"The Rock, as it is known to all who pass through it is an area of Birmingham that is notorious for its poor housing, high unemployment and multicultural community. It has a soaring crime rate and drugs problem but it also has a vibe that strengthens the community. Living on the Alum Rock Road most of my life I hope I have been able to see through the stereotypes and bad reputation that precedes it. In undertaking a photography project about "The Rock" I hope I have portrayed its strengths, the people that live there. It would have been easy for me to point out the bad bits and tell you horror stories. However in photographing the Chuck Wagon (a local café on The Alum Rock Road) and the infant and junior school, but mainly concentrating on the main road I have discovered that it is an exciting place and its community an asset.”
Toni Hartley, a one time resident of Alum Rock now living in Australia.
Few areas of urban Britain exemplify the dramatic social changes of the last half century as vividly as the Saltley and Alum Rock districts of East Birmingham. The site of the iconic and recently commemorated picket of a coke works during the miners’ dispute of 1972, the Saltley area has been transformed in the last few decades by migration from Ireland, the Caribbean and the Mirpur district of Pakistan. The decline of manufacturing industry and the relocation of most of the long-standing white population define the present socio-economic condition of the locality as a mainly Muslim population, among the most deprived in England, and the setting in recent years for growing concern about crime, drugs, youth unemployment, and a series of terrorism-related arrests.
Yet alongside these challenging circumstances the main Alum Rock Road is a vibrant retail environment attracting visitors from around Britain to leading Asian fashion businesses.
- uses words and images to tell the untold history of Saltley and makes them accessible to local residents and the wider community.
- uses a range of visual, oral and online media to create a physical and online archive to increase public understanding of this much mis-represented area of Birmingham
- involves local people in the creation of images and personal stories conveying the history of a place whose fate is central to contemporary debates about multiculturalism and social cohesion.
The idea for Saltley Stories stemmed from the chance discovery of a postcard from the Connecting Histories project at a meeting of the Friends of Birmingham Archives in 2009. The intriguing image of a group of young children in front of the Continental Groceries store in Saltley prompted further enquiries. The family in the postcard was traced and the shop owner in the doorway still lives in Saltley.
The image was taken by the documentary photographer Nick Hedges who subsequently gave permission for use of his archive of over 300 photographs of Saltley taken for the Community Development Project to be used as part of Saltley Stories.
The photographer/designer Brian Homer of Homer Creative, together with Derek Bishton, both then working in the Sidelines agency, also took images for the Community Development Project and designed the end of project reports published between 1978 and 1979.
The images taken by Nick Hedges, Brian Homer and Derek Bishton are a hitherto largely unpublished resource providing a unique stimulus to the memories of many long-standing Saltley residents and their descendants. Saltley Stories builds on this archive, makes it systematically available to the wider community in physical and digital form, and uses the images as a catalyst to generate fresh oral and image-based archives from a locality significantly under-represented in local and national histories.