FEATURE: Eco Together in Erdington, inspiring environmental action across the city at Witton Lakes Eco Hub

Words Ed King / Pics by Ewan Williamson

On 27 January 2024, the Bath born and Birmingham adopted Eco Together project celebrated a year of inspiring independent environmental action in and around Erdington – including a specially designed ten week course at the Eco Hub with Witton Lodge Community Association.

Erdington Local went to watch Eco Together cut the cake at the Witton Lakes ecological and community hub – and to hear how the Erdington held course has started a ripple effect of change across the city.

“…people have the power to create the change. It’s just the law of numbers; there’s way more of us.”

The room is full – of both people and passion. But also hope and ambition. Eco Together has been running courses across Birmingham for a year, brought to the second city by Stephanie Boyle – a retired clinical psychologist who found Eco Together whilst researching climate change online.

Starting in Bath, Eco Together works on a micro effecting macro approach, encouraging ‘small groups of friends, neighbours or colleagues’ to come together and realise the ‘powers’ they have in tackling climate change and environmental issues. And at this special anniversary celebration the energy in the room is palpable.

The Eco Hub, located at Witton Lakes, a converted century old gatekeeper’s cottage with ecological issues literally at its foundations, hosted the longest running Birmingham based Eco Together course – evolving the standard five week open platform programme into a special ten week series of workshops and group discussions.

Developed by Stephanie Boyle from the open source material offered by Eco Together, the extended course was commissioned at the request of Witton Lodge Community Association, who also built the Eco Hub. A group of about nine local residents met up every week to discuss environmental issues and to look beyond the bigger picture and ask what they, as individuals, could do to make change.

“It made me feel confident that I could do something,” explains Pauline Brown, who attended the Eco Together course earlier in the year. “As an individual you care about the climate and pollution, and you try and do your best, but you feel like you’re just a little isolated person trying.”

Campaigners worldwide, especially when dealing with worldwide problems, often cite those first few steps as the most daunting.

“But when it came to the (Eco Together) course I was with others who were interested,” adds Pauline, “and those ‘powers’, that’s what really got me – how you can communicate, your advocacy, and talk about it (environmental issues) to other people fires you up with ideas… you bounce of each other.”

“It was useful as a way of discussing what options are available to you as an individual,” adds Nettes Derbyshire – who attended a five week programme run with Shakti Women in Birmingham City Centre.

“I mean, there are things that I knew. But it really challenges you to say ‘well what are you going to do about that?’ and look at what little difference you can make – and to actually go away with something each week and say ‘I’m going to try and do that’.

“(The course) really opened my eyes to my own advocacy, and how you really can shout at the people to do things and really encourage the Local Authority, or whomever it is, and just keep on picking at it until they get it… and hope that they do.”

The ‘powers’ are the main tenet of Eco Together, and like every good collection of cornerstones there are four of them: lifestyle, communication, community, and advocacy.

Started by Sarah Grimes – who graduated with Distinction from Oxford University after reading Environmental Policy and who has worked in, around, and against local government for over 25 years – Eco Together uses these ‘powers’ to galvanise the strength of the individual and to show the simple steps one person can take to chip away at worldwide wall of ignorance and inertia.

Cleaning behind your fridge, for example, saves significant home energy use. It’s hard to think of anything more immediate and simple, but also exponential. Eco Together came from the Transition Bath project that saw around 500 households ‘cut an average of £570 from their annual bills and 1.3 tonnes from their carbon footprint,’ – and that figure of 500 households started with one.

Not bad for a community led charity, and one that proved so effective it started to grab the attention of Councils and Local Authorities across the county.

“It’s amazing, absolutely amazing,” tells Sarah Grimes – after thanking the Birmingham crowd for their involvement over the past twelve months and their ambitions for the next. “And what it shows to me is that the format can adapt to lots of different circumstance and lots of different ways of working.”

Sarah continues: “Initially it was thought of being just a neighbourhood group, but here (Birmingham – Eco Hub) it’s been run as a course, it’s been run by community groups, by organisations, with staff.

“And that shows that the main tenant of Eco Together is the ‘powers’. So, this is a slightly different framing to how we’re used to thinking about environmental issues, and thinking my powers go beyond the ability to choose one product over another product – they actually go into what do I do with the communities I’m in. What do I do, as a citizen, to represent to politicians and businesses. And whether or not I talk about climate change.

 “All of those things are things you can do to make an impact, and that principle can really be used with any issue and with any group of people. And that’s what happening here, which is so exciting.”

It’s a simple premise, but it works. In Birmingham, for example, Eco Together is now being looked at to help support the city’s Net Zero agenda and cut its emissions down to ‘zero or as close as possible to prevent further temperature increases’ – beating the Government benchmark by two decades.

In less than twelve months a handful of people, attending free to access workshops in and around Erdington, have shown the city how it can be done. And the city took note.

“We were invited to a specific session about community action, I think it was about week five,” tells Stockland Green Councillor Jane Jones (Labour), who attended one of the workshops where the power of ‘advocacy’ was on the table – alongside her Perry Common counterpart, Councillor Jilly Bermingham.

“But we were really impressed,” Cllr Jones continues. “We saw the training manual and it was really thorough. I learnt loads just reading one part of it. It was excellent, and the turnout… there were so many people there as well, and they were really interested in the environment.

“It didn’t matter where you were on the scale of knowledge, it really opened people’s eyes. Some people knew absolutely nothing (about environmental issues) and started from scratch, then there were people with more experience and still got something out if it. I certainly did.”

Bringing truth to power can be notoriously tricky, especially when the problem at hand is such a worldwide issue and local government is, well, local. But can the approach from groups like Eco Together actually have an impact, can an individual’s advocacy on an issue tun the relevant responsible authority heads?

“We encourage (local advocacy) that’s why we have open advice bureau,” tells Cllr Bermingham, “because we’re encouraging people to come and talk to us and tell us their issues. I’ve had people come and talk to me about community garden and women’s groups… everything. And they’re the advocates coming to me and pushing their groups, and that’s important.

“It’s all the things joining up. None of us can do it on our own.”

Cllr Jones, never one to duck a tough question, adds: “Whatever the policies the Council have, we’re not always very good at following them through. So, we need keeping on our toes.”

Eco Together in Erdington, anniversary celebration at Witton Lakes Eco Hub / Ewan Williamson

For more on Eco Together visit www.ecotogether.info

For more on the Eco Hub and other projects delivered by Witton Lodge Community Association visit www.wittonlodge.org.uk

FEATURE: Erdington renters facing millions in extra energy costs as the government scraps efficiency plans

Words by Ed King and Josh Neicho

People renting private accommodation in Erdington could have paid out over £1.1million in extra energy costs this winter, after the Government scrapped plans to force landlords to up their energy efficiency standards – according to research by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU).

