LOCAL PROFILE: Oliver Hassell

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics supplier by Oliver Hassell

Artist Oliver Hassell took Erdington by storm with his striking, colourful, and darkly-inspired pieces displayed for Black History Month. Erdington Local catches up with him to find out what makes him tick.

Born in Erdington and living here his whole life, Oliver started to enjoy art “as a toddler.”

I’d draw what I’d see on TV – things like Harry Potter,” although he admitted, with a smile, that at this age they were “stickmen, and I’d just label them ‘Harry Potter’.” He sees these early years of drawing “cartoons and action figures” as an important sign he had a calling for visual art.

Oliver says that he “didn’t get into making proper art until I was about 16.” He studied illustration at Birmingham City University (BCU), saying that “Uni was fun, I had a good time” – spending that time developing new skills, professing that he learned a lot “by himself” as opposed to part of the university course.

Oliver creates colourful, eye-catching pieces with dark figures, foreboding smiles, and references to social media, religion, sex, death, and his latest piece regarding coronavirus (with the virus literally coming out of a Corona bottle of beer).

Oliver explains his general working method when creating his artwork. Commencing with a sketch, then “mainly drawing in pens, adding small details in with paints for “mouths and eyes.”

To give the art an extra layer of otherworldliness, Oliver then scans his piece onto the computer and edits slightly to “step it up from a drawing to something to look at.”

Oliver has various inspirations, saying the “past year or so I’ve been concentrating on the concept of the shadow self.”

He goes onto say that “Everyone’s got their dark-side that they don’t really want to look at – It’s up to you to figure out and understand that [dark] side of yourself so you can become a complete person.” He explored these themes in his debut exhibition in January 2020 at The Gap Arts in Balsall Heath.

Oliver worked in a collective setting as part of Gallery 37 which is a ‘creative residency programme where young people can rediscover themselves as artists’. The joint exhibition of 5 artists was called ‘Karma-Utopia’ hosted at Centrala in Digbeth.

Oliver created an art piece which was a colourful, illustrated “stack of blocks, with different values on it like love – creativity.” The words were written backwards, placed next to a mirror.

Viewers could participate with the piece, ordering the blocks in the order of values which they found most important to them. “It puts you with what you think is important,” and the fact it is next to a mirror represents that the values are a “reflection of yourself.”

Erdington Local asks Oliver his opinions regarding Black History Month [BHM]. Oliver is “mixed – Black Caribbean and white British.”

He feels like “We’ve come so far with it now,” thinking that 2020 BHM should be the “start of something that goes on forever.”

Oliver sees the murder of George Floyd in May as a great “injustice” and that it’s important to “support the fight.”

He says he personally “hasn’t felt oppressed by the government,”but was aware of racist language when he was growing up. “It’s a joke when we were kids, but that’s still a problem,” Oliver says.

Oliver was featured as part of October’s Evening of Creativity at Oikos Café and is happy that “stuff like this is happening now in Erdington,” bemoaning that there isn’t much for visual arts in the area.

He transformed lockdown into a chance to concentrate on his own business, ‘Death in Colour’, which is his own clothing line featuring his art work: “Upcycled, vintage clothing with my art work – all customized.”

Starting the business in March, Oliver says he’s been “doing quite well during COVID” with some of his stock now sold out.

He did have intentions for a pop up shop-come-exhibition space, although this was not possible due to the pandemic. “A couple things have been scrapped, but it hasn’t stopped the train,” says Oliver, positively.

Oliver is now learning more about animation, 3D, and digital art forms. He’s interested in “Wallace and Gromit-style,” plasticine 3D animation.

I’m just trying to evolve – build up my skills as much as possible. Good stuff will happen.”

To find out more about Oliver Hassell, visit www.oliverhassell.com

To find out more about Birmingham Black History Month, visit wwwb.irminghamblackhistorymonth.co.uk

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OPINION: Marcus Rashford has played a blinder helping the hungry children of Erdington

Words Adam Smith

If this was any other year, then Marcus Rashford’s campaign to fill poor children’s stomachs might have fizzled out faster than a flaming Turkey Twizzler in a Northern blizzard.

But this is 2020, a year none of us will ever forget, and the Manchester United striker has nutmegged the Government completely and touched a raw nerve with the British public.

Today is the first day of half term in world’s fifth largest economy and there will be children going hungry because our Government will not pay peanuts for dinners.

And in the great scheme of things the £20m needed to provide poor children with dinners for a week in England (Scotland and Wales are providing them) is the equivalent what can be found down the back of the Government’s sofa.

I understand the argument though – it is not up to the Government to provide children with school dinners during the holidays. However, we are not living in normal times.

Millions of people in the North are living under lockdown and are unable to work, those on minimum wage and who qualify for help are not even getting the full amount, so if there was ever a time for the Government to listen to a footballer’s humanitarian plea then this is it.

And considering the story has led the news agenda for six days now, I bet they wish they listened to the 22-year-old and did a U-turn as they did in the summer.

Figures released in the summer revealed the Erdington constituency had the fourth most schoolchildren in England eligible for free school meals, 33.8% of 15,932 pupils.

To put that into context, if you walk down Erdington High Street today, you WILL see lots of children who need free school meals and could be hungry right now.

However, top of the free meals eligibility league was Northfield (35.4% of 16,437 pupils), which is represented by a Kingstanding councillor.

