The hum of bus and car engines, bursts of colourful fruit and veg and people from all walks of life wandering along the street – welcome to the notorious Soho Road, a place with a bad reputation.
Dogged by prostitution and crime, this one-mile stretch of road deep in Handsworth has been dragged through the mud in recent weeks.
Birmingham Live has uncovered the grim reality of women selling sex for as little as £5 while, in June alone, 177 crimes were reported – 56 of which were for violence and sexual offences.
But there are many here are doing what they can to make it a better place – people willing to make a difference.
“By day it’s fine,” explained staff inside the Pastry House coffee shop on Soho Road. “Things have improved. You look at the flowers and stuff that’s been put up to improve the look around here.
“It’s better than it was five-or-so years ago. It was bad back then. By night, though, that’s when it all changes, that’s why we close now at 6.30pm. It’s just not worth it.
“You’ve got druggies walking around like zombies, gangs racing around and prostitutes on the street but, as I say, it’s like anywhere, things turn a bit nastier of a night-time.”
Soho Road itself begins where it meets Villa Road in Gib Heath, north of Hockley on the outskirts of the city. Soho Hill joins onto it and, from there, you can see some of Birmingham’s tallest buildings.
The road itself is home to some stunning white Victorian townhouses, some of which are derelict, run-down and littered with fly-tipping.
They’d probably fetch £1 million if they were plonked in the middle of Sutton Coldfield but hear they just look abandoned.
Residents here say the road itself was an affluent place to live 50 to 70 years ago, with neighbouring Handsworth Wood being described as the Knowle of yesteryear.
But times have changed.
Further up the road, I spoke with Bal Nandhra, a Soho Road street warden armed with a stab-proof vest and a body-cam.
Bal, an ambassador for the Soho Road Business Improvement District (BID), patrols the street on a daily basis offering that all-important reassurance.
“You just get the odd drunk, drug user or beggar,” he said, when asked what bad incidents he has dealt with.
“I’m out here to be seen, to support local businesses who might feel threatened, maybe. I’m their eyes and ears.”
Bob Balu, meanwhile, chairman of the Soho Road BID, added: “As businesses we’re all finding it hard and feeling the pinch. My business has been here for 54 years so there’s not a lot I haven’t seen.
“We set up the BID five years ago and businesses pay a £200 levy to join which gets shared around.
“Improvements are being made. We’ve had nice flower beds put in, new bins installed and we’re really trying to improve the area and to make it much more nicer on the eye.
“There’s a lot of good going on in the background. Things have been bad, I’m not denying that but, as I’ve said, this place has been good to me for 50 years and now it’s my time to give a little back.”
Walking along Soho Road, it’s just one shop after an another, all crammed in which doesn’t help when carefree drivers just pull up and plonk their cars on the pavements.
A local shopper, who spotted our cameraman taking snaps of fly-tipping and bad parking, came over and spoke at length about some of the problems.
“What I’d like to see is empty shops and run-down buildings on Soho Hill brought back to use,” he said, wanting to remain anonymous.
“It’s in a dreadful state. You’ve got homeless people sleeping around them. Some of the buildings have been empty for about six to 14 years, the windows are all smashed in and it’s just a sorry sight.
“The drug and prostitution problem is bad, too, and needs to be dealt with firmer. Prostitutes are even out in the broad light of day, asking people ‘Do you want any business?’. It’s bad, man.
“There’s rubbish everywhere and the fly-tipping needs sorting out as well. Us residents just want to see real improvements now, better parking for people to come in and use some of the businesses.
“There’s just nowhere to park and the one car park charges £4.50 for the day, it’s too much.”
Haider Chohan, meanwhile, who runs a dazzling costume jewellery store along Soho Road, believes things are improving and says Soho Road is – despite its reputation – a special place.
“I’ve been here for 30 years and I can tell you things are improving,” he said. “Just look around outside. It’s a bustling high street with such a mixture of cultural communities, from Polish to Pakistani.
“Take the food choices, for example. People can grab jerk chicken from the Jamaican down the road or have an Indian sweet. It’s multicultural and that’s what’s brilliant about this part of Birmingham.”
And things have certainly changed. People and businesses are on the hustle more than ever and those not willing to fight for a better living will get left behind, much like the empty pubs and buildings which were no doubt busy and bustling back in their prime.
There’s people that passionately care about Soho Road and some that don’t. That’s life. An old and wily Afro-Caribbean gentleman in a cap said it best as we chatted about some fly-tipping just left on the corner of the road. “You’ve just got to live in it and get on by,” he said.
And, as simple as that statement is, that’s all people can do.