Located on the site of what was the Bird's Custard factory in the industrial district of Digbeth, it is now home to a thriving working community of creative & digital businesses, independent shops and cafes and bars. They include hundreds of small and medium-sized businesses and some larger ones such as Asos. The project was set up by Bennie Gray in 1992 and substantially expanded by his son Lucan Gray, who owned and ran the project until June 2017.
The Custard Factory complex is set in fifteen acres (60,000 m²) of factory buildings, originally constructed by Sir Alfred Frederick Bird (1849–1922), the son of Alfred Bird (1811–1878), the inventor of egg-free custard. The architectural firm commissioned to design the building was Hamblins. The architect may have been Augustus William Brenchley Macer-Wright who married Ellen Kate Hamblin, known as Jenny, who was the daughter of the man behind the architect firm's name. There is no positive evidence in Birmingham City Archive. At one time, a thousand people worked there.
After the Bird company's departure to Banbury in 1964, the buildings were redeveloped from 1992, in two initial phases. The architect for the redevelopment project was Birmingham-based Glenn Howells Architects. The redevelopment of the Custard Factory began in January 1992 when the project was given £800,000 as a City Grant Award. This public sector funding levered in £1.6 million of private sector investment for the refurbishment of 100,000 sq ft (9,300 m2) of redundant buildings, providing 145 units for use by artists, designers and communicators. The first phase created around 300 jobs, half of which were previously unemployed. By the completion of the Custard Factory project, it is anticipated that a total of 1,000 jobs will be created.
Phase one consisted of the refurbishment of Scott House which is now home to a community of hundreds of media companies, artists and small creative enterprises. The loading bay was turned into a lake around which the developers installed around 200 studio workshops above the ground floor - plus on the ground floor a café, meeting rooms, dance studios, holistic therapy rooms, art display cases in the foyer and a larger gallery space called "The Gallery" at the rear, a record and clothes shop, sculpture (a huge iron dragon crawls up the exterior of the Medicine Bar), and fountains within a central pool area which is sometimes emptied to allow for dance music events. The Medicine Bar and Kitchen have provided a stage for many musicians, DJs and rappers. A 220-seat theatre was also provided, inspired by the Custard Factory Theatrical Company who first asked for space at the Custard Factory before the project commenced.
Phase two - originally named 'The Greenhouse', but now 'Gibb Square' after the Gibb Street location - was completed opposite the Custard Factory in 2002. It focuses on new media and media businesses. It includes a hundred studio/offices, a ring of poolside shops, galleries and restaurants plus the Green Man, a 40 ft (12 m) high sculpture by Tawny Gray - a huge structure made from vegetation and stone, standing next to a large water feature and overlooking the alleyway that divides the Custard Factory from the Gibb Square development.
In March 2007, the regional development agency, Advantage West Midlands, announced new funding for the Custard Factory of £9.6m, to open 100 new office and workspace units. The result was Zellig (former Devonshire House), a restored grade II listed building, featuring a new sculpture, the Deluge, by sculptress Toin Adams and opened in May 2010.
Co-located media training
The presence of the Custard Factory has enticed two media training agencies to locate nearby. The old Trades Union Studies Centre, very near, is now a media and arts annexe of South Birmingham College with a new building alongside it. In 2005, the VIVID media centre moved from the Jewellery Quarter to a site very near the Custard Factory.
About 800 yards (730 m) away from the Factory is the new "Progress Works" complex, opened in 2005 as part of the Custard Factory quarter, on Heath Mill Lane. "The Bond" complex is also a short walk away.
Three-quarters of a mile north is BIAD, the largest British university art & design teaching and research centre outside London.
Nearby entertainment and shopping locations
Many different events take place at the Custard Factory, from music nights to theatre, poetry readings and storytelling. Located nearby are two renowned music venues, The Institute (formerly The Sanctuary) and AIR, home to and owned by Godskitchen the trance superclub. The Custard Factory is close to the Old Crown pub, a half-timbered building dating from the 14th century, Birmingham Coach Station, and the Bull Ring which is Birmingham's main shopping centre, with its landmark Selfridges building. The Custard Factory itself boasts its own retail section home to many independent stores.
Notable past and current occupants include:
- Fused Magazine
- Cartoonist Alex Hughes
- Maverick Television
- North One Television
- Clink Beer
- Punch Records
- Rhubarb Radio
- The Gadget Show
- Ocean Colour Scene
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