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Selling Out Tour No. 2 in January is Nice

We are enjoying our winter series. The tour today completely sold out. A great mix of local people who have lived in Birmingham forever and those who have come to work and study. We had a visitor from  Sheffield but otherwise it was ‘Brummies only’ on this one! Tour No. 2 has really caught people’s imagination. So much so that we have had to urgently order another 15 sets of the audio receivers! The idea of walking round the city core and explaining general stuff about the city and then adding in an artistic slant on Birmingham’s greatest Victorian artist is catching people’s imagination. It is a great comparison to the industrial slant on Tour No. 1 While today all but one of the walkers was from Birmingham in the summer months we expect a 50:50 split between local people and visitors. It is nice to see word of mouth helping to create awareness and also people really enjoying understanding more about the cityscape. The audio systems make a huge difference in so many ways. They allow us to keep to time and in the noisy and quiet parts of the tour they are incredible. Also when we have stragglers we can keep in contact with them….the other week a family headed into a shop for donuts but still heard the commentary! For the first time today we tried to use the system with two guides each doing part of the tour, which took a bit of thinking about but we can only get slicker. JDB, 27h January 2018

Suddenly it’s Winter!

We had our last tour of 2017 on Saturday 30th December. Overall we look back on 2017 as a good year. We maintained our team of four guides along with Barbara supporting in the back office. Jonathan also put a lot of work into researching and writing Tour No. 2, which was launched in September at Birmingham Heritage Week.  The new tour starts and finishes at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and goes down New Street, through Grand Central and then on to St Martin’s in the Bullring. As well as looking at this part of the city centre it also studies the life and work of Edward Burne-Jones, the second wave pre-Raphaelite artist who was born in the centre of Birmingham and went on to become one of the most important artists of his day. One thing we realised on Tour 2 was that we had to modify our presentation for the very different components on this one. We go through some very noisy environments - New Street and Bullring in particular and also Grand Central. However there are also some very quiet spaces such as St Martin’s and St Philip’s and of course at the end in the pre-Raphaelite galleries. The audio system we purchased before Christmas is working out to be an amazing tool to use with this tour and the ‘tourists’ really like them. After looking at the market we went for a system that was at the lower end of the market. However they work incredibly well and have a good range of around before the signal breaks up. Key things we have learnt are: - Need ‘tourists’ to hear you just the once through the earbuds. - Essential to use disposable ear buds or for people to bring their own. We supply at cost of £1 and they keep at the end. - Great for talking in noisy and quiet places. Also good for keeping to time as we can ‘talk while we walk or start the commentary at the next station even while one or two are still ambling along. - We do have to be careful not to lose people as they sometimes think they are right with us even though they are a good distance away. Losing people is suddenly expensive if they are hanging  a piece of electronics around their neck!                                                                                          9th January 2018, JDB

Walking Tours of Birmingham.... the Story So Far

On into Autumn.... Birmingham Heritage Week was fun. We launched Tour No. 2 during the week and it was a great learning curve. People seemed to really enjoy this new tour and we will continue it alongside Tour 1 through the winter. The new tour is a good 1 3/4 hours if you include going in to St Martin's to see the early Burne-Jones stained glass but that really helps to set the scene. Improving the Tour with an Audio System One thing that we are wondering about investing in is a personal tour audio system. We know other tour operators read this blog and if any of you have researched this do contact us if you have useful advice. It is a really tricky market - and with quite a lot of different options to think about. Not something to be rushed into but could make a difference, especially to our new tour where the guide speaking too loudly can be intrusive for others when we are in naturally quiet areas such as the Cathedral and Art Gallery. Another tricky thing is that it is very difficult to find transparency in prices for guiding audio systems, with the big  players offering to quote but generally not displaying prices on their websites. The exception is the lower end of the market, where Chinese manufacturers have developed a neat direct selling approach through Amazon. After a weekend of research we have ordered a transmitter and single receiver and various disposable earphones to gain some experience before we 'dive in' too much! I guess key issues for us to think about are: The additional time in hooking up everyone up and remembering to collect audio sets at the end. Health and safety - issues of cleanliness can be  overcome with earphones provided by the 'tourists' or single use earphones that we can supply at cost. Do we talk on the move - something we try not to do at the moment with a simple audio loudspeaker set-up worn by the guide? There is something nice for the guide and the  'tourists' to have the quiet space between stops. On the other hand when people ask questions as you walk along you could answer to everyone as you walk - they can always turn you off if they want some space! We will report here how we get on with our experiments over the  autumn on this! September 2017, JDB Tour No. 2 .... Digging In It is a surprising amount of work to produce a new city tour. It has been interesting to have several people on our tour recently who are setting up their own tours. One a tour of Southport and the other in Rugby. To look back at what we have accomplished and, for what it is worth, to pass on our  experience to others is useful. Tour No. 2 pushes the limits a bit with a mix of general interest in the city and also adding in a Burne-Jones slant. His was a fascinating and in part colourful life and there are plenty of stories to add. It is the balance between Burne-Jones and more general information about the city such that the tour is enjoyable to someone who is not the slightest bit interested in Burne-Jones! It has been amazing studying Burne-Jones these last few months. There is the possibility that pre-Raphaelite aficionados come on tour with us and I am fairly sure I can stand up reasonably well. The reading has been extensive and the collection of second hand books bought sometimes for 1p + postage from Amazon grows by the day! On top of the reading visits to Tate Britain and Buscott House to experience some of Sir Edward's most famous works have been fun. So key things at present have included: Branding for Tour No. 2 Really pleased with the colour - The green is so right and alludes to the painting "Green Summer" (1864 watercolour, 1868 oil). The background faces are actually from Golden Stairs, 1880, which is in Tate Britain and not BMAG. Printed items - now we have the branding we can work on the printed items. This includes a 2-sided A5 promotional leaflet, A5 4-page tour brochure and an A2 poster for the pop-up meeting point stand. we also have to work on a new map inside the 4-pager. I am best giving these to my designer all at the same time. I guess I am thinking we want to be a bit different with a more artistic feel to the items - perhaps even a short poem by William Morris, such as: The heart desires The hand refrains The Godhead fires The soul attains All will be revealed on tour! Permissions: Of course when we go inside buildings and even into outside areas that are not strictly public spaces it is crucial to get written permissions. This seems a chore but actually it can create awareness and build excellent relationships. However things such as access policy, risk assessment and public liability insurance are really important to have in place. The people you need to speak to are often protected by others so getting an answer is not always easy. I am currently working on 5 permissions and so far have 3 have come back positive. As for writing the tour itself - well on the way but a little bit of inertia due I think to still getting my head round the balance between general info and the Burne-Jones story. Heritage Week: We are launching the tour in September at Birmingham Heritage Week and have put some days up for sale already. Overall the new tour looks really exciting and it is a great opportunity to take our tours to a new level. We will see...keep the faith! Jonathan Berg, 23rd May 2017
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Our Tour Blog

