Words & images by Ed King
Businesses in Central Square are enjoying a boom in passing trade as the old shopping centre is “transformed” for the Little Amal event on Thursday 28 October.
As preparations continue for the one day carnival later this week, Central Square has seen a “significant spike” in trade as a team of local artists, event organisers, and cleaning companies give a facelift to the dilapidated shopping centre.
Little Amal is a 12ft ‘living puppet’ which has been on a worldwide ‘walk’ to raise awareness about the plight of refugee children – coming to Erdington at the end of her 8,000km journey from the Syria/Turkey border.
Local arts charity Active Arts is leading Erdington’s Little Amal event on behalf of Birmingham City Council and Birmingham 2022 Festival.
“When they (Active Arts) came down on Saturday it was driving more people down,” told Michelle Haynes, manager of the Global Educational Trust Charity Shop.
“As soon as they were putting things in the window people were coming to the counter and asking about prices.
“Last week was really slow, it was horrendous, but on Saturday, because everything was going on in the square, you’ve got the dancers and everything, it was drawing people down.”
“Thursday should bring even more people down; I really do hope so. We get people down here, but they don’t come to the back of the centre, they get halfway down and turn back.
“We put signs up all the way down, but they just tent to turn around. If there were more events happening here it would help – you saw it that Saturday, it was like a totally different feeling – it was brilliant. Even I was by the door watching, it was a different vibe. It was loads better.”
Anthony Daulphin has recently re-opened the Standing Ovation HUB, a large unit at the back of Central Square with a café, children’s play area, pool, table tennis, and a hairdressing salon, and has been keen to see trade return to the shopping centre.
“After all the lockdowns we have been keen to get our doors back open,” told Daulphin, “but it’s not been as busy as we would have hoped – we’ve been booking some great private parties but the day to day trade has really dropped off.
“But since Active Arts and the Little Amal team have been here we’ve seen a significant spike, it’s been great.
“They’ve cleaned up the old shop fronts, pulled down all broken signs, and made it feel like a place people want to walk into.
“Plus, we’ve been selling a few bacon and egg sandwiches to the team themselves… they’ve been working all hours and said our breakfast menu is the best on the High Street. We’ve thrown them a few free coffees to keep them going too.
“But it’s been a lot of fun having the team here; it’s built a real sense of comradery between all the shop owners and there’s a feeling something big happening here again.”
Erdington once boasted the busiest High Street in Birmingham but has suffered in recent years as retail increasingly moves online – with banks and nationally recognised outlets all shutting up shop, as lower end and bargain retail take their place.
In the last year, Peacocks and Santander closed their Erdington branches for good – with Poundstretcher moving into the former’s prominent shop front opposite Central Square.
Erdington’s businesses also missed out on a multi-million pound boost in January, following a failed bid for the Future High Street fund which would have seen around £52m invested in the High Street.
But as the Central Square Shopping Centre prepares for the Little Amal event, interest in the businesses there is growing again – with shop owners citing the simple fact it has been cleaned and decorated by Active Arts and the team behind the Little Amal project.
Active Arts Project Director Claire Marshall told Erdington Local: “I used to come to Central Square shopping with my mum as a child. I love the area and I’ve seen how vibrant the local businesses and community can be.
“Central Square is a fantastic space for events; it is a perfect little enclave if you have a creative eye, it just needs a bit of tender loving care… and a lot of elbow grease to clean the windows.
“Our team have working day and night; the place already feels brighter and more welcoming, and by the time Little Amal visits on Thursday (October 28) Central Square Shopping Centre will be transformed.
“It’s a really exciting thing to be a part of and the businesses have been incredibly supportive. I’m glad they’ve had a boost in trade, they deserve a bit of good fortune after the past couple of years and lockdowns.”
Central Square could see even more improvement in the next 12 months, as Godwin Developments – who own the shopping centre and land – have plans to turn the High Street site into a destination venue with shops, bars, cafes, and apartments.
Little Amal will visit Erdington on Thursday 28 October, with a one day carnival starting at 1pm outside the Co-op and Oikos Café on the High Street – before heading up to the Central Square Shopping Centre.
Kaleidoscope arts, craft, street games and dance workshops will be held between 1-3pm at the Secret Art Studio Space on Tuesday 26 and Wednesday 27 October – at the Central Shopping Centre on Erdington High Street.
For more on Little Amal and ‘The Walk’ visit www.walkwithamal.org
For more on the Standing Ovation HUB visit www.facebook.com/StandingOvationHUB