We visit Birmingham’s Bournville to find out what life’s really like for residents who live under strict rules

Bournville has plenty of stunning green spaces, independent shops and of course Cadbury, but with no pubs and strict rules to follow, do residents want to see changes in Birmingham's model village?
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There aren't too many places in the UK that are quite like Bournville.

The small and quaint south Birmingham village is cherished by those who live there. The picturesque area was born from Birmingham's iconic Cadbury brand and is a model village -  a largely self-contained community that was founded by the Quaker Cadbury family in 1876 for employees at its factory.

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Bournville has been called the world‟s first planned and balanced community, and the relatively small number of residents who live in Bournville - around 25,000 - are still required to follow the rules of the Village Trust. 

The Trust, which was founded in 1900 by George Cadbury, owns most of the homes in the village and has a design guide which residents are expected to follow. Those who live in the village, including employees, are expected to maintain their homes to a certain standard, and if you live within the trust’s management scheme, locals also have to pay an annual charge of around £100, according to the Trust.

Walls and fences are also generally discouraged and any changes to a house's 'external appearance' must be approved by the Trust who need to be informed.

The guide also includes instructions on what gardens should look like, with no caravans, trailers or boats allowed on driveways. The guide is in place to help sustain the village’s idyllic and peaceful atmosphere, which has been maintained for more than 100 years. There are also no pubs or major supermarkets in Bournville, with it famously being known as a ‘dry village’.

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Although you'll find plenty of bars and restaurants in nearby Stirchley. I headed down to the village on a winter morning to find out what life is really like for those who live and work in the area.

Cadbury WorldCadbury World
Cadbury World

Of course, Bournville is still defined by Cadbury. The huge factory that overlooks the village attracts some tourism as many come to see where the UK's most famous chocolate brand was born.

Jumping off the train, I noticed that much of the village has a purple theme to represent the brand including parts of the train station and many of the village's street lights. Walking past Cadbury World, it’s impossible to miss the rather ornate and quite stunning clubhouse of Cadbury Football Club  - even the local team is defined by chocolate.

There are plenty of green spaces, and the village is also home to Rowheath Park, one of the city's most stunning parks. I stopped to chat with one Bournville resident by the factory. Robert has lived in the village for 45 years. He says the village's green spaces are what attracted him to set up his home here.

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When I asked about living under the Trust's rules, he said: "We're in a listed building in conservation areas so you can't change anything about the property. There's the maintenance charge which is fine, but I know some people rail against it.”

He added: "Famously, we don't have any pubs or off licences. Round the corner there's a garage and Tesco Express that wanted an off-licence. They were told they couldn't have it, and appealed so we had a referendum about it in the village.

"But it wasn't close: 80% wanted to keep Bournville dry," he said - which goes to show how much the residents still value George Cadbury's blueprint. Another hot topic for the village has been Birmingham City Council’s proposal to implement a Low Traffic Neighbourhood system to reduce traffic and pollution and make the roads safer. The LTN would also restrict driving in the village.

Traffic builds up fairly quickly through Bournville, especially on Sycamore Road during the school run for the local primary in the morning, but the council received a mixed response from Bournville residents during a drop-in session over the summer.

Bournville train stationBournville train station
Bournville train station
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Although many people who live in the south Birmingham village showed support for the aims and principles of the project, 46% of respondents expressed positive sentiments about the project, compared to 43% expressing negative ones.

No decision has been made just yet on whether the measures will be implemented. Robert said to me: “I have a lot of sympathy with people who need a car to get to work. I use the train, but I used to work in Cradley Heath and it was a bit of a journey - nearly two hours as you have to go into Birmingham.

"And you compare that with half an hour in the car, so I do have sympathy with people working and driving, and I don’t really know what the solution is. Many people don’t work in the same area they live in."

After our chat, I then walked up to Sycamore Road, the Bournville street which is home to a row of independent shops and is next to the stunning village green. Many of the houses around the green are well-built cottages with spacious gardens that have an arts and crafts like design, and the village reminded me of a small movie set.

Andrew EvansAndrew Evans
Andrew Evans
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I popped into Evans's toy and gift shop that sells a bit of everything, including flowers and plants. The store is owned by Andrew Evans who also lives in the village. The shop was previously Andrew’s childhood toy shop and he took over the lease of the business three years ago.