The legislative U-turn was announced in a press release issued by Downing Street before Christmas, outlining several points where the Prime Minister has “revised plans” previously set for the UK to challenge climate change and to reach net zero by 2050.

According to the United Nations, whose member states made collective promises on environmental issues in the 2015 Paris Agreement, net zero means “cutting greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible” – and to a level where any remaining emissions can be naturally “re-absorbed from the atmosphere”.

Amongst these commitments, the UK pledged to introduce new legislation that would force all privately rented tenancies to carry an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of C or above by 2028 – bringing their properties in line with the most energy efficient systems and reducing bills for renters.

However, under new plans announced by the Prime Minister in late 2023, the Government has now stated it will: “Scrap policies to force landlords to upgrade the energy efficiency of their properties” but would “instead continue to encourage households to do so where they can.”

In new analysis, published by the ECIU, it was found that 73% of private rented homes in Erdington currently carry an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of D or lower – meaning the new laws would have forced an upgrade in thousands of homes across the constituency and made their energy consumption cost less.

With improved energy systems, and based on figures from energy ombudsman Ofgem and net zero consultants Cornwall Insight, the ECIU estimate Erdington renters could save up to £26million in energy costs by 2050 if all homes carried an EPC rating between A-C.

The ECIU further calculated private renters across the constituency missed out on £1.1million in potential savings over the 2023/24 winter months alone.

Other policy shifts made in the Government’s statement include pulling back on their proposed ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, and extending the deadline for homeowners to install more energy efficient boilers.

The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak calls the new plans a “fairer” approach to the UK’s commitment to becoming net zero by 2050, insisting the UK will still meet its targets for 2030 and 2035 and the revised agenda is “a pragmatic, proportionate and realistic path”.

Organisations representing private landlords have also welcomed the changes, with Ben Thompson, Deputy CEO at Mortgage Advice Bureau, highlighting the “pressing timelines” many were under to retrofit new energy systems. 

Environmental and social activists, however, have challenged the Government’s revised plans – arguing they renege on the UK’s previous promises to effectively challenge climate change, and leave individual households paying hundreds more in their annual energy bills.

Paul Barnes, regional organiser for community union ACORN West Midlands, believes private households will bear the brunt of the Government’s shift in policy.

He said: “Tenants in the UK are facing an impossible challenge of rising costs and stagnant wages. The government’s decision to row back on its commitments for landlords to increase the energy efficiency of homes will push renters and our members further into poverty.

“With growing issues of rent increase linked with increasing energy costs, many of our members are already having to make impossible choices. We demand that the UK Government brings back its commitments to increased energy efficiency.”

Jess Ralston, Energy Analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, added: “Private renters include some of the most vulnerable people in society, such as those with a long-term illness or disability and low-income families. There’s no two ways about it, they will be made colder and poorer by scrapping these standards.

“The Prime Minister has essentially picked the landlord over the renter with his U-turn, in a move that makes no sense to fuel poverty charities or to energy companies alike.”

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, or want more information about your rights and responsibilities over domestic energy use, contact Ofgem via www.ofgem.gov.uk

for more from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit visit www.eciu.net

LOCAL Q&A: Andy Harper – author of Knitted Swimming Trunks

Words by Ed King / Pics supplied by Andy Harper and Brewin Books

Just before Christmas, local author Andy Harper released his tell all autobiography – Knitted Swimming Trunks, published by Brewin Books. Click here for our first news story about the book and its author.

A searingly honest portrayal of school life in the 50s and 60s, told through the eyes of a self-confessed “massive target for bullies”, the 252 page paperback begins as the Erdington based author is born.

Knitted Swimming Trunks then takes the reader through his childhood growing up in the back to backs in Birmingham and continues across his troubled school years, until the day he received his City and Guild certificate after leaving education.

An intrinsically Brummie journey of hope and humility, hear more about Knitted Swimming Trunks as Erdington Local caught up with Andy Harper just before his debut book hit the shelves.

______

Congratulations on you first book, what compelled you to write about your life?

“Lockdown came along and I was bored to tears. I help out with a charity called Dogs for Good (based in Banbury), socialising assistance dogs, and that gave me an excuse to go out. But everywhere was closed down and it was weird, it was a bit like a horror film. And there’s only so many repeats of Bargain Hunt you can stay indoors and watch.

“So, I started to write things down about those very early years as a legacy for my children and grandchildren – and then it seemed to grow and grow, and my wife said you’ve got a book here.”

 

The narrative focuses on your difficult school years, but what made them so challenging for you?

“It wasn’t until the back to backs were being knocked down, and we ended up moving to Rubery, that I was enrolled for any length of time into a school. And when I started at Colmers Farm I was very weak, very frail – emotionally and educationally I was well, well down. I was a massive target for bullies. And I was put on the ‘thick table’ which didn’t help.

“Then I went into senior school, and I remember sitting in reception and the headmaster coming onto the stage and telling us: ‘there are two types of people in this world, there are the chefs and they’ve passed the Eleven Plus and gone onto Grammer School. You lot are destined to stir the pot.’

“Now if you say that to a frail young lad who is very emotionally damaged because of the bullying and everything, what’s going to happen…? I went into a little bubble, sat at the back of the classroom, and just looked out of the window. And I did that for the majority of my school years.”

 

That must have been difficult as a younger child.

“I did feel let down by my schooling. But it isn’t a ‘woe is me’ book because it wasn’t just happening to me, it was happening the thousands of other children at that time. And all the teachers seemed to be interested in were the bright ones at front who keep putting their hands up and answering questions.

“But really they should be concentrating on those ones at the back who just sit there – those are the ones who need the teacher’s attention. But it wasn’t given, that’s just the way education was back in the 50’s.”

 

And where did the title, Knitted Swimming Trunks, come from?

“Back in the 50’s mothers used to kit you everything: hats, gloves, jumpers, everything. Because it was cheaper. My mother, bless her, decided to knit me swimming trunks… it didn’t work out. I didn’t notice the flaw in the design until I got into the sea at Westen Super Mare; I got a very strange feeling in the material around the groin, then they just billowed out and became very saggy.

“And it was a hell of a long walk back to where my mum and dad were, at the far end of Weston beach, holding on for dear life to these soggy knitted swimming trunks.”

 

That sounds embarrassing…

“All through the book it’s the rather embarrassing, rather bizarre things that happened to me. And that just typified what might have started out as a wonderful idea but ended up in complete disaster. So, the ridicule of that walk back sums up a lot of what was happening to me in those years.

