Birmingham: City, community and the Commonwealth Games

Councillor Ian Ward, leader of Birmingham City Council, speaks to Government Business about the council's 2022 Commonwealth Games plans, getting active in lockdown and capitalising on culture in Birmingham

GB: The City Council is set to approve £2 million fund to help Birmingham residents feel involved with the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. When staging such a big event, with a global audience, how important is community involvement and support?

IW: This is absolutely crucial. As the President of the Commonwealth Games Federation has said, Birmingham is the Commonwealth City based on our diversity, so it is imperative we do this title the justice and respect it deserves when hosting the Games.

The event has an estimated global audience in excess of one billion viewers, so it is a golden platform for us to present Birmingham on a global stage, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity we have to grasp if we are to reap the full long-term benefits of investment, tourism, regeneration and prosperity that Host City status can bring.

To maximise the chances of success, we need the people of Birmingham to feel involved and able to play a part in celebrating the Games. The atmosphere and welcome that only Brummies can bring is very much an ace up our sleeve – people that have competed in or attended the many major international events we have staged in the past are consistently positive about the city in these regards.

As such, the programmes we are putting together in the run-up to the Games are designed to give people the best chance possible of getting involved, be that through celebratory events in their local area, by getting involved with cultural activities. We want as many local people as possible to attend the 11 days of competition as spectators or volunteers, but they are not the only ways someone can be involved or embrace the Games.

The £2 million you refer to is being spread across the city through our wards, so local people can decide how best to spend it. We’ve also created and funded a £2 million Creative Communities small grants programme that we are delivering in partnership with Birmingham 2022, which will enable our community arts organisations to be part of the Birmingham 2022 Cultural Festival running from March–September 2022, putting our citizens front and centre on the global stage.

At least 100 different arts projects will be taking place right across the city, led by local communities so we want people to get involved and feel a sense of ownership of our city’s story. And there’s still a further £2 million to go – it’s a £6 million fund in total.

We’re also mindful that the city council is responsible for 25 per cent of the Games budget, so the people of Birmingham have a financial stake in these Games and we need to provide a return on that investment at a personal and grassroots level just as much as we do in a long-term strategic way too.

GB: One of the themes against which grants will be available is 'Getting Active'. Given the various lockdowns that have been in place over the last 12 months, in what way will the build up to the Games allow residents to engage in physical activity, more so than normal?

IW: The global pandemic is a rapidly changing situation. At the time of answering this question, we know the NHS is under extreme pressure but the roll-out of the vaccine and improved testing provision means the light really is at the end of tunnel. Therefore we remain confident that as we get closer to the Games and if people continue to do their bit to stop the spread of the virus, the restrictions we have all been living under will be eased, enabling us to explore ways of aligning the Games programme to our aim of getting active.

We cannot lose sight of the fact that there are plenty of ways to stay active at present and there have been throughout lockdown. Parks use has soared and home workouts with the likes of Joe Wicks have been all the rage, so we will readily embrace any approaches that help achieve that outcome dependent on where we are with the pandemic at any given time. At present it is a case of 'watch this space' for specific details.

GB: Another theme as 'Celebrating Culture'. How can the council use the example of neighbouring Coventry, and their City of Culture 2021 title, to maximise the power that culture has in bringing people together?

IW: Coventry 2021 coming immediately before Birmingham 2022 is a fantastic opportunity for both programmes to complement each other.

The Games Partners that make up Birmingham 2022 include DCMS, which is the lead Government department for the City of Culture programme. Coventry is also a city hosting Commonwealth Games sport, so we are not operating in isolation.

Things are being worked on in a way that maximises the potential of both events – and we cannot lose sight of the fact that the Commonwealth Games has its own cultural programme, so arguably, the wider West Midlands will enjoy a two-year celebration that builds on the fantastic work Coventry have already been doing.

GB: A key benefit of hosting an event of this size is often only seen in the years that follow. From a local government perspective, how important is it that local people and businesses can reflect upon the event with pride and point to the positive changes that it brought to Birmingham and the region?