Erdington must be the only constituency in the country to have three MPs in the House of Commons. Labour’s Jack Dromey was elected by the people of Erdington in last year’s election, but in a strange twist of electoral fate we have two more elected voices who could shout for our area in Parliament.

Kingstanding Conservative Councillor Gary Sambrook rode into Westminster on Boris Johnson’s blue wave and was elected to represent Northfield. And Castle Vale Conservative Councillor Suzanna Webb took advantage of the Brexit / Remainer Tory civil war to replace former minister Margot James as MP for Stourbridge.,

A year after the election and both remain councillors, and therefore are supposed to be representing the area the best way they can. Both voted to stop feeding Brum children in the holidays.

From a quick glance at Hansard, it seems both are not raising Kingstanding or Castle Vale issues in Parliament – it is a bit like blagging your mate into a posh nightclub with a free bar and then not getting him a free pint because “it’s not the done thing”.

If you enjoy politics as a spectator sport, then this week has been great fun, seeing a working class Northerner run rings around politicians.

First there was the demand to feed hungry children, then the Parliamentary defeat and then, Britain being Britain, the avalanche of free food being offered by businesses across the country.

Seeing the amount of companies, councils, and charities answering the remarkable young man’s plea was a beautiful bright spot in a morass of COVID misery.

Erdington and Kingstanding did not disappoint either with cafes like Goodfillas and Stockland Café, and chippies like Reed Square, offering free food for children.

Goodfillers Cafe – Kingstanding / Kids can eat free (off the kids menu only and 1 meal per day) from Monday 26th to Friday 30th between 8am -1pm. Eat in only no takeaways

This was Pype Hayes fish bar Reed Square’s Facebook post: “We were shocked when MP’s voted down the motion to give free school lunches to deserving children throughout the October half-term holiday.

“Presently we’re witnessing first hand the devastation that the pandemic is causing to some of our customers finances due to job losses, reduced working hours therefore reducing their household incomes.

“As a proud member of this local community the team at REED SQUARE FISH BAR want to play our part. As such we will be offering each school age child a free meal, each lunch time next week with a choice of sausage and chips, chips and peas, chips and curry, chicken nuggets and chips. (one meal per child per lunch time).”

Have you ever known a chip shop sounding so angry? No, me neither. It was not so long ago politicians were demonising chip shops for causing our little cherubs to be obese – now the chippies are giving kids free food because the Government won’t… we are living in weird times.

Kingstanding Regeneration Trust are giving away 200 free meals tomorrow between noon and 2.30pm at George Road Baptist Church, Erdington – click here for more details..

And then there were the MPs who doubled down on the keep kids hungry policy. A North Devon MP attacked those businesses offering to help by saying they shouldn’t moan about being under COVID restrictions  – then Ben Bradley and Mark Jenkinson claimed mothers were swapping food tokens for drugs.

And now the defense is crumbling, with new Tory MPs feeling the white hot heat of Joe Public’s disgust as the man/woman in the street realised their taxes pay for subsidised meals – but not to feed the poorest children in society during a pandemic.

The Government is safe in power for another four years. But those Conservatives who are facing the ballot box next year are pig sick over the fowl up over these free meals. West Midlands Mayor Conservative Andy Street is a perfect example, he is up for re-election next May and he broke ranks to call on the Government to do a U-turn.

And then this morning, when the story could have run out of steam, Health Minister Matt Hancock did the PR equivalent of pouring petrol on the story and flicking a match at the media.

Hancock told us Boris Johnson had been talking to Marcus Rashford about the situation. Which was news to Marcus, so he tweeted immediately this was not the case.

New MPs usually pile on the pounds when they get elected, an endless round of free lunches naturally expand their waistlines. Then there is the subsidised food and drink in Parliament – a petition to stop this perk has got thousands of signatures.

The sheer disparity of well-fed politicians refusing poor children food is stark; it might not be as simple as that, but that is the perception. And it has enraged people, alongside MPs set for a 4% pay rise and private companies getting contracts worth billions of pounds to fail repeatedly at keeping us safe.

I qualified for free school dinners when I was a kid at Great Barr Comp. But my mom was too proud to claim them so instead of sitting with the cool kids eating chocolate concrete and pink blancmange, I’d be looking longingly from the ‘sarnie tables’ because I couldn’t face another lunch hour eating a drab crab paste sandwich.

I knew hunger as a child, as a teen, and as an adult when I worked in London – but what saved me in ‘the smoke’ was getting a press pass to Westminster.

All the food and drinks in Parliament are subsidised… by you. By the taxpayer. It was the cheapest place to get a decent pint and dinner in the entire city. What would cost £30 in St Stephens Tavern opposite Parliament would cost £7 inside those hallowed walls.

The food was fantastic too. And one thing’s for sure, there was not a Turkey Twizzler on any of the menus in Westminster.

To find out more about Kingstanding Regeneration Trust’s food giveaway visit www.facebook.com/events/2610523112591632

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NEWS: Erdington healthcare expanded with Urgent Treatment Centre at Stockland Green Primary Care Centre

Ed’s note… Please contact NHS 111 (it’s free to call) before attending Erdington Urgent Treatment Centre at Stockland Green Primary Care Centre, as walk-in patients cannot been seen.

Words and pics by Ed King

The new Erdingon Urgent Treatment Centre at Stockland Green Primary Care Centre (EUTC) is now open and operational, boosting much needed healthcare across the Erdington constituency.

