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I read Stuart Mayes’ blog with interest as he also searches for studio space…

This week I stepped my own search up a bit, in that I became rather more proactive, and instead of whinging online and looking at websites, I actually made a phone call and made an actual appointment to meet an actual person from Birmingham Council Property Services to actually look at actual spaces!
I felt like the spectres of Kirstie and Phil were exasperatingly berating me and spouting “You can’t expect to find a property just by looking online!”

The focus of my search this week was Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. From where I live, about seven miles out, this is my side of the city. I don’t have to weave my way through too much traffic to get there. On a good day it takes twenty minutes (Dudley on a bad day took more than that, so that’s how I justify the extra time)

It was a good day to look at these places, the sun was shining, the sky was blue!

The search has very specific criteria, some of which are more flexible than others, but include the following:

24 hour access
A decent toilet
Good natural light
Not damp
Around 200 sq ft for less than £200 per month. (This is possible around here, you southerners may gasp in envy if you like!)
Quiet enough to record, but no neighbours likely to be too disturbed if I make noise

It is because of the final item on the list I have crossed off some of the places with artist communities in Digbeth. The JQ seems more conducive to this sort of creative activity. I already know of other musicians working in this area. Also the buildings are very much older than some I have looked at in Digbeth. All of the buildings I saw were Victorian, and with strong solid walls….ish… (See below)

Property number 1:

Ground floor. Much less than the required 200sq ft, but I was told there may be access to a basement space in addition, so I said I’d give it some consideration. It was a square room, about 165 sq ft, with a sink in the corner (extra £25 per annum). Slippery brick stairs to cellar, which was more wet than damp, so totally unusable. The window was into a courtyard, so light restricted for most of the day. Toilet access across the courtyard. Crossed this one off the list.

Property number 2:

Ground floor again. Long thin space, interesting, carpeted, heated, kitchen area, but stinks of damp. I am assured it has been treated and with use the smell would dissipate. I cannot risk it. Fabric and paper do not do well in damp conditions. Another no.

Property number 3:

First floor. Smaller again than required, but the light was good, little separate kitchen area, and a good toilet along the corridor. Needed a coat of paint, all utilities in good working order. Would be perfect for just me, but not for sharing. I can’t afford to go it alone. Not totally dismissed, but a maybe.

Property number 4:

Now here’s where it gets tricky… You know that thing estate agents do, when they show you something you can’t afford, but they know it would be perfect for you? That.
First floor of lovely Victorian corner building, so windows on two sides, the light from these high windows, even though very dirty, was fantastic! It was three adjoining rooms, but 375 sq ft… So too expensive, even with a discount…. The discount was because the electrics and plumbing were well dodgy. There was even a one month rent free incentive to enable the work to be done before moving in. Under the sink that had obvious issues, the flooring had been pulled back to reveal rotting floorboards, the extent of this damage as yet unknown… It was presumed an isolated problem due to the water damage. At this point it didn’t seem necessary to investigate further.
The three rooms had tatty work surface around much of the walls, some is useful, some would need to be removed. A lot of white paint would be needed!
Anyway… It was, despite the damage, pretty much perfect. If I had a couple of thousand to attend to the damage, and a slightly larger income, I’d move in now. I think Dan and I could make this a really amazing place. That’s the danger isn’t it? I could ACTUALLY see us working in it!


But Kirstie and Phil know their stuff. I have learned more in a couple of hours than in a couple of months fannying about on the Internet.
I have discovered that square footage is not as important as I thought, that I would consider a smaller space if all the other criteria were in place. State of the walls is not important, and I am willing to consider work if there is a rent discount involved. I have discovered that I prefer the vibe of the JQ over Digbeth. And the bacon butties are cheaper.

Discussion is required. I need to get out the calculator again. A little bit more well paid work could clinch it. A handyman on tap perhaps….

And if Kirstie and Phil want to bring their mighty property search muscles and negotiating skills into this hunt they’d be very welcome!