Walking Tours of Brum....

On into Autumn....

Birmingham Heritage Week was fun. We launched Tour No. 2 and it was a great learning curve. People seemed to really enjoy this new tour and we will continue it alongside Tour 1.

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! 

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

Tour No. 2 is on the Way......

Here we follow the development of Positively Birmingham Tour No. 2. This is due for launch during Birmingham Heritage Week in September 2017.

Tour No. 2 On-Sale!

I am happy now that the tour content is under control and that permissions will be obtained. So Tour No. 2 will launch at Birmingham Heritage Week and we have put the first week up for sale. The new tour is looking really exciting - Burne-Jones was not only an amazing artist but also demonstrated some of the excesses of Victorian life. The way he changed his view of his home town as it got to grips with the huge changes it need to make is clearly a great foundation to the tour. The route also covers some amazing city modernity.

Now the tour is up for sale it will spur me on to finish the tour guide.

9th May 2017

Tour No. 2 Coming Along Nicely....

Reading about the growing pains of the Victorian town is fascinating. I remember cycling to work when they were doing archaelogical digs at St Philip's churchyard before the work to put the railings back in. Wow! - the thought that 80,000 people are buried there, some just a couple of feet below the surface is scary! They had to close the burial ground because the whole thing got out of hand in the 1850s. To read that test bore holes in the road picked up bones where the road was extended over the churchyard in the 1950s is a bit amazing as well. Certainly some interesting material here for a walking tour.

Positively Birmingham walking tours Burne-Jones tour

BBC publicity still  for Desperate Romantics portraying (left to right) Samuel Barnett as John Everett Millais, Sam Crane as Fred Walters, Aidan Turner as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Rafe Spall as William Holman Hunt

I came back from Cornwall with the DVD of the BBC 2 2009 series Desperate Romantics waiting on the doorstep. Watched it all back to back until 02.00 - having dropped Barbara at her sister's 'hen do' in Bristol on the way home. What an amazing series, some of the timeline and events changed to make the story flow - with the reality actually being more shocking. Rossetti overall was a hopeless case - to me more a sexual predator than a romantic. In the last two episodes Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris make cameo appearances.

Morris giving his wife to the cause is interestingly handled, though I am not sure it was clear that he legged it to Iceland for the whole summer leaving Rossetti and Jane Morris to themselves. Burne-Jones' own affairs of course are pretty juicy....seeing how Rossetti lived out his life must surely have been part of the mentoring process!

In the Steps of Edward Burne-Jones

Positively Birmingham Walking Tour No. 2

For tour No. 2 Jonathan is considering loosely basing it on the famous Pre-Raphaelite artist, Edward Burne-Jones. He was of course born in the centre of Birmingham, went to school here before going to Oxford and then on to London to become one of the most famous Victorian artists of the late 19th Century. Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has key pictures by the artist and the Morris and Co. stained glass designed by Burne-Jones can be seen in St Martins Church and St Philips Cathedral.

Burne-Jones was born in 1833 when Birmingham was a huge industrial town but in urgent need of some help. When he came back in the 1880s huge improvements had been made. Burne-Jones at 17 years had some very negative views of the place he was leaving but when he came back what he saw clearly impressed him.

There are so many things we can fit into a Burne-Jones theme....including many humorous elements. For example Burne-Jones father was losing the plot in old age and so he moved him down to London into a rented house. He kitted him out with a twenty-something housemaid who of course Burne-Jones senior promptly went and married! This was just too much for Burne-Jones junior and he sent the pair of them to Birmingham!

  Burne-Jones was no shrinking violet when it came to women. It was clearly a dangerous business to model for him! We will have to be careful how much detail to give on this. His most famous affair with Maria Zambaco in the late 1860s  lives on in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, where one of his most famous pictures, Phyllis and Demophoon has Maria's image as both heads.

Burne-Jones exhibited the picture in 1870 soon after the affair had ended in a very public suicide attempt by Maria. The Nudity of Demophoon and the controversy surrounding the affair and linkage with the classic tale portrayed in the picture saw Burne-Jones removing the picture and then resigning from the Old Watercolour Society.  

