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Iconic arts centre reopens under black ownership

UNDER NEW OWNERSHIP: Businessman Keith ‘Cipher’ Shayaam- Smith is leading a new consortium that will take over the former Drum Arts Centre (Photo credit: Veron Graham)

AN ICONIC Birmingham arts centre, which was controversially closed in 2016, is to re-open under black ownership next month.

The new Legacy Centre of Excellence, formerly known as The Drum Arts Centre, is believed to be the biggest black-owned facility of its kind in Europe.

The consortium behind the purchase of the million-pound site is made up of local investors including a number of individuals from Birmingham’s African Caribbean community.

They bought the freehold to the building from the city council. The move follows a recent wave of major black community centres across the UK being forced to close.


Leader of the consortium and businessman Keith ‘Cipher’ Shayaam-Smith said he and his team saw the purchase as “bringing the centre back to the community” and were keen to pass on their knowledge and experience to help encourage black ownership of large venues across the UK.

He told The Voice: “Since I was a young boy, I’ve seen the black community lose so many buildings – nurseries, schools, offices. We need to hang onto them and stimulate economic development.”

The Legacy Centre of Excellence will provide a wider range of services than its predecessor The Drum.

The new centre will expand its offering to provide business, education and employment events, alongside the concerts, exhibitions and performances that the centre became well known for over the last 20 years.

Currently undergoing significant reconstruction work, the facility will span across two storeys when complete, including new offices, a co-working hub, plus spaces for events including conferences, live music and theatre.

Worth an estimated £1 million, the complex is based in the inner city area of Aston and the freehold purchase was completed, after 18 months of planning and negotiation, by the city social enterprise 7E Youth Academy, led by Shayaam-Smith, with the support of investors, last May.

RANGE OF SERVICES: The Legacy Centre will offer more than its predecessor at the site, The Drum

A graduate of Birmingham University, who earned a master’s degree from Coventry University, Walsall-born Shayaam-Smith’s career history spans property development/management and community engagement.


Prior to that, he performed as rap artist Cipher Jewels, a founder member of Moorish Delta, who had performed at The Drum, before going into music production and management.

He told The Voice: “This centre is all about building a legacy. Our elders came here and built up post-war Britain, often working in dangerous and unforgiving places, sacrificing their dreams in the process. We are standing on their shoulders so we need to have something to inspire the coming generations and give them a hand up.”

The centre will feature the brand new North West Birmingham Business Hub, which will promote entrepreneurship and offer business and professional training, and host a teaching academy to train young people from BAME communities and young women for careers in business, banking, finance, engineering, science and technology.

Seeing the purchase as “bringing the centre back to the community”, Shayaam-Smith is keen to pass on knowledge about how the consortium managed to acquire the centre in a bid to encourage black ownership of large venues across the UK, as well as invest in the academic and political futures of young people and build sustainability in the black community.

He said: “This isn’t something we’re taking lightly. Winning the tender and taking this project forward is based on a vision for a better future for us as a community – for us to own and hold more buildings, not just one, making them functional and sustainable. Black businesses can work, and we are about changing the narrative to a positive one.

“We need to be competitive in business, but not with each other. We can’t turn this around on our own. We have to work in partnership, celebrating our collective successes with a dif- ferent mindset. Our youth are watching us, so as visionaries we need to step out, support each other and put our best foot forward.”


The Drum was opened in 1996 supposedly to rival mainstream city centre venues such as the Birmingham Hippodrome and the Alexandra

Unable to attract leading artists and resist the impact of the economic recession, the organisation behind it, Newtown Cultural Arts Project, took the decision in April 2016 to close its doors two months later.

Petitions and campaigns to save the centre fell on deaf ears. In the interim, many of the events it hosted did not happen or struggled to find alternative venues.

The Drum was among a number of arts and community centres that closed in Birmingham and its surrounding areas in recent years, including facilities in Newtown, Nechells Green, Phoenix Centre in Witton and the Square in Weoley Castle, plus Wolverhampton’s Oxley Day Centre and The Public in West Bromwich.

Councillor Yvonne Mosquito, the former Lord Mayor of Birmingham and deputy Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC) in the West Midlands said: “The re-opening is a significant achievement. Mr Shayaam-Smith is a person of excellence who has a very good understanding of the political, economic and social realities of the communities which puts him in a great position to inspire youngsters to achieve.”

Cllr Mosquito, who is on a four-person shortlist to succeed David Jamieson as PCC, added: “This isn’t his first venture, he is an experienced businessman. I want our community to support the Legacy Centre, not just in word but to translate that into reality to ensure the venue is successful.”

Cllr Ian Ward, leader of Birmingham City Council, said he was “delighted to welcome the Legacy Centre of Excellence to Birmingham”, although the authority has no official links to the new centre.

“The centre will undoubtedly strengthen the whole city, celebrate our diversity and youth whilst also bringing long-term cultural, economic and social benefits,” he added.

“I believe the inclusive educational, artistic and business initiatives will be a pillar for our BME community, including residents and businesses within North Birmingham.


“Birmingham is one of the youngest cities in Europe and our next generation of brilliant artists and entrepreneurs are needed more than ever to help steer this fast-developing city.

“This centre will be dedicated to raising the inclusive aspirations of the community, providing a great facility for local people, local businesses and organisations in Birmingham to work proactively, together.”

Legacy will once again be the official home of this year’s Black History Month celebrations, which have moved around the city since 2016, in what will be a busy opening month. Starting with a launch for the centre on September 7, it will also be hosting a Future Leaders’ Meeting, a jobs fair, the launch of BHM and a performance by reggae legend Johnny Osbourne.

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