“But It’s not just about knitted swimming trunks, it’s about my personal story of growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, seeing how the world and Birmingham was changing through my eyes. It’s very nostalgic.

“There are lots of tears in the book but also lots of laugh out loud moments; I experienced the whole lot across those twenty odd years.”

 

And for someone learning about your life today, through this book, what would you want them to take away from reading Knitted Swimming Trunks?

“This book is about making sure you’re not defined by the bullies and doing the best you can. It’s about making the most of yourself and not allowing it to be a bad experience. It’ll make you cry on one page, then loud out loud on the next.

“Hopefully some teachers will read it and think, let’s see what’s happening at the back of the class…”

Knitted Swimming Trunks by Andy Harper is out now, available through Brewin Books. For more information and links to online sales visit: www.brewinbooks.com/knitted_swimming_trunks

To contact Andy Harper directly please email: Andyharper74@btinternet.com

FEATURE: No laughing matter, now nitrous oxide is illegal what changes will criminalising happy gas make to our streets?

Words & pics by Ed King (except lead image – Adobe)

On Wednesday 8 November, the British Government made nitrous oxide an illegal substance as per the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1971, effectively banning the recreational use of the ‘happy’ or ‘laughing’ gas which has seen a significant rise over recent years. Now registered as a Class C controlled substance, ‘serious users’ of nitrous oxide could face up to two years in prison.

Erdington Local looks at the ambitions of the legislation and the effects of both the ban and the drug on the wider community.

We’ve all seen them, small silver bottles that look like they belong in a SodaStream or balloon pump, lying scattered around park benches or bus stops. Nitrous oxide. Or the more colloquially known ‘laughing gas’ or ‘happy’ gas.

What was originally used to numb the pain of root canal surgery has been taken by recreational drug users since the 70s. But in recent years, the increasingly overt use of nitrous oxide has become a flashpoint for community concerns over anti-social behaviour and aggressive youth culture.

Nitrous oxide had already been recognised by the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, which addressed non-legitimate supply of the substance and issues such as direct sales to consumers and cannister sizes. But the Government further criminalised it as part of their Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan, making it a ‘criminal offence to be found in possession of (nitrous oxide) where its intended use is to be wrongfully inhaled’, or ‘to get high’.

As per the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, non-authorised possession of nitrous oxide is now as illegal the synthetic sedatives Diazepam and Temazepam.

The Home Office explains: “Associated antisocial behaviour causes wider harm felt by communities and to the environment. This includes group gatherings to abuse the drug in public spaces, such as children’s parks or high streets, and subsequent littering of the discarded canisters. There have also been deaths connected to drug driving incidents.”

Over on Castle Vale, many have welcomed the new law. One resident, Barabra, who lives neighbouring Centre Park, tells Erdington Local: “(Castle Vale) is going back to the eighties, to how it was with drugs, fighting all the while, kids out on the street.

“I’m a member of Families for Peace, I have been for 20 years, I don’t believe in guns, I don’t believe in knives, and I certainly don’t believe in drugs. I pay £10 a month for children to be kept off the street so that they’re kept safe.

“I’ll walk through here (Centre Park) at 5:30pm and they’ll all be high as a kite. You feel intimidated, you have to walk out of the park and walk all the way round. Why should we? I’ve got grandchildren.”

But many of the young people that live on Castle Vale don’t use nitrous oxide and feel they are being blamed for the actions of a few or are just “getting grief” from using local parks and public spaces when “there’s nowhere else to go”.

Likewise, in a review of nitrous oxide in 2021, requested by the then Home Secretary Priti Patel, the Independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) found the drug was already adequately covered by existing laws, officially stating: “the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 remains the appropriate drug legislation to tackle supply of nitrous oxide for non-legitimate use.”

The counterpoint to further criminalising nitrous oxide is that you would turn a legally available substance, one used predominately by young people, into a criminal offence overnight.

Over on Gravelly Hill North, Birmingham’s Youth Offending Team have traditionally operated from the Kingsmere Unit. Run by Birmingham Children’s Trust the future of the site is uncertain, but it has been a widely recognised starting point for many young people entering the criminal justice system

One ex-employee explains: “I think it’s a good idea the Government have now criminalised it along with other widely used recreational drugs, such as cannabis and amphetamine, as it is a dangerous substance and young people need to be educated about the potential harm. I think a lot of young people are just ignorant to the side effects of drugs and don’t really understand how damaging they can be.”

However, mirroring the findings recommendations from the ACMD report other professional bodies and individuals feel the move could cause more damage to young people than good.

One experienced services manager with over 25 years experience in the criminal justice system, supporting people suffering with significant drug and alcohol abuse issues, explains: “Legislation in itself will not make it safer for young people who use nitrous oxide, but it will push them into the criminal justice system and the long term effect of this could harm them more.”

Over their tenure they worked closely with the police, probation service, and a variety of partners and support agencies in the West Midlands and the Northeast.

They add: “As yet we do not know all the long term effects of this substance on individuals but it can cause both physical and mental health problems if abused. This is a Public Health problem and should be treated as such. The Criminal Justice approach will not make young people safer.”

Back on Castle Vale, local resident Barbara is concerned about the sizes of cannisters found in Centre Park. And as she works with the estate’s groundskeeper to clean up the mess left by a weekend of late summer sun, the immediate impact drug misuse has had on her family comes out in conversation.

“My son was a drug addict… I’ve just lost him. It would have been his fiftieth birthday tomorrow, and I’m in bits. He was off drugs at the finish, my grandson got him off them. He was off them for nearly two years, but he died from kidney failure.

“But this is all you see,” Barbara adds, picking an empty Sealy Bag up from the park grass.

“I told my son to get help, I took him to get help… but addicts don’t accept help. I spoke to the kids (in the park) last night, I asked where are your parents? They just told me it was none of my f’ing business. I’m worried they might hurt themselves… too damn right I am.”

But with extended or relaxed legislation, the answer to many social ills lies in the community itself. And when it comes to the little silver bottles, at least on Castle Vale, there is also a silver lining.

Cllr Ray Goodwin (Castle Vale Ward, Labour), explains what he and his team are doing to tackle the issues highlighted on the North Birmingham estate: “I have been working closely with worried residents, The Pioneer Group and Castle Vale Community Housing, our local police teams, and local youth organisations, to come with robust plan of action – we need to engage with young people and ensure they are engaged with other activities.