He describes Bournville as ‘a big social experiment’ but says that one of the biggest misconceptions about the village is that life is drastically different for those who live here.

“There are many people with significant means and professional careers who live here, and there are people who are social housing tenants who have been part of the fabric of the place for generations. So it's a mixed bag. It's very beautiful, but the people here are not without their challenges on a daily basis.”

He tells me that business has been tough since the Covid pandemic, and that support from the local community has been vital during the last few years.  “We have had to let staff go and reduce our bills, so it's been difficult. But the business wouldn’t have existed half as long if it was located somewhere else.

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“Our landlords are Bournville Village Trust; we have reasonable rents and they are good landlords in that sense, and rather than trying to make top buck out of us all, their mantra is they want the shops to be fully occupied and to do well rather than trying to make the most valuable profit.”

Sycamore Road is home to a row on independent shopsSycamore Road is home to a row on independent shops
Sycamore Road is home to a row on independent shops

Andrew believes the Trust’s rules are a price worth paying to live in the idyllic village. “Because of the rules Stirchley has boomed,” he said. “We all knew Bournville was a dry area before we came here.

"Stirchley is having something of  a renaissance and provides a social life to lots of people. I think there are a lot of people who support not having pubs because it's a historical factor of the place, just like you can’t buy takeaway food on Bournville - the nearest chippies are across the railway line, but we all still have access to those we just have to travel a little further. I like the fact it's a dry area because it's a nod to the past, and I don't think it hurts.

“The rules regarding how we all present our properties, again, is part of the appeal and what keeps property prices so buoyant for those who can afford to buy.  Overall it's a nice place, people pay a premium to live here if they can afford to, and that's understandable.”

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Locals Alisson and Mark have also lived in Bournville for 40 years and say they don’t mind travelling short distances when they need to do their weekly shop, and believe the upkeep is a price worth paying to maintain the village’s beauty. “I  don’t think we’ve ever really missed the pub,” she said. “Obviously there are some on the periphery. That’s why we very much welcome this little parade of shops [on Sycamore Road]. We also like the architecture here.”

After a stroll around the village green, I went into Christine’s knit and wool shop that’s a couple of doors down from Evans’s. The family run business is owned by sisters Julie and Caroline Davies, who took over the shop from their mother who founded the business in 1976.

On life in the village, Julie told me: “It has its challenges but it’s a lovely location to work in and it’s very community based. We serve third generations of families which is very nice. “Like everybody else there’s been lots of challenges and keeping up with the world works the way online has developed. Although we’re in a very traditional place as a yard shop, we try to keep up with the times - the location is absolutely stunning."

Julie and Caroline DaviesJulie and Caroline Davies
Julie and Caroline Davies

She says she’s more than happy living under the Trust’s rules and wants to keep the village dry. “There’s pubs within a very quick distance from here so it’s not something that bothers us.”

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She adds that parking can be an issue in the area, but they weren’t happy with the LTN plans. "We weren't too happy about the LTN suggestion that they were going to block the road at both ends. We welcome customers but we don't want to put any barriers to our customers really."

Have any of the Bournville rules been relaxed?

I also had a quick chat with the Village Trust's Director of Communities, Arthur Tsang. He told me: "Often when people talk about rules in Bournville there's an assumption about who can live here, which isn't true. Bournville is open to everyone and inclusive, anyone can apply to live and rent here."

He says In 2020 and 2021, they reviewed the design guide and spoke to residents about the rules because some "weren't working anymore." He said: "If you live in the the modern area of the village the rules are slightly more relaxed.

"We're introducing solar panels now and car charging points because some of the rules do need to be modernised, but the value and the success of Bournville is partly down to what it looks like and protecting the characteristics of the model village."

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All in all, it seems residents and the Trust are open to some changes within the village, although they value many of the traditions which are upheld by the Trust, including keeping the village dry, with many also seemingly content to pay the village upkeep to maintain the area's beauty.

It's a unique and historic area of Birmingham that's remained largely untouched by hospitality and modern developments, and that's unlikely to change anytime soon.

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