Jane Charlesworth tells their story of getting involved with BFOE's The Warehouse in Digbeth, which provides meeting and office spaces, but also so much more...
In March 2019 I joined the Birmingham Friends of The Earth campaigners for a walk along Digbeth’s canals, followed by lunch at the Warehouse Cafe. That was my introduction to The Warehouse –as Birmingham Friends of the Earth’s community building is known– and some of the people who work and meet there, and was a day that changed my life. Four years on, The Warehouse feels like home to me and it’s hard to put into words how special it is to have a space to work, socialise and garden, just minutes’ walk from the city centre.
Decades of activism have made The Warehouse what it is today – Friends of the Earth Birmingham, a cooperative, first moved into the Warehouse in 1977 and BFoE volunteers were involved in practical projects that were innovative at the time, such as insulation, recycling projects and vegetarian cooking. We’ve had a vegetarian restaurant on site for almost 40 years, making us Birmingham’s oldest vegetarian restaurant–the Warehouse Cafe is now fully vegan and offers catering to our meeting room users, as well as restaurant service. In 1979, BFoE bought the building, with the help of a grant from West Midlands County Council and money donated by supporters.
Birmingham Friends of The Earth have gradually converted The Warehouse –which is rumoured to have been a slaughterhouse– into a thriving community building that is home to meeting and office spaces, the Warehouse Cafe Co-op, Sprockets Cycles, Brum Radio, and Vesta Living, who sell sustainable household goods. Our latest tenant is Voce Books, a new independent bookshop for Birmingham focused on radical and small-press titles. Just behind the Warehouse is Digbeth Community Garden – we’re probably one of the only office spaces in the city centre where the birdsong is louder than traffic noise.

Our offices and meeting spaces are used by many local activist groups, charities and cooperatives, including Just Film Coop www.justfilm.coop,  who run screenings of films with a social justice theme each month. The funds raised from renting out offices and meeting rooms go back into supporting the campaigners who are the heart of our organisation, as well as enabling us to rent our meeting rooms at rates accessible to grassroots and voluntary organisations.
Our goal at the Warehouse is to create a carbon neutral and zero waste building that is accessible to everybody in Birmingham and we’re always working on practical ways to do better. In 2016 we ran a Community Share Offer and raised £240,000 to further restore the building and make our meeting spaces and cafe fully wheelchair accessible. In 2022 we partnered with Compost Culture - https://www.compostculture.co.uk/about - to build a large-scale composting system capable of handling all the food waste from the cafe and building and are hosting workshops to help people learn to compost at home.
If you’re interested in volunteering, the BFoE campaigners (email [email protected]) for more information and garden (email [email protected],  or turn up on the 1st and 3rd Saturday of each month to join regular work parties) are always looking for volunteers, and many of our tenants also have volunteer options available.
If you’re looking for a meeting room or an office space that feels like more than just a regular old office, we currently have two desks available for hire in our shared office, as well as one small office space (suitable for 1-2 people). Email [email protected] to find out more.