Rebuilding the high street - one loaf at a time.
One of the best things about doing Good for Nothing is that we get to meet amazing people who are leading the way in all things innovative in their communities.
As part of our work with the ethical insurers Ecclesiastical, we recently had the good fortune to team up with a crew of doers who are on a mission to breathe new life into their local high street in Stirchley near Birmingham. Stirchley High Street was once a thriving place to shop, work and live. But as with so many high streets over the last 30 years, a lack of love and attention has led to its steady decline...
Not happy with this sad state of affairs, a committed gang of existing businesses and food producers in Birmingham joined forces to rejuvenate the high street and provide a real alternative to the supermarket with their very own community store, bakery and baking/cooking school.
Led by Tom Baker at Loaf Online and the members of the South Birmingham Food Co-op, Stirchley Stores officially launched this weekend. It's great to see that they are now open for business selling affordable, locally produced and environmentally friendly food and getting the local community involved.
As part of our challenge, we went on a little mission to meet the people behind the project, see what had inspired this pioneering move and turn it into this little film to help them drum up interest in the project locally...
Our morning started by popping into say hi to Nancy and Fin - both members of the food co-op and working at Birmingham Bike Foundry - another innovative local social enterprise. They both gave us a real sense that something was brewing on the high street, and left us excited at what was happening and the potential for the store to become a focal point for real change in the community.
Next stop was a few hundred yards up the high street, where we dropped in to say hi to Krishan and his dad who run Stirchley Wines and Spirits - a well respected and loved local off-license. They inspired us with their story of innovation and collaboration and the success of their Beer and Bread concept. Each week they sell special batches of loaves that Tom bakes with different local ales and promote them locally using twitter when they're fresh on the shelf to encourage customers to pop into the store that day. By using the social web more actively, they've been able to tap into and grow a local community of beer and bread lovers who want to support their independent shops and producers.
Final stop of our morning adventure was to Tom's house at the top of the hill. He'd just finished baking a batch of sourdough loaves to sell later that day in the off-license and it was clear to see how he needed more space to bake, and how he could inspire people to learn to bake and cook themselves.
Not only did Tom welcome us in from the rain and make us a great cup of tea but he also shared his perspectives on what can happen when a small group of passionate doers decide they want to make things better where they live. He's done a fantastic job in galvanising support from local businesses and shopkeepers. Coming in from the cold, it was clear that he's got the local crew fired up with tons of purpose and built a real sense of energy around the high street regeneration using bread, baking and cooking as a catalyst. And as a model for change, it feels like they're onto something - a combination of genuine collaboration and innovation focused on growing a community around a new space.
As we left, Tom very kindly gave us one of his fresh loaves which was delicious. As we broke the bread and had our own beer on the way home, we couldn't help but think that this might just be the way to change the high street - one person and loaf at a time.
PS Many thanks to Steve Lawson for the music for the film - he lives just round the corner, and came up trumps with some cracking music to keep the local vibe going.
PPS Image props for photo of the shop on launch day to Fiona Cullinan
PPS We got Tom's bakery link wrong in the film. It should read Loaf Online not Leaf but the original files got corrupted and we unfortunately can't change it. Sorry Tom!