FEATURE: Remembering Jack – tributes to the late Erdington MP, Jack Dromey

By Ed King

On Friday 7 January, only a week into the New Year, the longstanding Erdington MP Jack Dromey was found dead at his constituency residence – aged 73.

Erdington Local asked local organisations, stakeholders, colleagues, and community champions who knew Jack to contribute some words and pictures in remembrance.

A significant part of Erdington since being elected MP in 2010, Jack Dromey was involved in numerous projects and initiatives to support the constituency.

From his work with the Erdington Covid Taskforce and North Birmingham Economic Recovery Plan, to every food bank or school road safety campaign that needed his support – the impact of Jack Dromey’s death will be felt by countless across the Erdington constituency and beyond.

Erdington Local wishes to extend our condolences to Jack Dromey’s family, friends, and close colleagues. We hope the following is a welcomed epitaph to a man who will be sorely missed and mourned for. RIP Jack.

With thanks to the following for their contributions:

Witton Lodge Community Association, The Pioneer Group, Compass Support, Spitfire Advice and Support Services, Castle Vale Community Partnership, The Hospice Charity Partnership, Save Our Schools West Midlands, Active Arts Castle Vale, Erdington Local, Erdington Arts Forum, Kingstanding Food Community,  Urban Devotion, Andy Street – Mayor of West Midlands Combined Authority, Cllr Robert Alden, Unite the Union, Erdington Labour Party, Josh Jones, Naziah Rasheed, Birmingham Leader Cllr Ian Ward, Liam Byrne MP (Hodge Hill), Jess Phillips MP (Yardley), Preet Kaur Gill MP (Edgbaston), Shabana Mahmood MP (Ladywood), Steve McCabe MP (Selly Oak), Short Heath Fields Trust, Short Heath Residents Action Group, Abbey Catholic Primary School, Paul Jennings, Haroon Chughtai, Simon Foster – West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner.

With special thanks to the staff from Jack Dromey’s offices in Erdington and Westminster.

Remembering Jack – pictures and messages of rememberence

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“We are shocked and deeply saddened at Jack Dromey’s sudden passing. We have lost a principled public servant and a kind, generous and thoroughly decent man.

“At Witton Lodge Community Association, we had the privilege of working with Jack for over a decade and in recent years almost on a weekly basis. He was a friend of the Association.

“His determination to act for local people was second to none – whether helping to solve problems, creating opportunities to improve lives or celebrating the richness of local communities.

“He was an engaging and energetic man who collaborated with many, combining a mixture of good grace and steeliness to get things done. We saw this first hand through his leadership of the Erdington Taskforce and the North Birmingham Economic Recovery Board, through which we were able to support thousands of residents during the pandemic.

“Jack’s legacy will live on in his many accomplishments and the lives that he touched. Our heartfelt condolences to Jack’s family, friends, and colleagues. RIP Jack.”

Afzal Hussain / Chief Officer, Witton Lodge Community Association

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“Jack was so much more than a hardworking constituency MP; he had a real passion and sense of purpose in his work to fight for every constituency and make their lives better. He has been an unwavering supporter of our work and that of all social landlords and partners working across the communities. Jack advocated for his constituents across many issues, not least ensuring they had secure, well-paid work and decent housing and communities in which they can thrive.

“He had chaired the Castle Vale Neighbourhood Partnership Board for many years and done so in a way that paid no regard to tribal politics – it was always about getting the best possible outcome for the people he served. He was the best MP I have ever had the privilege to work alongside and he will leave a huge chasm in our communities that will be hard to fill. My thoughts are with his family, friends, his wife, children, grandchildren who he spoke of frequently and with such joy.”

Simon Wilson / CEO, The Pioneer Group

“Jack was an amazing MP who strongly supported the communities of Erdington. He was a strong arm in lobbying for improving people’s circumstances and was particularly engaged in some of our work with young people and families over the years. He will be dearly missed.”

Lisa Martinali / Community Regeneration Director, The Pioneer Group

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“Jack was simply the most remarkable man I have met, fearless, compassionate and caring, he saw something in me (personally) which I didn’t and through his kindness and support enabled me to see it also, I will be forever grateful.

“At Spitfire Services he became part of our collective Castle Vale family. A friend colleague and one of the greatest parliamentarians he will be missed terribly, there are not words to say how I feel about Jack’s passing. My thoughts are with his family.”

Ray Goodwin / Chief Executive, Spitfire Advice and Support Services

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“Jack has carried on with the tradition of providing senior leadership to the Castle Vale Community Partnership building on the likes of Lord Corbett of Castle Vale and Lord Rooker. Over the last four years, he has helped the partnership in securing funding for a range of community projects and fought for the support of residents throughout our communities.

“Jack always had the people at the heart of everything he did, and his legacy shall live on through the lives he has touched. We will always be whole-heartedly grateful for his dedication, and he shall be deeply missed.”

Sue Spicer / Vice Chair, Castle Vale Community Partnership

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“Jack was a huge advocate, supporter and friend of John Taylor Hospice in Erdington. His work locally and with the All Party Parliamentary Group for Palliative and End of Life Care reflected his commitment to the hospice movement and his constituents.

“Jack was a regular visitor to the hospice and always looked to find a way to help and support in any way he could. Warm, friendly and engaging, he showed humility and kindnesses to the people he met, he will be dearly missed by us all. Our thoughts are now with Jack’s family and friends.”

Simon Fuller / Chief Executive Officer, The Hospice Charity Partnership

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“The whole SOS family has been devastated by the tragic and sudden death of MP Jack Dromey. A wonderful politician, with a Trade Union heart. Passionate about campaigning for children’s rights, he supported SOS in so many of our actions and was driven to ensure ALL children had access to a good education.

“We will miss him dearly and send our love and condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.”

Kate Taylor, on behalf Save Our Schools West Midlands

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“The grief has caught many of us by surprise. Jack Dromey was the local MP – the person we demanded to be whatever we needed in any day because he was our local elect and in a position of responsibility. Actually, he was our captain, our comrade, our friend.

“One of the best things about my work in Erdington was getting to know Jack. He gave his all for Erdington, much will never be fully appreciated but his legacy is already and will be enormous. I have some very fond memories of Jack – throwing himself into creative projects including holding a vegetable for a photo shoot, enjoying many Evenings of Creativity, and walking with pride as part of our diverse community with Little Amal.

“It’s hard to now imagine an event or meeting without him being there. We will still save a seat for you. Thank you Jack, for being you, we will miss you.”

Claire Marshall / Project Director, Active Arts Castle Vale

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“A fierce supporter of Erdington Local, Jack was always championing the voices of Erdington and pushing us to celebrate the constituency’s achievements, endeavours, and people. He was immensely proud of Erdington and made damn sure others knew why. Not everyone in office cares as he did.

“Always available, Jack never hid from a contentious issue or a tough question. He was a man who could be careful with his words, but never lied. It would have been incredible to report on him ‘in action’ during the upcoming elections, a real tour de force.

“I told him this many times, but we wouldn’t have made it without his help. Plain truth. This is a real, tragic loss. RIP Jack, rattling the pearly gates with a battle cry for justice no doubt.”

Ed King / Editor-in-Chief, Erdington Local

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“I, along with many other musicians and artists in the local area, will miss Jack deeply. He was a champion of the arts, really seeing the value in what creativity does for the soul.’

Jobe Baker Sullivan / Erdington Arts Forum

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“Jack possessed a rare combination of concrete convictions with a willingness to collaborate to get things done. When the Lakeside Children’s Centre was threatened with closure it was Jack’s ability to draw people together from across the political spectrum that ensured we won the case for it to remain open.

“His influence took a grassroots campaign right to the corridors of people; he gave people a platform to speak rather than presuming to speak for him. I have lost count of the number of local people Jack described as ‘remarkable’. He was undoubtedly a remarkable man himself who has left an indelible imprint on our community and will be sorely missed.”

Andy Winmill / Director, Urban Devotion

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“Today we lost a true democrat.  Jack was a principled politician who fervently believed that the democratic process could improve the lives of his residents. His natural respect for political leaders, officers and even his political adversaries revealed his own guiding principles.

