NEWS: All change in Digbeth as Factory Club refocuses

Simon Jones - MD Factory Club

During the early hours of June 13th four people were wounded as shots were fired inside the Space 2 Warehouse, The Factory Club’s main arena on the Custard Factory complex in Digbeth. No one was killed but the unforeseen attack sent shockwaves round the city. The Birmingham Review secured the first newspaper interview with Factory Events MD Simon Jones since the shootings took place.

“It’s been a hard week to be honest,” says Jones, “you can’t underestimate the gravity of what happened. It really shook people.” The man who has been at the centre of a citywide blame game appears tired, “thankfully no one was more seriously hurt but it has traumatised the city.”

In the days following June 13th international news agencies and regional media alike looked for someone culpable. Reports of slow police response time made the front page, but with officers stationed around the city for the England Vs USA football match resources were stretched. As operator of the venue Simon Jones was soon in the media limelight.

“It felt a little like we were being hung out to dry”, says Jones, following a continued focus from media without official requests for comment. “The Factory Club hired out the Space 2 Warehouse to Harmony Promotions, we were not the event promoters, but when something like this happens it’s ultimately our responsibility. I wanted to sent the right message out and effectively try and clear our name, and the name of the Custard Factory.”

Harmony Promotions who organised the Urban Music Gathering 2010, the all night music event at which the shootings took place, remain unable to comment.

But what immediate steps has The Factory Club taken to ensure safety on site? “We’ve voluntarily closed for one event whilst we upgrade our CCTV systems,” A request made by the Licensing committee at a summary review after the shootings. Is The Factory Club increasing other security measures such as door supervision? “These occurrences are a city wide problem. The guidelines for security staff is 1 per 100 people, we had double that at the Urban Music Gathering event.”

How about the event itself, will there be anymore Urban Music Gatherings planned? “No, although we’ve had the promoters here a few times without incident. However The Factory Club are no longer booking any commercial Urban music events. The only way I could comfortably host one would be with airport security and police sweeps of the area, akin to the security measures for visiting dignitaries. I don’t want to put on shows where that’s necessary.”

But Jones has spent the past decade nurturing Digbeth’s nightlife, with plans to move away from the contentions of clubland what role will The Factory Club play in the area?

“What I’m good at is shifting people into Digbeth. But now I want to concentrate on daytime trade, retail and live music events,” Jones has talked about a organising a Spitalfields style market in Digbeth for several years, “maybe what happened is the kick start I needed to refocus my energies. I hate to think of all the hard work we’ve put into this area going to waste.”

Digbeth now holds a collection of high profile venues. Large scale events are regularly held, with a combined possible capacity between sites of up to around 35,000 people. Yet despite public declarations from Birmingham City Council, the Eastside Regeneration as outlined in the Big City Plan has not materialised.

“Digbeth is a prominent cultural quarter of the city, but it’s not policed like other areas with vibrant nightlife,” says Jones, “Its often left to the independent operators to secure their own surroundings. If we want Digbeth to actually become what everyone has been talking about it’s not going to happen organically, it needs a push.”

With a full review on July 12th the future of The Factory Club still hangs in the balance, and as with much of the rhetoric in Eastside the proof remains in the pudding. But as Jones himself confesses, “I want to go back to the roots of why we’re down here, to create a community and enjoy it again.”