FEATURE: Artists Conversations (part two) – Queens of the Commonwealth with Waheeda Rahman-Mair

Words by Ed King / Pics and images supplied by Myah Barrah and Waheeda Rahman-Mair

Last month, Erdington Local ran the first in a series of articles inspired by the monthly Artists Conversations group – where local artists come together at the Secret Art Studio Space in Central square, every third Wednesday.

In part one, we heard what happened when Bunny met Louvinia, and the mural so many have enjoyed brightening up the walls of Coton Lane.

In part two, Erdington Local talks to Waheeda Rahman-Mair – a Birmingham-Bangladeshi artist commissioned through the Queens of the Commonwealth project, finding out more on the subjects she chose to depict and the double-edged sword of such a royal appointment.

“I saw how attached she was to the painting, and that’s what I love – I love that people actually do see themselves and that they do connect.”

Waheeda Rahman-Mair is a multi-disciplinary artist, working with a range of mediums from traditional oils on canvas to digital animation and graphics – with a BA (Hons) in Visual Communication: Animation and Moving Image and an impressive portfolio. A respected portrait artist, Waheeda has seen private commissions across the city, country, and even Atlantic Ocean.

Inspired by her ‘childhood fascination for cartoons and video games’, Waheeda grew up interested in art – moving from Handsworth Wood to Erdington about four years ago. She was referred to the Artists Conversations monthly meetings by a friend, after leaving her job as a visual and motion graphics designer with the Ember Regis Group.

“I was already working in Digbeth, from an office,” tells Waheeda, “but when the pandemic hit, I started working from home more often. I quit my job back in April to pursue being a full-time artist, and someone recommended I go to the Erdington Artists Conversations group meeting.

“I did, and it was really nice to meet local artists from Erdington and to explore the other side of the creative industry which is more about local communities – as opposed to being in an agency that works for larger clients. It was more like ‘what can we do as a community for the people locally and the people we live next door to.’

“I’m also part of another group which is to do with South Asian art creatives within the UK, which networks across the world.”

As Birmingham prepared to host the Commonwealth Games, a series of projects were commissioned as part of the Birmingham 2022 Festival – including the LGK Productions documentary Queens of the Commonwealth, where local filmmaker Panikos Panayiotou explored the ‘unique journey of 22 women from various Commonwealth nations’ after migrating to Birmingham.

Needing local artists for a supporting exhibition at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery – depicting the women featured in Panayiotou’s documentary in their own mediums and styles – a representative from the Birmingham 2022 Festival came to the Artists Conversations group offering commissions.

This is how Bunny met Louvina Moses. And this is how Waheeda would meet Darshan Bhumba and Pastor Yvonne Brooks, two more women featured in the LGK documentary.

Whaeed explains: “I started with conceptual designs (using Procreate) of how I wanted to draw them, based off the interviews and the photos I was looking through. Just a general vibe of who they are, if they angle their face in a certain way when they laugh or smile – and from these mannerisms I worked out how they should look, and I started sketching that out.

“Then I went on to Photoshop, where I can draw on screen, and then started to do the paintings whilst I was listening to the interviews.

“Hearing them, more of their mannerisms and the way they talk, was helping me pick out extra bits. Like when they were laughing, I could see the dimples come out, or that they do this extra gesture with their hands.”

But from 22 women to choose from, each with a unique and inspiring story to tell, it was Darshan and Yvonne that stood out for Waheeda.

“They were really strong resilient women,” she tells. “This came across from all the interviews, but especially with the two women I chose to paint. They both migrated from areas that were tough on them or the lifestyle was very different, and migrated to have a better life or to be reunited with family members.

“I thought that was such a meaningful and touching part of their lives that they exposed through the interviews. The fact that they shared such vulnerability in front of a camera, with people they didn’t know, just showed me how strong they are.”

The final digital drawings are similar in style, but strongly unique with the colours and iconography Waheed felt brought her subjects to life – such as the hydrangea engulfing Dashan, and the amber jewellery and background that adorns and surrounds Yvonne.

Deeply engaged with the women she was vicariously coming to know, Waheeda admits it was instinct that prompted some of her artistic choices – but on a chance meeting with Yvonne, her gut turned out to be right.