“He was a man schooled in the Union, a man who excelled in the art of politics, but one who always understood its ultimate purpose. He was a great collaborator always able to put party differences aside for the greater good. He was inventive, thoughtful, and some might even say a touch mischievous, but always in the name of getting an outcome that he believed was right.

“In recent years it has been a privilege to work with him and experience his unshakable belief in the value of uniting to protect the interests of workers, and nowhere more so than in Erdington. His many battles, campaigns, and passions all bore this hallmark.

“Birmingham has lost a dedicated servant. Parliament has lost a true believer. And we have all lost a generous, inclusive friend who set a fine example.”

Andy Street / Mayor of West Midlands Combined Authority

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“The shocking news that Jack Dromey MP had passed has rocked our local community and wider. From his days as a Trade Union organiser Jack Dromey built a reputation as a formidable organiser and public speaker, skills that went on to serve him well as in his later years he moved into frontline politics. The outpouring of tributes that have been seen since demonstrate the man that Jack was and the regard with which he was held.

“Nationally Jack had a reputation as a passionate defender of worker’s rights, who had dedicated his life to the Labour movement. Eventually going on to serve in the Shadow Cabinet nationally under Ed Miliband, Jeremy Corbyn, and Kier Starmer.

“From Jack’s rise to national fame, for his work organising and supporting the Grunwick strikes, to his most recent work supporting workers at GKN, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Jack always put solidarity with workers first”.

“While over the years Jack and I would often find ourselves as political opponents at election time; during the Covid-19 pandemic, Jack worked cross-party with my colleagues and I on the Council and with community groups to support residents through the Erdington Covid -19 Taskforce and the North Birmingham Economic recovery group working jointly with local stakeholders.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Jack’s family and friends at this awful time.”

Cllr Robert Alden / Erdington Ward Councillor & Leader of Birmingham Conservatives

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“Having worked with Jack over the years on a number of issues, not least the pending closure of our site, I can honestly say that it was an honour and a privilege to call him a colleague and a friend.

“Jack was a champion for working people as a trade unionist and as an MP for Erdington he has fought tirelessly over the years for manufacturing, especially automotive in the West Midlands. As Jack would always say once a trade unionist always a trade unionist.

“His passing will be a huge loss to not just his constituents in Erdington but to the larger Labour and Trade union movement. God bless Jack.”

Frank Duffy, GKN Unite convener

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“Erdington Labour Party is devastated by the tragic loss of our brilliant Member of Parliament, Jack Dromey. Jack was a wonderful man who cared deeply about delivering a better life for the people of Erdington, Birmingham and the UK.

“He fought hard every day to work towards a society based on egalitarianism, friendship, commonality, and kindness. He has done so much for the people Erdington and the members of our Party, that we will be forever grateful for the enormous contribution he made to our lives. He will be missed deeply.”

Message from the Erdington Labour Party

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“I can’t really put into words what an inspiration Jack has been to me since I first met him in February 2010.

“He continuously encouraged and supported me in any way he could and always had unconditional belief in me.

“He was an absolutely wonderful man and the world is a much worse place without him in it. He will be sorely missed by many for the brilliant MP, trade unionist and campaigner he was or for his numerous achievements, but I will just deeply miss my friend Jack.”

Cllr Josh Jones, Stockland Green

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“I was privileged to work with Jack for the past eight months. During this time I found him very supportive, motivational, and encouraging.

“He always said to believe in yourself.  ‘There is no mountain you cannot climb, there is nothing you cannot achieve,’ that was his gift to me which will remain with me forever. I will miss him hugely.”

Naziah Rasheed / Birmingham Labour Party BAME Officer

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“It’s a measure of the way Jack lived his life that the last meeting I had with him was to discuss a memorial for Erdington families who have lost loved ones to Covid. His first thought was always to give a voice to the unheard and he genuinely listened to and cared about the community he represented.

“Whether it was campaigning for people’s jobs, highlighting injustice or fighting cuts, Jack was a true Labour man, a man of strong values who was always on the side of the underdog.

“In the last couple of years, he worked closely with the Covid-19 bereaved families and worked tirelessly to give them a voice. He never stopped working for his constituents and the people of Erdington have lost a true champion.”

Cllr Ian Ward / Leader of Birmingham City Council

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“Jack Dromey was quite simply the greatest campaigner most of us have ever worked with. From his very first sit-ins to helping marshal the votes for Harriet’s bid to become Commons Speaker, Jack was not simply a founder member of the feminist husband’s caucus, his life was a crusade for decency pursued quite literally right into the final hours of his life.

“In Birmingham we are stunned. We thought because Jack was invincible, he was indestructible. We are struggling to comprehend our loss. Britain’s second city has lost our leading citizen, our first among equals.”

Liam Byrne MP for Hodge Hill

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“I worked with Jack in Erdington for a number of years, and he was so dedicated to the people in the area. Youth Homelessness is a real problem in Erdington and across the city and Jack organised an annual event with St Basils Youth Homelessness Charity for the young people to hold their own parliament in Westminster.

“He was always striving to ensure that the corridors of power were open for the ordinary people who would not normally get a chance to be heard. He will be so badly missed by all of us in Birmingham but mostly by those in Erdington.”

Jess Phillips MP for Yardley

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“After being elected in 2017, Jack was the person who took me under his wing providing support and regularly checking in on how I was doing. If ever I felt the imposter syndrome Jack had the ability to put me at ease and always pushing me to be my absolute best.

“Jack had a remarkable ability to bring people together. Following the tragic death of my constituent Dea-John Reid, Jack and I went to visit his mother where he was a tower of strength. At the vigil mourners approached Jack and the care he displayed was a symbol of his kindness.

“I was shocked to hear of his sudden death. I had seen him days before. He was a fantastic constituency MP, of the people for the people. Jack’s passing is a devastating loss to the labour movement, Birmingham as the city he endlessly served, and to all who knew him.”

Preet Kaur Gill MP for Edgbaston

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“Jack was always such a good friend and supportive colleague to me. He was truly inspiring. A force of nature that served the people of our Erdington and our city so well for more than a decade.

“His energy and enthusiasm for Erdington was limitless – every day working and campaigning to get the best for the people he represented. He will be missed by all who knew him.”

Shabana Mahmood MP for Ladywood

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“Jack was an inspirational colleague and a generous and decent man. He campaigned tirelessly for the people of Erdington and always had time for everyone, no matter how big or small their concerns. He was a champion for workers’ rights and the real living wage and a bold and fearless voice in Parliament where he constantly spoke up for the interests of Birmingham. We all feel his loss.

“I have lost a great colleague and a good friend, and my thoughts are with Harriet and his family and the loss they have suffered. We will continue to honour his memory by supporting the people of Erdington and backing the causes which Jack worked so hard to promote.”

Steve McCabe MP for Selly Oak

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“Jack made a promise to Short Heath Fields Trust to give us a seat at the table to get our community’s voices heard by BCC and he did. In our last conversation with Jack just before Christmas he made a further commitment to support, help and work with SHFT to give our team the chance to deliver our proposal at the playing fields.

“Jack and I didn’t agree on everything, but what I do know is he was a man of his word, a gentleman and believed our community deserved better, thank you Jack for everything.”

Steve Hughes / Chair, Short Heath Fields Trust

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“Jack gave a voice to our community when many others would or could not, by listening and not being afraid of a fight. We have ruffled each other’s feathers, laughed, smiled, and had verbal tug of wars until we reached a goal we could agree on over the last 12 months. Never once did he raise his voice or be anything other than a gentleman. He gave his word we would be heard, and we were.

“Jack taught me that when people come together to fight for the same cause there is power in that. I thank you for that Jack, and for standing alongside Short Heath Residents in our fight to save our playing fields.”

Estelle Murphy / Short Heath Residents Action Group

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“Jack was a huge advocate for education not only locally but through his work nationally. He always had time for his local schools; supporting leadership, praising teachers, and instilling in our pupils the power of an active and invested local MP. We keep him and his family in our prayers at this time.”

