VOX POP: How could our new MP make Erdington a better place?

By Claire Taylor & Bianca Parvuceanu

On Friday, 4 March, Paulette Hamilton was voted in as Erdington’s next Member of Parliament – once again securing the long-held Labour seat.

Hamilton will now be the constituency’s voice in Westminster, fighting to get the best for Erdington from central government.

But she will also be championing Erdington within Birmingham City Council, representing the concerns of local residents and businesses over issues such as housing, green spaces, policing, crime, and investment.

Our VOX POP team went onto Erdington High Street to ask people what they wanted our new MP to put on her to-do-list, and what issues they felt needed her immediate attention now she has taken over the all-important representative role.

VOX POP: Gulshan Akhtar

“I’ve literally just moved into the area; I came down from the North West. What I would appreciate is the Council picking up the litter on time and fining the businesses on Slade Road – which is a complete eye sore. I’ve never seen anything like it; it’s a big contrast from the North to the Midlands.

“I was trying to find out who the new MP was. I did try to contact the Council about the regular bin collection too, but I only get an automated response about Covid – which is fine, but you can’t keep using that as an excuse. When I was down here three years ago it was exactly the same and Covid wasn’t around then.”

 

VOX POP: Matthew Korik

“Get the drugs off the street; to really clamp down on it. There’s not too much being done about it and it’s a cancer eating our society. It’s just wrong. If they got it off the streets, there would be less crime too.”

 

VOX POP: Adam Kennedy

“It’s always been a strong Labour seat, so the result isn’t a surprise. But there’s one thing being backed by the Labour Party and another to be actually capable of doing the job. I work in computers, but if you stuck me as a brain surgeon…

“I’d want to see the anti-social elements changed, like the prostitution at the back of the church. And it (Erdington High Street) needs investment, when I was growing up there was an HMV on this road, there was a Dixons, obviously Woolworths before that went. There are no big brands, on this high street its mainly pawnbrokers, charity shops, and bookies. Its need major investment.”

 

VOX POP: John Lynch, Erdington Street Warden

“I’ve not spoke to her yet, hopefully she’ll improve the area – get the funding we need to regenerate the high street, because we’ve been passed over a few times now haven’t we. Hopefully she’ll fight for that and get that again.

“Better shops and more police presence on the Erdington High Street, that would make a big difference too.”

 

VOX POP: Judith Wright, manager – Shelter

“To sort out the High Street, to get the Levelling Up Fund – there’s lots to work on really. On the high street a lot of the shops have alcohol licences that are too long, and that would have had to go through the police – some places can serve until 3am. That would be an easy way to start.

“Then the PSPO needs to include the churchyard and I’m not sure it does anymore. And then just support local businesses really.”

 

VOX POP: Smurf

“You know what, everyone’s got that same thing to say – it’s the HMOs. Not to categorise, not to judge, but there’s a lot of people with mental health issues living in them. There are fights, there’s people taking harder drugs. It should be the HMOs that they’re landing on.”

 

VOX POP: Spiderman

“Stay positive, be happy, love yourself and love others. That’s the magic.”

If you have something to say about any of the issues raised in this VOX POP (or anything you want to tell us about) please email mystory@erdingtonlocal.com

ELECTION NEWS: Interview with Labour by-election candidate Paulette Hamilton, “I will not be the mouthpiece for Birmingham City Council”

By Erdington Local election news team

“If elected, I will be the local MP for the Erdington constituency. I will not be the mouthpiece for Birmingham City Council.”

The Labour candidate in the upcoming Birmingham Erdington by-election, Paulette Hamilton, was unable to attend the hustings held on Sunday, 27 February – due to family commitments following the sudden death of her father at the start of her campaign.

But ahead of the event, Erdington Local was given extended interview time on camera with Ms Hamilton, allowing us the chance to ask her about some of the issues that affect Erdington and have been so pertinent on every candidate’s campaign trail.

In a series of short video clips, Erdington Local’s editor, Ed King, talks to Paulette Hamilton about HMOs, employment and regeneration, living locally, and Short Heath Playing Fields.

Polling day for the Birmingham Erdington Parliamentary by-election is on Thursday, 3 March.

The 12 candidates contesting the seat are: Cllr Paulette Hamilton (Labour), Cllr Robert Alden (Conservative), Dave Nellist (Trade Union and Socialist Coalition), Lee Dargue (Liberal Democrats), Michael Lutwyche (Independent), Jack Brookes (Reform UK), Siobhan Harper-Nunes (Green), Thomas O’Rouke (Independent), Mel Mbondiah (Christian People’s Alliance), Clifton Holmes (Independent), David Laurence Bishop (Militant Bus-Pass Elvis Party), The Good Knight Sir NosDa (The Official Monster Raving Loony Party).