“I wanted to show that amber was part of her (Yvonne), that she is so warm, and glowing, and inviting to people. The circles also show how she connects people, and how (though her outreach work) she has made these circles of unified women.

“She told me ‘I’m so happy you put in the amber jewellery’, when she was in Jamaica she used to play with sap, which is where amber comes from. It’s part of her childhood… everything I guessed in her painting was solidified when I met her.”

Although Waheed was unable to meet Darshan, she was introduced to some of her close family members and reached more who know her muse through the Internet.

Waheeda continues: “Art is subjective, and I do worry sometimes… especially when I do portrait paintings, because people see themselves differently to how people see them from the exterior, they notice things about their face or their bodies that strangers wouldn’t see.

“I met one of her (Darshan) daughters and her husband, and they both said how I’d really captured her. And once I posted the painting on Instagram I had so many of her relatives say, ‘that’s my aunt; that’s my grandma… you’ve really captured her.’ It was reassuring to hear how many people had recognised in her in the painting.”

From Bunny’s widely embraced mural of Louvina Moses on Coton Lane, to Waheeda’s deeply personal depictions of Darshan Bhumba and Pastor Yvonne Brooks exhibited at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, the Queens of the Commonwealth project has been a significant showcase for these Erdington artists.

But the history of the British Empire, the foundation blocks to the Commonwealth, is still the elephant in the room– with the Commonwealth Games Chief Creative Officer, Martin Green, publicly criticised for having ‘sidestepped’ Birmingham’s ‘Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities’ when allocating Birmingham Festival 2022 funding.

“I made sure the projects I contributed to were addressing the racial aspects (of the Commonwealth),” tells Waheeda, whose family’s heritage is Bangladeshi.

“With the Queens of the Commonwealth, it was more about the women; these strong resilient women who’ve done things for the community, who are still doing things for the community.

“And I thought in that sense it was empowering to uplift other women, and that’s where I stood with the Queens of the Commonwealth project.

“In the interviews they did shed light that when they moved to England… it shocked them, and they weren’t afraid to say what they were truly feeling about migrating to England. I found that a reassuring aspect of this, and the fact it was more about the women really helped me find peace in this.

“There was another project I worked on which was about the opinions of the South Asian community about the Commonwealth, that I also did a painting about. That’s going to be posted on my Instagram and on my website… it’s called ‘The Golden Mask’.”

For more on Waheeda Rahman-Mair visit www.waheeda.co.uk or follow @waheeda_art on Instagram.

Erdington Artists Conversations are held every on the third Wednesday of each month, from 7pm to 9pm, at the Secret Art Studio Space in Central Square – on Erdington High Street.

Free to attend, for more information call 07966 699 894 or email: erdingtonartists@gmail.com

FEATURE: Remembering Erdington’s fallen, lest we forget

Words by Estelle Murphy (LOCAL AMBASSADORS) / Pics by Ed King

On Remembrance Day, held every year on 11 November, people across the country and Commonwealth remember the fallen service men and women who died in the line of duty. LOCAL AMBASSADORS explores the war graves at St Barnabas, Erdington’s parish church and oldest building of worship.

The parish church of St Barnabas Erdington was first consecrated on 23 July 1823 and has proudly stood watch over the constituency’s comings and goings for nearly 200 years. Badly damaged in a fire on 4 October 2007, St Barnabas was repaired and reopened in 2012 – with further renovations currently being planned for the churchyard.

A key part of the Erdington community, St Barnabas has been the final resting place for countless local loved ones and family members. Amidst its sprawling churchyard, with some areas significantly overgrown and dilapidated, St Barnabas has 66 War graves – maintained by The Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Honouring those fallen in combat, there are 29 graves from the Great War (WWI) and 37 from the Second World War (WWII), including a memorial for eight service men ‘who lie buried in this churchyard in unmarked graves.’ There are a further 20 war graves with private headstones erected by loved ones.

The Erdington Historical Society produced a book on the Great War graves at St Barnabas, assisted by the Heritage Fund and National Lottery.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission also maintain war graves in two other Erdington churchyards – St Thomas and Edmund of Canterbury Roman Catholic Church, and the Erdington Greek Orthodox churchyard (formerly Erdington Congregational Church).