“Young people need good facilities and places for them to be actively involved in things. They need youth centres, creative outlets, and sports clubs to join, so they are not just hanging around parks and public spaces where their presence and actions can infringe on other members of the community – even if they did not intend to cause concern or trouble to others.

“This collaborative and proactive approach, and ongoing relationship building with young people and local services, is the best way to protect our young people, prevent them from accessing these clearly dangerous cannisters, and make our communities a safer and happier place for everyone to live in.”

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article and want to tell Erdington Local about it please email: mystory@erdingtonlocal.com

For more on the recent Government legislation over Nitrous Oxide visit www.gov.uk/government/news/possession-of-nitrous-oxide-is-now-illegal

LOCAL Q&A: John Hodgkiss, Erdington Town Centre Manager

Pics by Connor Pope & Ed King

John Hodgkiss was appointed Erdington Town Centre Manager in August 2022, after his longstanding predecessor, Terry Guest, left the role. Responsible for delivering the Erdington Business Improvement District (EBID) agenda, and supporting the businesses that finance the EBID, the position stands between the retail community and local stakeholders and blue light services.

Now a year in post, Erdington Local caught up with John Hodgkiss to look back at the last 12 months and sneak a peek at the next.

___________

What have been the biggest challenges facing Erdington High Street?

Like every town centre in the county, the cost of living crisis has continued to cause uncertainty for retailers and shoppers on the High Street.

This all comes at a time when town centres are moving in a new direction in the Post Covid era, such as becoming a home for community projects and charities able to connect more widely with those who need help.

The biggest challenge facing Erdington High Street has proven to be the raising level of crime and anti-social behaviour. To really be able to continue growing footfall and attract inward investment, it is vital that we work hard to reduce crime which will in turn change people’s perception of Erdington High Street, enabling us to do so much more when marketing the town centre in the future.

 

And what have been the main highlights and achievements from your time as Town Centre Manager?

The main highlight has been working with some of Erdington’s great charity projects. I haven’t worked in a town before with such a strong community as in Erdington. There is so much great work going on out there. Erdington is most certainly a leader in this field, but more work needs to be done here in getting the word out about these organisations, not only to Erdington residents, but Birmingham-wide.

The Christmas, Easter, and Jazz & Blues Festival events were great fun, and they were opportunities to welcome visitors from outside Erdington and showcase the town.

Another highlight has been applying for and securing funds over and above what we receive via BID levy in order to pay for extra events this winter and to employ a second Street Warden to patrol the High Street.

 

We agree, especially the Jazz & Blues Festival gigs at Oikos – any more events like this planned?

We’re really pleased with how the Birmingham Jazz and Blues gigs turned out. Despite the awful weather, the town pulled together to make sure the show went on.

It was the first time that Erdington had taken part in the city-wide festival. The feedback was extremely positive with great attendance. We have already been asked to take part again next year, so let’s hope we can make it even bigger and better in 2024 and attract people from all over Birmingham to attend.

 

As we head out of summer and into autumn and winter, are there any seasonal events in the pipeline – over Halloween or Christmas for example?

Believe it or not, we have been working on Christmas for a few weeks now, recruiting community members and volunteers to help make Christmas in Erdington even bigger and better this year.

We were really pleased with the turnout for the switch-on last year, but we aim to improve in 2023 and put on a great switch-on as well as other events throughout December.

November and December are crucial times for retail, so we want to work alongside retailers to bring in as many shoppers possible, reminding local residents and shoppers further afield that they can get so much of their Christmas shopping in Erdington.

 

The EBID was reinstated for its next five year tenure a few months before you took over, do you feel it is making headway on its campaign promises – to tackle crime, encourage higher footfall, and promote Erdington to a wider audience?

These issues are still those that are the most important to deliver for Erdington during the lifetime of this EBID tenure and it’s very evident how these goals are ultimately linked, with a ‘knock-on’ effect on each other.

As mentioned, crime is still the biggest issue facing Erdington at the moment. By recently employing a new Street Warden, we hope to see a decrease in anti-social behaviour and crime, making full use of the Public Space Protection Order.

Through getting to grips with crime, we would expect greater footfall, bringing back those shoppers who have been concerned to visit the High Street more recently. At this time, it is vital that we continue communicating the positives about Erdington far and wide and encourage shoppers to revisit and enjoy Erdington Town Centre. Therefore, it’s essential that these three promises stay at the top of the list for delivery.

 

The EBID recently helped set up meetings between the retail community, local police teams, and elected officials, to draft a 10 point plan for the High Street – can you update our readers on this?

The formation of this 10 point plan dates back to February this year with a public meeting to discuss a way forward with the crime situation in Erdington. The latest meeting took place in May and the next I believe is to go ahead in October (later confirmed to be scheduled for 19 October).

The EBID has been involved by offering to take details of crime from retailers on the High Street due to the wide-spread observation that they are unable to get though the 101 non-emergency number to report crime.

We were also very keen to help with the provision of a ‘pop-up’ police surgery, providing an essential point of contact for those affected by or concerned about crime on the High Street.

We are still waiting on updates on progression with these projects, which is why we felt it necessary to do what we could in the private sector, by seeking extra funding to employ another Street Warden to help alleviate the worsening situation right now.

We will continue to apply for extra funding where we can ‘step-up’ what the EBID is able to do in order to achieve lower crime rates in Erdington.

 

You have a strong history of working with BIDs in London and the West Midlands, do you feel they work well with other local stakeholders – such as the Council and police?

BIDs can certainly work well and closely with other stakeholders, but it is important to clarify that BIDs are here to provide services over and above what public sector organisations are funded to provide.

The EBID brings in just over 100k per year, so we’re working hard at the moment to apply for as much extra funding as possible to deal with the crime situation and make sure that we also deliver the projects outlined and voted for in the business plan. Unfortunately, we are unable to ‘pick up’ funding shortages of others.

 

You mentioned to Erdington Local before that you were keen to establish Erdington High Street as and LGBTQ+ ‘safe space’, can you tell us any more about this ambition?

This came up in response to the report that there was a lack of grass roots LGBTQ+ support in North Birmingham and the fact the team at the Recovery Foundation had launched an LGBTQ+ support programme, ‘Rainbow Minds Matter’.

Together, we want to highlight the fact that Erdington is safe and supportive of the LGBTQ+ community by highlighting the safe spaces throughout the High Street. This is a project we will be working on in the near future to get the message of diversity and inclusivity across.

 

Are there any other aims for the EBID in the next twelve months?

Looking at the next 12 months, tackling crime will continue as a priority, evaluating the improvement on the High Street over this time.

We will continue reporting on the many positives regarding Erdington Town Centre, enhance our events programme, and increase a higher percentage of shoppers from outside Birmingham.

