Department of the Environment, Inner Areas Study Birmingham, 1975

Roger Coward with Gavin Brown, Roland Lewis, Evadne Stevens, Frances Viner

The APG negotiated a memorandum in 1972 with the Civil Service Department, and worked with various agencies and ministries to develop placements in the following years. In 1974 the Department of the Environment agreed, after lengthy negotiations with the APG, to finance a two-month feasibility study by the documentary filmmaker Roger Coward in the Small Heath district of Birmingham. A team of urbanists and sociologists worked on an Inner Area Study (IAS) with the aim of developing urban renewal for the dilapidated and neglected city district. Although certain methodological approaches had initially been agreed upon, such as working with audiovisual media, the IAS team was open to the idea of an open-ended working process.

Roger Coward, Department of the Environment, 1975 © Roger Coward

As part of the feasibility study, Coward realised video workshops with local residents which documented the gradual decline of the neighborhood and made their view of the neighborhood clear to the planning authorities. The workshops were well received and led in some cases to the creation of local residents initiatives. The authorities were pleased by the results of the feasibility study and approved a three-month placement for Coward and four other artists. In addition to the continuation of the video workshops Coward, together with Gavin Brown, Roland Lewis, Evadne Stevens and Frances Viner, developed plays with local residents and amateur theatre groups. The joint development of the theatre pieces was key, based on the conviction that the concrete experience of cooperation in the group could lead to a better understanding of social dynamics within the neighborhood.

Coward generated a wealth of material for his film The Most Smallest Heath in the Spaghetti Junction (1977) during the two phases of the placement, a film dealing with the verbal and visual communication processes between Small Heath residents and policy makers. The team leader of the IAS Birmingham, Peter Walding, wrote a detailed report at the end of the placement which was published by the DoE, which critically evaluated the project in addition to Cowards own report, All Fine and Context.