Click on any video window below to watch Erdington Local talk to Labour’s by-election candidate, Paulette Hamilton, about…

…HMOs


…employment and regeneration


…living locally


…Short Heath Playing Fields

For more on Cllr Paulette Hamilton and her campaign to become Erdington’s next Member of Parliament visit www.facebook.com/Paulette4Erdington

EXPLOITED: Erdington Councillor Robert Alden warns selective licencing is a ‘blunt tool’ against the ‘toxic’ rise in Exempt Accommodation

Words & original photography by Ed King

Erdington Councillor Robert Alden has called selective licensing a “blunt tool” in tackling the “toxic situation” caused by Exempt Accommodation in Birmingham, as it “simply displaces the problem to other parts (of the city).”

In a letter written to the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (LUHC) Committee on Friday, 28 January, the Erdington ward representative and Leader of Birmingham’s Conservatives called for “the ability to impose city wide selective licensing before severe problems appear”, warning anything less would leave officials “forever chasing the issue around the city.”

28 January marks the last date for evidence submissions to the LUHC Committee, who are currently leading an inquiry into Exempt Accommodation – following widespread reports of how the supported housing loophole is manipulated by providers.

Cllr Alden’s letter also offered a further list of solutions to the LUHC Committee’s Exempt Accommodation inquiry, including reforms to the UK’s planning laws and benefit system to stop “perverse incentives for unscrupulous landlords to offer this type of accommodation”.

He further suggested “the provision and development of supported housing” should be “the remit of local councils, based on a duty to assess local need” – giving priority to “those who cannot remain in their local area due to exceptional circumstances (e.g., escaping domestic violence)”.

Cllr Alden’s concerns over Exempt Accommodation are mirrored by many across the community, people who have watched the suburbs they grew up become shattered and hostile.

And whilst the problems may lie heavier from one postcode to another, fears are the systemic ills will only continue to spread.

Estelle Murphy from Short Heath Residents Action Group explained: “There are a lot of issues surrounding HMO’s and Exempt properties. The dire conditions people are forced to live in and the effects to the surrounding area can be extremely distressing and stressful to all concerned.

“My worry is that unless legislation is changed, what is one area’s problem today, like Stockland Green, will be another area’s problem tomorrow. Once one area becomes blocked to them (Exempt Accommodation providers) they just move somewhere else.”

Exempt Accommodation began in 1995, identifying local housing for tenants needing ‘care, support and supervision’ – from people on bail to those escaping domestic violence – that could bypass existing rent regulations.

The legislation opened up the commercial market to offer shared social housing, but also allowed private landlords to jump over the Housing Benefit restrictions and charge a surplus to the Local Authority – who would in turn seek reimbursement from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

In Birmingham, Exempt Accommodation providers have been found to charge over £200 per week for a tenant living in accommodation Birmingham City Council would cap at £50-100.

Recognising the cost implications of the current system in his letter to the LUHC Committee, Cllr Alden further added:

“In Birmingham the average Local Housing allowance shared accommodation rate is £57.34, the social housing general needs average weekly rent for Birmingham is £95.05 yet the Birmingham average exempt housing rent is around £200 per a week and they are able to charge this by simply providing one hour of unregulated support a week.

“With 22,000 individuals in Birmingham currently placed in exempt accommodation, this is a cost to the treasury of £228.8m per year just in Birmingham.”

Alden’s letter continues to challenge a “a lack of cooperation between local authorities”, which has seen people from other cities moved into Exempt Accommodation in Birmingham – often exacerbating neighbourhood issues over crime, infrastructure, streets safety, and litter.

He states: “Exempt accommodation, as currently operated, serves neither its users or local communities well. It also fails to deliver value for money for the taxpayer with all the associated problems driving up costs across different public sector organisations.

“Existing planning laws and problems with the Benefits system combine to create a toxic situation where local neighbourhoods are becoming unrecognisable, with rising crime and ASB and loss of family housing whilst trapping ex-offenders and drug users in a vicious cycle and increasing pressure on public services from the police to waste collections.”

Erdington’s neighbouring ward of Stockland Green is one of the most affected suburbs in the UK by Exempt Accommodation, with the number of citywide claimants reportedly doubling in the past three years alone.

