Skip navigation

Indymedia UK is a network of individuals, independent and alternative media activists and organisations, offering grassroots, non-corporate, non-commercial coverage of important social and political issues

Restoration of Sparkbrook Cottage Continues Despite Looming Court Case

Jack Writer | 22.08.2006 13:24 | Analysis | Free Spaces | Social Struggles | Birmingham | World

The occupation of the Sparkbrook social centre known as the Cottage of Content is ongoing, yet while court proceedings and legalities are set in place against the occupation, the renovation and revival of the community asset is continuing unabated.

Since the start of the social centre occupation on the 9th of July, the collective who organized the take-over have been issued with various letters from Birmingham city council demanding they vacate the premises. The latest letter sent to the Cottage is a court summons, scheduled for Thursday the 24th of August 2006, at which members of the collective are to defend their actions and the occupation of 147 Kyrwicks Lane.

Despite the legal summons, the Birmingham collective, working with the support and backing of local neighbours and the Sparkbrook Forum are continuing their extensive repairs and improvements to the neglected building.

But restoring a building which has been left to rot for over a year is a lot of work. Regardless, strides have been made in repairs and in the appearance of the building, with the Birmingham collective pooling their skills and resources to make things happen.

For example, since the 9th of July a badly damaged wall has been plastered, the main ground floor room has been repainted, the perimeter fence has been replaced, boards taken down from windows, doors have been secured, the front and back gardens have been tidied and hedges have been trimmed.

The whole building has been cleaned and some of the rooms now have purpose; one has two internet ready computers with more planned, one room is host to a growing library of books, CD's and literature. The main room upstairs is also in the process of being repainted.

The plumbing for the downstairs toilets and wash basins have been repaired, with parts and labour sourced from a Birmingham Local Exchange & Trading scheme (LETS). Derek Day, a plumber who helped with the labour explains “the local exchange and trading scheme allows people to offer skills, labour and parts to people who don't have the sterling to pay for it”

Derek continues “it is difficult to define the scheme as we live in a world of consumer credit and debt. It is not regarded as a financial debt as many such activities would incur; all that is expected is that in future the recipient of the work and parts will sometime in the future give something back to the scheme and those involved”.

“The scheme operates on serving needs whilst generating goodwill”.

Sub groups associated with different aspects of the Cottage, from repairs to outreach, have been organized so future work can be carried out quickly and more efficiently.

In the latest meeting with neighbourhood locals, possible roles for the Cottage in the community were actively discussed, with many suggestions put forward. “The intention first is to secure the Cottage for community ownership and use” stated one attendee of the public meeting help on Tuesday 22nd August.

Another local man from two streets away said that he knows local youths who seem to have no where to go, so play out on the street during the day. He shared his thoughts, in likeness of many others attending, that a centre such as this would provide a great service to people locally.

It was also mentioned by the locals that police hassle and quiz local youths, who don't have anywhere else to be except on the streets. It was agreed in the meeting that such a space as the Cottage of Content would provide various activities for the community and its children, and that workshops and other initiatives would be beneficial.

Such examples include using the computers sourced so far as a media lab and computer workshop, starting a lending service of the mass of books collected for the locals, hosting events and private venues, bike repairing, acoustic nights, cooking and more. The more community participation, the more the list grows.

With Sparkbrook being listed as one of the most deprived wards in England, it is clear that these initiatives would be better sooner rather than later. Regardless of court summons, legalities and a lack of cooperation from the Council, the Cottage of Content social centre collective are pressing on with over due repairs and renovations until it would seem, the end. Whether that means public reinstatement or corporate buyout of the social centre.

An important point was made during the last public and residents meeting, that in the interim period whilst the social centre is operating that local people could get involved and initiate all sorts of activities on a voluntary basis to demonstrably prove to the public and the council that there is an acute need for this as a community resource. Getting involved and initiating events and activities, it was noted, is very easy in a social centre because of the non-hierarchical nature of its collective organisation - anyone can get involved if they support the aims of the social centre!

Jack Writer
- e-mail: