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Birmingham – The City of 1000 Trades



Birmingham – The City of 1000 Trades

This blog is authored by Christopher Hay, Senior Metal Technician, STEAMhouse.

Birmingham’s history is steeped in the tradition of making, once called the city of 1000 trades our allied industries manufactured almost every type of item imaginable.

The evidence of this is obvious as you experience the city, the streets whisper stories as you walk past the architecture, like echoes of the past embroidered into the contemporary fabric. This continues today with the new ways of approaching making, the borrowing of tools, the passing of knowledge and reimagining new ways to create and collaborate.

Chris’ Story

My story started in one of those very quarters, making and working inside of Birmingham’s historic jewellery industry. We specialised in merging traditional craft-based practice mixed with digital manufacturing, rapid prototyping and digital design.

The jewellery quarter influenced my way of working and gave me direction as we borrowed tools from other industries and repurposed them for production. It is incredibly fulfilling to experience creating jewellery and objects that rivalled the traditions of the past with an accuracy and ease that had never seen before.

Although the new tools we had acquired had changed the vocabulary, the tradition of commercial jewellery and objects had much stayed the same.

This led to me feeling disappointed when thinking of all of the new outcomes that could be created, the new tools we had acquired were not fulfilling their potential because of the tradition that had come before. Disappointed, but never discouraged, I began to look for something new, a place where we could start new conversations and drive change to revolutionise our approach to making.

Discovering STEAMhouse

I first heard of STEAMhouse through local networks, the excitement was buzzing as my peers discussed a new type of facility, where cross collaboration and interdisciplinary making could come to life. From my perspective, STEAMhouse was looking to take fill in the parts of the story that were missing, covering new ground to achieve more than a solo maker or artist could have completed alone. A place where creatives can receive support, guidance, access to funding and collaboration opportunities – alongside the all-important makerspace.

As fate allowed, I’m now employed as a technical demonstrator, in the very project that was so exciting to me in the first place! Even being here for a short amount of time has exposed me to new formulations and ways the creative industries can move forward in today’s Birmingham.

Collaboration is Key

Throughout my short journey so far with STEAMhouse, I’ve been thinking about collaborative etiquette and what it means to work in an effective co-author relationship.

It’s clear that people collaborate for a number of different reasons and in many different ways. Risk and trust are important drivers in the dynamics of collaboration, but when collaborating makers can benefit from an enhanced capacity to share ideas, as well as mutual support and encouragement as they operate outside of existing conventions and forge new approaches to thinking.

STEAMhouse is equipped with the types of machines and expertise needed to support a venture into something new. This new beginning has been skilfully planned and curated into the workshops to allow for a fertile ground for knowledge to develop and be nurtured by each member.

Having access to the different workshops both challenges and influences the way you approach your work, but what I truly believe makes STEAMhouse special is the collaborative environment created.

Accessing these incredible spaces, while engaging with others and seeing how they do so, learning from your peers and perhaps most importantly, working in a supportive, collaborative environment is what I believe will bring the best of the future here to Birmingham.

Looking forward into the future, I would like the project to develop in not only the collaborative working practice but to be equally balanced in the technical development of products. With the introduction of more digital manufacturing to produce professional ready to go products.

While STEAMhouse grows, our industry links with develop and further creatives will get involved, we will see the power of knowledge transfer in action, while inspiring the future makers of Birmingham.



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