Immy Kaur, a proud Brummie Sikh, had no idea of the impact of the brain drain on her home city – until she came back to it. She had left in 2004 to go to university in Cardiff before moving to London to work in international development. Kaur came home soon after, then only one of a handful from her school year still living in the city. “At that time, you were raised to believe Birmingham was a bit shit and you were embarrassed to be from there,” she says, “but I wanted to explore what it would look like to build something in my own city.”
And so she got stuck in. It’s difficult to overestimate Kaur’s energy and ambition: Impact Hub, which she co-founded, is part futurist thinkspace and part community centre. The idea was to create a place where entrepreneurs, artists, urban designers, scientists and activists would work together to make Birmingham a more equal and happier place to live. The reality is testament to the power of that civic spirit: #radicalchildcare and creative resistance, for instance, are actively improving the lives of locals, one by redesigning the support system for working families, the other by giving citizens a voice.
“We brought together people from a wide range of backgrounds who care about social justice,” says Kaur, “and we have been experimenting. It was never about co-working – we’re not a corporate space – this is about the town hall for the 21st century.”
Perhaps the most impressive element of Impact’s Mission Birmingham is DemoDev, the plan for “more inclusive, democratic and citizen-centred housing across the city” that has seen Impact Hub’s members physically designing and building new homes. Kaur is casually, brilliantly, unfazed.
“We are now in conversation about building really high-quality, large-scale citizen housing developments, working with WikiHouse on 3,000 homes’ worth of land owned by the council,” she explains. If the idea of open-source house-building where homes for everyone can literally be built by everyone seems mind-boggling to most, Kaur takes it in her stride.
“Why can’t everyone have beautiful things? Things that they can be proud of? We have really high-quality design and our building is open to everyone and really well looked after.” Kaur won’t accept a culture of low aspiration. “There are loads of things like [Impact Hub] in London but we want to make sure it’s not just for those who can afford it.”