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Project Update: On Our Way!

Written by Aksana
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4th March 2022

It’s been a minute!

We’re ecstatic that as a result of our arts programme and our partners (Soho Road BID, National Express West Midlands, and Transport for West Midlands), eleven bus stops along Soho Road are getting upgraded!

It’s more than we originally envisioned because we’re technically making over seven bus stops. So, what does this mean? Well, in the short term, Nilupa has a better “canvas” to work with. In the long term, it means that our Handsworth residents get new, open-facing bus stops. We can wave goodbye to bus stops from 20 years ago, and look forward to a high street that looks brighter and feels safer.

This project has come a long way since our pilot bus stop gallery in August last year. Our first one was a sponge that reflected all the things that were nearby. From the yellow chair outside the furniture shop, to the barber’s scissors across the road, to St Michael’s Church. The bright kaleidoscope of Nilupa’s first design was a taste of not just one bit of Soho Road, but the things to come.

We wanted to have the seven On Our Way bus stop galleries reflect a wider spectrum of lived experiences of Soho Road. We are really lucky that we’ve worked with wonderful people who not only opened their doors (in person and virtual) to talk about how they navigate the area, public transport, and North Birmingham on the whole.

We’ve worked with Soho Road BID, South and City College Birmingham, Holyhead School, Handsworth Library, the BID Services’ Deaf Culture Centre, Handsworth Association of Schools, and Black Heritage Walks Network.

A collage of photographs.

This is a wonderful example of a collage made during one of our workshops.

The process of putting collages together wasn’t just an act of mindfulness, but it invited discussions. The collages that people made during the workshop were an insight into how they see their local area. Through the many conversations that we had over the course of the past few months, these eight groups underlined that:

  • Handsworth does feel like ‘home’ – we even had feedback all the way from Dubai! One of the recurring comments about Soho Road is that it feels like the whole world is on the street.
  • Soho Road has a majority of independent businesses – who not only have helped keep my belly full – but are definitely a big part of what it means to grow up in Handsworth. What would Soho Road look like in years to come?
  • Being a young person going through school now is so different to what it was even five years ago. It’s been challenging for young people, their families, teachers, and school staff with navigating ableism and the digital divide.
  • The definition of what it means to ‘feel safe’ is elastic. Not everyone does, but people do want things to get better. This isn’t just about walking around the area, but also navigating public transport too.
  • In keeping with the tradition of making things happen, a lot of Handsworth residents generously volunteer their time to help keep their communities going. Some of these initiatives are in reaction to austerity measures (e.g. setting up a food bank). More needs to be done to connect organisations with one another so projects can keep on going.
  • On a lighter note, maybe the granny trolley is the iconic object of Soho Road?

Now that we’ve completed our workshops, Nilupa has the fun task of creating the designs. In the meantime, I’ll be looking into ways to shout out about the project. So if you’d like to find out more and help, please get in touch via aksana@chinaplatetheatre.com

Alternatively, keep your eyes peeled for the next few weeks, Soho Road is going to look * chef’s kiss *