCa or a handful of other Manhattan areas) or Notting Hill in London – got to be successful urban areas because of the people who live there. The local authorities, developers and other businesses played important parts, but without the locals nothing would have happened. Or worse, the wrong things might have happened.
Of course, there’s no (or very little) money. That’s not a good thing, but it isn’t necessarily as bad as we might think. There are still funding streams, but they tend to be lots of little trickles, rather than the torrent that used to emanate from regional bodies and councils a few years back. Local authorities are not particularly good at marshalling lots of little funding opportunities, and in any case many of these funds are designed to be utilised by local groups, not mega bureaucracies. Local councils also tend to be better at wide strategic vision than they are at imagining how a small area should grow and develop. There is an historic opportunity here for JQ people to get stuck in and have a real, tangible role in developing the Quarter.
The baton of the JQ’s history started with the Colmore family and was latterly held by the Regeneration Partnership. That baton has now been passed to us; it’s time to decide what we’re going to do with it. The JQDT has its work cut out developing a Business Improvement District and has the support of the JQNF in that endeavour. Meanwhile, what are we, the people who live, and love living, in the JQ, going to do? We could sit on the side-lines moaning about how everybody’s getting it all wrong. Or we could get involved: at the JQNF AGM a couple of weeks ago, 15 people did just that and put themselves forward to become part of the JQNF committee, a number unparalleled since the organisation’s inception in 2006. The JQNF is not big on promoting individuals, so I won’t name them here, but there is a distinct sense of star quality among the diverse talents and personalities that have put themselves forward. This shouldn’t be surprising; it simply reflects the pool of talented people who have chosen to make the JQ their home. Talented they maybe, but like the last committee, they are not omniscient. They will need your help to get a feel for how the people of the JQ wish to see the Quarter’s baton of history carried forward. Get involved through this website; use the link on this page to get on the mailing list; follow @JQNF on Twitter; post your views here. Ask not what the JQ can do for you, but what you can do for the JQ.