Established to replace the Health & Wellbeing Walk-In-Centre, that operated from a shopfront site on Erdington High Street, the EUTC can see up to 100 patients per day – taking over previously unused space at the Stockland Green Primary Care Centre (SGPCC).

Despite being a well-loved and well-used facility, the previously high street based practice was not without its challenges – such as opening hours , parking, and proximity to busy licensed premises. The site was further dogged by the constant threat of closure, once in 2013 then again in 2020.

Following several campaigns to save the facility, the Walk-in-Centre finally closed it’s doors during the coronavirus crisis – but with assurances from Birmingham healthcare bosses that such a facility would remain ‘at the heart’ of the community, as called for in an open letter by MP for Erdington Jack Dromey.

The new Stockland Green Primary Care Centre based EUTC will be operational 12hrs a day, seven days a week – with a significant capacity for parking and emergency vehicles, allowing drivers to get right to the front door in desperate situations.

Next to several major bus routes, the EUTC will also offer easier access for patients using public transport from Erdington wards such as Stockland Green, Perry Common, Kingstanding, and Short Heath.

Further facilities on hand at the EUTC are three GP services, a pharmacy, and ‘a range of NHS community services.’

The NHS Birmingham and Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group (BSCCG), who manage the city’s NHS healthcare provisions, are hoping that many of the issues surrounding the old high street centre will be solved with the new facility.

Paul Jennings, Chief Executive of NHS BSCCG, said: “We welcome the opening of the relocated Erdington Urgent Treatment Centre; which will provide crucial urgent care services to local people.

We are committed to ensuring there is suitable local healthcare provision across Birmingham and Solihull, which meets the needs of our diverse communities.”

Erdington’s Member of Parliament, Jack Dromey, is also hopeful that the new UTC will bring widespread benefits across the constituency.

Speaking to Erdington Local about the EUTC , Jack Dromey MP said: “I am delighted that the Erdington Urgent Treatment Centre has opened and is already providing a first-class service to the people of Erdington.”

The Erdington Walk-In Centre saved countless lives, and when it closed temporarily due to COVID, many constituents contacted me with concerns over the future of our local healthcare provision. Back in August, I sought reassurances from the Birmingham and Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group that Erdington would retain such a service, and I am pleased they have delivered on that promise.” 

The new site not only offers improved medical facilities, but the increased accessibility will hopefully mean many more Erdington residents will now access this invaluable local service.” 

It is important for those who wish to use the service to remember to call 111 in the first instance to be referred for an appointment. The threat of COVID-19 is still very real, and we should not risk the health of others by turning up at the new Urgent Treatment Centre without an appointment.”

Local residents looking to access the EUTC, during the coronavirus crisis, have been asked to initially contact NHS 111 – to make sure everyone at the new facility can be met with COVID-19 safe environment.

For more details on how to access the Urgent Treatment Centre, visit www.birminghamandsolihullccg.nhs.uk/your-health

For more information on NHS 11 online, visit www.111.nhs.uk

For more from Jack Dromey MP, or for contact details to his constituency office, visit www.jackdromey.org

For more on the NHS Birmingham and Solihull CCG, visit www.birminghamandsolihullccg.nhs.uk

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NEWS: Inspiring photograph of St Luke’s wins thousands for Kingstanding church in national competition

Words by Adam Smith

A Kingstanding church has won £2,500 after a picture of fireworks above the parish came runner up in a national photography competition.

Sarah Farnan was inspired to pick up her camera after seeing the fireworks light up the night sky above St Luke’s Church, Cavendish Road.

She entered the picture into the Parish Pixels competition with the following description to help capture the character of the church: “The St Luke’s family has been sparkling like a diamond at the centre of the community of Kingstanding for over eighty years, shining out the love of God for all to see.”

Sarah’s snap won the West Midlands regional final of the competition which saw more than 600 Anglican churches enter pictures.

Parish Pixels was launched by insurance company, Ecclesiastical, which awarded the church £1,500 for winning the regional final.

Sarah and church representatives were due to attend a glittering national ceremony for the final in London last week, but due to COVID-19 restrictions the event was streamed online.

However, there were still celebrations after judges announced Sarah’s picture clinched the runner’s up spot winning the Kingstanding church another £1,000.

School administrator Sarah joined the congregation six years ago and was delighted her photo was recognised.

She said: “Situated at the heart of a deprived inner-city area, Kingstanding is often the focus of bad press. There’s quite a lot of unemployment and crime. But St Luke’s is like a shining light, a sparkling diamond, with the love of God at its heart.

As soon as you walk in, you notice an overwhelming sense of genuine warmth and welcome. Our mission is to meet people ‘where they are’, recognising the diversity within our community, embracing and building on the goodness and community spirit that exists here.”

She added: “The church is a real sanctuary – our parish brings people together and tries to unearth the hidden diamond within each of us.”

I don’t know yet how the money will be spent, but there are always things which need doing in any church and fundraising is difficult in an area such as ours, so it’s very welcome.”

She added: “So I want to give a huge thanks to everyone who supported my entry by voting for my picture.

The national final was going to be a trip to London, a presentation lunch and awards ceremony in Westminster. Very disappointingly that fell victim to COVID and instead the ceremony took place virtually online.”