Another important aim is to attract new retailers, both national and independent into Erdington Town Centre.

 

If you could wave a magic wand and change any aspect of Erdington High Street overnight, what would you want to see when you woke up in the morning?

I would love to see Erdington as leading the way in what a quickly evolving British town centre looks like. So many town centres are in a transition period at the moment due to many external and economic pressures not experienced to this extent before.

The exemplary community projects are here in Erdington already, so an ambition would be to have an Erdington Community Hub with a home on the High Street, to bring together as many opportunities and assistance together for the community together in one place and the perfect way to shout about everything Erdington!

For more on the Erdington Business Improvement District visit www.erdingtonhighstreet.co.uk or visit the EBID Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ErdingtonTownCentre

(Ed’s note: This LOCAL Q&A was first submitted to Erdington Local before the announcement of any Section 114 notice issued by Birmingham City Council.)

FEATURE: SEND education in Erdington – past, present, and “fiercely committed people” working hard for the future

Words by Erdington Local editorial team

As children return to classrooms across the country, many with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are forced to stay learning from home. Limited placements, underfunding, and cuts to travel support make it more difficult for SEND children to access to school-based education.

Erdington has a strong portfolio of SEND education, with children referred to special schools in the constituency from across the wider city. But it’s still not enough, and Erdington’s SEND educators continue to face challenges whilst delivering a nationally recognised high standard of education.

With local schools achieving impressive GCSE and A-level results this year, and more ‘Good’ and ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted rated academies than ever before, the educational future is looking brighter for pupils in Erdington, Kingstanding, and Castle Vale.

The upheaval of the pandemic is also becoming a distant memory for pupils and staff, with this year seeing the first post lockdown results to rely on exam results and coursework instead of predicted grades from teachers.

However, parents and carers of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have a very different story to tell.

With a shortage of SEND places in Birmingham, families with children who live with a wide range of disabilities cannot find a suitable school for their child to attend. And those lucky enough to have found the right placement now face their free school transport being axed due to budget cuts at Birmingham City Council.

Teacher, parent of a child with autism, and founder of SEND National Crisis Birmingham, Kate Taylor, laid bare the crisis to Erdington Local. She told: “Right now there are hundreds of children in Birmingham, including Erdington and Kingstanding, who will be sitting at home as children return to school for the start of term. Parents of SEND children face a massive battle to get their child the proper education they need and deserve.

Kate believes a continual lack of investment for SEND children is the key to the problem. She continued: “My son is 21 and what our experience was compared to parents starting out in 2023 with a SEND child is totally different. I could go to my local Sure Start Centre, which were a great help in all different ways from early diagnosis to finding support from other parents; I knew I was not alone trying to bring up a child with very challenging needs.”

She added: “Whereas attitudes and awareness of disabilities and mental health has improved massively, the services on offer have disappeared or are now private.

“Sadly, due to their caring needs a lot of SEND children’s families are struggling financially – as one parent may have to give up work.

“So, withdrawing transport for them and offering a bus pass when these children would find it impossible to navigate their way to school on two different buses adds even more children sitting at home.

“There has been a massive increase in home schooling; but this is not a choice, this is enforced because there is not enough provision in North Birmingham through dedicated SEND schools and mainstream schools with the ability to accommodate SEND children.”

However, Erdington historically has some of the best SEND school provision in the country, and currently hosts the highest percentage of SEND schools of any constituency in Birmingham. There are four secondary special schools in Erdington: Oscott Manor School, Queensbury School, The Pines Special School, and Wilson Stuart School.

There is also the Dovedale Centre, which offers an 81 placement provision for pupils with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC), and Hive Collage, which has 110 places for students aged between 19-25.

And in 2024 a new free school will be opened in Kingstanding with provision for 120 students, aged between 14-19, with both ASC and social, emotional, and mental health (SEMH) issues.

Wilson Stuart School can trace its history back to 1902 when it opened as Dean Street Cripple School. In 1907 the school moved to George Street West, where it remained for the next 49 years, and it has been at its purpose-built Perry Common Road premises since 1956 – now catering for 270 pupils aged 2-19 years. Lauded as one of the best SEND schools in the country, Wilson Stuart has been rated ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted in its last six inspections.

The school became part of the Education Impact Academy Trust (EIAT) academy group, established in March 2012, alongside Hive Collage and Handsworth’s Mayfield School. EIAT now includes the Wood End Road based Queensbury School, adopting the Gravelly Hill secondary from the Local Authority in 2020 after it received an ‘Inadequate’ Ofsted rating and faced closure.

But maintaining a high standard of education for children with SEND requires “a really high bar”, and higher costs – as the cohort need more staff and facilities to thrive.

Wilson Stuart Executive Head Teacher, Simon Harris, explains: “Erdington is an incredibly successful place for providing high quality education for children with SEND, but the reality is that we’re doing that despite the funding we receive – and that becomes increasingly difficult because all the time you’re trying to squeeze everything out of those last pennies.”

“At Wilson Stuart our challenges are ramped up by a disproportionate amount because we’re dealing with pretty much the most complex children, physically and medically, in the city. And to provide a high-quality education we’ve had to set a really high bar.

“Our staff work incredibly hard and are incredibly passionate about what they do, and that passion and enthusiasm exudes through everyone who works here. And we support people to take risks, educationally, to try things and push the boundaries”

He added: “If you ask me why Wilson Stuart is so successful it’s because we try things, and if they work then great and we continue doing them – but if they don’t work, there’s not a blame culture and we just move on. And that creates a culture where you’re constantly getting fresh ideas and new ways of doing things, and really enthused staff who can see the great results we get for our students.”

Since being part of EIAT, and through the work of its current senior leadership team and staff, standards have also improved at Queensbury School, which also can trace its history back over 120 years. Furthermore, Queensbury is walking into the new academic year with a brand new £5 million sixth form facility on Station Road, Erdington, call New Horizons.

Bushra Adnan, Head of Post 16 at Queensbury, told Erdington Local: “We are excited to be opening the doors to New Horizons, our new sixth form provision for students aged 16-19 which is located on Station Road.

“Students will benefit from a building which has been taken back to first fix, and adapted with extensions and redesigning to offer a provision with all the facilities young people need to prepare for adulthood. There are 11 classrooms, which includes a dual-purpose common room, it has a calm room, mentors room, hall, dual purpose cooking room, and canteen.”

She added: “Students will also benefit from a prime location, being a stone’s throw from Erdington High Street, Erdington Railway Station, and many other local businesses and amenities. This is an exciting time for all stakeholders at Queensbury School and Sixth Form.”