Mr Joseph McTernan / Principal, Abbey Catholic Primary School

“All the Abbey School community were deeply saddened to hear of Jack Dromey’s passing. He was such an enthusiastic supporter of our school and the whole of Erdington, always finding time to support and engage with our pupils. His involvement with our Pupil Parliament, Chaplaincy, and School Council Teams has inspired our children as they seek to be active participants in their communities, living out British values.

“Jack was especially dedicated to supporting our pupils in their campaign against the new Nationality and Borders bill, always replying to children’s letters and showing his deep compassion for the marginalised. We began our week in school with a memorial prayer service to Jack, who we shall miss but are very thankful to have known.”

Message from everyone at Abbey Catholic Primary School

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“Jack was passionate about health issues, working to ensure that his constituents had the best possible offer in health. He was very conscious of the disadvantages that many of his constituents suffered and worked tirelessly to redress the balance.

“He was a frequent visitor to the ExtraCare Village at New Oscott. He would spend time listening, talking, and getting to know what the residents felt about issues and seeing where he could help.  That sounds a bit like it was all serious, but it wasn’t. There would be plenty of smiles and humour to go with the serious chat.

“As a public servant it was a delight and a privilege to work with him. He had the very considerable skill of being able to support, advise and encourage me whilst holding me appropriately to account for excellent service delivery on his patch.

“His gratitude and respect for the NHS was a constant throughout the pandemic and he was a huge supporter of the vaccination programme. He was present, engaged, and supportive; a tireless champion of improving the lot of the disadvantaged and a great example of a politician absolutely driven by his values who lived them out through his love of people.”

Paul Jennings / Retired CEO of NHS Birmingham and Solihull CCG, Chair of the ExtraCare Charitable Trust

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“I always felt with Jack that he spoke for the Erdington communities with great credibility and confidence, always asked the right questions, was aware of the important things and what was impacting the communities the most. He was able to do his job with great dignity and respect for everyone.

“He always made time for me, valued what I said and I felt he truly cared not just about me but all of the Police family.

“I found him inspiring with his zest and energy; his leadership around the Erdington Task Force was remarkable.”

Haroon Chughtai / Deputy Head, Prevent, Counter Terrorism Policing West Midlands (ex-Inspector for Erdington & Sutton Coldfield)

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“I am deeply shocked and saddened by Jack’s death. First and foremost my condolences go to his wife, Harriet Harman, and his three children.

“Jack stood up for others his whole life and served the people of Erdington tirelessly since 2010. He has been a formidable political figure for decades and a close ally of West Midlands Police.

“Jack was the Shadow Paymaster General but held a number of other Shadow ministerial positions including Shadow Minister for Policing.

“His passing is a huge loss for our region and he will be dearly missed.”

Simon Foster / West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner

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“Throughout our time working for Jack he steadfastly refused to be referred to as our manager and always said we were a team and colleagues.

“Jack was intensely proud of representing working people and the people of Erdington, both as a Member of Parliament and in his former role as Deputy General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, later Unite.

“Without fail, Jack energetically stood up for Erdington and was determined that the communities he represented achieved their full potential and were never left behind. As members of his team this drove us on to be the best we could be for him.

“We will all miss Jack immensely. His kindness, his deep affection for his family and his sheer belief in the labour movement will stay with us forever.”

Message from staff at Jack Dromey’s offices in Erdington and Westminster

For more on Jack Dromey visit www.jackdromey.co.uk

INTERVIEW: Terry Guest – Erdington BID & Town Centre Manager

Words & pics by Ed King

“The main plan and priority have to be now… increased security, we have to emphasise to the police and the Council the importance of providing the necessary security for this High Street and the support for our Warden.”

On Friday 12 November the future of the Erdington Business Improvement District (Erdington BID) will be known, as voting to renew the organisation finishes on Thursday this week.

Over the past month, local shop owners and businesses have been casting paper ballots ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – a vote which if successfully passed will see the Erdington BID in place for another half decade.

Each business that falls within the catchment area – which stretches from Six Ways to Edwards Road, including all shops on Erdington High Street and Sutton New Road – pays 1.75% of their rateable value to finance the BID, which stands as ‘a partnership between the business community and other local stakeholders… helping to sustain Erdington as a vibrant urban village.’

Initially voted in by local businesses in 2007, Erdington BID’s current five year term is set to expire in July 2022.

Terry Guest has been Erdington BID & Town Centre Manager since assuming the roll in 2011. He explained the organisation’s responsibilities:

“It’s twofold these days. One of the things that the BID has always done is put the basics in place – such as security, the Christmas lights, hanging baskets.

“But the BID has also done its own projects, such as the garden area we created next to the library – that was a project that proved very popular.

“One of the things I’m keen to do is to expand that green aspect of the High Street… so that anyone there can actually sit down and relax and have something of a more pleasant view than just concrete.

“There’s that sort of basic thing. But the other side of it now is that the BID has become more of a voice – a voice with the Government and a voice with the Council. And we need that now more than ever.”

Erdington High Street has recently seen applications rejected for two multi-million pounds pots of Government investment, missing out on the Levelling Up Fund in October and the Future High Street Fund back in January.

If successful, each application would have seen over £50m pumped into the High Street from the private and public sector.

Terry added: “We’ve been behind both the Levelling Up Fund and Future High Streets Fund applications, which have failed so far – but we’re not stopping at that. In the future, what the BID is evolving into, and has been for some time, is to be a voice with the Government and the Council.

“Which is important, because we know that both governments and councils recognise BIDs – and that’s becoming a larger part of it, where we have to make our voice be heard and get the best deal for businesses.”

But the fate of the Erdington BID still hangs in the balance, as local businesses ultimately vote and pay for the organisation’s next five years – a levy of around £116,000 per annum. And as in any election there are mandates and manifestos.

“One is policing,” explained Terry. “We’ve been involved very heavily in getting a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) put in place for the High Street – which, when we’ve got that in, allow us, allows anyone, to contact the police to remove anyone who is causing anti-social behaviour. Drug deals, minor crime, and so on.

“We’ve seen since 2018, when the last PSPO was cancelled, that really the aspect of working with the police is incredibly important. As it is with the Council, such as the state of the roads and pavements, the fly tipping and so on – a big portion of my job (as Town Centre Manager) these days is walking up and down the High Street taking photos of rubbish, then reporting it to the Council.”

Fly tipping and anti-social behaviour are problems raised by people across the constituency. But what can the Erdington BID do to tackle these issues on the High Street?

“What I think the BID has done… and I had evidence about this in an email from Birmingham City Council this morning about the PSPO, is that the BID has been very active in raising these issues and perhaps now getting some results.

“We’ve had a few incidents on the High Street recently which has caused me to react to the slowness of the police and Council to act in this (reinstating the PSPO).

“We are now at the stage where the Council have issued a press release and a notice of public consultation about the PSPO

“So, we’re at that stage, we will go into a public consultation about this. Not quick enough for me, whenever it is.

“I pressed the councillors about this, and I was told it could be pushed towards the end of the year.

“The original promise, by the Council earlier in the year, is that this would be done and dusted by the 30 September. To me it’s three years too late, not three months too late.”

But Erdington BID does more than tackle crime and disorder on the High Street, as the organisation allots £20000 per annum to ‘marketing, events, and promotion’ – including the long standing Christmas lights switch on.

“What we’ve also taken to doing in the last few years is sponsoring other people’s events,” explained Terry.

“So, when Oikos Café have a street event we’ve sponsored that in the past. When St Barnabas Church have their village fayre in the middle of the summer – before lockdown – we sponsored that as well. So, there’s number of ways we can promote ourselves.

“This year we’re not going to have a Christmas lights switch on… I would have had to order the lights a few months ago, when our futures were all in doubt; we didn’t know if we were going to get another lockdown so we had to abandon that.

“But there is a proviso in the business plan that if we have money somewhere that we can’t spend, then we’ll put it somewhere else.

“For instance, it’s about time we had some new litter bins on the High Street – we could perhaps finance that if we haven’t got the event money (for the Christmas lights switch on).”

But the main priority for the Erdington BID, if re-elected this week, remains a firm hand on crime and disorder – seeing anti-social behaviour on the High Street as a systemic problem.

