Keith Bracey worked at Birmingham City Council and remembers the Planning and Regeneration Department receiving the very first call about Elmhurst relocating from Camberley to Birmingham. Project Manager for the relocation from 1999-2004, Keith kindly shares his memories of Elmhurst moving north to continue its story in the Midlands.
These are my memories of my involvement in the Elmhurst Ballet School relocation 1999-2004. In December 1999 the enquiry for assistance in trying to locate a site and facilitate the relocation of Elmhurst from Camberley to Birmingham came via the then Principal John McNamara's call to Paul Spooner, Birmingham City Council’s Director of Planning and Regeneration at the time who also asked me to get involved in the project.
John McNamara and Elmhurst Governor Canon Robert Crossley came up to Birmingham and we met in Locate in Birmingham, the city's former inward investment and investment promotion agency offices on the 25th floor of Alpha Tower. We immediately struck up a rapport as John is a Brummie and wanted to bring Elmhurst to Birmingham for Elmhurst to become a feeder school for Birmingham Royal Ballet. It would enable young dance students to get an excellent education without having to head to London. For me it was a win, win for Birmingham, my home city, which would improve education in Birmingham and bring a world class learning institution to the region.
At the time Birmingham Labour MP for Yardley Estelle Morris MP was an Arts Minister in Tony Blair's first government. She was presented to and lobbied by the then Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet David Bintley, now Sir David Bintley. The Labour Leader of Birmingham City Council at the time, Sir Albert Bore was extremely supportive of the project.
Soon after the initial enquiry, I was invited to Elmhurst’s Christmas show at its Camberley home where I was warmly greeted by Principal John McNamara and a Governor colleague, Canon Robert Crossley.
I watched the production in their studio theatre and was captivated by the sheer enthusiasm, youthful energy and chutzpah that the young Elmhurst dancers showed. I was enthralled. I had never attended a ballet performance before, even with Birmingham Royal Ballet on my doorstep at Birmingham Hippodrome. At the post-show reception, I told John and Robert of my sheer joy at witnessing the students dance and what a great addition to Birmingham's cultural offer the school's relocation would bring to Birmingham.
I reported back to Mike Loftus, my director at Locate in Birmingham, that there was definitely scope for Elmhurst to move to Brum, especially if the right site could be found. Initially we looked at Birmingham City Council sites managed by Peter Jones Assistant Director of Birmingham Property Services but no suitable BCC sites could be identified. Paul Spooner contacted Calthorpe Estates who manage 1500 acres of prime suburban land and property in Edgbaston to see if they had anything suitable. With their assistance and that of their architect Bob Ghosh, one site was identified, especially as it had a covenant on it for educational use in any future development. The site was the former location for Edgbaston College on the Bristol Road, not far from the Edgbaston Cricket Ground, the home of the Warwickshire Bears and one of the most famous cricket grounds in the world. The site is also next to the largest private hospital in Birmingham, the Priory Hospital. Because of the covenant, the new Elmhurst building was an ideal fit.
Elmhurst’s Camberley site was sold for just over £12 million which was enough to build the new state-of-the-art school in Edgbaston, including a bespoke theatre, dance studios, classrooms and boarding houses. In spring 2002 the site had planning consent from Birmingham City Council and was ready for the builders to start work. Aston Villa Football Club’s centre forward Dion Dublin performed the ‘cutting of the first sod’ and the new Elmhurst build had begun.
In the summer of 2004, the Elmhurst Ballet School construction phase was nearing completion and formally opened in October 2004, just under four years after the initial meeting at Alpha Tower between myself, John McNamara and Governor Canon Robert Crossley. The school was opened by the then leader of Birmingham City Council, Labour's Sir Albert Bore, who cut the ribbon and made the welcoming speech.
Eighteen years later, Elmhurst is part of the cultural and educational fabric of the city of Birmingham and in 2023 will celebrate its Centenary in its (relatively) new home, still providing an excellent all-round dance and academic education for talented local, national and international students.
By Keith Bracey
BCC Project Manager, Elmhurst Ballet School Relocation 1999 - 2004
Birmingham and Black Country Poetry and history blog at www.keithbracey.wordpress.com