Lyn Roberts’ front room once a month was the premises, and about the only similarity to today was the dedication of the group!
Lyn’s group, however, had visions – to rent premises, initially to house the recycling project, and later the Home Insulation Project. When the opportunity arose, midnight oil was burned, to try and make it a reality. It failed! But soon after, an old warehouse became available – dirty, disused and coming towards the end of a 99-year lease – it was nevertheless an alternative proposition.
Foe moves in – needs
The lease was transferred, and 1st April 1977 was the beginning of what you see now. A few weeks of concentrated hard work by volunteers made it habitable (working weekends continued for some years), and the Birmingham Friends of the Earth Warehouse was born.
The life of the Warehouse has gone in three fairly distinct phases – from 1977 to the mid-80s, from then until 1991, and the last 16 years.
FoE local groups in the late 70s/early 80s were groups of very practical activists. Campaigners, yes, but leading by practical example. In the case of Birmingham, the main jobs included collecting paper for recycling and taking teams of workers out insulating homes.
Over the years, we provided cycle parking for city shoppers, and started a wholesale business delivering wholefoods to local shops, and a retail business selling (and delivering) recycled paper. All of this was under the Birmingham FoE umbrella. No café then – but a canteen for the workers. Education work was 2-pronged; an old double-decker bus to visit schools, etc., and publication of environmental information packs.
The end of the lease on the Warehouse loomed, and a possible option to buy. One of the few good things to come out of the demise of the old West Midlands County Council was some residual money. We managed to nab some of it; and that, together with supporters’ loans and donations, did the trick. Since 1986, we have owned the Freehold.
On went the campaigns – energy, Rainforests, Pesticides, Water and Air Pollution, Transport, Global Warming (!) – and our cycle campaign, now ably run by the independent 'Pushbikes'. We produced the first Birmingham Green Guide.
The late 80s saw some projects close, funding becoming difficult; whilst others were taken over by workers as their own independent businesses.
During all these years, management of Birmingham FoE (Campaigns, Warehouse, etc.) remained largely unchanged -–a committee of (dedicated!) volunteers, who increasingly were too busy to run their own projects/.businesses, as well as run the Warehouse.
So 1991 saw a major change. Specialist voluntary sector consultants were engaged, to tell us what to do. They did! Since 1991, we have had a management structure which has served us well, and have employed a manager to do the day-to-day running of the Warehouse. We have more formal agreements with tenants, currently include CND, Push Bikes, Friends of the Earth (England Wales and Northern Ireland), Black Environment Network, Localise West Midlands, BrumLets, One Earth Shop, Warehouse Cafe, Sprocket Cycles and Birmingham Trades Council. We have been able to employ a campaigner. Sub-committees for the Warehouse and for Campaigns, now focus on their respective areas, with the Management Committee having a more strategic role. Major campaigns have seen us failing to stop the Birmingham Northern Relief Road, but helping to stop the Western Orbital, and finally getting the message across about Global Warming (Too late?).
The Warehouse sub-committee concentrated on improvements to the fabric of the building, and finally installed solar power in 2005.
In this article, we have only touched on the history of the Warehouse. It is impossible to do justice to the hundreds of people, who over the last thirty years, have helped create what you see today. We’ve ignored people like Pete Raine, Val Stevens, Richard Trengrouse, Dave Sandall, Paul Stephenson, Elaine Gilligan, Paul Roberts, Graham Lennard, Tom Pettitt, Beverly Cumblidge; a range of placements from Britain, Europe and beyond, and many others – including the current dedicated gang, but not forgetting Moseley the cat!
[If you can fill in some gaps, or have memories or anecdotes of the Warehouse, please write to us with your snippets, and we’ll put them in a future Action Briefing.]