“The main plan and priority have to be now… increased security, we have to emphasise to the police and the Council the importance of providing the necessary security for this High Street and the support for our Warden.

“The ideal is that we want daily police patrols back on the High Street and our Warden in support of those, rather than him being so proactive.

“I’m keen to get the High Street looking greener than it is; I’m keen to get more awareness of the High Steet out to the shoppers.

“But the shoppers need to feel it’s a safe place to walk up and down, or a safe place to sit on a bench and have a cup of coffee and enjoy the scenery.”

For more on the Erdington Business Improvement District visit www.erdingtonhighstreet.co.uk

FEATURE: “This is the beginning of a conversation… not the end.” Council Leader promises to “work with” the local community on Short Heath playing fields housing development

Words & pics by Ed King

Just over a year ago, the campaign to ‘Save Short Heath Playing Fields’ began in earnest – as a community galvanised to challenge Council plans for a new housing development on the beloved green space.

After the original blueprint was scrapped, and a community counter proposal deemed unviable, a ‘compromise’ is now back on the table – as Council Leader Ian Ward met face to face with local residents to present the city’s latest plans.

Council Leader Ian Ward promised the city would “work with” the local community over the proposed Short Heath playing fields housing development, stating “this is only the beginning of a conversation with you, the local community; it is not the end of that conversation.”

Addressing local residents at a public meeting on Friday 20 August, held on the green space earmarked for development, the Council Leader also stressed homes built on the site becoming HMOs “just wouldn’t happen.”

Promises for a ‘green corridor’ connecting Short Heath Road to Bleak Hill Park were reiterated, alongside a potential £1million investment for ‘off-site provision for sports and recreation’ including ‘new football pitches and a small changing room.’

Brokered and chaired by Jack Dromey and Short Heath Fields Trust (SHFT), the Leader’s public address follows a year of negotiations between local campaigners and the Erdington MP – who brought the concerns of residents direct to the Leader’s office.

Over an emotive three hours, around 50 people took time off on a Friday afternoon to debate with Council officials – voicing worries over infrastructure, traffic, parking, public safety, the strain on local services, and the irreversible loss of parkland used by young and old across the community.

Alongside Short Heath Fields Trust, several community groups attended the meeting including Erdington Litter Busters, Short Heath Wombles, and Short Heath Residents Action Group.

Concern the 3-5 bedroom houses could end up becoming HMOs was a hot topic, as 50% of the proposed estate would be sold on the commercial housing market.

Stockland Green, one of the wards the playing fields sit in, already has one of the highest numbers of HMOs in the city – with residents and action groups alike crying out for Council intervention.

Both Council Leader Ian Ward and Head of Housing Development Colette McCann made assurances no new houses built on Short Heath playing fields would be granted HMO licence.

Cllr Ward told Erdington Local: “We have what’s called an article 4 direction in place in the case of HMOs, so you’d have to apply for planning consent to covert a property into a House of Multiple Occupancy (HMO).

“It would be absurd for the planning authority to grant half the homes on this site to become HMOs, that just wouldn’t happen.”

Colette McCann added: “Homeowners buying our new build schemes tend to be first time buyers… we try and support first time buyers as much as we can through that sales process.

“The type of properties we’re building – family, 2,3, and sometimes 4 beds – don’t necessarily lend themselves to that type of provision anyway (HMOs).”

Cllr Ward addressed the crowd and answered questions before making himself available to individuals for a further two hours, then touring the site with SHFT Chair Stephen Hughes and Estelle Murphy from the Short Heath Residents Action Group (SHRAG).

The Council Leader was further “happy to look at” a list of brownfield sites that could potentially offset the number of houses built on the playing fields.

Estelle Murphy had previously submitted a portfolio of brownfield site alternatives to the Council’s Housing Development Team, although this had not yet reached the Leader’s office.

Cllr Ward requested Ms Murphy resubmit this list directly to him, with Erdington MP Jack Dromey also asking to see it.

After opening the meeting by praising the campaign for being “one of the best examples in Birmingham of local people saying, ‘damn it, we’re not going to have our world changed without having a say,’” Jack Dromey also stayed on the playing fields to talk directly to residents.

He told Erdington Local: “The important thing about today was the community was able to have its say. There’s a recognition on behalf of the community that has seen movement from the Council, but there’s also concern that the Council need to go further at the next stages.

“I think it’s absolutely right that people were able to have their say; I think it’s welcome that Ian Ward, as Leader, came personally to hear their concerns.

“I believe it’s not beyond the ability of man or woman to construct an outcome that delivers both badly needed homes and green space and better facilities for the community.”

But the community’s response was led largely by anger and upset, with many hoping for more significant cuts in the number of houses from Birmingham City Council’s original plans.

The Council’s recognition the site could end up in the hands of private property developers, who could look to maximise profits by building even more houses on the green space, was a further concern.

In his address, the Council Leader stated: “One way or another we are going to have to reach a compromise about what we are going to do on this site. If we don’t, I envisage what the Council will end up doing is selling the land to a private developer.

“I’d like to avoid that; I’d like to work with you (the community) to ensure that doesn’t happen.”

Josette and Derek Loughead, who live on Short Heath Road, told Erdington Local: “We’re being hung over a barrel – basically, if you moan, we’re going to take the whole park. And we’re going to give you a little ‘corridor’ that people are just going to dump stuff in (fly tipping).

“Plus, the people down there lose their park (Bleak Hill Park) to the playing fields – so really they’re just robbing peter to pay Paul.”

Local resident Shelia Appleby, who’s house overlooks the playing fields, and who engaged in a passionate debate with the Council Leader, had prepared a handwritten letter – asking Cllr Ward to ‘be a man’ and not ‘take away our park and breathing space’, especially as the area is so close to the spaghetti junction.

Shelia is a founding member of the Short Heath Wombles, a group of retired residents who clear litter from the playing fields in their own time.

Her letter went on to say: ‘Even with the pandemic, you would not cut the grass for people to come to the park or give kids a play area for ball games.

‘It is a human right to breath fresh air. People need houses but there are brownfield sites for you to build on.

‘When you have taken this park and Brum’s green lungs, and left us with concrete jungles, they are gone forever.’

Erdington ward Councillor Robert Alden also expressed concerns over the Council’s revised plans, having challenged the proposed developments even before a local campaign was formalised.

He told Erdington Local: “The Council’s latest proposal to still build on Short Heath Playing Fields is a huge betrayal of the Erdington community. They have spent a year claiming they wanted to hear resident’s alternatives yet have rejected everything the community has put forward.

“Now it is clear they were secretly using the consultation time to finalise Labour’s plans to build on the fields. Residents are rightly saying they feel conned by Birmingham City Council now.”

But the battle to ’Save Short Heath Playing Fields’ is set to continue, with all sides recognising more negotiation needs to happen.

In a statement from the Short Heath Fields Trust, Stephen Hughes told Erdington Local: “Short Heath Fields Trust made a promise to the community to get their voices heard and today they made themselves heard.

“There was an obvious disappointment shown to the proposal put forward by Ian Ward at the meeting, showing that only a fifth of the land being a ‘Green Corridor’ is not enough green space being saved.

“What is important is that Ian Ward said any land saved would be safe and made part of Bleakhill Park and would not be built on in the future. Also, that this is a starting point for the Trust to continue to work and negotiate to find a compromise all parties will be able to live with.”

In a statement from Short Heath Residents Action Group, Estelle Murphy added: “The Council’s reduction to 66 houses is welcomed as a step in the right direction, but for our community that step isn’t far enough. That piece of parkland is essential to their health and wellbeing.

“The proposal put forward by the Council has alarmed many residents feeling it would worsen many already existing problems and hot spots in the area and bring more crime with it.

“We are worried that without investing in the people already living in the area and solving existing issues, adding more people to the area will only make things worse.”

PICTURE GALLERY: Council Leader meets local residents on Short Heath playing fields

For more on Short Heath Fields Trust visit www.shortheathfieldstrust.godaddysites.com

For more on the fight to ‘Save Short Heath Playing Fields’ click here to visit the campaign’s Facebook page.