Stockland Green Councillor Josh Jones had been working on a plan to tackle the Exempt Accommodation crisis with the recently deceased Jack Dromey MP, outlining “action points… back in the summer of 2020”.

He told Erdington Local: “Exempt Accommodation is not something that’s going to be solved easily. It needs to be attacked in multiple ways.

“There needs to be mandatory licensing for all rented accommodation, whether that’s in the private sector or registered social landlord sector.

“The housing regulator needs to staffed better than they currently are, there needs to be… in every region round the country, particularly where there are big cities, there needs to be an office with additional staff put there to properly regulate the sector.

“Too many people are looking at Exempt Accommodation in isolation, it needs a whole holistic approach to deal with it – it needs to look at the NHS, community policing, mental health funding, and housing in general. It needs to be a whole area and a whole sector approach.”

But the sharp end of the supported living stick is also hurting tenants, often leaving vulnerable people living dangerous accommodation.

A current Slade Road resident, who wanted to remain anonymous for fear their housing provider would evict them, told Erdington Local:

“I have a chronic health condition and was registered homeless, eventually being moved up to Birmingham from London.

“They (the housing provider) don’t care about the welfare of their tenants; they’re only interested in money. They get around £233 per week from me living here.

“We only get two hours of heating a day and there is a list of improvements that need to be done – including allowing a fire exit at the back of the building – that have not been looked at in months.

“Plus, there is a couple living here and the police have been called out several times over domestic violence. But they’re both aggressive.

“Sometimes I have to lock myself in my room; it’s not a safe place to live.”

If you have been affected by any of the issues mentioned in this article, we want to hear your side of the story – email: mystory@erdingtonlocal.com

FEATURE: Remembering Jack – Erdington High Street memorial for “a giant of Birmingham politics”

Words by Ed King / Pics by Claire Taylor

Erdington High Street has been the centrepiece of many recent political battles – from clarion calls for more community policing and a Public Space Protection Order, to ambitious regeneration plans that could bring in millions, a buzz has been returning to the once vibrant throughfare.

But on Sunday 16 January the High Street stood still, as hundreds gathered to pay their respects to “a giant of Birmingham politics and a very, very good man.”

Just over a week beforehand, the Erdington MP Jack Dromey was discovered dead at his constituency residence. Following ten days of shock and sadness, this was the day people came to say their goodbyes.

“We’re all Jack’s friends,” exclaims Gerard Goshawk, the well known minister from Six Ways Baptist Church who is introducing speakers onto the stage – a temporary platform outside the Co-op on Erdington High Street – and reminding the bipartisan crowd they are indeed just that.

A fierce trade unionist before being elected MP in 2010, Jack Dromey was known as a dyed in the wool “Labour man”, but also a canny campaigner who would extend a hand “across the political divide” to get the job done.

Standing shoulder to shoulder at his memorial are the leaders of both the Birmingham Conservative and Labour parties, further reflecting the impact of a man who, as Cllr Ian Ward would later state on stage, “was never blinkered or tribal when it comes to working constructively”.

Today’s cold January concourse hosts hundreds more well wishers from all backgrounds and belief systems – local MPs and councillors, Erdington residents and families, business owners and house builders.

Also in attendence are local campaign groups such as Short Heath Fields Trust – who despite spending much of their time locked in heated debates with Jack Dromey, maintained a healthy respect for a politician who ultimately “kept his word.”

Organised by the Erdington Covid-19 Taskforce, of which Jack Dromey was a “driving force” behind, the memorial is being delivered by two organisations who knew the late MP well – Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) and Active Arts – alongside Reverend Gerard Goshawk.

With more friends and figureheads waiting in the wings, a friendly reminder from Gerard to keep all speeches under two minutes launches proceedings gets a ripple of laughter from the crowd – mirroring the minister’s call for celebration and humour amongst the grief.

First to speak is Cllr Josh Jones (Lab, Stockland Green), who talks through his memories of meeting Jack during his first General Election campaign in 2010, to standing beside him as one of the city’s youngest campaign agents in the MP’s subsequent bids for the Erdington seat.

But it was the heartfelt memory of Jack and wife Harriet Harman cancelling their family holiday to be at Josh’s wedding that hammers home the closeness of their relationship, one evolving from professional to personal, and rubber stamps the sentiment of remembrance that would be reiterated throughout the afternoon.

“It feels incredibly strange and weird to be thinking of Erdington without Jack… a wonderful MP, a wonderful friend, a wonderful comrade. I will miss him very, very dearly.”

