May 1, 2024

Title reading The Fight to Keep Kings Heath Clean

Have you ever wondered how we manage to keep the streets clean in Kings Heath? The battle to keep the area free of tags is a constant one – but luckily we have a team of brave volunteers and some high-tech gadgets to back them up!
The leader of this crack team of graffiti-removers is Oz. Carpenter by trade, he’s easily recognisable on his bike around and about in Kings Heath. He’s backed up by Dom, a vet, and also local to the area.

Oz and Dom are often out and about of a Sunday morning, working hard to get their paint down before the shops open their shutters. In most places, Oz has found it’s easier to paint over the graffiti than to try and scrub it off, so the team rock up to the spot with specially-mixed paints, brushes and rollers, aiming to get the job done before 10am and get themselves a nice coffee and cake at Pause Coffee Shop in Kings Court. So what inspires this team to work so hard to get rid of the tags that appear on buildings and street furniture up and down the High Street?

Oz started on this mission in 2022, when he was doing it under the auspices of the Kings Heath and Brandwood Litter Pickers. Seeing the tags all over shop shutters during the night, he feared that they would make the area seem much less attractive and welcoming. Armed with stacks of swatches for house paint from Homebase, Oz began to match by eye the best colour of paint to cover over each surface, and removing graffiti in a covert fashion.

The operation has become much more formalised recently, as the BID seeks the permission of every business where Oz’ keen eye spots graffiti before removing anything. In order to support these efforts, the BID has invested in a ‘gizmo’ – as Oz calls it – which can spit out the colour of the wall that needs to be painted over, as a RAL number, which can be turned into a paint of the exact same shade by the mixing machines at places like Homebase. Ensuring that the paint has the exact same shade as the surface to be painted over makes the whole process way more efficient – as they don’t have to paint an entire surface to keep it looking clean, only the exact location of the graffiti. He finds the process of painting over the tags oddly satisfying, like creating a new work of art and experimenting with different paints and techniques. And it’s always great when passers-by stop to admire their work.

Image showing a before and after of graffiti at New Life Baptist Church
Before and after at New Life Baptist Church

He does worry sometimes, that cleaning the shutters will only provide a blank canvas for more tag, which is why the fight to keep Kings Heath clean doesn’t end with the clearing up of graffiti. Oz is interested in helping taggers and other street artists to make a positive contribution to the High Street – he remarks that the Kings Heath mural by The Kingsway was painted by a person who got his start in tagging. It’s for this reason that the more artistic throw-ups are left alone. When surfaces in on the High Street feature art, as is the case with the shutters of The New Photo Company, they are less likely to receive tags, as well as the art itself obviously contributing to building our neighbourhood’s character, which is really what this is all about.

The future is also bright for the graffiti team, with Oz planning to expand his team of volunteers and turn the regular cleaning of tags into a social event of sorts. He’s got plans to paint up the poles outside Nationwide and continue to promote positive uses of street art around the area as well.

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