The Parish Pixels Award 2020 ceremony is now available for anyone to watch online and can be seen here:

St Luke’s Church posted about the competition on its Facebook page: “Thanks to all of you who voted and shared our photo. It has been wonderful to see the enthusiasm and support for the competition despite the months of lockdown and lovely to experience the support and interest from our parishioners.”

Parish Pixels organisers, Ecclesiastical, revealed they were overwhelmed by the amount of entries and social media interest in the competition.

A spokesperson said: “We received more than 600 entries, from all corners of the United Kingdom, and together they formed a magnificent illustration of the astonishing diversity of our places of worship and the humbling faith and dedication of their congregations.

Whittling the 635 brilliant submissions down to nine regional winners was tough enough – but then our judges faced the almost impossible job of naming a winner.

We invited you to help them to choose by voting for your favourite on our website, and over 7000 of you responded.”

For more information about St Luke’s Church visit www.saintlukeskingstanding.co.uk

For more on Ecclesiastical, visit www.ecclesiastical.com

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OPINON: I love the Villa (more than my dinner) but I’ll NEVER pay £14.95 to watch a game on TV

Words by and pics by Adam Smith

On 18th October history was made in British football, and for my club Aston Villa.

Not the good type of history, like winning the league with a record number of goals, but the bad kind of history. The kind of history people will remember in the ‘that’s where it all went wrong’ kind of history. Like when an alcoholic remembers the first time they drank hand sanitiser

The Villa‘s game against Leicester was the club’s first ever to be shown on Pay Per View (PPV), at an eye-wateringly price of £14.95. It was not long ago when you could actually go to Villa Park for £15.

The Premier League Ripper-Offer-in-Chief, Richard Maters, justified the price saying: “we believe we have a good product.”

But it’s not, is it?

Football without fans is awful, it’s like watching park football. It’s like decaf coffee, like sex in a spacesuit, like listening to music with only one earphone working. Without fans, football cannot be fantastic.

No matter how many times everyone involved with the English Premier League (EPL) say “it’s the best league in the world”, it does not make it true. The Premier League is not even the best league in England, the Championship is way more exciting. And fair.

As a fan, the EPL is awful, we get ripped off at every turn and turnstile. Tickets are way cheaper in Germany, France, and Spain, and fans abroad can watch their teams play on terrestrial TV. We can’t, not since Sky made us pay for top flight football. In fact, our international counterparts can even watch English football teams on their TV for free… but in the UK, we cannot.

Champions League games used to be broadcast for free on ITV, but then because BT wanted more Internet customers they bought the rights – now, instead of a generation of youngsters watching inspiring English teams’ exploits for free, the Champions League now is the preserve of a tiny amount of people compared to ten years ago.

Even the term ‘product’ turns my stomach, like when football clubs began calling fans ‘customers’.

Calling someone a customer implies there is a choice to be made, but a real fan cannot swap teams. I did not choose to be a Villa fan; I didn’t have a choice. My great grandad preordained it, or maybe my great great granddad – by the time my nan and granddad were queuing for tickets in the 1930s they were both already from Villa families.

And even if I was an orphan, I grew up in Perry Barr, where the club started, and most my friends are Villa. My funniest memories are shared experiences with all them going to, or coming back from, watching the Villa – sometimes even what happened on the pitch is included in my mind’s mosaic of being Villa.

That’s why when a glory hunter tries to wind me up, I don’t care. I feel sorry for them. Yeah, you have your memories of watching a league win on TV… I’d rather have mine of not sleeping for two days after Villa got to the FA Cup Final for the first time since 1957 (when my granddad died two days before the cup final) in 2000, thank you very much.

My point is, I don’t have the choice to watch the Villa or not. But I do have the choice how to watch them, and where to watch them. And I choose never ever to pay £14.95 to watch them in an empty stadium. Or a full stadium, because when life returns to normal the FA are not suddenly going to stop PPV are they? Their Trojan horse/cash cow hybrid is here to stay. 

I would rather choose to stream the game for free via one of the multitude of Middle Eastern based websites, that have sprung up to allow us just this option. I have plenty of friends who do.

The fact that these websites (and somewhat more dodgy streams) exist is part down to the geo-political spat between Qatar and Saudi Arabia makes it even funnier when the ‘global game’ is shoved in our face.

Who usually clinches the top spots in the Premier League? Usually the club whose owners own the most fossil fuels, that’s who. Human rights violators have earnt a seat at the top table of our game. So, if the other side of the ‘global coin’ is easy-to-find streaming sites then it shows the football money men can’t have it both ways.

But now, I can’t even watch games that kick off after 8pm in a pub because I’d miss the end of the match – thanks to video assistant referees (another nail in coffin of football, along with tackling being banned and drop balls mysteriously disappearing) the games last too long and will not finish before the 10pm curfew.

It cannot be a coincidence when pubs had to close at 10pm, and households were forbidden to mix that, PPV was suddenly announced. The beautiful game’s bean counters have been itching to do this for years.

And what better than a national crisis to take advantage of?

When an NHS nurse is risking life and limb to fight COVID-19 and wants to watch their team after a hard shift, the Premier League decides this is the time not let them watch their team for free. This pandemic has shown the true colours of so many people, organisations, and companies. The Premier League have shown theirs.

The Premier League now can be added to the list of wrong ‘uns – along with bog roll hoarders, bog roll price hikers, and that Facebook friend with mush for brains who keeps on sharing those generic “I’m not wearing a mask” statuses.

