Trailblazers: In A Visible City

Education   Secondary School  

Following the success of St. George’s Steps commissioned by Saltley Academy, Birmingham City Council’s Equalities, Community Safety and Cohesion Service asked us to devise a project that would engage young people across Birmingham with their city and gain a sense of how they relate to the city and what aspirations they have for themselves as citizens.

This challenge reminded me of Italo Calvino’s novella Invisible Cities. Here the explorer Marco Polo describes to Kublai Khan a series of fantastical cities that the emperor rules over but cannot ever hope to visit. Eventually it is revealed that all these cities are based on different visions of Polo’s home city, Venice. For me the links were clear the City Council is Kublai Khan, Birmingham is his territory and the young participants are Marco Polo all describing Birmingham in truthful but different ways.

The result was Trailblazers: In A Visible City. We chose to recruit one hundred and twenty 14-15 year olds as our Traiblazers as there are 120 councillors on Birmingham City Council, and for our concluding event the Trailblazers literally took the seats of these councillors in Birmingham City Council Chamber, acting as the City Council of 2030. take the seats of these councillors.

With artists, the Trailblazers planned and undertook a series of walks through Birmingham, as a stimulus and opportunity to record their thoughts of and visions for the city.

The outcome of the project is an alternative physical and digital map of Birmingham containing photographs and quotes from the Trailblazers’ walks. To make this happen we recruited a team of artists with skills in photography and engagement with young people, plus a visual artist and animator.

Twenty Birmingham schools collaborated on the project 1,800 photographs were taken and hours of interviews were recorded. The results are here to be shared with everyone.


Tour Dates

  • Oct 2015 – Dec 2016
    Birmingham Walks
    3 February, 2016
    The Council House, Birmingham

Made by:
Amy, Katie, Keeley, Khowshbo, Lydea, Oliwia, Sundus
Adan, Luke G, Luke H, Matthew, Owen, Sam
Aaron, Alice, Daisy, Lauren, Rafe, Todd
Anupama, Esmerelda, Haroon, Katie, Reece, Sandeep
Aafi, Anisa, Hasan, Ibrahim, Salma, Sarah
Ghalab, Jamil, Najmus, Nafisa, Qamar, Tasmim
Abdiqani, Abdullah, Daniel, Dominic, Kyham, Mamdi
Abbey, Daniel, Jessica, Poppy, Scott, Thomas
Nundini, Ramona, Roshan, Sinran, Tarin
Chela, Megan, Qaria, Sana, Sherry, Zanab
Amy, Joe, Joel, Kiera, Maddy, Matt, Melissa
Jamel, Jess, Joe D, Joe G, Katelyn, Rebecca
Abdullah, Hassan, Mafuzher,Mohammed A, Mohammed O, Osamah
Alice, Amaan A, Amaan Y, Hugo,Sabrina, Shazma
Anisha, Ayesha, Hajra, Mohammed, Zain
Afsheen, Jainaie, Majida, Olieur, Qadeer, Sumaiya
Courtney, Leah
Amelia, Bethany, Heblin, Jasmine, Phoebe, Sara
Aaliyah, Aamna, Hassan, Saira, Samiah, Shabina, Zeeshan
Fizza, Hana, Hannah, Miriam, Mollie, Nadia

All Photographs & Quotes: The Trailblazers
Walk Artists: Pete Ashton, Kate Green, Natalie Hart, Mark Robertson, Courtney Wallis Richardson.
Map design, illustration and Prezi Artist: Gareth Courage
Animations and Prezi Artist: Anita Shukla
Map reverse, Flickr and digital processes: Pete Ashton
Sociological Advice: Dr. Cath Lambert
Direction: James Yarker with Craig Stephens
Administrators: Rowena Wilding & Jessica Coller
Project Manager: Andrew Fox
Executive Producer: Roisin Caffrey
Commissioned by: Birmingham City Council

With thanks to: Councillor Brigid Jones, Mashuq Ally, Nick Booth (Podnosh), Razia Butt, Colin Diamond, Amanda Eaton, Bharti Patel
Marlien van Liempt and all the Headteachers and school staff who have helped make this project possible.

Trailblazers from twenty schools across Birmingham:
Ark Kings Academy
Ark Boulton Academy
The Arthur Terry School
Aston Manor Academy
Baskerville School
Blue River Academy
Bournville School and Sixth Form Centre
City of Birmingham School
Colmers School and Sixth Form College
Fairfax Academy
Kings Heath Boys
Lordswood Girls’ School
Ninestiles School
Nishkam High School
Queensbridge School
Rockwood Academy
Saltley Academy
Swanshurst School
Washwood Heath Academy
Waverley School

In the Council House:
Quiz Master: Graeme Rose
Coat of arms challenge: Bob Moulder, Anita Shukla, Courtney Wallis Richardson
Banner challenge: Gareth Courage, Stephen Hall, Mark Robertson
Budget challenge: Yinka Danmole, Graeme Rose, Iain Smith
Speech challenge: Sipho Eric Dube, Natalie Hart, Lucy Nicholls
Research and materials preparation: Marlien van Liempt
Photography: Pete Ashton and Kate Green
Video: River Rae Productions

Front cover illustration features sampled photographs by Tony Hisgett, Susanne Nilsson, Matthias Ripp & Elena Penkova and have been sourced via Flickr Commons.

Inspired by Italo Calvino’s novella Invisible Cities.