The Custard Factory, Birmingham's revolutionary new arts and media quarter, is 800 paces from the Bull Ring. This 5-acre sprawl of riverside factories was built 100 years ago by Sir Alfred Bird, the inventor of custard. At one time he had a thousand people making the stuff. Some even say it helped create the British Empire. But by the early 1980s it had long since lost its mysterious appeal and the factories fell derelict.
We took it over in 1990. We began to restore the buildings and announced open house (and studio) to the best of Birmingham's young creative talent. The rush to come in was overwhelming. Since then a whole new inner city neighbourhood has begun to emerge - intricate, fine grained and threaded by green spaces, fountains and sculpture.
The award-winning first phase is home to a dynamic bohemian community of 500 artists and small creative enterprises. The affordable studio workshops are complemented by a theatre café, antique shops, meeting rooms, dance studios, holistic therapy rooms, art galleries, the achingly stylish Medicine Bar and the electrifying Code nightclub.
The second phase, completed in the summer of 2002 comprises a hundred studio/offices with superfast links to the net, a ring of lakeside shops, galleries and restaurants plus the Green Man, a towering 40 ft sculpture made of earth, fire and water.
On the way are a small luxury hotel, live/work apartments, a riverside walk, a new bridge, a perfumed garden for the blind and a 40,000 sq ft international design/exhibition centre.
The Custard Factory is already a remarkable project. Soon it will take its place as the largest and most exciting concentration of artistic and creative activity in Europe.