However, parents and carers of SEND children are now dealing with a transport bombshell which could add to the numbers being home schooled.

Birmingham City Council (BCC) has informed families of SEND children the free minibus and taxi rides previously provided by the Local Authority are coming to an end, after an overspend of £18 million in last year’s school transport budget. Children will now be given a personal travel budget, which will mean many parents will have to choose between work and taking their children to school.

Then On Tuesday 5 September, Birmingham City Council issued a Section 114 notice, stopping any ‘new spending’ as they face a projected deficit of £87m and potentially up to £760m in new claims over unequal pay. And despite soft reassurances being made that education in the city won’t suffer, concerns are mounting.

Wilson Stuart Head teacher, Simon Harris, continued: “Wilson Stuart is bigger than it’s ever been now, with 270 places this year, but we are still turning away referrals because we don’t have the space. It’s important to recognise the Local Authority have supported us by funding an additional building, but there needs to be some intervention from Government in terms of pay increases, and that those are funded properly in the SEND sector with its higher staffing ratios.

“What we don’t want, and where some special schools go wrong, is it becoming just about keeping the children safe and being present. Being present isn’t being included and being included is about high-quality education, and you’ve got to make sure you’ve got the resources – both human and facilities.

“I think we (SEND educators) are always the afterthought, we’re the bottom of the pile in the thought process… and normally it takes someone having to bang a drum to show that with the running costs for special schools the money being put on the table isn’t going to cover the things we need to do to keep offering an outstanding education.

“It’s going to be tough. But in a way that’s the rallying cry – education, be it in Erdington or Birmingham, needs fiercely committed people who don’t back down, work incredibly hard, are passionate about the children. It’s always needed that, people who won’t just shout it but will actually do it.”

For more on Wilson Stuart School visit www.wilsonstuart.co.uk
For more on Queensbury School visit www.queensburysch.com

For more on Education Impact Academy Trust (EIAT) visit www.educationimpact.org.uk

For more on SEND National Crisis visit www.facebook.com/SENDNationalCrisis

LOCAL Q&A: Bishop Desmond Jaddoo MBE

Pics supplied by Bishop Desmond Jaddoo MBE & Ed King

On 16 June, King Charles III issued his first birthday honours list – celebrating individuals across the country for their charitable work, fearless campaigning, and significant contributions to British society.

Amongst the nine dignitaries recognised from the West Midlands, Kingstanding’s Bishop Desmond Jaddoo was awarded with a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for his ‘services to the Windrush Generation’.

The first LOCAL PROFILE to ever appear on our printed pages, Erdington Local caught up with the prominent man of faith and community leader – now titled Bishop Desmond Jaddoo MBE.

_________

Bishop Jaddoo, congratulations on the MBE. Can you tell our readers more about the work you’ve done to support those affected by the Windrush scandal?

“I have been involved in helping families caught up in the Windrush scandal prior to it being exposed, as it were. The first case I got involved with was back in 2014 and it was a local Erdington family, and since then there have been several hundred cases which have come forward with people who have lived in the UK almost all their lives and they were told they were not British as a result of the hostile environment.

“It is important to note that the hostile environment is a direct result of the 2007 immigration and borders bill, which was presented by the then government as a mechanism to control migration into the UK. We found that the impact on Commonwealth countries – and particularly Jamaica – was quite substantial and it would appear that a level of common sense was not adopted when dealing with people from the Commonwealth countries, coupled with the lack of appreciation of Britain’s role as an Empire State or colonial ruler.

“Therefore, since the exposure of the Windrush scandal we have assisted in building a bridge between victims and the Home Office, and we have assisted many families in obtaining status – and I do say families as well, as unfortunately this has impacted not just on individuals but also families.

“We have also assisted compensation claims, welfare support, and reintegration support coupled with trauma support – as one thing which is not appreciated is many people have seen their lives destroyed in front of them and as a direct result they have become withdrawn from society. Some have also developed mental health issues, particularly after losing their lifelong careers.”

 

In your view, what is left to be done to support people from the Windrush generation?

“There’s a lot still to be done, for the simple reason as we delve into the impact of the Windrush scandal we are finding that youngsters born in the UK after 1983… if their parents had a status issue this then has a knock on effect to them. We’ve had recent cases of where 16 year olds have been asked to produce a British passport to go to college and they have been unable to do so as their parents’ status have been called into question, and currently they are going through the scheme as well.

“In addition to this, health and well-being support needs to be looked at more carefully and we are now picking up the additional thematics such as poor housing, mental health issues, worker’s rights, and health inequalities as a result of being denied access to GP surgeries.

“It was disappointing that recommendation which talks about truth and reconciliation was withdrawn, as this would have helped to develop greater understanding of the social impact that the hostile environment has exposed people who are British to – for simply not having documentation.”

 

And what does receiving an MBE mean to you, especially being recognised for your work over Windrush?

“I see the award as an acknowledgement by the establishment of the work which has been done and that needs to be done. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t stop until we get the end result, and that’s what it’s all about; they know who they are giving this award to, and let’s be clear it won’t change who I am.

“However, I had to reflect upon the sacrifices that my family have to make sometimes when I’m not around and also give honour to my mother as well, who was made a widow when I was 11 years old and had to bring five children up on her own.”

 

In your campaigning, over Windrush and other causes, you’ve had to engage with establishment organisations from the Home Office to local police services. How do you get the voice of the community heard? 

“You have to be persistent when you want your voice heard, and you need to stick to the narrative as well. There are times when you will not be popular, there are times when people would describe you as a glorified pain, but there you go. You have to keep going and that’s what I’ve done over the years, keep going – but one thing, stand by the truth.”

 

Where do you find the strength to do what you do?

“Faith as a Bishop; He is all that means a lot to me and has kept me going, particularly through the recent illness which I had. When you think the game is over, it is just beginning…”

 

Erdington Local first featured you over your work to bring bleed control kits to Kingstanding, is this still a cause that needs campaigning for?

“Yes. We have revamped the blink control scheme and sessions, and we’re getting greater community involvement now and we intend to extend this accordingly. It has taken a while to revamp as we do not receive funding for this, so we’ve had to develop greater awareness of it. But we do intend to develop this further because it’s about saving lives and that’s the important issue.

“However, we do see the importance of having simplified access to bleed control kits as well and there is no point placing bleed control kits in communities without training. So, we’ve developed our training programme we intend to develop that even further within the next few months – and let’s be clear, Kingstanding and Erdington are definitely on the agenda.”

 

From the work you do, how bad is the knife and gun crime in our city?