Cllr Paulette Hamilton (Lab, Holyhead) follows Josh Jones, regaling her own memories of a man who “came with so many titles…” and “encouraged people to be a better version of themselves”. Before the stage is set for Cllr Robert Alden (Con, Erdington), arguably Jack Dromey’s most immediate political postcode rival.

Immediately paying tribute to the late Penny Holbrook, the Stockland Green councillor who was also found dead at home back in November last year, Cllr Alden goes on to honour Jack Dromey’s “formidable reputation” in trade unions and politics, a man “passionate for worker’s rights”.

Afzal Hussain and Linda Hines MBE, WLCA Chief Officer and Resident Director respectively, stand together next – representing one of the key constituency stakeholders, who worked closely with Jack Dromey for over a decade on projects ranging from social care to High Street regeneration.

“Jack was a principled politician,” begins Afzal, “he had huge convictions and sense of justice and fairness,” before reminding the crowd of Jack’s pivotal work through the “the dark days” of the coronavirus crisis and his role on the Erdington Covid-19 Taskforce.

A quick joke about Jack’s love of a “a good photo”, and an anecdote from Linda about meeting Jack when she was a last minute stand in for Santa (there are pictures), round off a eulogy from two more people who will struggle to see Erdington in the same way again.

Stepping back into the political arena, Birmingham City Council Leader and Shard End representative, Cllr Ian Ward, is next to speak – mourning the loss of “a great friend, inspirational colleague, and a good man.”

A close personal and professional ally, Cllr Ward continues to reiterate Jack Dromey’s ability to bring warring fractions together for the greater good – celebrating the late MP’s commitment “to give a voice to the unheard” and his “tireless enthusiasm and dogged determination”. Traits many in today’s crowd will both recognise and be grateful for.

But simplicity is often the clearest full stop, as Cllr Ward sums up his earnest goodbye to “ultimately a decent and principled man” by extending condolences to the grieving family he has left behind – hoping they know just “how much Jack was loved here in Birmingham.”

Jess Phillips MP for Yardley is next to address the crowd, having known Jack since working in his constituency office before becoming elected and whose own Yardley office has now stepped in to assist with “urgent” casework in Erdington.

A defiantly human face in the political mirror, Jess begins telling the second city crowd, “your stories, your lives, were always his very first and most pressing concern.

“Jack fell in love (with Birmingham), he chose us, and he saw what many outside of Birmingham don’t see – it may not be the prettiest but the people are magnificent. You won his heart.”

Reminding us of Jack Dromey’s devotion to his family, be it round a dinner table or in the halls of power, a memory of “the regulation weekly slide show of the pictures of Jack’s grandchildren” makes way for a live performance of a special jig written in Jack Dromey’s honour by the head of the Erdington Arts Forum, Jobe Baker Sullivan.

And as the music plays, paying homage to Jack Dromey’s Irish roots, the sun literally begins to shine.

A sharp reminder of Jack Dromey’s important role in the lives of his Erdington constituents comes as Jane Roche celebrates the MP’s support for the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign. Jane lost both her sister and father to coronavirus within a week of each other, with Jack picking up the charge and pushing for a public inquiry in the house.

Ray Goodwin joins Jane on stage, both from the Castle Vale based Spitfire Support Services, and reiterates the impact of “the most remarkable man we have met; fearless, passionate, and caring – he fought for justice and fairness all his life.”

The day continues and the temperature drops, but the crowd standfast, as further messages of love and memories of laughter come flooding off stage. Representatives of local community groups, religious institutions, law enforcement, and local schools all offer their reasons for celebrating the life and legacy of Jack Dromey.

The crowd are invited to write messages of condolences for Jack Dromey’s family, hand written notes to be delivered by Active Arts and the Erdington Covid-19 Taskforce, before the last opportunity to speak goes to Liam Byrne – Member of Parliament for the neighbouring constituency of Hodge Hill.

Liam’s own father was at school with Jack Dromey, the MP remembers, and the actions and integrity of that generation have clearly left their mark on the man – as Hodge Hill’s voice in the house walks us down Jack’s “long march for justice”.

“Sometimes that road is steep,” continues Liam, “sometimes that road is hard, sometimes on that road we get weary.

“And it’s at those points that you need someone to put an arm around you, to give you warm words, to tell you it’s going to be OK, to tell you you’re a superstar.

“Jack put the fuel in the tank all of us in the fight for justice. He was the best booster that has ever been invented… Britain’s second city has lost its greatest citizen.”

R.I.P. Jack.

Watch Liam Byrne MP speaking at the memorial for Jack Dromey MP

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

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

____________ 

 

“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

____________ 

 

“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