My friend pays good money for his Sky Sports subscription, and generously gives me his password. (I’m enraged on behalf of his wallet he is now expected to stump up even more money to watch games he would expect for free.) The broadcasters obviously did not mention their plan to charge per games when he or any other customers signed up for a year or 18 months.

So, I don’t blame anyone for streaming Premiership games online ‘illegally’ – part of me thinks those people who show a match on their Facebook Live are cyber freedom fighters.

If a skint dad wanted his Villa mad kids to see the last day relegation decider against West Ham, but could not afford Sky or a trip to the pub, then I will lose no sleep if he finds a way, anyway, to have that bonding experience with his kids.

Personally, I don’t use the streaming sites – I’ve got a works laptop and don’t want it riddled with viruses. The editor might presume I got them through watching porn.

But one thing is for sure, £14.95 to watch a game of football on TV is more disgusting than anything in my search history.

I won’t degrade myself. And the Premier League should have more respect for all of us football fans.

For more on Aston Villa, visit www.avfc.co.uk

To find out more about the Premier League, visit www.premierleague.com

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NEWS: Community comes together to celebrate the completion of the Maplin site mural

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Ed King

Ed’s note… this is a community story; the Erdington mural is a community endeavour – many local groups and individuals played a part in this beautiful project. We are focusing on the community.

For this article, Erdington Local was invited to a group photo opportunity – as organised by the project’s steering group. Our aim was to follow up from our original story and document the spirit of unity that the project reflects – understanding the individuals featured in article (or group photo) are not the only people involved.

We appreciate there will have been those who were unable to attend, but we thank and recognise everyone who helped make Erdington that little bit brighter. 

The Erdington Mural project is complete. Having turned an “eyesore” of hoardings into a community-involved, professional art display, many of the artists and organisers gathered together for a celebratory (and socially distanced) photo for Erdington Local.

I think this is fantastic – it’s great!” praises Rob Gunnell, founder of Erdington Litter Busters [ELB], “it doesn’t just add colour, it supports a connection to the community – and it’s also saying, Erdington’s a good place.” Along with many other organisations, ELB assisted in ‘priming’ the site before the four commissioned artists set to work on painting on the boards.

Our contribution was to apply the white paint – the base,” explains Dawn Edwards, another ELB member, “then we cut down the overgrown branches and Birmingham City Council took away all the bags of greenery.”

The project was funded by Mercia Real Estate, the owners of the site, as well as Active Arts – via the Erdington Arts Forum.

Erdington Local covered the story of those involved with the project at its inception – and whilst the original impetus is somewhat contested, the final project is as vibrant a representation of community spirit as the artwork itself.

Erdington Local caught up with the four artists who were tasked with bringing the boards to life – each one taking a separate side for their original design. Whilst each artist is unique, each of them noted the positive feedback they received for their work.

I’ve seen a few pictures put up [on the internet] of kids standing in front of it,” notes Steve Allen, pleased with the social media pick up. Steve painted the ‘Welcome to Erdington’ side of the mural, which includes a big ‘thank you’ to the NHS and what is purported to be the coat of arms of Erdington.

I got a lot of positive feedback from when I was doing my painting,” echoes Abian Richards, responsible for the rather psychedelic take on Erdington’s Witton Lakes – featured on the small segment by York Road.

This was to celebrate Erdington’s many ‘green spaces’, with an interesting interpretation: “I chose to use blues, pinks and purples to get some vibrancy into the piece.”

The project proved to be an excellent incubator for local talent, with Keely Iqbal admitting “it was quite challenging because it was my biggest mural to date.”

She painted the striking ‘historical Erdington’ on Sutton New Road – complete with an image of a spitfire, a horse and carriage, Rookery House, and the esteemed Mothers nightclub.

Such a large undertaking was not without its challenges, as Keely continues: “I was painting and then it started pouring down with rain! All of the paint started running everywhere. It was so bad. I did all of this lettering – there was a delay, but I managed to catch up with it.”

It was even a learning curve for experienced artist Edward Thrush: “Fly posters are hellish – I hate them! I won’t use those again. There’s been a lot of maintenance!”

Edward created the eye-catching ‘It’s all Go, Go, Go in Erdington!’ piece on Summer Road, celebrating the various community groups in the local area. Edward especially praised how “the volunteers were amazing – they were really good help.”

Councillor Gareth Moore, who had been helping whitewash the boards – along with fellow Erdington Councillor Robert Alden – explains how the piece is “visually appealing and significantly improved the site in question given its prominent location.”

Likewise, Robert Alden tells how “it’s been a really great community project, pulling together people across Erdington. It’s celebrating our heritage, our history and the culture of Erdington.”

Erdington Local overheard Dawn Edwards from ELB prodding Sam Clark, a founder and current CEO of Mercia Real Estate, about some potential future projects on the land. Especially advocating for the intended retail space to have greenery.

This project is just an example of what the community can do in terms of improving the area,” Dawn reflects, “there was nothing on the boards and now there is that reflects Erdington. Watch out! More to come.”

Mercia Real Estate acquired the Maplin site following the closure, a spokesperson from the Birmingham based real estate and asset management company said:

Mercia Real Estate acquired the site in 2018 with a view to redeveloping the buildings into a terrace of convenience retail units.