PICTURE GALLERY: Shine-a-Light vigil for Dea-John Reid – Sunday 6 June 2021

Pics & videos by Ed King

A selection of pictures and videos from the Shine-a-Light vigil for Dea-John Reid – held on Sunday 6 June 2021, at the place he died on College Road in Kingstanding.

Over 1000 people from across Erdington attended the peaceful vigil, which saw community leaders, local politicians, families and friends come together to mourn the loss of another young life.

For more about the Shine-a-Light vigil for Dea-John Reid click here.


Bishop Desmond Jaddoo adresses crowd

Prayer for unity – Pastor Calvin Young

Psalm 23:4 ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…’

“We are committed to be people of peace” – Bishop Mike Royal

“Every young man… come forward…”

Balloon release

Anyone who can help West Midlands Police with their investigation should contact them urgently via Live Chat on https://west-midlands.police.uk/

Alternatively, people can call West Midlands Police on 101 – quoting log 3313 of 31/5.

FEATURE: A home or a prison? How domestic abuse has spiralled during life under lockdown

Words by Adam Smith

(First published in the Erdington Local newspaper – March ’21 edition)

The increase in domestic abuse has been one the most disturbing consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. As lockdown restrictions are eased, and the country prepares to go back to the ‘normal’ we knew before, Erdington Local looks at how violence and aggression in the home are damaging the lives of hundreds of local people.

Domestic abuse rose by 45% in Erdington last year and now accounts for around 25% of all crime committed in the constituency.

Officers are now trained to spot tell-tale signs of abuse and if possible, help the victim. As well as prosecute the abuser which is a big difference from the 1970s when the law was unable intervene between a married couple.

However, lockdown meant victims had the double blow of being forced to spend even more time with their partner, whilst routes to safety and support were blocked by being unable to leave the house and even have private phone calls.

Experts who have been helping Erdington women escape violence since 1980 are keen to stress the lockdowns have not created domestic abuse but exacerbated an existing problem.

For more than 40 years Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid (BSWA) has provided practical escape routes for abused women and children, last year its 220 staff and volunteers helped 7,800 victims.

The charity’s fundraising manager Anna Fawcett told Erdington Local: “Prior to COVID-19 we would rely on face-to-face meetings with victims to unpick what they had been through, from eye contact to body language we were physically there for women.

“But like everybody else we had to change how we help people, whether it be through intercoms or WhatsApp messages, but we are still making a huge difference. Demand for our services has gone up in 12 months, but during the first lockdown we were quieter than expected.

“We soon realised people could not phone us if their partner was in the house so we introduced a chat facility to the helpline which made a big difference.”

Women’s Aid provide advice, counselling and crucially a housing service so women and children will not be homeless if they do successfully leave an abusive domestic situation. BSWA run seven refuges across the city, the locations are secret to prevent violent partners tracking women down, and demand is always high.

Anna said: “For every one room we have, seven or eight women need it. When one becomes available they are free for a matter of hours before being taken.

“COVID-19 is not causing domestic violence but it has heightened it due to the restrictions. But the police are doing a great job trying to prosecute offenders.”

The causes of domestic abuse are entrenched in society and Anna believes although attitudes have improved there is still a long way to go.

She said: “One in four women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime so it will not be fixed overnight; the fact rape prosecutions are at an all time low shows how much work needs to be done.

“In the early 1970s police could not even intervene between a married couple, but perhaps with the Domestic Abuse Bill now in the House of Lords women will finally get equality. We need to keep talking about domestic abuse because our sisters, wives, and daughters are the victims.”

One Erdington mother of two, who now lives in an East Midlands town after her relationship ended violently last year, wanted women suffering in silence to know help is available.

She said: “Lockdown turned my volatile relationship into a living hell because my fella lost his job and could not go to the pub, so we spent more time with each other than we ever had.

“I suddenly realised I was trapped; I couldn’t phone my friends, sisters, or anyone without him knowing. I forgot to clear the search history on the computer and when he found out I’d been searching for hotels and hostels he snapped.

“He fractured my collar bone and broke my pelvis. But waking up in hospital meant I finally could get help, I never went back. The advice and support I got from my hospital bed with just my phone was incredible, it meant I could leave him and take my children too.”

She added: “I shudder to think what would have happened if I had stayed, but Women’s Aid and the police made me realise I was not alone. Loads of women have gone through the same trauma and come out the other side safe and well.”

Tragically, many victims do not escape their tormentor. In the last ten years at least two women every week have been killed by current or former partners in England and Wales, according to the Office for National Statistics, and 30 men die each year in similar circumstances.

Domestic abuse is also one of the main causes of homelessness. Birmingham City Council and Women’s Aid worked together to create Home Options which matched the expertise of BSWA staff and housing officers to ensure domestic abuse victims would not end up on the streets.

Birmingham City Council cabinet member for housing Councillor Sharon Thompson branded the new approach a success.

She said: “The Home Options is the first of its kind in the country and has demonstrated a valuable and much needed initiative, providing a specialist approach and ‘pathway’ for women and children at risk of, or experiencing homelessness due to domestic abuse.

“Domestic abuse is a complex and serious issue, both nationally and locally here in Birmingham, and remains one of the leading causes of statutory homelessness. It has a profound and long-lasting impact upon the safety, health, and wider life chances of women, children, and families; which can often lead to further crisis such as homelessness and financial exclusion.”

Inspector Haroon Chughtai, who decides the police’s priorities for Erdington, promised abusers who used the pandemic’s unique circumstances to their own advantage would feel the full force of the law.

He said: “Like all major events it (COVID-19) has brought both the best and worst out in people.

“For me, the worst is the perpetrators of domestic abuse who have taken advantage of the restrictions and made life unbearable for their victims. We will continue to everything to bring them to justice.

“Domestic abuse is a 45% increase which equates to around 800 extra victims. It is an abhorrent crime which we are determined to continue tackling and it is one of our top priorities.”

He added: “We have also started a pilot scheme in Kingstanding which takes a more enhanced approach at repeat offenders.”

The stereotype of domestic abuse is a husband emotionally and physically attacking his wife but there are many other scenarios which create victims.

Men have traditionally found it hard to admit or report their female partner abused them. Parents attacking their children, teenagers attacking parents or siblings, are also domestic abuse – as are altercations between same sex partners in the LGBTQ community.

The only way to eradicate the problem entirely is if everyone in society tries to stop it, from neighbours reporting violent incidents to employers offering employees help if they turn up to work with a black eye or bruises.

Kingstanding PCSO Meg Skelding wrote to residents about spotting domestic abuse and how to help.

She said: “Support a friend if they’re being abused, let them know you’ve noticed something is wrong. If someone confides in you, there is more information on how to support them.

“If you are worried someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse, you can call Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline for free, confidential support, 24 hours a day on 0808 2000 247.”

She added: “But if you believe there is an immediate risk of harm to someone, or it is an emergency, always call 999.”

If you have been affected by domestic abuse of violence, you can call Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline 24 hours a day on 0808 2000 247 or visit www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk

For more on Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid visit www.bswaid.org

For more from Refuge visit www.refuge.org.uk

EXCLUSIVE: Mother of murdered Sandy Hook schoolboy funds Kingstanding bleed control kits

Words by Adam Smith / Pics supplied by Scarlett Lewis

The inspirational American mother of a boy murdered in the Sandy Hook school massacre in 2012 has funded ten new bleed control kits for Kingstanding.

Scarlett Lewis’ life changed forever when she was told there was a shooting at her six-year-old son Jesse’s school in Connecticut.

When the frantic mother got to the school parents were heading home with their traumatised children. However, Jesse was nowhere to be seen and neither were most his elementary class or his teacher.

As the day unfolded the full horror of what happened inside the school became clear. Armed with an assault rifle, former pupil Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 children and six teachers before turning the gun on himself – earlier in the day he had murdered his mother, a former teacher at the school.

Scarlett told Erdington Local: “I put my children on the school bus and assumed they would come home safe. I never thought in a million years my son would be shot in the forehead in his classroom in one of the worst mass murders in US history.

“I knew it became my responsibility, so I dedicated the rest of my life to do what is right as these shootings are 100% preventable. It’s just like tackling bullying and drugs, we need to tackle the causes of these problems.”

