The rise and rise of Fazeley Studios
Anna Blackaby looks at the Fazeley Studios success story.
Nestling among the remaining metal-bashers and greasy spoons of Digbeth’s back streets lies a powerful symbol of Birmingham’s digital renaissance.
Fazeley Studios occupies a converted 150-year-old church building right in the centre of the former industrial heart of Birmingham, yet the antique furniture and Pre-Raphaelite reproductions adorning the arches of its reception area couldn’t provide a sharper contrast with the gritty, grey streets outside.
Without Fazeley Studios, it seems unlikely that Microsoft subsidiary Rare Games would be seriously looking at taking space in Digbeth. (see the story here)
Together with The Custard Factory and The Big Peg, Fazeley Studios forms a key part of the “Gray empire” run by antiques market proprietor and property developer Bennie Gray and his son Lucan.
It was Mr Gray Junior who steered the £7 million Fazeley Studios redevelopment project, which benefited from gap funding of £2.2 million from regional development agency Advantage West Midlands in partnership with East Birmingham North Solihull Regeneration Zone.
When the studios opened, they were billed as an upmarket version of the grimier Custard Factory which was pioneered by Bennie Gray in the 1990s.
When it was launched last year, Lucan Gray said the studios, which provide working space for 500 people, were the first in a rolling programme of developments that will increase the space for creative and digital businesses in Digbeth by tenfold within ten years.
Although Fazeley Studios first opened its doors last midwinter in the darkest days of the city’s commercial property market, it has since defied the gloom to fill up with digital and creative industries, a sector which seems to be booming despite the downturn.
Many of its tenants are going from strength to strength – web design firm Substrakt for example recently launched a new sister company Subcom, acquired a Bristol-based digital media company and took on a new office in London.
The Grays have widely been credited with kickstarting Digbeth’s renaissance as a centre for the creative industries.
Dr Austin Barber, a lecturer in urban planning at the University of Birmingham, said the Digbeth area was a “tremendous success story for the city”.
“I take students from our planning programmes around Digbeth and it’s the one area that really catches their interest because they can see this energetic new economy emerging and they are really fascinated by it. “In terms of the Custard Factory, the new Fazeley Studios and also The Bond, the main thing they have contributed is good-quality, attractive and affordable workspace for small business providing the kind of incubation space that small start-ups need.
“When you go inside Fazeley Studios, it is stunning and it creates something that’s different and distinctive and that again is what firms in this kind of sector really like.”