There is also a memorial to the postmen who fell during war time inside the Post Office on Sutton New Road, detailing nine postal workers killed in action during WWI and WWII.

At the outbreak of war in 1914, the regular British Army was made up of skilled soldiers. However, between 14 October and 30 November that year, Britian’s forces lost over 53,000 men with an additional 4,500 Indian casualties. So, ‘Kitchener’s New Army’ was recruited – with 90 different posters and leaflets made, the most commonly remembered motif being ‘Your Country Needs You’.

Over two and a half million recruitment posters were put up around the UK, and within two months of war being declared over three quarters of a million volunteers had been signed up. Many of Erdington’s young men became part of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment which saw action at Ypres in 1914 and the Somme in 1916.

The first bomb of WWI to fall on Birmingham landed on Enstone Road, Erdington, on the night of 8-9 August, which was later confirmed to be a mistake. At that time the German air force, who would be coined the Luftwaffe in 1935, were only bombing factories and industrial sites

The first two Erdington ‘serving deaths’ of WWI were Able Seaman Arthur Hands, of Slade Road, and Royal Navy Colour Serjeant Royal Marine Light Infantry John Mason, of Clarence Road. Both of whom were lost on the sinking of HMS Cressey on 22 September 1914.

Between 1914 and 1922 Erdington families lost a further 373 servicemen, after Arthur and John, many of whom were buried where they fell by their comrades and fellow servicemen – left in no man’s land or buried at sea, making the graves at St Barnabas more poignant.

One of the biggest losses in one day came on 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, when Erdington reportedly lost 41 servicemen.

After WWI, the people of Erdington funded a memorial to their fallen at a cost of £1000 – nearly £50,000 in today’s money. The memorial was registered in the Imperial War Museum (© WMR-38612) and placed in a dedicated chapel within St Barnabas Church. Sadly, the WWI memorial bought by the people of Erdington was lost to the 2007 fire and has never been replaced – making Erdington one of the few places without a permanent memorial to its lost WWI servicemen and women.

Of the 37 WWII graves maintained by The Commonwealth War Graves Commission in St Barnabas’ churchyard, only one belongs to a woman – Aircraft Woman 1st Class Patricia Marie Parry, who died 8 October 1947. Although sadly, very little else is known about her story.

Of the remaining WWII graves, 14 are from the Royal Air Force, seven from the Royal Navy, and 16 from the British Army. One of the youngest servicemen buried at St Barnabas is 18 year old Ordinary Seaman Henry George Gallett, from Pype Hayes, who was one of 15 men killed aboard HMS Mohawk when the Luftwaffe made its first attack on British territory on 16 October 1939.

The oldest is 54 year old Stoker Petty Officer Herbert Ernest Hughes, also from Pype Hayes, who also served in WWI – surviving the sinking of HMS Queen Mary in 1916 at the Battle of Jutland, to end up serving in WWII in Greenock Scotland with HMS Orlando.

After major restoration work following the fire in 2007, the church building at St Barnabas is now a vibrant community hub – with a well used café and meeting area. There are also plans, currently being discussed, for significant renovation to the existing churchyard, to further extend the church as a community asset.

LOCAL AMBASSADORS asked St Barnabas what would be done during any developments to protect the war graves.

St Barnabas vicar, Emma Sykes, told: “We will make every effort to make sure the war graves are protected during the renovation as they will continue to be an important feature in the newly designed churchyard.”

LOCAL AMBASSADORS would like to extend a special thanks to Robert Brown of Erdington Historical Society, for access to their book detailing WWI war graves at St Barnabas’ Church.

For more on The Commonwealth War Graves Commission visit: www.cwgc.org

For more on St Barnabas Church visit: www.stbarnabaserdington.org.uk

The Erdington Historical Society meet on the second Tuesday of each month, 7pm, at St Barnabas Church. For more information please email: erdingtonhistory@gmail.com

FEATURE: Erdington Artists Conversations (part one) – when Bunny met Louvina, the Coton Lane mural set to change the city’s streets

Words by Erdington Local editorial team / Pics supplied by Bunny (Create Not Destroy)

Erdington has a varied, vast, rich, and ripe art community, with monthly run ‘Artists Conversations’ held at the Secret Art Studio Space in Central Square – a vibrant think tank of creative endeavour, bringing new ideas and splashes of colour to the North Birmingham streets.