The Sandy Hook massacre remains the USA’s most deadly school shooting and sparked a campaign to tighten America’s notoriously lax gun control laws. However, Scarlett wanted to understand why so many young people kill.

She said: “The tragedy could have been averted with social and emotional intelligence.”

The first step of Scarlett rebuilding her life was to forgive the mass murderer who killed her son.

She said: “I forgave him, he was not treated well. He had special needs which weren’t known. Often was seen in the cafeteria by students crying and shaking with anxiety and the only person who would comfort him was the anxiety. He was bullied, so I felt compassion for him.”

However, what Scarlett could never expected after losing her son in a national tragedy was being the target of internet trolls accusing her of being involved in a conspiracy claiming the entire massacre was fabricated.

She said: “Conspiracy theorists do not have the strength to believe something as awful as Sandy Hook could happen in their country, they would rather believe I am a ‘crisis actor’ and the whole thing was made up than face up to the truth and be part of the solution.”

Scarlett’s negative social media experiences were outweighed by the support she received by other bereaved parents.

She said: “Almost immediately afterwards I had parents of children who had been killed in similar circumstances reach out to me offering support. They helped me realise I would survive and now had a voice which would be listened to, which is why I decided to be part of the solution.”

Reading a heart-breaking message from her son, who saved the lives of several children by urging them to run as the gunman reloaded, also deeply affected Scarlett.

“Jesse wrote a chalk board message right before he went to school that day which I did not see until afterwards.

“He wrote ‘have some fun’ to his brother and then three words ‘nurturing, healing, love’. I knew instantly if the shooter had been taught to give and receive nurturing, healing and love the tragedy would never have happened,” she said.

“I also wanted to be a role model for my 12-year-old son TJ, I did not want him to spend his life angry and I wanted to be free of anger too.”

Scarlett began researching social and emotional learning and founded The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement which now offers free programming in 10,000 schools across every US state and in 110 different countries.

Scarlett believes love is the key to preventing mass murders and every child should be taught about emotions, connections, and relationships.

President Barack Obama was deeply upset by the Sandy Hook massacre and even addressed the nation from the school days after the tragedy. He failed in his bid to tighten gun laws but introduced Scarlett to his sister, a professor who helped launch the foundation. 

Kingstanding’s first bleed control kit was installed in October but another ten are needed for the area to be covered.

When Scarlett heard about deadly consequences of knife crime in Birmingham, she offered to purchase ten new kits, immediately.

“I totally understand the concept of zero responders and how bleed control kits can save lives. It took more than seven minutes for emergency services to get to Jesse’s school and a bleed control kit could have saved lives,” she said.

Bishop Desmond Jadoo and Majid Khan, from Yes2Life  – a Birmingham based group ‘campaigning against the effects of gun & knife crime’, were so impressed by Scarlett’s humanity they volunteered to be UK ambassadors for her Choose Love Movement.

Bishop Jaddoo said: “For a mother to forgive the killer of her six-year-old son, choose love and dedicate her life to saving lives is incredibly inspiring and because of her generosity lives will be saved in Kingstanding.”

For more information about The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement www.chooselovemovement.org

To follow the Yes2Life organsiation on Twitter,, visit www.twitter.com/_yes2life_

For more information about bleed control kits and the work being done by Bishop Desmond Jaddoo visit www.desjaddoo.org.uk

FEATURE: Erdington Foodbank, an increasingly essential local lifeline

As the numbers of local families in need of support double due to the coronavirus crisis, with thousands facing a “bleak winter”, MP for Erdington, Jack Dromey, visits the longstanding food distribution service at Six Ways Baptist Church.

Words & pics by Ed King – some images taken from Erdington Local archives

Erdington Foodbank has been feeding double the numbers of local families this year – due to the effects of the coronavirus crisis, including continued lockdowns and spiralling unemployment.

Operating two days a week, at 6 Ways and George Road Baptist churches, the long standing local food bank has seen ‘a significant increase’ – including twice the number of children, as compared to last year.

This year, so far… this financial year, we’ve provided food for 10,000 people and more than 3,000 of are children,” explains Reverend Gerrard Goshawk – minster at Six Ways Baptist Church, “that’s been a significant increase, doubling the number of children. Overall, we’re looking at being twice as busy as we were the last financial year.

We have new people coming all the time, where there circumstances have suddenly changed, and we have people who are coming to us week in week out because they’re stuck in a situation that’s hard for them. 

So, we open twice a week – and within a short space of time, when we open, we get very, very busy. As you can see there’s a big queue here today.”

Launched in 2013, supported by the Trussell Trust, Erdington Foodbank has been operating within the community for nearly a decade – offering free to access ‘three day emergency food supplies’ via a referral system.

Last year the local food bank distributed nearly 4,000 care packages, feeding people of all faiths. But with mass unemployment due to COVID-19 lockdowns the numbers of those in need have increased dramatically this year.

Stretching from the church hall doors out onto Wood End Road, long lines of people have become a regular sight at Six Ways Baptist Church – sometimes waiting hours in bitter weather to receive bags of food and essentials. And the same can be seen at food banks across the city. 

As we sink into what will be a bleak winter,” tells MP for Erdington Jack Dromey – whilst visiting the Six Ways centre, “for thousands of people locally in Erdington the demand for food banks is growing and growing.

We’re here today (Six Ways Baptist Church) talking to guys who were at work, who have lost their jobs, and who are now desperate – and they turn to the food bank This is a long standing food bank… but what they’re seeing is a sharp increase in families using it. The number of those using this particular food bank have doubled.”

It’s down to the Government,” tells Kenneth Ball – a qualified mechanic who now relies on extra support from Erdington Foodbank.

The way they’ve cut back benefits… bang. From ESA to Universal Credit, they’ve taken half of our money away – so, we have to rely on places like this (Erdington Foodbank).”

Universal Credit are monthly payments, but most people have deductions,” mirrors Michael Blake – a professional baker who lost his job due to the coronavirus crisis. “The money they’ve got left over can only support them for one or two weeks, but what about the other two weeks?

In this environment, the Government should cancel the deductions – I’m not saying they’re not doing a good job, but they should wait until everything’s settled down then put the deductions back into force. We know we owe the money… but give us a break.”

Echoing the call for compassion, Jack Dromey reiterates the growing number of local voices who have been left vulnerable – with thousands across the constituency seeking a range of support as the country begins a second lockdown.

In terms of the effects on people personally, and I say this with immense sadness, the scars that are being inflicted – unless we’re careful – will last for years,” continues Dromey.

The scars mental ill health, the scars of children not being able to go to school for months on end, the scars sometimes endured by women in this constituency as victims of domestic violence.

We need to act, to save lives and to save livelihoods, but then to have a strong community supporting the community. That’s why we have the Erdington Taskforce, of which I was proud to be part of establishing, which has been doing so well supporting people locally.

I would urge the people of Erdington to play their part with acts of kindness, good neighbourliness, and supporting one another. But as far as the foodbanks are concerned, they badly need food – the demand is soaring.”

To find out more about Erdington Foodbank, visit www.erdington.foodbank.org.uk
For more from Jack Dromey MP for Erdington, visit www.jackdromey.org

For a list of local support services operating during the coronavirus crisis, visit the COVID-19 Local Support database and address book, www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19-local-support

FEATURE: A spooky spirit walk though Erdington’s ghostly past… and present

Words by Adam Smith

It’s Halloween, and as trick or treating is another COVID victim why not explore why ghost hunters still flock to Erdington.

If you believe in the paranormal, or if your things-that-go-bump-in-the-night are more down to carelessness, there can be no doubt that Erdington has more than its fair share of ghost stories.

Whether it is the ‘melting woman in the phone box’, the old fella in the Lad in the Lane or the vanishing woman of Pype Hayes Park, these stories have been passed down the generations of Erdington locals.

Even if these stories have been embellished, altered, or given a splash of colour when told across pub tables or playgrounds, they have become part of who we are – a good ghost story is part of our oral history tradition.

