Stroll five minutes from Birmingham’s city centre and you will find yourself in the not-so-well-known district of Digbeth. Home to warehouses, graffiti, nightclubs and new developments, is it, as some property experts claim, the new Shoreditch?
The area has never been Birmingham’s wealthiest, with visitors more likely to encounter small industrial streets between its homes and workshops than the wide, welcoming paths of the city centre. Digbeth, though, is on the very cusp of that centre. Following the opening of the new Bullring shopping mall in 2003, the pressure has increased upon the area to develop. Millennium Point, in the neighbouring district of Eastside, has already followed suit, introducing the Thinktank science museum for families and spurring on the expansion of Birmingham City University’s campus in the area.
Steeped in industrial history
Digbeth’s main street, High Street Deritend, is steeped in history, boasting the Grade II listed Old Crown, Birmingham’s oldest pub, dating back to 1368, not to mention The Irish Centre, a hub for the local Irish community.
It is only fitting, then, that the area’s industrial history has also given birth to its new identity: The Custard Factory, located on the site of the old Bird’s Custard factory, is now the hip, cultural heart of Digbeth, with cafe, bars, galleries and independent shops all present and correct. Words like “new media” come here to settle down with a family.
The companies are staffed by bright young things who work hard by day and play hard by night. Indeed, Digbeth’s nightlife is one of its biggest draws; on a Sunday morning, the grey concrete and hulking railway arches can seem daunting and drab, but on a Friday night, The Rainbow Venues, Spotlight’s regular street food gatherings and Floodgate Street’s Boxxed turn the area into a vibrant hub of music and art. The backstreets – and walls – visibly come to life with character.
“There’s always something going on…”
“It’s so much more than a 9-5 destination, which is why so many professionals are looking to make it their home, as well as the place they work,” says Ray Withers, CEO of investment company Property Frontiers.
Withers says that the company has seen interest in rental accommodation “pick up significantly” in the area.
“There’s a really unique vibe… always something going on,” he adds.
Gentrification is the name of the game
There’s certainly a lot going on in the construction sector, with developers moving to take advantage of the area’s gradual regeneration.
Seven Capital Property Investment is redeveloping the old Harrison Drape factory on Bradford Street into Fabrick Square, with 73 studios and over 150 one-bedroom flats. Connaught Square by Digbeth’s coach station, the main point of entry for people travelling to Birmingham by coach, is being developed too. On Bradford Street and Lombart Street, meanwhile, St Anne’s Court is bringing 170 flats to the market just behind the Catholic Church of St. Anne.
Digbeth is also set to benefit from the work due to take place at Birmingham Smithfield, which adjoins its western border. One of the biggest single ownership redevelopment sites in the country, Birmingham Smithfield will see the city’s wholesale markets relocated to one unique, vibrant market district. The area will include a new public space (Market Square), a family leisure quarter, a vast market space and integration with Midland Metro.
Part of the St Anne’s development is The Divine Collection, which Property Frontiers has just launched, promising “sophisticated, elegant homes to just the kind of tenant looking for something a cut above the rest in Digbeth”. Prices begin at £159,500 for a one-bedroom apartment (with investment opportunities starting from £23,925).
“Connections are opening up again between all the areas…”
Ian Snow, a long-time local who works for John Lewis, said he “considered moving to Digbeth” a few years ago, when he relocated back to Birmingham, but ultimately chose to live in Kings Heath instead. While he says “not that much” has changed over the last 10 years in Digbeth, he notes that the “number of new apartments created from old industrial buildings seems to have increased”, highlighting the boost that Birmingham’s stylishly reborn city centre – the stunning new central library opened in 2013 – is having upon the surrounding districts.
“There probably hasn’t been a time in the last 30 years that there hasn’t been one huge building site in the centre!” he jokes. “The new New Street station has added a lot economically. It makes a huge different to people arriving in the city. For five years, the whole centre was relatively out of bounds due to station, but now connections are opening up again between all the areas.”
He also highlights the Jewellery Quarter as up-and-coming, observing that it benefits from having its own train station. Indeed, Digbeth’s Bordesley train station now only has one train running there a week to stop it being officially closed, although Moor Street and New Street are only a short walk away for residents. There have also been plans for a HS2 terminal at Curzon Street, in Eastside, which would spark a whole new wave of regeneration further down the line.
A Hollywood star on the rise?
The rise of Digbeth hasn’t always been smooth: Alfie Bird and The Oobleck, one of The Custard Factory’s brightest music and food venues, shut its doors earlier this year, due to “tough conditions” and “overheads”. But Withers highlights the “sense of excitement in the air”.
“Digbeth these days feels like Deptford and Shoreditch used to – there’s a feeling that the area is beginning to really define itself,” he adds.
Indeed, Hollywood has already come knocking for its close-up: yesterday, none other than Steven Spielberg arrived in Digbeth to film scenes for his upcoming film, Ready Player One, in Floodgate Street. The cast and crew are also set to film in the Jewellery Quarter, potentially helping to put both areas on the map.
For investors, Birmingham is one of a number of regional cities that are enjoying strong growth, as London’s market cools. Birmingham is currently the eighth best performing city in the UK when it comes to house price growth, according to the June 2016 Hometrack UK Cities House Price Index, with year-on-year growth of 8.3 per cent. According to Rightmove, Digbeth’s average house price is £130,737, cheaper than Birmingham (£169,373), with prices up 9 per cent year-on-year.
“It’s a great time to invest in property…”
“It’s a great time to invest in property in an area, as many of those who bought homes in Lewisham and Hackney back when Deptford and Shoreditch were on the rise can attest,” adds Withers.
The Divine Collection is priced around 10 per cent lower than nearby developments, which means that there is potential for profitable capital growth in the next two years, by which time construction on the apartments will have been completed. Is Birmingham the new Shoreditch? Not quite yet, but by 2018, it might be.
Photo: New Street Ell BrownGoogle+