Bionic Birmingham crowd fund target met

We are delighted that the residents of Cambridge Road, Birmingham B13 have “crowd funded” to install Heritage lamp posts for our road.

People have been asking us why we did this. The answer is simple; we love where we live. We were not content with grumbling, so we “got off our sofas” to make a difference. We’ve done that and got to know our neighbours better, as a consequence.

Like much of Birmingham, ours is a Victorian street with historic architecture. We were dismayed to see, on neighbouring streets, that unsuitable lamp posts were being installed to replace the old ones. The proposed new lights were also very bright – casting a bright light into people’s front rooms and gardens. We were looking for something that lit up the pavement well, but did not unnecessarily intrude on people’s homes. The heritage lamps were suggested and, with blanking plates, seemed to fit the bill.

Like people everywhere, inside our homes we are spending our money on furnishing in a way we like and suits our houses. Let’s do that with the street furniture outside our homes, we thought.

The old lamp posts had to go, we agreed – they did not light the pavement well enough for pedestrians. However, we did not like the proposed new lamps. We saw that some streets did have “Heritage” lamp posts installed, so we spoke with the council to ask if we could also be included. But we were advised that the money had run out and this wold not be possible for Cambridge Rd.

So we found out what the cost difference was, between what we could have and what we wanted. We asked neighbours if they would contribute to closing the gap. There was overwhelming, if not completely unanimous support. No-one had to donate, some donated quite a lot, others a few pounds and some nothing at all. It all depended on if they could afford to and if they felt strongly about it. On average, people donated around £120 – which is a lot less than they spend on their home furnishing. When the Council learned what we were doing, they were also very supportive.

Crowdfunding on the internet is a relatively new way of solving community and civic problems – there are some other great examples on the SpaceHive site that we used to co-ordinate the donations and pledges. We also used FaceBook, email, twitter, printed posters and good old fashioned word of mouth and knocking on doors to make sure everyone was aware of the initiative.

This is just the opposite of NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard). We are saying we accept the change, we just want it to be done better; “Better In Our Neighbourhoods” (BIONIC). And no, this does not prevent us from supporting charities too. Move over Nimbys, here come the bionics!

With this being such a new and “digital” way of influencing local civic development, it was pleasing that we hit our fund raising target on “Back to the Future Day”. That film was made in 1985 – we certainly could not have used internet based crowdfunding to achieve this then. The digital world is certainly offering new ways of working together.

These lamp posts will be with us for the next 20 years. Every time we come home and see them, it will bring a smile and a reminder of our sense of community. We are delighted to have made a small contribution to our neighbourhood. It’s not just for us, but a legacy for future residents as well.

We have achieved two things – both the physical lights and the greater sense of community on our road, are really worth having worked for. Now we are looking forward to the installation and inevitable street party.

It just shows what you can do if you stop grumbling and do something positive. What else could the people of any neighbourhood do by crowdfunding?  Park equipment?  Tree planting? Housing for asylum seekers? It just needs some people to have a go.

Amy Ashton, Tom Barwell, Steve Halliday, Jonathan Middup

Cambridge Road

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