29th March 2017

Fowey Respite to Write Tour No. 2 

Even in Cornwall Birmingham jumps out as here in the car park at Trelissick

The continuing success of our first tour has encouraged us to start work on Tour No. 2. Jonathan had some annual leave to use up and we booked a cottage in Fowey, one of our favourite Cornish villages. Cornwall is a great place to write - especially out of season.

Jonathan once wrote a tourist guide in a house on Bodmin Moor. Discovering Birmingham sold around 50,000 copies in the 1990s in Birmingham tourist shops - when those existed!. Anyway the Mini was laden down with books of Birmingham relating to the potential route of the new tour. Jonathan had also cycled the various ideas for the route with his GoPro so plenty of footage to review!

25 March 2017

Baskerville's Virgil Up Close and Personal

Birmingham walking tour centenary square

A look at David Pattern's tribute to the printer John Baskerville with a Virgil book printed on this site in 1766!

Winter....We Kept Going

We scaled back a bit from the end of November 2016. However there is clearly a need for a  round the year walking tour in the city. We had a rest before Christmas and some of the guides headed to the French Alpes for some early snow.

A pre-wedding tour with the excited father of the bride and friends over from Dublin

Between Christmas and New Year we tried some tours and they were surprisingly successful. Certainly the highlight was a wedding party who came along for a special morning tour before the 3pm wedding!

January was fun and included people who had been given a tour ticket as a Christmas present!

One thing I really like about the tour is that the guides learn so much doing it. The walk we do is so rich in cityscape and more and more we have to limit the amount of information we give as people can get overloaded.

February had a couple of very cold tours - so cold that after 1.5 hours you could see people psychologically dipping down and it was time to stop. On the coldest tour we headed the group over to the back bar of the Shakespeare pub on Summer Row. What a great back room they have and a beer or afternoon tea and a nice warm room was just the ticket!

We have four people now involved with the tours, three acting as guides and the fourth acting as an assistant and tail marker. We started a Wednesday afternoon tour in February - this is designed partly for businesses - for example to send new employees who have landed in Birmingham on. We will have to see if they take us up on it.

One interesting development is a company who have asked us to do a lunchtime walk for their staff with a different theme each time. The first 30 minute walk looked at what we can learn about Georgian Birmingham by a short route round the canal and Centenary Square. I enjoyed it and they seemed to as well!

utumn Was Fun

Photo; Highlights Photographpy

The Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress were visiting the Christmas market and kindly took time out to pose with our tour for some photos!

After the success of Birmingham Heritage Week we decided to keep the walking tours going through the autumn. We are still establishing our name and it takes time for people to hear about a new venture such as Positively Birmingham Walking tours.

It was really nice of Jonathan's Trust to run a feature about the tours in their staff magazine. This piece studied the healthy aspects of a walking tour initiative in a really interesting way. As well as the importance of encouraging healthy activity for chronic physical disease such as Type II Diabetes it also looked at the positive mental health aspects of the initative. You can read the article here:

We have several full-on guides and an assistant at present. We also have several people who are going through our guide training programme. We have set the bar high and know that people do expect to have plenty of information put over in a friendly and amusing style. We also know that making sure people can hear the guide is essential and we have invested in personal PA systems to help in this regard.

Adding in St Lukes's Gas Street has been fun. It fits in really well as this was the original retort house with the person who ran it being an apprentice of William Murdoch, who of course invented the production of town gas.  It also sits well with our discussion of the Civic Gospel which takes place just before outside the  Ikon. It is also fun to try and spot the goldfish in the reconstructed canal arm, that originally brought the coal in to the works.

Raj Garcha has continued to help with the tours and to take some increasingly impressive photos.

The Tripadvisor reviews have continued to come in and we really do see this as a vital way of getting feedback. We also know that people looking for something to do in Birmingham find Tripadvisor incredibly useful. By November we are positioned 3/21 for the tours of Birmingham section of things to do in Birmingham. Amazing but a credit to the huge amount of effort we have put into developing the tours through 2016.

