Birmingham’s future lies in developing our young, creative talent says Ammo Talwar MBE of Punch Records, who argues for more civic pride and confidence in our city
Please introduce yourself
I’m Ammo Talwar CEO of Punch, the music development company behind Birmingham’s BASS music and arts festival. I started the business in 1997 as a high street record shop stocking rare vinyl for DJs. Now we tour artists internationally and are a leading training provider for creative entrepreneurs.
What does your company do?
Our passion is to change lives through music. We create, tour and programme new work and also run education workshops and masterclasses as well as a successful annual youth employment scheme, Music Potential. Last year we won two awards – National Social Enterprise of the Year and West Midlands Social Enterprise Innovator of the Year.
Is Brum a good place to do business?
Birmingham’s been a traders’ forum for longer than it’s ever been an industrial powerhouse. My dad worked all week in the foundry but on his day off he’d be off down the Soho Road looking for the cheapest bargains and freshest foods. We have one of the youngest and culturally diverse populations in Europe. These young people are the city’s greatest entrepreneurial resource.
What are your biggest gripes with it?
I love Birmingham, but like many in the business community I feel our city tends to look backward and inward instead of forward and outward. I was part of the team which pitched for the City of Culture crown – the one that eventually went to Derry/Londonderry – so I’ve seen this first hand. Some people here continually compare us to Leeds or Manchester instead of looking to capitalise on authentic homegrown talent.
How do you feel your clients see the city?
Birmingham today is as much a ‘city of a thousand faces’ as a ‘city of a thousand trades’. I’m not talking just about the difference between Harborne High Street and Ladypool Road as destinations for eating and drinking. I’m thinking about the distinct feel of the creative and technology hub around Eastside compared to the new library precinct and excitement around the Bullring.
Does Birmingham offer any particular advantages as a destination for business?
We have four great universities bringing us a steady influx of young people and fresh ideas each year. The creative economy here is bigger than construction, and rent and business costs are cheaper than London.
What should our priorities be as a city?
Civic pride needs to play a bigger role in our business ecology and perhaps we need to remember and value the legacy left to us by Joseph Chamberlain as much as we do that of Matthew Boulton. More funding needs to roll out from the city centre to spark regeneration in the city’s districts. We need someone in the City’s Cabinet leading on culture, too.
If you had £1bn to spend on improving Brum what would you do with it?
Save John Madin’s old Central Library from demolition and re-open it as a bank providing low-interest loans to young entrepreneurs. Extend HS2 across the city to Handsworth so passengers can disembark in the middle of the most exciting South Asian food destination in the UK. Establish a new retail hub (Boulton Boulevard?) offering employment opportunities across the region and join up with the Metro, giving easy access to Wolverhampton and the Black Country.