In recent months I’ve been supporting in one way or another the Birmingham Social Inclusion Process. As part of its project, the Social Inclusion Process has a website – Fair Brum – which regularly posts about how the project is developing and moving forward.
A few weeks ago however, I was perplexed – and if honest, annoyed – by post on the website entitled, “The Notting Hill of Birmingham”.
The post focuses on the Balsall Heath area of Birmingham and how in recent years, the area has changed. As the author of the post – Deborah Tillsley – puts it:
“…it still wasn’t somewhere I would immediately consider when looking for somewhere to live…[however, since having] recently visited a project run by ‘Saheli Women’, and spoke to residents of Balsall Heath. My previous misgivings have now changed completely.”
As it goes on, residents described the area as ‘a hidden gem’ and – wait for it – ‘the Notting Hill of Birmingham’. Deborah describes these comments as “two of the really positive descriptions that came from the residents”. But in what way is this positive and what exactly was meant by ‘the Notting Hill of Birmingham’?
For those who don’t know, Notting Hill is an area in the west of London that is likely to be best known outside the capital for its annual carnival and the (hideous) rom-com starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts. Sadly, Balsall Heath neither has a carnival on the scale of Notting Hill nor has it had a film made about the area, at least not one that was penned by Richard Curtis and which sought to capture all those quaint and quintessential English niceities that sell so well across the Atlantic.
Beyond that, Notting Hill is home to the Portebello Road market. Again though, Balsall Heath has little to offer in comparison.
What else might make Balsall Heath ‘the Notting Hill of Birmingham’?
Following the Second World War and the first waves of immigration from the Commonwealth, Notting Hill became home to large numbers of people who arrived from the Caribbean. Shortly after in 1958, the area witnessed the first post-mass migration race riots in Britain. If memory serves me right, Balsall Heath hasn’t seen similar on its streets nor probably would it !
More recently in 2004, the Daily Telegraph coined the phrase ‘the Notting Hill Set’ to refer to a number of emerging young MPs who lived in the area. At the time, both the now Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer – David Cameron and George Osborne respectively – were living in Notting Hill. Being realistic, I would imagine that it is highly unlikely in the contemporary climate that Balsall Heath is home to anyone who might become either Prime Minister or Chancellor in the foreseeable future.
Which leaves one thing, something I’m not sure sits comfortably with the Social Inclusion Process.
“In the 1970s Notting Hill was known as the poor man’s corner of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea”
But as it quickly adds, the area “is now considered to be one of London’s most fashionable and desirable residential addresses”. This is, it adds, because the area has undergone the process of gentrification. For IP Global, gentrification is defined as:
“the influx of the middle class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents…”
To support its observations, IP Global adds that in Notting Hill the average house price currently stands at £916,564, an amount that is higher than the capital average. Over the last 5 years, it informs investors that property prices have “seen capital growth of 62%”.
Congratulatory, IP Global adds that areas such as Notting Hill can still offer ‘alpha’ returns to investors. But to do so it ominously states, investors will “need to acquire [property] at a time when it may still appear to be rundown and not somewhere you would personally want to live”.
So that’s why Balsall Heath is ‘the Notting Hill of Birmingham’, it is an area waiting to be gentrified ! In fact Deborah Tillsley even seems to use the language of IP Global in the way in which she describes the area and suggests how she might want to now live there !!!
Admittedly, I’m sure that such things were far from the thinking of Deborah Tillsley when she penned the post. But if we are looking to promote social inclusion, it is essential we pay attention to the messages we communicate to the people around us, whether inadvertant or otherwise. If we don’t, then it could be easily interpreted – and at times, rightly so – that what we are in fact doing is suggesting that certain areas need ‘changing’ and ‘improving’.
And as we can see from IP Global, we all know what that really means…