Work took me to Birmingham this week. I lived and worked there for a few months as a graduate trainee some 30 years ago and boy, has it changed. I suppose any city changes in 30 years, but the changes in Birmingham city centre seem particularly marked, I can’t find my way around any more. New Street station and the surrounding area still has major works going on, which make getting back to the station on foot something of a challenge.
I had a stroll around in a rare spot of sunshine. I do like the Selfridges building with its curviness and shiny spots, but I can’t help wondering what its energy consumption is like. It appears (I’ve never been inside) to be a “black box” with no windows, which means it must be entirely artificially lit and mechanically ventilated or air conditioned. Only buildings occupied by public sector organisations are required to post a Display Energy Certificate (DEC) giving a rating based on their annual carbon emissions, but virtually all non-domestic buildings have to have an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) when they are first built, or are sold or let. The EPC register is now open – it didn’t used to be – so anyone can have a look at the EPC of a building they are interested in.
EPCs provide an “asset rating” – what the energy consumption of the building ought to be, based on its construction and installed equipment – rather than a rating based on actual energy consumption. Unfortunately, there is no EPC on the register for the Birmingham Selfridges. It was built in 2003 before the EPC regulations came into force and clearly the freehold has not been sold since, nor a new lease entered into. In any case, an EPC is often a poor guide to the energy performance achieved in practice, as can be seen by comparing the EPC and DEC of almost any public building. As an example, Joseph Rowntree School in New Earswick, just north of York, has only been built recently and, as you would expect, has a high EPC rating within the second-to-top B band. However, its latest DEC rates it E on a scale that only goes down as far as G. If only the parents of the pupils at that school and other users of public buildings would demand more from those responsible for running them, the public purse would save money and the country’s carbon emissions would reduce.
While was in Birmingham I had a look in the Rag Market, an indoor market in the Bull Ring with about 350 stalls, many of which sell fabrics and haberdashery. I feel envious of those Brummies – what a resource to have on your doorstep! The Kirkgate covered market in Leeds is good, and supposedly one of the largest indoor markets in Europe, but it doesn’t have the concentration of textile-related stalls that the Rag Market does. Having said that, a lot of the fabric was of poor quality, especially the dress fabrics, but at least there was a big choice. If I worked in Birmingham city centre I’d be in there every week to have a rummage and pick up cheap reels of sewing thread, zips and what have you.
I found a zebra-print tapestry fabric that might do for a bag like the cupcake one I wrote about last week, but I decided against it in the end. I’m hoping I see something better locally, and if I don’t, I expect I’ll find the same zebra fabric in Yorkshire without too much trouble. Funny how there are more places that sell furnishing fabric nowadays than dress fabric shops, it never used to be like that.
I walked through the Bull Ring’s other covered market on my way back to the station. This is mainly a food market and I tried to find fatakdi powder (alum) to use as a dyeing mordant, without success. But at an African food stall I spotted Kool-Aid, which I’ve also been seeking to use in dyeing. This powdered fruit drink is widely used by American crafters to dye natural-fibre yarn and fabric, as it comes in a big variety of flavours (and colours). It is hard to come by in the UK though. Unfortunately, the market stall only had two favours, strawberry and tropical punch, which look like almost the same shade of red. But I bought a sachet of each anyway to experiment with. I have a 100g cone of undyed, 4-ply silk yarn left over from my Summit shawl that is crying out to be a colourful shawlette.