Commonwealth Games: The Digbeth businesses that felt 'left behind' while hidden behind roadworks

Rosie Dowsing reports from Digbeth High Street where businesses say they felt hidden from visitors during the Commonwealth Games.

Businesses on Digbeth High Street say they are struggling with the disruption caused by half a mile of roadworks outside their front doors.

The works to regenerate the road and bring four tram stops to the area started in Spring 2021, but for many independents, this hit them with even more problems after a tough year of the pandemic.

It has been one month since Birmingham was transformed into the sparkling host city for the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games and over 4.5 million people descended on the second city.

Digbeth retailers hoped this influx of visitors would benefit them, but say this part of the city was neglected.

Jeanette and Tom, who run Birmingham's first zero-waste bar and taproom, KiloZiro, say they needed more support from the company responsible for the road works, to bring more customers to their premises.

Co-founder Jeanette Pell has asked for flowers, lighting and marketing banners to make it look more inviting past the barriers and construction site that sits right in front of them.

Pictured in the middle of this artists impression of a future Digbeth, Jeanette and Tom's bar is now surrounded by roadworks. Credit: Birmingham City Council

The couple even changed their business model earlier this year due to the roadworks disruption. They realised their grocery store, the Clean Kilo, was no longer attracting shoppers because cars can't get close, and they're largely hidden by the barricades.

By transforming into a bar, they believed they would become more of a leisure destination in the thriving artsy district.

But delays has meant their business is still very much hidden away behind the roadworks, which they thought would be finished by the time of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

Jeanette said: "I feel like the goalpost has always been moved in terms of when it's going to be over and I feel like if we'd just been given the real information we would have made different choices.

"Until you're actually in this situation trying to run a business in this location, you don't realise how much traffic diversions and roadworks and barriers really upset the natural foot-flow."

For the Commonwealth Games, Jeanette thought a way finder should have been in place to bring visitors through the roadworks from the nearby Smithfield festival site which also hosted the beach volleyball.

She said: "There was definitely more of a priority to finish the city centre and that was looking great.

"So I feel like Digbeth was kind of like this bit on the side that they thought they would just not talk about, because it wasn't really ready and they wouldn't want to be pushing crowds of tourists down there."

'I'm dipping into my life savings to stay afloat'

The owners of an East African coffee house on the high street say they will probably have to move location because they can't survive with the roadworks any longer.

Majid Mandania and his wife Azy started the unique cafe to bring the flavours of East Africa to the Digbeth community.

But when the roadworks started, they had to even temporarily close due to having no access at all, and a fundraiser was started by loyal customers to help them.

The couple hoped the works would be finished in time for the Commonwealth Games, but now they could continue until 2023.

A compensation grant was given to businesses with a maximum of £17,000, but Majid says this did not go far enough.

He said: "To be very honest, the support was barely covering my annual rent, let alone my expenses.

"In fact, I have even put a chunk our of my life savings for my kids into this business which I was not supposed to touch, just thinking that when things get better I could put it back again.

"If things don't get better by the end of the year, we'll have to relocate."

'Digbeth will be transformed'

The Midland Metro Alliance - which is responsible for the metro extension in Digbeth - says it has offered support including marketing to businesses disrupted by the road works.

A spokesperson said:

The Midland Metro Alliance is designing and delivering the Birmingham Eastside Metro extension on behalf of Transport for West Midlands.

"The Birmingham Eastside Metro extension will help transform and support the regeneration of Digbeth by improving connectivity and maximising the links with HS2 for the region.

"Urban realm activity will also support a fresh new look for the area even ahead of Metro services beginning.

"In advance of the Games we planned to stop all construction early and have worked in close collaboration with Birmingham City Council, the Games organisers and TfWM to make Digbeth High Street accessible with wide paths and walking routes along the High Street.

"Recognising that Digbeth was expected to see an influx in visitors during the Games and to ensure it was presentable, the alliance also worked closely with our partners to dress the boundary of the Digbeth High Street construction site with a mix of Commonwealth Games branding and designs from Midland Metro Alliance which reminded those in the area to support local businesses.

"As with all our construction works, we understand that they can cause disruption to nearby businesses and our dedicated Stakeholder Liaison and Marketing teams have been in regular contact with retailers and businesses along Digbeth High Street to offer bespoke marketing support such as banners, targeted social media campaigns, paid-for TV advertising and to share progress updates. “