Wet and Fun in Brum on Cold & Wet Saturdays

February is that time of year when we dig in. Still some winter to go and in our house we need plenty of wood in the side passage for the lounge fire, as we optimistically look forward to an early spring. So, it has been a surprise to sell out the walking tour for the last few weeks. In particular our walk round the canals last week with Dawn was very cold and wet but had 25 people on it. There are some tricks us tour guides can use on such days. We stop under impromptu shelters, and if the tour goes inside a warm building we certainly find lots more to say! Lets see how we got on…….. Today was not so busy for our ‘In the footsteps of Sir Edward Burne-Jones’ tour but still nine people braved the conditions. After a walk down New Street and through Piccadilly Arcade you appreciate the warmth of Grand Central. We stop at the top of Platform 5 and today we were met by four armed police who seemed to also enjoy this part of the tour. There is now a permanent exhibition area at Platform 5 called Parkside Gallery, which is an outreach gallery from Birmingham City University. Well worth a look with an excellent still life photography exhibition on at present featuring old instruments from the Birmingham Royal Conservatoire collection. You can see more about the Parkside Platform exhibition which runs until 19th March here……. This tour goes into venues that sometimes have other events on and St Martin’s Church is certainly one of those. Today a huge old clothes fair was on and this was extremely busy Luckily. Raj’s tour presentation on the 1876 Burne-Jones south transept window could still go ahead once we moved the clothes racks around with the agreement of the stallholders and organisers. Certainly a learning point for us on this tour is if you can to walk it beforehand you can negotiate entrance when events are on or plan alternatives. With eleven of  it was fine but a full tour would have had to stay out in the rain and make alternative plans! JDB, 11th February 2018
Centenary Square tour looks at Boulton Watt and Murdoch statue
Brindleyplace
St Martin's Church in the Bullring
St Martin's Church in Digbeth with the Burne-Jones stained glass
St Martin's Church in Digbeth with the Burne-Jones stained glass
St Martin's Church in Digbeth with the Burne-Jones stained glass
Grand central Platform 5 with Positively Birmingham Walking Tour and a police escort
New Coats Hit the Streets We ordered some now fleece jackets the other week and they arrived in time to take them out today. They looked the part and give us a more professional feel. The key thing though as this winter weather drags on is that they are really warm! We could  have done with them a couple of weeks ago! JDB, 17th February 2018
Been busy…. It has been exciting over the last few months. Lets summarise: Walking Tour Audio Guide System: Been so well received but we realised that our system was actually broadcasting on an illegal frequency a couple of months ago. We have worked with the company to have a set of UK compliant devices manufactured. They work even better than the old ones and we are now looking to produce a UK technical file so that we can fully verify the CE mark before selling new devices to others. Discovering Birmingham; a guide to the city For the last few months we have been giving out an A4 sheet with ideas for other things to see and do in Birmingham at the end of our tour. In the end it dawned on us that the we should revisit the book ‘Discovering Birmingham’ that Jonathan first wrote in 1996. After a bit of market research JB set about updating this publication with the intention of publishing the 4th edition of this guide to the city. Just seven weeks later the final proof has been signed off this evening with the designer. The next thing will be the ‘printers proof’ and then it will be ‘on the press’. The book will be launched at  a reception at Foyles bookstore in Grand Central on 21st May. If as a reader of this blog you would like an invite do email and ask for one! The book has a website and you can even order the book now for delivery as soon as supplies are received in mid-May: www.discoveringbirmingham.co.uk JDB, 22nd April 2018