Lots of people are asking if we will be doing a 'Tour No. 2'. Certainly we have always intended to do this and work will start in the New Year to research  and produce this. First though, we need to work out how to keep the tours going and still get over to the Alps to enjoy what looks like will be some of the best skiing for many years!

JDB, 20th November 2016

Heritage Week Great Fun

The first heritage tour 'special' kicks off with a map showing all the old canals under the current city. We use it as we 'tour' to understand more about the city you can see today.

We have been working hard to ensure that we have a good input to the second Birmingham Heritage Week. We have tours most days. We are giving more detail on elements of our heritage and we are also encouraging participants to contribute.

July in Photos

31st July

The final tour of July see contemplation of the Ikon Gallery. Tour photos from July can be found here...

Overall it has been a successful month. We have learnt a lot and will build upon our experience with some modifications to the way we take our tours forward in coming months.

Biggest Tour on a Wednesday....

20 July 2016

At our first Wednesday tour we welcomed BBC Midlands Today on tour with us. It was one of the hottest days of the year but we kept to time pretty much. The tour had about 24 of us and included a party of librarians from Birmingham and a group from the PwC who are moving to No. 1 Chamberlain Square in 2018.

The tour was featured on the local news in the evening which made all the effort in making it a good tour feel all so worthwhile.

First Tour Great Fun

2 & 3 July 2016

We had great fun with visitors from as far away as New York as well as many local people who have lived in Birmingham all their lives.

People seemed to really appreciate the content and especially meeting local people who were prepared to expand on the city.

Tours are Go....

1 July 2016

This was fun, an interview on the Radio WM Adrian Goldberg show at 07.30 in the morning. Citizen Khan says he might come on a tour but we will see...


Hawthorn School

27 June 2016

Out first school tour saw a fully complaint Year 5 National Curriculum lesson plan - but the pupils were none the wiser! We had a great time and even interviewed someone who lives on a narrow boat in Gas Street Basin.

New Trainees Dress Rehearsal

22 June 2016


Today saw the first six staff on a final dress rehearsal round tour No. 1. We go live next week!

Training Begins

2nd June 2016

The key elements are now in place. Marketing materials have been produced and the training guide is with the first waive of tour guides. Training begins next week and will include a visit to SIFA Fireside, our chosen charity and also a visit to some of the stopping points on the tour. Amazing to think that it is less than two months since the decision to give this a go. Barbara says it feels longer!

Tour A5 Flier Finished

26th May 2015

  The A5 flier is finished and at the printers and the low res email version can be downloaded by clicking the thumbnail here.

We will be using this as a major promotional item both in printed form and also as a download and email attachement.

Getting Closer.....

17th May 2016

The tour is written, the training guide is in place and the permissions to walk around the city are sorted. We even have our first tour bookings!

  The front page of the tour leaflet uses our footsteps design. It shows some of the key things we are going to see on the tour.

There are a number of other items to produce and ensuring the branding is used across a range of items is something that has been taking up some time in recently.

A trip to Berlin to experience a 'free' tour gave helpful feedback.

 Moving Forward

29th April 2016

Aspects of training, insurance and marketing have been high on the agenda over the last few weeks. There is also a lot of bureaucracy to get sorted such as permissions to walk in parts of the city which for organised events are not actually public spaces. We have now put our first weekend tours up for sale and we see a real benefit for a bookable tour.

A busy first week......

8th - 15th April 2016

Here we report how this idea develops.  Using the ethos of Positively Birmingham the intention is to deliver informative and entertaining tours of our city. We have often wondered about building on the Positively Birmingham brand with some walking tours, and indeed Jonathan has delivered some private tours over the years.

In the last week the Positively Birmingham Walking Tour concept has evolved. An initial plan has been devised and artwork produced. We have decided that if we are to do this it must be at a very high level of professionalism but this does have associated start up costs. We have made contact with key organisations that we would like to have on board. This will require aspects such as H&S, risk analysis, insurance and training to be taken seriously.

The end of the first week and this is what has been achieved:

  • Brand artwork for website and promotional leaflet.
  • Website produced.
  • Market research on current Birmingham 'offer' and what goes on in other regional cities.
  • Contact with people who can help.
  • A script for the first tour is in draft.