Erdington Local can reveal there are new ghost stories happening now, as the unexplained is explored in a new book from local authors – They Walk Among Us – released this Halloween.

But first let’s walk through the spooky shadows Erdington’s of macabre memory lane…

The ‘melting phone box woman of Station Road’ is one of the most talked about ghost stories in Erdington. Two men were waiting to use the phone in the 1970s, a woman was in the box, and after a long wait they asked her how long she would be… only to find she had ‘melted away’.

The story gained traction, now local folklore says it was a young mother who ran to the phone box to phone the fire brigade as her house was on fire, her children died, and she committed suicide not long after. The phone box, however, could not survive the onward march of progress and was removed due to the popularity of mobile phones.

The Lad in the Lane is the oldest pub in Erdington, once called Ye Olde Green Man, so it stands to reason there would be a ghost story attached to the premises which dates, back to 1400. Ghost hunters claim the Bromford Lane pub has “considerable poltergeist activity” and a grey shadowy figure is said to roam the site.

If anywhere in Erdington would have a reputation for ghostly goings-on it would be Pype Hayes Park. The historic park, which has connections to both the famous Bagot and Arden families, also has a macabre side.

Society belle Mary Ashford was found dead in the park on May 27th 1817, she had been sexually assaulted and been thrown into a pit where she finally drowned. The gruesome murder took place after she had been to a dance at the Tyburn House, when she was just 20-years-old. Castle Bromwich man Abraham Thornton was eventually tried and acquitted of the crimes, not once but twice.

But Mary’s ghost is still said to roam both the park and the Tyburn House, angry at her attacker who was never brought to justice.

Bizarrely enough, 160 years later on the same day – 27th May, Whit Bank Holiday Monday, 1974 – Barbara Forrest, also 20 and also returning home from a dance, went missing only to be found dead on the edge of Pype Hayes Park.

Incredibly, a man named Thornton was also arrested, charged, and eventually acquitted of her murder – her co-worker at a children’s home, Michael Thornton.

However, the most cited ghost sighting in Pype Hayes Park is that of a young woman in an old fashioned, yellow dress who has been seen floating through the park. She is said to walk towards a tree but vanishes and never come out the other side. The West Midlands Ghost Club took the story so seriously they investigated it in 2008.

A Roman Centurian is also has been seen wandering across the Chester Road near Pype Hayes Park too, alongside a white misty figure who takes a seat on the stone bench in Tyburn.

It is surprising locals can get a seat at The Tyburn House with all the ghosts believed to haunt the place. Yet a friendly monk called Fred is believed to be a regular there, with several licensees having reported a “dark human shape” jump past them on the stairs to the cellar.

On Erdington High Street, there have also been sightings of ghosts at the Roebuck Inn. Poltergeist activity has been reported at the old watering hole – as glasses were found smashed all over the function room and a pool ball has been thrown through a window, from inside, during the night. A barmaid was also covered in shards from exploding sherry glasses and a figure in a white shirt has been seen sitting in a locked, darkened restaurant.

There have been other ghost stories attached to the railway arch on Station Road (a monk with a lantern), Orphanage Road on the site of the old orphanage (crying children heard and the caretaker wandering around), and a 16-year-old girl with an expressionless face in Woodend Road.

However, there are new ghost stories also popping up in Erdington, Kingstanding, and Perry Common.

Two friends who met at school used their time in lockdown to write a book about new ghost stories in the West Midlands called They Walk Among Us, and Eridington was not without it’s spooky spectres.

Kingstanding journalist Charlotte Hart and Perry Common writer Louise Blackburn are releasing their book on this Halloween and have told Erdington Local about ghostly-goings on in Erdington.

Charlotte, 42, said: “One the best tales in the book is in Erdington. Someone reported thinking they’d run someone over by the cemetery but when they got out of the car to investigate, there was no-one there.

Our contributor said he’d be left very shaken by it, it left him feeling chilled.”

She added: “Another story involves a toddler from Kingstanding regularly talking to someone at the if her bed in the middle of the night and an Erdington couple who told us about her TV jumping from a chest of drawers to the floor on the other side of the road without getting damaged and waking the cat up.

There’s other stories about people being visited at Good Hope Hospital and spooky events at Highbury Theatre in Boldmere.”

Louise, from Perry Common, was amazed with the response when she asked for contributions from people with modern ghost stories.

She said: “It’s impossible to check the integrity of people’s stories because they’re all first-hand accounts and if people tell us something has happened, then that is good enough for us.

It’s up to the reader whether they believe something or not, and different people accept varying levels of paranormal activity.

If the stories we have shared make people question what they are willing to believe, then we will have achieved what we set out to.”

They Walk Among Us – Unexplained Tales of Ghosts and Spirits of the Midlands is available from 31st October. For more information and links to online purchases, visit www.amzn.to/34yvlm9

To find out more about ghost hunts in the Midlands visit  www.hauntedhappenings.co.uk/ghost-hunting-events/West-Midlands

EXPLOITED: Part 3 – The unchallenged rampage of HMOs and shared houses, wreaking havoc for a profit across our community

Words by Adam Smith

In the third instalment of EXPLOITED, Adam Smith looks at the oversaturation problem in the HMO and supported living sector – hearing from the top of two housing associations and going right down to the root cause of the misery.

It’s a license to print money,” one former employee of a housing association tellingly revealed.

And it stands to reasons where there is easy money on offer there will be a queue of people ready to take it.

On the Birmingham City Council website there is a list of HMOs where landlords can charge the benefits system £900 for a room, which often can be more than £500 over the private rented market value. And the list runs into the thousands.

Across Birmingham there are 2345 HMOs with six or more people living in them, with applications pending for another 758 properties – including houses in Mere Road, Queens Road, Chester Road, Hillaries Road, Norfolk Road, Kings Road, Slade Road and George Road in Erdington.

As well as the licensed HMOs there are thousands more smaller HMOs and shared houses which fall into the category of ‘exempt’ or ‘supported’ accommodation. There are hundreds of companies which can apply for an HMO license in Erdington, many of which have been arguably set up just to take advantage of the system.

Spring Housing Association (SHA) is a Birmingham based Housing Association which operates HMOs, hostels and social housing – an organisation that has been referenced in previous Exploited articles. SHA has close links to Birmingham City Council and is one of the biggest housing associations in the Midlands, managing or owning more than 700 properties.

SHA, which has Edgbaston MP Preet Gill on its board of directors, has lobbied the Government to tighten up regulations and is now even turning shared houses into family homes.

SHA group chief executive and founder, Dominic Bradley, told Erdington Local there should be tighter regulations on the mushrooming number of companies which can run HMOs and shared accommodation.

He said: “We believe that there is over saturation of exempt shared housing provision in Birmingham. This is not to say that this type of housing doesn’t have an important part to play in the prevention of homelessness in all of its forms. In fact it’s essential.

However, we have long recognised that in parts of the city we are over saturated with this style of housing – which is disruptive to local communities. Stockland Green is an obvious example of this.”

Dominic added: “It’s one of the reasons we are about to purchase a shared house in Erdington and convert it back to a family home. We are aiming to do something similar in Edgbaston, which has had similar community issues to Stockland Green.

Whilst this is a start and one we are keen to develop further there are wider more systematic issues that need to be tackled around strengthening existing regulations about what we mean about care, support and supervision and work with providers to curb the current unmitigated growth and target provision linked to local strategy which we know Birmingham City Council are very keen to achieve.”

In the last article, Exploited – Humans Must Obey,  we outlined the rules tenants have to follow whilst living in supported housing and HMOs.

In the housing sector the term used is ‘Exempt Accommodation’ because in 1996 Housing Benefit regulations were changed to include ‘non-commissioned EA’ which were defined as ‘accommodation which is…provided by a non-metropolitan country council, a housing association, a registered charity or a voluntary organisation where that body or a person acting on its behalf also provides the claimant with care, support or supervision.

‘If a provider or landlord meets these criteria, they are exempt from rent restrictions within the private rented sector and are able to yield rent levels, paid for from housing benefit, far in excess of ‘general needs’ social sector rents and, often, market rents.’