IW: As mentioned in my earlier answer, this is critical. We know that Manchester’s renaissance was supercharged by its hosting of the Games back in 2002, and that is exactly why I long championed a Birmingham bid. The same potential exists in Birmingham and as I have often said, this is about more than 11 days of sport and the true benefits of being Host City will become apparent in the weeks, months and years after the closing ceremony ends on 8 August 2022.

Businesses both large and small are benefitting from Games contracts already, and we and the Birmingham 2022 Organising Committee understand the importance of working with local suppliers where we possibly can.

The global spotlight being shone upon the city will ensure that opportunities open up in future, for the good of the people of this city. Other host cities have had this boost and if we plan and prepare properly, we will get the same benefits.

The Birmingham Games is the first to have a Social Value Charter, and as social value is something we as a city alongside colleagues right across local government have been championing for a while, we’re really excited that the Organising Committee has made this commitment – it’s another way in which we can ensure benefits and opportunities are getting to our residents.

We’re really clear that we want our citizens to reflect on this with pride and positivity, and also to feel that this was something that they connected to and that the city they see on the television and in the media is the one that they recognise.

Our citizens have told us that getting Birmingham’s story out there, and showing the world what we can do is really important to them. Birmingham is  unique, diverse, rapidly-changing place on the cusp of something really special. The world needs to see that.

It requires a lot of hard work and effort, but the progress made over the last three years since being named Host City means we are well-positioned to do so.

GB: The Games are undoubtedly a catalyst for investment in the region. Long-term, how can the investment in Birmingham help regeneration and infrastructure projects?

IW: It isn’t a question of how it can help – it already is.

The eye-catching steelworks at the revamped Alexander Stadium are going up at pace. The project is on budget and on schedule. When complete it will be the stage for the opening and closing ceremonies as well as athletics.

Post-Games it will be the hub of community, health, wellbeing and leisure activity in a regenerated Perry Barr – as well as being the nation’s largest purpose-built athletics venue. This will stand us in good stead to achieve against our aim of attracting further events to the city.

The regeneration of Perry Barr will be most notable via the delivery of 1,400 new homes a mile away from the Stadium. The initial plan was to use this as the Games Village but the impact of Covid-19 means the Games Partnership have moved to an alternative model using the region’s universities and the NEC.

Despite this, the funding for the housing at Perry Barr – which has always sat outside the Games budget as a reflection of the fact it is delivering long-term regeneration – remains in place and we are still delivering much-needed new homes for the people of Birmingham.

A second phase of this regeneration is at an advanced stage too, with outline planning consent for a further 400-500 mainly family schools and construction work on a new secondary school is well underway.

The further positive knock-on effects of this extensive work are jobs and opportunities for our residents. We’ve worked with the contractors delivering the first phase of the regeneration to ensure 400 new jobs for local people, 50 of which are apprenticeships, as well as 1,000 pre-employment training places and 10,500 work experience hours.

Our contractors have also committed to pay the Real Living Wage. Right now 60 per cent of construction partner spend is going to local businesses. It’s not just about building houses, but about helping to build communities that can continue to grow and flourish. Growth is what we need, but it must be inclusive.

The Games were a catalyst for the Perry Barr site coming forward much quicker than if the funding was not made available by Government for the initial use as the Village. There was always a desire to regenerate this area of the city as one of the most deprived in Birmingham. The Games have acted as a catalyst for this. In reality the only change to the delivery of new homes in Perry Barr is that the first tenants will no longer be athletes for the Games. We go straight to this scheme being used by the people of Birmingham.

This regeneration also needs to be supported by related infrastructure. We are improving the A34 which runs through the area, making it easier than ever to walk and cycle. The Perry Barr rail station is being overhauled, a new bus interchange is being delivered and a Sprint bus rapid transit route will serve the area. Combined, this will make Perry Barr one of, if not the most, well-connected district of the entire West Midlands.

As stated before, the Games and the investment coming with it, along with the global platform the event offers for the city, can combine to create a cycle of prosperity, generating further interest and investment in the city and region.

It has happened with other Host Cities and we are well-positioned to achieve similar, if not greater, success.

Read more about the Games here.

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