Councillor Ian Kettle (second from left) and the Red by Night team (from left to right) David Davies, operations manager, owners Vicki and Darren Wilkes plus bar manger Rachel Marson

Having just opened the venue ‘Red By Night’ on the Waterfront in the heart of the Black Country, Vicki has taken on a challenge completely the opposite to her engineering background.

A profession that, in the UK, is still only made up of 12% women, Vicki pursued a degree in Materials Engineering at Swansea University. Vicki worked in engineering for the next decade, specialising in a breadth of roles before the unfortunate liquidation of ESH Testing Ltd, where Vicki, along with many others, was made redundant.

Choosing to not give up, Vicki and her husband Darren began their own engineering business, Phoenix Calibration, in the spare room of their house. Starting from nothing, the business grew to designing bespoke test machines for global customers in pharmaceutical, nuclear, aerospace, defence and automotive sectors. Growing to a turnover of £2m, in 2010 the couple started a separate business, Merlin, in Loughborough offering testing services for pharmaceutical customers. Alongside their two great Danes – a couple of office dogs who became celebs in the area! – Vicki and Darren sold Phoenix and Merlin and chose to spend the Winter season (18/19) in Austria in a motorhome. Whilst experiencing the snowboarding resort, the couple fell in love with the atmosphere of Apres ski.

Flooded with great bands and live music, they began searching for how they could bring the same atmosphere to their home city… that was when they spotted a new bar that had opened on the Waterfront near to where they lived. Once they had met the landlord and got the permission to turn the bar into a music venue, Vicki and Darren began the steepest learning cures of their life, as they had no experience in this sector whatsoever.

Taking the venue name from ‘black by day, red by night’, a phrase integral to Birmingham’s industrial history, Vicki comments;

“We have tried to keep the theme very local, we are proud to be part of the Black Country, and with our engineering backgrounds we could design and build a lot of the features ourselves rather than buy them off the shelf or get someone else to do it. We bought all the materials from other local businesses as far as possible.

Red by Night in full swing

The bar front is from an original barge, the entire top of the bar and the bar pulls was designed and made by us, the cable tray brackets, stage, tables, toilets cubicles and sinks etc. We have two large cogs inside the venue that are from actual working presses, a lot of older engineers come past and see them and comment on how they used to work with the presses or maintain them. We have a series of photos of the area through the ages inside the venue on the doors, we believe it is vital to retain the heritage of an area that influenced the industrial heritage of the entire country.”

Vicky Wilkes

Set to be ‘the place’ for music events, comedy nights and a spot for student bands from the forthcoming Resonance University to rehearse and gig, the predicted success of the ‘Red By Night’ venue is an testament to entrepreneurship and what can be achieved by the courage to venture into the unknown.

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