“Knife crime and gun crime at the moment, in my view, is out of control in the city – particularly knife crime, because those that carry knives now… to them it is just like putting their trainers on before they go out.

“There’s a lot of work to be done on this, and more joined up work would be far beneficial than work that produces reports but no tangible outcome.”

 

And on a more local level, what are big issues facing people in Kingstanding?

“We are coming across more families where disaffection is setting into the locality, alongside them feeling left behind by the authorities under charge. In some cases, some feel that there is a lack of representation and that their voices are not being heard.

“There is a change in donor graphic in the area as well, which will bring forward new challenges which will just exacerbate the pre-existing issues. Currently, educational underachievement and the cost of living crisis are plunging more families into poverty and increasing crime rates. Violent crime is fast becoming an issue, and also the ever increasing HMOs which brings its own social issues.

“I just feel the development of community forums to ensure that people have their own independent voice is essential, for which one has been formed in Kingstanding and will be launched very shortly.”

 

You supported the family of Dea John Reid after he was fatally stabbed in broad daylight on College Road, whilst working to maintain peace in the area and stop further violence. What is the best way to keep a community together?

“We launched a project called We Live As One, which is still ongoing, and alongside that there is the development of community forums and a strategy being developed with short term, medium term, and long term plans for the area.

“The things we must not lose sight of are, with the changing demographic, on born racial lines and age lines within the vicinity – this will of course bring additional issues and it’s important that we start developing greater community cohesion in order that people share issues, share solutions, and implement solutions as a community, and importantly that they have ownership of this as well.”

 

And as a born and raised Brummie, and a Bishop heavily involved in his community, what are the positives of the area that perhaps don’t get enough celebration?

“I was born in Handsworth but have lived in Kingstanding for the past 26 years; my children have grown up here and some are born in Kingstanding.

“Kingstanding is a vibrant community, and following the tragic events of last year with the gas explosion it showed the real tenacity of the community when they all came out to assist those that were caught up in the various losses.

“We need to demonstrate this every day of the week in our lives, and there are challenges. However, I think when the chips are down communities rally together and Kingstanding is no different to that –it tells me there is hope and together we can create a brighter future.”

 

If people want to get involved in any of the community work you organise and support, what should they do?

“Anyone who wants to get involved please email me directly at birminghamef@gmail.com – it is an open house.”

______

For more on Bishop Desmond Jaddoo MBE visit www.desjaddoo.org.uk

For more on The Windrush Movement (UK) visit www.facebook.com/windrushmovement

LOCAL PROFILE: Sanity

Words by Jasmine Khan / Pics by Connor Pope

In recent years, Erdington rapper and musician Sanity has taken a step back. Celebrated for her performance at the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony on Australia’s Gold Coast in 2018, and more recently for her contribution of ‘Midlands Child’ to the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games On Record album, Sanity has now returned with a new song and lots to tell Erdington Local.

“When I was doing music at Stockland Green (secondary school), I was learning how to play the guitar, and my teacher, Mr. Scott, would spring it on me that I was doing lunchtime performances,” Sanity explains her first experiences of performing as a child and how it developed her confidence.

She continues: “I remember I used to do little rap ciphers and battles on the playground. As soon as kids see a few people gathered, they all come over. It didn’t develop my stage presence because, obviously, it was on a gravel floor. But it’s the performance-esc-type-vibe.”

Back in school, Sanity “was more grime music, 140bpm, super-fast, skippy, with a lot of braggadocious bars.” She was “repping it for the girls” and, for some time, went by the name ‘Young S’. However, after discovering graffiti tagging an identical alias across Erdington, Sanity realised the name wasn’t necessarily that creative.

“I started taking music a bit more seriously when I was 16, I realised I’m not going to be young forever. If I’m going to do music, I want an authentic name. Dizzy Rascal ‘Bonkers’ came on, and the line was, ‘Let sanity give you the slip’; I was like… ‘Sanity’ and it clicked. Some people think that ‘cos the name’s Sanity, it’s got some deep, intricate, initial meaning.”

And while her name-sake’s inspiration can hardly be considered drenched in meaning, for Sanity her musical moniker had to grow up a bit too – dropping the ‘Lady’ prefix so many knew her as.

“It actually aligns with the kind of music I want to do and the type of message that I want to promote,” explains Sanity.

“Five years ago, I wanted to drop the ‘Lady’ because it had that kind of grime feel to it, and that wasn’t particularly the genre I wanted to be in. My music, it touches on grime, and I started out with it, but I’ve also felt more connected to hip hop and alternative hip hop.

“I felt like the ‘Lady’ kept me boxed in and automatically made people think I was going to have a particular sound. ‘Sanity’ has a bit more openness and creative freedom. It opens the sound up a bit more. To me, it sounds a bit more unpredictable; you don’t know what you’re getting.”

The change in name marks the beginning of a new era for the Erdington artist, and Sanity admits after making music for over ten years, “dropping ‘Lady’ is almost like a rebirth. There’s more maturity with (her music) now, more growth with it, more knowledge behind what made it.” Progressing to a jazzier vibe too, Sanity is excited to discuss her recent release ‘Grass is Greener’ and her upcoming project that is set to be out in full by the end of the year.

“The whole project is centred around growth as a person, and of course, you can’t have growth without knowing where you’ve been. So, I pay homage to certain elements and vibes like faster flows that I’ve done before.

“It’s centred around the theme of nature and making something beautiful out of the most natural thing. It has this really earthy feel to it. It’s polished, but we also (in the mixing and mastering process) wanted it to have a bit of grit.”

The new sound has also brought new musicians into Sanity’s musical sphere, including a tour just before lockdown with Pee Wee Ellis – a saxophonist for the legendary soul singer James Brown. Sanity also appeared on the new album from the UK’s revered jazz saxophonist Camilla George, who in turn plays sax at the end of ’Grass is Greener’.

About her upcoming new music, Sanity continues: “It’s a bit more refined, coming with more live jazz instrumentation rather than samples as well, which is a great feeling. With ‘Grass is Greener’ it’s touching on this fresh start, and really just standing in my purpose and knowing all the things that I’ve done.

“I know sometimes as a human being you know you’re at a certain point, but you can also look at other people and be like: ‘It would be great to do this, and it would be great to have that.’ ‘Grass is Greener’ is about standing in your purpose and being happy, being excited for what you can grow into.”

It seems as though Erdington residents have another exciting piece of local art to look forward to this summer, and Sanity strongly emphasises, “There’s something for everyone on the upcoming project.”

Sanity intends to release a second single at the end of June, where she’s worked with a Grammy award-winning group, and you can catch her playing InterMission Festival in Birmingham at The Mill on 22 July 2023.

