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Custard Factory honoured at Urbanism Awards

Digbeth complex wins Great Place award after being saved from demolition and turned into vibrant location for business and arts.

The Custard Factory
The Custard Factory, in Digbeth

The renovation and regeneration of Birmingham’s Custard Factory has been honoured at the Urbanism Awards 2014.

The building was  praised for its "catalytic effect on the economic and cultural growth of Birmingham" and beat off competition from St Nicholas Market, Bristol, and Cathedral Square, Peterborough, to win the Great Place award.

It was one of only five awards given by the Academy of Urbanism at the ceremony held at London's Connaught Rooms.

A series of riverside Victorian factories, the complex was originally built by Sir Alfred Bird, the inventor of instant custard.

However, they were set for demolition in the 1990s when developer Bennie Gray stepped in with his son Lucan to save the site.

Today the area sits in the heart of Birmingham’s creative quarter and is home to popular independent shops and cafés, a thriving music scene, public open spaces with distinctive artworks and a 2,000-strong community of businesses from small innovative digital start-ups to household names such as online retailer ASOS.

Mr Gray said: “We launched the Custard Factory against a backdrop of post-industrial urban decline, but we recognised the beauty of the buildings and their potential to appeal to Birmingham’s creative community.

"There was always a lot of vitality and potential in the city, but to reignite its culture and economy, it desperately needed somewhere for the people with big ideas to meet, work, collaborate, innovate, shop and generally make things happen.”

Lucan added: "We believe that creating a “great place” isn’t just about making a unique physical space, but also engaging with the people who use it and encouraging community.”

 Kevin Murray, chairman of The Academy of Urbanism, added: “These awards celebrate inspirational and heroic stories of places that are saved, turned around, rediscovered and rejuvenated.

"Great places don’t just happen, they are planned, shaped and supported by human endeavour which is why, against tough competition, the Custard Factory is this year’s deserving winner in the Great Place category.”

Claire Davies Bennie Gray (second left) and Lucan Gray (centre) receive the Great Place award at the 2014 Urbanism Awards
Bennie Gray (second left) and Lucan Gray (centre) at the 2014 Urbanism Awards
 

Urbanism Awards - other winners

• The European City of the Year (includes continental Europe and the UK and Ireland)

Istanbul

Malmö

Marseille

 

• The Great Town Award

Buxton

Hastings

Cork

 

• The Great Neighbourhood Award

Grand Canal Quarter, Dublin

Saltaire, Bradford

West End, Glasgow

 

• The Great Street Award

Lamb’s Conduit Street, London

North Street, Bristol

Park Lane, Poynton

Photo: Claire Davies Bennie Gray speaks at the Urbanism Awards 2014
Bennie Gray speaks at the Urbanism Awards 2014

 
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