May 30

My Birmingham by Joe Schuppler

Are you watching closely?’

At this very moment in time, when I have been tasked with writing about ‘My Birmingham’ and what this city means to me, I sit here at my laptop watching the rain cascade down the window and reflect upon how, perhaps, I wished I lived somewhere with just a little more sunshine. In all honesty, I’m not entirely too sure what I’m meant to be writing about for this piece and it may end up being more self-reflective, rather than focusing on the city I grew up in – but then again, in life, no one plays by the rules.

My name is Joe Schuppler. I am a writer of sorts – editor of the award-winning Independent Birmingham, co-founder of the very same website and sole occupant of IB headquarters. Oh, and I’m a huge fan of Dallas Green – he’s just great. I like eating ribs, drinking craft beer, annihilating competitors on the ping-pong table and watching films (indeed, I even own over 500 DVD’s and 20 boxsets, as well as over 200 books – but who’s counting right?).

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Before I begin my tale of growing up in Birmingham I will, of course, invite you to peruse the website into which I have poured almost two years of my life (which champions Birmingham through writing about independent cafes, bars, restaurants and shops so as to inspire others to rediscover their city and explore its lesser known aspects – whilst also offering a discount card at over 70 of the best independents in the city, with more added each week, to reward you for shopping local). In addition to this, the website also acts, in its purest form, as a fantastic guide on where to eat, drink and shop independent in the city and I hope you all find it both fun and instructive.

Ok, so now that that part is over – here are my thoughts on My Birmingham.

I grew up with my brother in Solihull. He is now living in London and I, following graduation from university, elected to stay here to work on this, at the time, half-formed idea which I believed had the capacity to be something wonderful. I must admit the lure of London never really tempted me as I always viewed it as perhaps too bustling and too busy for someone like me to ever enjoy, being a most righteous, laid-back kind of guy and certainly not into pushing through maddening crowds to get on the train to work everyday. But anyway, back to Birmingham.

So I grew up here, went to school, explored, made a nuisance of myself to both neighbours and the general public alike on weekends – just a regular kid in all. The days I wasn’t out skateboarding with my friends, sword-fighting with sticks in the woods (oh, to be young) or wandering around town, I’d spend shut away in my room with a good book and lose myself for hours upon hours in thrilling tales of knights, dragons and magic or playing video games all weekend long (I caught 121 of the original 150 Pokemon before I lost my Gameboy and some lucky passerby inherited my Pokemon Red cartridge and my level 80 Blastoise). I still read a lot of the books to this day, and can still land a kickflip almost twelve years on since I put down my board for the final time.

In any case, I never really spent too much time thinking about the city I lived in as a child because I was just too busy being a kid, enjoying life to the full and living one day at a time with no responsibilities at all – it was great. Now, as an adult (although at 24 I am still rather young), I mainly think about Birmingham in the context of my job. What’s going on, when, who, what, why? Indeed, it is through Independent Birmingham that I have myself rediscovered this city and found it to be a most intriguing and exciting place to live and explore.

So, following a lovely three years at The University of Liverpool, where I met some of my closest friends (two of those just happening to be the innovative chaps who came up with this whole Independent Membership Card idea) and left with a rather good Law degree I still haven’t used or laid eyes upon to this day, I arrived back home without even the vaguest idea about what I wanted to do in life. It was summer and so I elected to just enjoy my free time and think about the future later. However, with many of my friends having moved to other cities or still at university, this soon led to intense periods of isolation and boredom – although I am very comfortable with my own company and can easily spend the whole day sat on my own reading.

Oliver Press, co-founder of Independent Liverpool (where this esteemed project began), had sat next to me on the first day of Law school and we have been firm friends ever since. I remember a phone call to him at the end of July 2013 discussing Independent Liverpool and its application in Birmingham. We both thought it was a great idea and both he and David Williams (the other co-founder of Independent Liverpool) gave me the go-ahead to start the project here.

That was almost two years ago. Many of you will not know that the website was established almost 9 months before the Independent Birmingham Membership Card was created and in that period of humble beginnings, the website was simply a low-key blog designed to champion Birmingham’s independents and encourage others to visit these fantastic places I had only myself discovered through the course of running IB.

I won’t bore you with tales of the thousands of hours I’ve spent since then writing, establishing deals, attending meetings, trawling through the entirety of the internet and social media to find interesting things to talk about and all the sleepless nights included – those are the dull bits. All you need to know now is that it is, and has always been, something I have been highly passionate about and, with there now approaching 75 of the city’s very best independents on the IBcard, a project that is growing daily – capturing the attention and hearts of many living in and around Birmingham. Indeed, that is what the tagline ‘Believe In Birmingham’ is all about, a phrase I coined the first day of starting this project, designed to inspire others to once again fall in love with their city again.

It seems that every week a brand new event or project is springing to life and there’s so many fantastic shops and restaurants, cafes and bars, that we as a city truly are spoilt for choice when it comes to such things. Of course there will always be some who do not tread off the beaten path and will be completely oblivious to all these wonderful places, but then again that is always the case with many things in life. Getting your name out there is a constant struggle, one the independent businesses in Birmingham know all too well, but it has been my privilege to both champion and celebrate these glorious venues and projects, and the creative and forward-thinking individuals behind them. The journey is the reward, and there’s still a long road ahead yet.

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Find out more about Independent Birmingham here