Whilst this has been in planning we were approached by community leaders earlier this year who had expressed an interest in creating various murals on the site hoarding.

Wherever we invest we are always keen to engage with the community and in this case were happy to extend a donation to support the creativity of the various groups involved.”

For more on Steve Allen, visit www.nozzleandbrush.co.uk
For more on Abian Richards, visit www.facebook.com/faffabout
For more on Keely Iqbal, visit www.keelyiqbal.com
For more on Edward Thrush, visit www.elthrush.com

For more on Mercia Real Estate, visit www.merciarealestate.com
For more on Active Arts, visit www.activearts.wordpress.com

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NEWS: Evening of Creativity’s Black History Month special at Oikos Café on Friday 16th October

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics supplied by Erdington Arts Forum

On Friday 16th October, running between 6-8pm at Oikos Café on Erdington High Street, the Erdington Arts Forum is hosting a special Evening of Creativity – in celebration of Black History Month (BHM).

Set to be another exciting evening of poetry, music, and visual art, the long running event has been given the coronavirus all clear to allow a limited, ticketed physical audience in to enjoy the show.

A popular showcase of art and endeavour, the Evening of Creativity is expected to sell out – anybody wanting tickets should click here to check availability. All tickets must be purchased in advance.

Anyone who cannot join the live event at Oikos Café will be able to watch online via the Erdington Arts Forum Facebook page, with behind the scenes interviews also being broadcast. Donations to help support the event and local Arts Forum can also be made online.

A specially programmed showcase in support of Black History Month (BHM), Friday’s guest producer, Samiir Saunders, who also lives in Erdington, talks more about the importance of the event: “For the past 3 and a half years, the Evenings of Creativity have been an important staple of Erdington’s performance arts scene.” 

He goes onto to say that, “as an artist and poet who is very early on in my career, I have personally gained a lot from being given the platform to share my work with my local community, as well as the opportunity to meet other artists like me.

On producing the special BHM event, Samiir is “incredibly excited this month to be part of the team creating that same platform for others!”

Friday’s BHM special Evening of Creativity is set to welcome the powerful words of published poet Ryan Sinclair, musical musings of singer songwriters Xolo and Philippa Zawe, and a speech from Adrian Anderson from the mental health charity, Black Minds Matter UK.  

There will also be a special celebrity guest live performance from 2018 BBC Young Musician of the year Xhosa Cole and his trio.

The Evening of Creativity’s ‘online gallery’ this month features another Erdington resident, Oliver Hassell, who says: “I’m proud to be exhibiting my work in my hometown, and helping the growth of the local art community.”

Talking about what BHM means to him, Oliver continues: “I believe that Black history should be told every month of the year. It’s just as important as the rest of history and I don’t think that it should only be focused on for just one month. Black history is British history, American history, and world history.”

With Birmingham now in the Tier 2 list of new lockdown restrictions, as announced on Wednesday, it is fortunate that the Evening of Creativity live event at Oikos Café can continue – the event has taken place every month for nearly four years without missing a show.

Oikos Café have been required to make only a few changes to the venue, including only allowing ‘household bubbles’ to sit at a table together.

Ensuring Oikos Café operates COVID-19 safe, venue manager Ben Jeffery has an official statement for Erdington Local:

In light of the Government restrictions to combat the growing risk of COVID-19, Oikos Café continues to operate cleanliness, social distancing and crowd limitations in accordance with government guidelines.

We are proud to welcome people and continue operating legally as a business in this difficult time, and look forward to welcoming patrons and local people for our monthly extravaganza with the Arts Forum”.

To book your advance tickets for the Evening of Creativity, visit online ticket outlet Eventbrite: www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/evening-of-creativity-16102020-black-history-month-tickets-122386670827

To watch the Evening of Creativity live stream, including exclusive backstage interviews and other videos, visit the Erdington Arts Forum Facebook page: www.facebook.com/ErdingtonArts

For more on Oikos Café, including contact details and information on the venue’s COVID-19 safe regulations, visit www.oikoscafe.co.uk

For more on Birmingham’s Black History Month, visit www.birminghamblackhistorymonth.co.uk

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NEWS: Erdington police have “changed the tone” with public over COVID-19 restrictions, including fines from £100 to £3,200

Words by Adam Smith

Erdington’s top cop has warned his police officers will be more assertive with people flouting COVID-19 restriction rules.

Inspector Haroon Chughtai explained the new tougher stance as Birmingham was placed under the Government’s new Tier 2 restrictions today – including on the spot fines and fixed penalty notices of £100, increasing up to £3200 for repeat offenders.

In an email to Erdington residents, Inspector Haroon Chughtai explained people should by now understand the pandemic and its consequences – so his officers will spend less time explaining rules and more time enforcing them.

He said: “We have changed the tone of our policing of COVID. It could be argued that we have all had enough time to live with and understand what and why restrictions exist, so while we are still using the 4 E approach (Engage, Explain, Encourage and then Enforce) which I have mentioned previously, we will move to enforcement quicker then we have previously.

Thankfully this remains a rare occurrence with most people being very sensible and responsible in their behaviour. To give you some context in the last month, we have issued two fines, one to an individual who refused to wear a mask without a valid exemption and the second was only yesterday to a business in Sutton who have little or no social distancing measures in place.”