These two paragraphs provided the starter of the sector gun, as landlords and housing associations realised they could charge more rent without the hassle of tenancy agreements – and the introduction of Universal Credit in 2012 massively increased the sector. The Conservative government’s change of rules, that the tenant received the housing benefit and not the landlord, meant it made sense for landlords to claim their houses were ‘exempt’ so they could get the cash directly as had been the case for decades.

The last Parliamentary research into HMOs, published in 2019, revealed there were more than 497,000 HMOs in England in Wales in 2018. And that number is growing.

Spring Housing Association, the University of Birmingham, and Commonweal Housing combined to produce a 60 page report – Exempt from Responsibility? Ending Social Injustice in Exempt Accommodation – which detailed the shocking state of housing provision and detailed how thousands of people were stuck in negative housing situations across the city. 

Ashley Horsey, chief executive of Commonweal Housing, a charity formed to ‘implement housing solutions to social injustice’, described the damage exempt housing is doing to tenants and communities.

He said: “The findings of this report are stark. That over 11,000 people in Birmingham – and many thousands more across the country – are living in potentially unsafe and unsuitable ‘exempt’ accommodation should concern us all.

Residents interviewed for this report described feelings of ‘entrapment’ in financial instability; exclusion from decision-making processes; lack of control over where, and with whom, they are housed.

At the same time, the nature of too many of the business models involved in this space are causing some concern, not least inflation linked leases from property owners requiring ever rising rents.

In addition, the deficit-based tenant modelling – talking up your tenant’s weaknesses to justify your income stream – is all too common, and a tricky place to be morally. Especially where there remains little oversight.”

Ashley added: “The ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ nature of some of the governance and regulation of this sector is alarming. Of course, everyone accommodated in the exempt accommodation sector is in need of a home. But asking no questions simply because this sector is putting a roof over a head is not good enough.

In particular, the exempt accommodation sector is too often the only housing available for the marginalised, the overlooked, the undervalued and the de-valued in society. They are the women who find themselves here after fleeing domestic violence, as their only housing option.”

The next instalment of EXPLOITED will reveal the shocking stories of women who have either lived in, live in, or have been affected by HMOs, exempt, or shared housing.

To read Exempt from Responsibility? Ending Social Injustice in Exempt Accommodation, visit www.springhousing.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Spring-Housing-Final-Report-A4.pdf

To read the 2019 Parliamentary briefing paper on HMOs, visit www.commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/sn00708 

For more on Spring Housing Association, visit www.springhousing.org.uk

For more on Commonweal Housing, visit www.commonwealhousing.org.uk

If you have been affected by HMOs or any of the issues mentioned in this article, we want to hear your side of the story – email Erdington Local on exploited@erdingtonlocal.com

EXPLOITED: HMOs – the cruel rules that Humans Must Obey

Words by Adam Smith / Pics by Ed King

Erdington Local continues its investigation into the frightening world of HMOs (homes of multiple occupancy) shining a light on the cruel rules and regulations thousands of tenants are forced to live under.

Chief reporter Adam Smith talks directly to the tenants living in uncertainty and fear across Erdington and the UK, wading through the inhumane bureaucracy behind HMOs – in his next article for EXPLOITED.

It took centuries for tenants to get legal rights so ruthless landlords could not evict them on a whim.

After a string of slum landlord scandals in the 1960s and 1970s several acts of parliament safeguarded renters rights – preventing enforced evictions, rent hikes, intrusion and intimidation.

However, right now thousands of Erdington HMO tenants are living as if the 20th Century never happened, in fear of being made homeless at any time.

HMO companies force tenants to sign license agreements, which leave them at the mercy of a raft of rules – many of which are vague and subjective, but which if broken can lead to eviction.

Three HMO tenants have shown Erdington Local their license agreements – relating to properties from Three Conditions Housing Association (3CHA), Green Park Housing (GPH), and Spring Housing (SH).

All three agreements are remarkably similar in their authoritative tone and demands on the tenant; the multiplicity of rules needed to be adhered to might as well see Houses of Multiple Occupancy redefined to Humans Must Obey*.

Green Park Housing and 3CHA warn tenants they could be evicted in a ‘REASONABLE’ amount of time. Although ‘REASONABLE’ is spelled put in capital letters on the official documents, an actual unit of time is not mentioned.

In the first EXPLOITED, Erdington Local revealed how social housing giant Spring Housing could evict tenants within seven days.

However, a whistle blower from another housing association, which has homes in Kingstanding, contacted Erdington Local to say: “Our housing association could evict within three hours if they wanted, the rules  people sign up to are vague so the housing associations can use them to evict immediately – if they say the person is in danger or other tenants they can remove them in three hours. That is what reasonable means.”

A consistent feature with all the HMO licence agreements is the stress on the importance of tenants paying a weekly service charge. Despite housing benefit covering the rent, often in the region of £800 to £900 a month for one room, housing providers demand a further weekly fee – Spring Housing £12, 3CHA £15, and Green Park £13.

Which the tenant has to pay, meaning tenants on benefits have to stump up 20% of their monthly money.

Unscrupulous landlords have realised the money spinning benefits of turning their house into an HMO, so now rooms are advertised for ‘£15’ per week and can only be rented to benefit claimants. Tenants sign up for ‘supported living’ in their licence and then Birmingham City Council will pay in the region of £900 a month for a room.

All the licence agreements are explicitly clear, if the weekly service charge is not paid then the tenant will be evicted.

What’s more, HMO tenants are forced to live under rules which means their house can never feel a home. Rules include: ‘no pictures can be hung on the walls.’ They cannot drink alcohol, smoke, or even swear in their own home.

3CHA‘s licence agreement says in bold black letters: ‘You cannot have anyone stay with You at the House overnight’ which bans adults from having the comfort of sleeping with another human being.

Spring Housing‘s agreement states: ‘You will not allow any visitors on site’ – meaning tenants in their properties cannot invite friends, family members, partners, or anyone in for a cup of tea or chat.

Even prisoners are allowed visitors, a right that is seemingly not extended to you if you live in an HMO.

A female HMO tenant, who did not want to be named for safety reasons, said: “I’ve lived in several HMOs and it always feels like they are trying to isolate me. I can’t even have my friends round for a laugh; I can’t decorate my room. The only time I hear from the support worker is when they demand the service charge.

And the rules are vague and open to interpretation, if they come up with a scenario which they say I am in danger or a danger to others then I have three hours to vacate. I’m old enough to remember when tenants had rights, but HMOS are different, they are evil. HMO for me stands for Humans Must Obey.”

Shamir Hussain, who was evicted by Spring Housing during the COVID-19 lockdown, said: “I just signed what they wanted me to when I got the room, but Spring used the small print rules to evict me during the pandemic. 

They used the fact that the kitchen was messy to evict me because of some rule they said I was breaking.”

The lack of privacy is another feature of living in a HMO, staff can enter a room whenever they want. Erdington Local has obtained a recording of a ‘landlord’ and ‘support worker’ entering a house at 11.30pm – demanding residents names, despite having no identification and refusing to give their own names.

GPH‘s licence agreement explicitly says on the first page: ‘This licence does not confer exclusive possession. GPH and its staff have the absolute right to enter Your Room at any time without notice.’

And even more disorientating is the fact that tenants can return their rooms and find them altered, as Spring Housing states: ‘Spring may change Your Room from time to time without notice or Your agreement. This can be done for any reason.’

Housing charity Shelter gives advice to tenants and tells them what they should legally expect.

Shelter states: ‘Landlords must let you live in your home without unnecessary interference. Your landlord should not let themselves into your home without your permission. Your landlord should not harass you or make it difficult for you to live in your home.’

However, thanks to the introduction of the HMO into the housing market these basic rights that tenants should expect have been removed.

3CHA boasts on its website: ‘It is a 21st century social landlord for 21st century customers.’

Which, sadly, is true – in the 20th Century tenants had more rights than the 21st Century. Because of HMOs.

*Humans Must Obey is copyrighted by Napier Productions – pertaining to the name of a forthcoming documentary about HMOs.

If you have been affected by HMOs or any of the issues mentioned int his article, we want to hear your side of the story – email Erdington Local on exploited@erdingtonlocal.com