Balsall Heath 


Right, are a short selection of youtube videos that show some of the very different sides to Balsall Heath.


Videos 1 & 2. Streetwatch Footage (early 1990s) 

Video 3. David Cameron in Balsall Heath (2007)

Video 4. Cleanascene (2013)

Video 5. Birmingham Jaloos (2012)

Video 6. Balsall Heath Neighbourhood Plan (2012)


For historical images of Balsall Heath, please see the excellent Digital Balsall Heath website which captures life in Balsall Heath over the last 100 years as an online archive.  


The text below is taken from Balsall Heath Forum, with links inserted where appropriate. 

 

Balsall Heath  


Balsall Heath is an inner city neighbourhood between Highgate and Moseley centred around the A435, two miles south of Birmingham City Centre. It was once infamous as a red light neighbourhood with an estimated £10m a year sex industry – where pimps and dealers traded openly and kerb-crawlers pestered local women.  


Balsall Heath was a ‘respectable’ working-class suburb of Birmingham until the 1950s. Prostitution and drug dealing became increasingly common after that time and property values fell. The City Council demolished a lot of houses and much of the established community moved away. By the 1970s the area was notorious for street robberies and drug dealing. Prostitutes touted for trade from the windows of houses in the notorious Cheddar Road area. By 1980, dozens of pimps were active in the area. At the same time, the neighbourhood became home to a succession of immigrant communities including newcomers from the West Indies, the Indian subcontinent and from Africa. Low rents also attracted a sizeable, but transitory, student population.


Schools in the area were generally poor, the environment was neglected and there were problems with crime and anti-social behaviour. Despite slum clearance, many of Balsall Heath’s remaining homes were in a dilapidated condition – some still lacking basic sanitary conveniences. The Council considered demolishing these properties but chose to refurbish them as part of an Urban Renewal scheme. A series of area designations led to significant investment in property and features like boundary walls, improved pavements and street trees. Even so, prostitution persisted. In September 1992, a report was published considering the formation of a ‘zone of tolerance’ towards prostitution in Balsall Heath.



In 1994, local residents began to organise ‘Streetwatch’ patrols aimed at forcing prostitutes and street criminals out of the area. At the height of the campaign, there were 500 people on the streets every night, armed with notebooks to take down the numberplates of kerb-crawlers and posters which warned, ‘Your wife will get to hear.’ Supported by many, rejected by some as vigilantes (see journalist Nick Cohen’s April 2000 article in the New Statesman), Streetwatch proved that local volunteers working with statutory bodies could solve problems the agencies on their own were not able to deal with. It was a boost to local people who had been campaigning for years for a better Balsall Heath. The roots of Balsall Heath’s revival go back at least 25 years. In the early 1980s – at the same time as the Council began its Urban Renewal programme in the neighbourhood – a small group of residents formed a ‘Building a Better Balsall Heath’ campaign. They included representatives from the mosque, Anglican and Methodist churches, and voluntary organisations. They were joined by trade unionists and half a dozen residents. Together, they made progress in making links with the police and the council. They founded a summer carnival and a community newspaper – the Balsall Heathan.


The Better Balsall Heath campaigners decided to set up Balsall Heath Neighbourhood Forum as a non-profit company. In 1992, the first elections to the Forum’s executive were held. There was a growing sense that local services should serve local people and not the other way around. The Forum launched a four-year development plan. It set out what they would do – and the part local services could play – to make Balsall Heath a place where people wanted to stay to work and live.


Today, more than 50 resident, faith and voluntary organisations in the area are affiliated to the Forum. The Forum has hosted a wide range of community activities that have been developed and initiated by the local community including environmental projects, alley-gating, street cleaning, social welfare projects, neighbourhood management and training and employment for local people. In 1992, Balsall Heath Forum had no employees. All the efforts of the Forum were voluntary. But, so much needed to be done – rubbish and graffiti moved, crime reduced, more people involved and supported – that it was decided to raise the funds to recruit and manage staff.  Today, the voluntary elected committee employs a team of staff to deliver neighbourhood services. Local public service providers help to fund this team. Beyond the staff team is a network of local volunteers who act as ‘street stewards’. Much of the work of the Forum remains powered by volunteers and the Forum is led by volunteer trustees.


In 2013, Balsall Heath is the only place in the country that is a pilot for both neighbourhood planning and neighbourhood budgeting. For more information on this, please see the neighbourhood planning section of the website. The resources page also includes a series of links related to Balsall Heath.

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