We did it! We made Balsall Heath Nature Map!

Our Garden – Sacred Spaces of Balsall Heath came together in a special celebration, generously hosted by Al-Abbas Islamic Centre (Clifton Road Mosque) on Saturday 16 July.

It was a glorious evening, attended by almost 130 people of all ages and faiths, each with different connections to the neighbourhood. Retrofit Balsall Heath, a radical community initiative which has won funding to fully insulate 700 homes in B12, was launched that evening too.

A film crew from Al-Jazeera came to capture the event for their Earthrise programme, to be broadcast in November.  And The Mosaic Road, a community arts photography project based in the Ort Café, Moseley Road came to take portraits of Balsall Heath residents.

Here are some highlights from the speakers:

Abbas Shah speaking into a microphone
Abbas Shah, project manager

Abbas Shah, project manager

“Balsall Heath is blessed with some hidden gems, with some trailblazers. So much has come out of this journey, so we’re here to launch and celebrate the map and also to celebrate the launch of Retrofit Balsall Heath.”


Three artists standing in front of Balsall Heath Nature Map
Artists: Shaheen Ahmed, Rachel Pilkington and Dave Gray

Rachel Pilkington, artist

“Working on this project was a fantastic opportunity to get to know the local area, the local wildlife, be part of a brilliant team who are just committed about improving the environment. It was right up my street.”

Shaheen Ahmed, artist

“It’s helped me to look at nature in a new light. When you have to draw something it stays with you in a way that you never thought possible, well I never thought possible. I now look at trees and see the way the light dappled through.”

Then look again and yet again. Your sight will fall back to you, dazzled at the splendour of God’s creation. (Qur’an)

Dave Gray, artist

“What’s been really lovely has been seeing lots of different people’s vision of the area coming together into one coherent product. We’re used to looking at maps that are quite commercially driven. It’s got the McDonald’s there and the next Costco there. What I love about this map is that it’s a snapshot of what’s there but also, there’s kind of an aspiration of seeing more of nature in our urban areas.”

Woman laughing
Jo Ind, producer, tickled by something

Jo Ind, producer

“I think the root of our problem about the climate is what I call ‘the great disconnect’. And that is that we don’t know ourselves to be people of the earth. We imagine that we are other than the earth. We imagine that the trees and the flowers and the soil itself is the earth and we’re something different.

So, I think there’s a healing that needs to happen. I think there’s a restoring of relationship that needs to happen.

And I think it’s particularly challenging to know ourselves to be people of the earth when we can’t see it, when we’re in a very densely populated area. It’s a bit easier in pretty rural areas. So I wanted to do something about beginning to heal that relationship and this is where the arts absolutely come into their own.

Something we’ve learnt about climate change is that people don’t listen to scientists. It doesn’t matter what they say, it doesn’t matter how strong the evidence is, it doesn’t touch people. It’s the arts that change hearts.”

Kamran Shezad, a man with a beard and a microphone
Kamran Shezad, Bahu Trust

Kamran Shezad, Bahu trust

And there is no creature on or within the earth or a bird that flies with its wings except that they are communities like you and we have not neglected in the register a thing the unto their Lord will they be gathered. (Qur’an)

“This is quite important to me because here the Almighty is referring to biodiversity as communities.

So every single plant, every single variety, every single animal life on this planet and of course in Balsall Heath has a role to play with us, just like the different people in our communities have a role to play. And we’re all interconnected – whether it’s nature, whether it’s people of faith, whether it’s people of other backgrounds and there’s no getting away from that.

And it’s so great to see that the interfaith community has come together in Balsall Heath to celebrate that. I’m involved in so many interfaith initiatives but nothing like this where we actually genuinely have taken nature and made it about nature and not made it about us. It’s nature that’s brought us together not the other way round.”

John Christophers talking in an animated way
John Christophers, architect of zerocarbonhouse

John Christophers, launching Retrofit Balsall Heath

“Thirteen years ago, some of you will know, that me and my family had a great opportunity to do some work to our house in Tindal Street, Balsall Heath. It’s a little two-up, two-down Victorian terraced house. We’ve extended it a bit.

I’m proud that it’s the first ever UK zero carbon retrofitted home but I am not proud that we have not yet succeeded in getting all the homes of Balsall Heath retrofitted to the same standard.

But I am pleased that the City Council have been listening to us and we have funding now for 700 homes in Balsall Heath to start on this journey to cut their bills, to reduce their carbon footprint.

So what retrofit means is to take an old house – and we’re looking particularly at the old Victorian houses of the Seven Streets area here and of the older parts of Balsall Heath – to insulate the walls, the floors, the roofs, the windows and the doors and to cut the bills in those house by 60 to 80 per cent.

This is a really exciting thing to do in the context of working together as a community because I have gone – and Kamran and others have gone – to Birmingham City Council and we have said that we in the community in Balsall Heath have been discussing these ideas, these collaborations, for many years in this area. We understand the needs. Many in these Mosques and the Church are connected to those in foodbanks who have real need. We know who the people are in our community.”

Sheikh Nuru, in a white clerical outfit
Sheikh Nuru, Imam at Clifton Road Mosque

Shiekh Nuru, Imam, Clifton Road Mosque

“This is the point of departure. It’s a call to responsibility. It’s a call to duty. When we go out of this place this afternoon, all of us, we should be thinking, what are we going to do to ensure that this Balsall Heath Nature Map manifests in our houses and whatever we do within the community?

God Almighty says:

In the creation of the earth and the heaven and the alteration of the night and the day there are signs for the people who understand. (Qur-an)

It simply means nature is of great importance and if we truly want to see God or feel his existence we should look at nature or the environment. Without nature there is no one who can claim to be able to get to God Almighty.

I stand in front of you this afternoon, humbley, to invite one an all, beginning with myself, do something practical about our nature, especially in this beautiful area of Balsall Heath. What we see today is the result of collaboration between different communities and I believe if we come together, we can take this to the next level.”

More than 120 people of all ages and faiths sitting down listening to an imam speak
Full house – people from many different faiths attended

The evening concluded with a delicious meal, generously provided by Al-Abbas Islamic Centre.

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