Rising costs and gentrification have put Birmingham’s historic Jewellery Quarter at risk of losing the trade which made the area famous around the world, businesses and academics are warning.
The area’s jewellery makers and experts from Birmingham City University have said that spiralling rental costs and ‘inappropriate developments’ are making it difficult for the district’s traditional industry to continue trading.
And they are now calling on council bosses to put measures in place to prevent the south Hockley area becoming engulfed by residential accommodation and eroding the unique culture and identity of one of the city’s most historic areas.
Several businesses have been forced to close or relocate in recent years, and now University experts have joined companies making up Birmingham Jewellery Quarter’s Industry Cluster (JQ-IC) in appealing for key decision makers to put the city’s heritage ahead of future developments.
The JQ-IC consists of jewellers in the district whose proximity drives up productivity and helps uphold the area’s global reputation for quality, in a similar way to London’s financial and theatre clusters.
Greg Fattorini, managing director of Thomas Fattorini Ltd, which has been manufacturing in the quarter since 1919, said that if nothing is done to manage what’s happening he’s concerned that it could lead to the death of the Jewellery Quarter as the pre-eminent centre for jewellery and related creative industries in the UK.
“My concern is that the integrity of the business cluster is being undermined by inappropriate property development,” he said. “There is too little understanding of the Jewellery Quarter. There is a business cluster at its heart which is mostly invisible to the eye. We should talk more about this cluster in order that the council understand and value the industries in the Quarter a lot more. It’s slowly becoming more residential with less and less making of things.”
The Jewellery Quarter has been a hub for the manufacture of jewellery and metal goods since the 18th century.
Business owners fear it will follow the same pattern as London’s gentrified Covent Garden which saw the loss of its traditional fruit and vegetables trade and has is now best known as a tourism and shopping hotspot.
Beverley Nielsen, director, institute for design and economic acceleration, IDEA, at Birmingham City University, said: “It’s really important to make the invisible jewellery making, visible. Not only is it our heritage but it employs large numbers of people across around 800 businesses. These function together and are interlinked and mutually supportive, so that if one or some of these businesses fail or disappear the whole industry cluster starts to fall apart, losing its integrity and the very elements that make it competitive, so valuable and so very special.”
The Jewellery Quarter has housed Birmingham School of Jewellery – part of Birmingham City University – since 1890 and continues to produce craftspeople to support the area’s trade.
Fattorini added: “Instead of predating on the Jewellery Quarter, I would like to encourage the developers to focus on other parts of the city which really do need developing. If it keeps on going like this we will need to close our own business as it will become unsustainable.”