The Tier 2 COVID-19 restrictions which come into force today (Wednesday  14th October 2020) in Erdington, Kingstanding, and across Birmingham are:

  • People must not socialise with anybody outside of their household or support bubble in any indoor setting, whether at home or in a public place
  • The rule of six will now apply to private gardens, alongside other spaces like beaches or parks (other than where specific exemptions apply in law)
  • Weddings can go ahead with restrictions on the number of attendees
  • Funerals can only have 30 attendees, with a maximum of 15 at wakes and commemorations
  • Team sports can only be played where officially organised by a club or organisation
  • People are advised to minimise the number of journeys they make
  • While you can still go on holiday, it can only be with people you live with, or your support bubble
  • Businesses and venues can continue to operate until 10pm, in a COVID-secure manner – although customers must sit at a table when eating and drinking
  • Schools, universities and places of worship will remain open

As well as the latest COVID-19 policing issues, Inspector Chughtai revealed overall crime has risen again in Erdington compared to last year’s figures with domestic violence again worryingly high.

Inspector Chughtai said: “Erdington is showing a 10% increase in overall crime, that is around 600 extra victims of crime, like I said last month domestic abuse plays a large part in this increase with 450 extra victims of domestic abuse so far this year compared to the same period last year.

Domestic abuse continues to show increases with a 40% rise, which is 450 extra victims – this remains my biggest concern and the one of the main priorities of my teams.”

He added: “Robbery and burglary continue to show good reductions, with robbery showing a 16% reduction with 33 less victims of robbery, house burglaries show a 5% reduction with18 less victims of burglary, like Sutton we have seen an increase in burglary offences recently which is taking away the good reductions made earlier in the year.”

He added: “Under 25 violence shows a 6% reduction, which has increased compared to last month – largely down to an increase is low level fights between school children and some robbery offences with young people being both victims and offenders. We are working very closely with the schools around this.”

For more information from West Midlands Police about the latest COVID-19 restrictions, visit www.west-midlands.police.uk/coronavirus

For more information from Government on the latest COVID-19 restrictions in Birmingham, Sandwell, and Solihull, visit www.gov.uk/guidance/birmingham-sandwell-and-solihull-local-restrictions

If you believe you are a victim of domestic abuse, you can seek help and advice via the freephone 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline is 0808 2000 247

For more information visit www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk

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NEWS: Kingstanding gets its lifesaving first bleed control kit on the Hawthorn

Words by Adam Smith / Pics by Ed King

The first bleed control kit has been installed in Kingstanding to save lives if stabbings and shootings continue to happen in the area.

The Grapevine off licence, Hawthorn Road, now has the medical equipment needed to stop bleeding immediately if someone gets injured nearby.

After a wave in deaths in inner city Birmingham, Bishop Desmond Jaddoo from Yes2Life put the kits in Lozells, Aston, and Handsworth – and has now set his sights on Kingstanding and Erdington.

He told Erdington Local: “We have wanted to get a bleed control kit in Kingstanding for a while.

The recent spark in violence has made it essential, it is about being prepared, just in case, many times things happen and we do not know what to do.

We started in Lozells, Handsworth and Newtown but our target has been North Birmingham, Kingstanding, Erdington, Oscott etc.”

He added: “We want to get bleed control kits in these areas but also provide training too, however, due to COVID training sessions have been hampered.

When there was a shooting in Great Hampton Street, Hockley, a woman got a bleed kit and saved his life, she had not had training but had seen some of our Facebook videos, so we are looking to produce more training videos.

The violence has not stopped because of COVID, in fact it has gone up.”

The bleed control kit includes items such as a tourniquet, bandages, and a foil blanket, and has been created with the help of Bunzl Healthcare, Purple Pharma, and Blue Kit Medical.

Bishop Jaddoo is delighted to have got a lifesaving foothold in Kingstanding.

He said: “This is the first bleed control kit in Kingstanding, we would have been in Kingstanding before but we are not funded. We have to fund these ourselves, so every time we get some donations we install more kits.

Our aim is to get bleed control kits on the College Road, Witton Lodge, Kingstanding Circle, here on the Hawthorn and up Kingstanding Road.

What we try to do is cover an area completely with kits and educate people how they can be used and then move on, we will go to Erdington next. But as we are not funded we need to build it slowly.

When people talk about issues proportionality, poverty and violence, a lot of people think because Kingstanding is in North Birmingham, which is seen as more affluent than inner city Birmingham. it’s OK but there is a lot of social housing in this area, and with that there is a lot of working class white people, and they are totally forgotten about and that is so wrong.

We need to think how society rates us, they lump in the black and Asian communities in with the working class communities. So, we have to class ourselves as one group.”

He added: “We picked The Grapevine because the shopkeeper understands the importance of bleed control kits and why they need to be in the community.

If someone is hurt, and we are not just talking about stabbings and shootings, if there is a car crash, the kit is for the zero responder, the person who sees the incident and can help immediately before the emergency services get there. These kits have tourniquets and bleed pressure bandages, those first minutes are vital.”

Owner of The Grapevine off licence on Hawthorn Road, Paul Bradford, wanted to have a bleed control kit in his shop to foster a sense of community in Kingstanding.

He said: “I have followed the work (Bishop) Desmond has done over the years and he told me how these bleed control kits can save lives so I wanted to get involved.

It is not just about the rising crime; we witnessed a really bad car crash outside the shop not long ago and we could have really done with a bleed control kit to help those injured.