‘Grass is Greener’ – Sanity

For more from Sanity visit www.sanitythemc.com

FEATURE: League champions Erdington United bring home a double trophy haul

Words and pics by Liam Smith

Erdington United are celebrating another successful season in the Sutton & District League, bringing home a double trophy haul, finishing as champions of both Division One and the George Cup.

The league season has been a massive success, with United topping the table by four points. In the 16-game season, 12 wins and two draws saw the local side pick-up 38 points. Promotion from Division One will see them enter the Sutton & District Premier Division, the highest tier of the league ladder.

The league was sealed with a game to spare, with Erdington United only needing to win one of their remaining two games, after a tight 1-0 victory to league runners-up Romulus FC. This secures a trophy double for the season as well as back-to-back league titles.

Earlier in the season Erdington United claimed the George Cup. In February at Cole’s Lane, Erdington United took on Rosey Macs, another local club, in a fiercely contested final in front of a strong crowd. It was a hard-fought victory for Erdington which saw a late goal secure the cup winning 3-2.

It was not the only cup final Erdington United reached this season; a defeat at the Birmingham FA headquarters in the County Cup final to Trooper FC was disappointing for the players and supporters, however the bad result had a tough task of putting any dampeners on the season overall.

Erdington Local spoke with Tyler Ward, the club’s manager, who said: “Overall, the season has been very positive. The league and cup double is not something to be sniffed at. I said from the start that the league was a minimum for this season.”

Tyler added: “We wanted to win the County Cup, so obviously it was disappointing to lose in that final. However, it was a good learning experience for the lads.”

Oran Grigg, defender for Erdington United, told Erdington Local: “It was a good season, we had a lot of up and down results; had more have gone our way we could have secured the league earlier. Injuries, illnesses etc made this difficult also.

“The success we had in the George Cup final beating Rosey Macs coupled with the league win overall has made it a very successful season for us.”

In terms of their aspirations for next season, Erdington United will need to be playing at the top of their game, as the Premier Division will boast new difficult challenges.

Tyler continued: “We don’t want to just take part in the Premier Division next season. I think we’re good enough to mount a challenge and we will give it a good go.”

Thomas Gardiner, midfielder for Erdington United, added: “In terms of next season we are aware of the quality that is in that league.

“We know we will need to be at our best week in week out to compete with the step up in quality. Hopefully the core group of players sticking around for next season will support us in doing that.”

Erdington United will have a friendly pre-season tournament against several local rival teams in the summer, before beginning their Premier Division campaign in September. Home games are played at Holly Lane and information on their fixtures can be found on both their social media pages and the Fulltime FA website.

For more on Erdington United visit www.erdingtonunited.org

FEATURE: “Our very own field of dreams,” FC Elite Academy to deliver football sessions on Short Heath Playing Fields

Words by Ed King & Estelle Murphy / Pics by Ed King & FC Elite Academy

Sport is set to return to Short Heath Playing Fields, as Kingstanding based FC Elite Academy have teamed up with Short Heath Fields Trust (SHFT) to deliver a programme of youth football coaching on the beloved green space.

Having secured planning permission to develop their existing home at Twickenham Park into a permanent sports facility and community hub, FC Elite Academy are now looking at Short Heath Playing Fields to train up some of their younger squad members.

The ambitious Kingstanding club are looking to develop their current College Road ground and are currently fundraising for the £70-80k they expect the project to cost – including building a 3G pitch, clubhouse, changing areas, café, on site office, and parking facilities.

Plans for Short Heath Playing Fields, revealed to Erdington Local, show the establishment of four football pitches, five training ‘grids’, a ‘runner’s route’ around the parkland, and an ‘event zone’ at the top end near Short Heath Road.

FC Elite Club Chairman, Mario Gerroni, told: “Football sessions will be taking place on Short Heath Playing Fields in May. FC Elite Academy and Short Heath Fields Trust are forming a new partnership.

“It’s a positive move for everyone involved and I am excited to see the growth of sports from Short Heath Playing Fields, bringing something back to the community.”

Short Heath Road resident, Ifan Stretkesia, added: “This is a good thing, it’s good that we are finally listened to and our children have something they can now do.

“We go to all the events at the (playing) field and my daughter wants to play football. There is nothing for children now, just Xbox. They need to grow strong.”

FC Elite Academy was set up in 2013 by Mr Gerroni, an experienced football coach who previously worked with Aston Villa and trained ‘soccer’ in North America. The club’s website describes its ambitions to ‘continue growing grass roots football in the North of Birmingham.’

SHFT was formed in 2020 to protect Short Heath Playing Fields from development, after Birmingham City Council tried to push through plans for an 84 strong housing estate on the urban parkland – amidst widespread local objections.

But following years of fiercely fought campaigning by concerned residents, a recent letter from the Leader of Birmingham City Council, Councillor Ian Ward, confirmed the site will now only be sold as a ‘sports field’. The letter also confirmed SHFT would be give a 12-month license to manage the site and ‘establish themselves’ as effective landlords.

A report conducted by Birmingham City Council into the viability of using the playing fields for residential development further identified acid grass on the green space, making it harder to continue with their plans for housing. Further environmental concerns were raised by about the wildlife and plant life that would be affected by building on the parkland.

SHFT began talking to FC Elite Academy back in August 2020 about providing football on Short Heath Playing Fields, who were busy working on their planning application for the Twickenham Park site.

Plans to bring sport back to Short Heath Playing Fields, a parkland once used by several local schools for Physical Education, are now moving forward – with the club offering to both set up and maintain the football pitches and start sessions this May.

As part of the deal, all community events organised by SHFT will continue on the playing fields – including the annual Halloween event and Easter Egg Hunt. A special dog walking circuit will also be established, allowing the many local pet owners who use the green space to continue unheeded.

A spokesperson for SHFT told Erdington Local: “Mario from FC Elite becoming SHFT’s sporting partner and bringing football for 4 to 12 years olds back to Short Heath Fields is a community dream true, you might say our very own field of dreams.

“And with a guaranteed one year license from Education (at Birmingham City Council) you know those dreams will become a reality.”

SHFT added: “It’s been a hard fight to save the playing fields. Now it’s the people of Erdington’s chance to get involved and use the playing fields as a sports field again, this is a great opportunity for boys and girls of all ages 4 and up to come and train and take part.

“FC Elite have a proven track record and we are all looking forward to working together in the future.”

For more on FC Elite Academy visit www.fcelite.co.uk and for more on Short Heath Fields Trust visit www.shortheathfieldstrust.godaddysites.com