The centre of knowledge and learning is also the catalyst for the ongoing transformation of Eastside
There was a lot of fuss around the turn of the millennium. Plenty of grand promises and even grander plans. In London, it all centred around the Millennium Dome. Here in Birmingham we had our own focus with the construction of the biggest millennium landmark outside of the capital ¬– fittingly known as Millennium Point. The Dome was quickly labelled a white elephant and sold off to become the big success story it is today as the O2 Arena. Millennium Point meanwhile has become the hub of something much greater and more important than a concert venue. As the flagship development in the city’s previously run-down industrial Eastside it’s been the catalyst for regeneration for getting on towards two decades. Yes, progress has been somewhat steadier than many would have hoped due to the tough financial times we’ve been through these past years. But with Millennium Point at its centre, things are moving ahead for Eastside. And that momentum can only quicken as plans to build the city’s new HS2 rail terminus just a stone’s throw from Millennium Point push forward.
In a city with the youngest population in Europe, Eastside actually has an age profile that’s half of the rest of Brum. As a result, the area has become synonymous with learning and knowledge. Millennium Point is the heartbeat as the home to a number of faculties of Birmingham University and of the city’s science museum, Thinktank. “When we first opened in Eastside, we were a bit of a grey box stuck on our own,” said Millennium Point’s chief executive Philip Singleton. “In the decade or so since then, we’ve really pushed on and been the catalyst for real growth and change.” The first thing to say about the building itself is that it certainly has the ‘wow’ factor! It’s big and dramatic, the result of a £114million project between the city council, Birmingham University and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. While construction was well underway as the millennium arrived, the building was actually completed in 2001 and officially opened by the Queen the following year. As well as being home for Birmingham Museums’ excellent Thinktank, the multi-use complex contains BCU’s faculty of technology, engineering and the environment, Birmingham Metropolitan College and Birmingham School of Acting. It is also a thriving centre for a large range of events, exhibitions and arts – including Birmingham Independent Food Fair, the Flatpack Film Festival and International Dance Festival – frequently showcased in its vast atrium and 375-seat auditorium.
Since opening it has welcomed more than 15 million people through its doors, and continues to attraction more than a million visitors each year. “With our partners, we have become the centre of knowledge and exploration – a destination to experience the future,” explained Philip Singleton. “We explore, feel and test what the future might be like. We have many events here which look at what technologies and developments are coming, whether that be in design, innovation and development. It might be something like looking at hydrogen fuel cells in cars for instance.” The complex has hosted a number of design expos as well as climate change conferences. “Millennium Point is at the cutting edge and is a very exciting place to be,” said Philip. “We are a hotbed of technology reaching out to Birmingham of course, but also well beyond to the wider region and the country. We fuse traditional Midlands values and quality with the future. “Moving forward, the picture is looking very positive with the continuing expansion of Eastside and with the arrival of HS2 which will be just a two minute walk away from us. We have got land here which we want to develop and we want Millennium Point to become even busier and have even more impact of the lives of people and the success of Birmingham.”
Among the projects bursting onto the scene is a new £40million home being built for Birmingham Conservatoire which will open in 2017. As a centre of education and training across a wide spectrum of musical genres, the Conservatoire is the perfect fit to become neigbours of Millennium Point. “I’ve been around Birmingham for 25 years,” said Philip Singleton, “and being the chief executive of Millennium Point at such a time, with all that is happening now and is about to in the future… it’s just a great place to be.”