If something happens on the Hawthorn we will be prepared, and anything can happen, we are a community on the Hawthorn. There is a defibrillator in the Co-op as well in case anyone has a heart attack, we are all in this together.

I’m glad that The Grapevine is the first of hopefully many businesses in Kingstanding to have a bleed control kit, I wish there was no need for them but there is.”

Bishop Desmond Jaddoo – outside The Grapevine off licence on Hawthon Road, Kingstanding

For more on Yes2Life, including the work they do challenging knife and gun crime, visit www.yes2life.co.uk

For more information about Bishop Desmond Jaddoo visit www.desjaddoo.org.uk

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OPINION: Invest in live music, not the pub

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Profile pics by Chris Neophytou

Imagine if the government invested in the soul of the nation.

‘If music be the food of love, play on,’ wrote Shakespeare.

I’m talking about music. From the point of view of a musician and gigaholic.

Music makes the world go round,” sang the Hamilton Brothers.

What I’ve witnessed over the past few months is a series of missed opportunities. ‘Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but foresight is better,’ taught William Blake.

Can we move forward from now, into the festive season, and reengage musicians? We can’t lose this precious part of our culture – live music. A lack of opportunities in the past few months has meant that brass players lips crumble, violinist fingers are stiff. All musicians – the well-behaved ones at least – are struggling.

It’s apparently too dangerous for musicians to be doing what they do, entertaining us all, bringing us all to a higher state of consciousness with harmonious sounds and that. Especially singers (yes, singers are musicians). Singing in groups is considered a ‘higher risk activity’ by the government, because of the potential for aerosol production. Don’t get me started on those pesky woodwind instruments. Ignore the hundreds of people protesting on the streets, Dominic Cummings on his roadshow of potential infection, or the big queue in Lidl – “there’s a flute player in this place! Shoot them! Or open a window for better circulation!”

At least I’ve had some gigs, I guess. I can’t complain, but I think I’m allowed to be somewhat sardonic. I’ve had a few livestreams, a handful of small outdoor gigs paid by the magic Arts Council England money tree of ‘please don’t forget us next year, we’re doing our best.’ Grateful. Honestly, very grateful. Here comes the cold now, where do we go?

Well, pubs are open. Great. And musicians are able to play in them, following some volume-related rules.  But that’s not really the investment in the soul I had in mind. Pubs are a chance for this full time musician to go out with his band ‘Jobe and the Spotify Playlists’ – doing requests for the ‘loud drunk guy at the front’, who shouldn’t be raising his voice anyway, but he’s bigger than me and the bouncer hasn’t spotted him yet/this pub forgot to hire security.

My experience in the pubs has been stressed landlords trying to tame insatiable extroverts and more covid-19 deniers than you can shake a Piers-Corbyn-branded stick at (I could have chosen any number of Covid-19 deniers). It’s a place for extroverts to get their fix, and the amount of antisocial behaviour I’ve seen at 21:55 because it’s kicking out time has been rather laughable. I proudly nurse my pint knowing I can stay past 22:00 curfew – I’m working!

I can see my musician mates disappearing off to ‘retrain’ under the reign of Rishi Sunak. Whether he did or did not say that people in the arts need to go and find a proper job, we’re just generally hot and bothered about the whole malaise of the situation.

Goodbye fellow musicians. Part of me wants to say ‘yey, more work for me’, but losing my band and playing to backing tracks actually makes my skin crawl. “Please!” I plea to my drummer (percussionists also considered musicians), “don’t become an itinerant electrician in Bedfordshire! You’ll be too tired by to gig on a Friday when you get back to Brum. Oh, and I need this amplifier pat tested.”

We’re quite harmless, actually, us musicians. We might complain about not being paid enough, and, no matter how much you’ve paid us, if we don’t get a free drink from the bar your name is besmirched for life. We all keep a spreadsheet of scrooge-oriented venue managers…

Anyway, we’re harmless.

On the 6th of October, there was a protest gathering of over 400 musicians in Parliament Square. They formed an impressive orchestra and blasted Gustav Holst’s ‘Mars’ from The Planets, Op.32 at the politicians, who must have enjoyed a rather delightful evening concert for free. See? We can’t even protest, right! Lorry drivers strike by not driving. Teachers strike by their absence, shutting down a school. Us musicians strike by “ooh come on let’s have a ruddy good jam session, that’ll learn ‘em!”

Just imagine if the government invested in venues over this period, ready for the world to return to normal. Clean, socially distanced, even folk-club style. All people welcome. This could be a chance for people to listen to new music, or old music in a new way. You can actually pay attention to the lyrics for once! Dancing from our seats, doing the sit-down shuffle, and practicing to become the best ‘hummers’ in the world. May I suggest Puccini’s ‘Cora a bocca chiusa’. Or be inspired by the vocal acrobatics Bobby McFerrin.

I guess the only profound quote we can be left with now is that of Jim Bowen, the host of the 80s darts-themed TV gameshow Bullseye. After the players had lost, the curtains would draw back to reveal a speedboat, a car, or a “beautifully crafted Wedgwood Dinner Service set.” “Let’s see what you could have won,” Jim would say.

We’ve invested in health. We’re investing in economy. Let’s not forget the soul.

Let’s see what we could have won.”

To find out more about Jobe Baker-Sullivan, visit www.facebook.com/jobesullivanmusic

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