Recently commissioned under the Queens of the Commonwealth project, four Edrington artists from the collective were asked to paint portraits of inspiring women from the Commonwealth – to be hung in Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.

But one was too big for a museum wall…

Erdington Local caught up with Bunny, the talented creative behind the cherished Coton Lane mural reviving a street art trend.

The mural of Caribbean born, Erdington resident nurse Louvina Moses on Coton Lane, just off the High Street, is not just a pretty face.

The mural, painted by Erdington artist Bunny, also known as Create Not Destroy, is one of the first visible artworks of a transformative exciting new art movement. Bunny joined the Erdington Artists Conversations collective in November last year, and after a successful start – and some daring ideas – there is real hope every empty Erdington wall will be adorned by art.

If Helen of Troy was the face which launched a thousand ships, then Louvina’s face could launch a thousand murals across Erdington and further afield.

Bunny told Erdington Local: “We wanted to bring artists in Erdington together, and our first meeting in October at the Secret Art Studio Space; there was just six of us in the freezing cold.

“What has happened since has been amazing, we now have a real diverse group of artists, young, old, every colour, Muslim, Christian, you name it. But everyone is connected together through a love of art.

“We meet every month and have really great discussions about art. But what really gave us a boost was when we were approached by those running the Commonwealth Queens project to help them create 22 portraits of women.

“As soon as I saw a picture of Louvina and a video of her talking, I knew I wanted to paint her. Her face shows such a journey; she, like my parents, came from a Caribbean island to another island all those years ago and made such sacrifices. Her face tells so many stories.”

He added: “I asked if instead of painting a canvas portrait whether I could create a mural on a local wall, they loved the idea and it has taken off from there.”

From the moment Bunny pitched up on the corner of Coton Lane to paint the giant mural, he knew the people of Erdington would take it to their hearts – just as many did with the mural around the hoardings of the old Maplin site.

He said: “I spent as much time on the ground chatting to people than I did up the ladder painting. People were so interested what I was doing, normally they would walk past me without giving me a second glance but when I start painting murals people are suddenly interested.

“There is a real appetite for art in Erdington, through our (Artists Conversations) group we know there is talent in the area and art can make a difference. I want art to become part of Erdington, like how the murals and art really are part of Brixton; there is no reason why Erdington cannot be the Brixton of Birmingham.”

Father-of-two Bunny, who lives near Six Ways island, began his art career in the mid 1980s, incorporating painting, photography, videography, music, aerosol art, and graffiti. But his renewed love for mural making was sparked two years ago when he was asked to paint one in honour of an old friend in London.

Bunny said: “Social media has really changed art. In the old days we would travel miles to look at a wall with graffiti or a mural, now people can see what you have created on their phones and give instant feedback.

The 55-year-old added: “This got me back painting murals. They are within the open realm, they are there to provoke a reaction, whether people love it or hate it they will look at it.”

Those who will be taking more than a second glance at the dignified lady emblazoned in the colours of St Kitts are her Louvina’s children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, many of whom live around Erdington.

Louvina was born in Tabernacle Village in St Kitts in the Caribbean in the 1940s and left for Britain with her husband in 1961.

She said: “I came to England when I was pregnant but left two children behind as well as my parents and grandparents who I missed, but leaving my children was worse than anything.

“We brought our first house in 1966 and sent for both of them. We have four children, 12 grandchildren, 14 great grandchildren, and one great great grandchild.”

Louvina is still married 63 years later and featured in Queens of Commonwealth documentary, which celebrated the migrant women who helped to rebuild the UK after the Second World War.

The 22 positive stories of the women contrast vividly against the backdrop of the Windrush Scandal, which saw the British Government illegally deport Caribbean pensioners who had lived in the UK for decades – many of whom are yet to receive compensation.

Louvina, known to many as Rose, unsuccessfully tried to become a teacher in the 1960s but finally got a job in the NHS at East Birmingham Hospital.

She said: “There was racism by my white colleagues, they gave me the hardest time; I was given the worse jobs all of the time.”

However, Louvina stood her ground in the NHS and worked for 43 years at Heartlands Hospital until her retirement.

She continued: “One day at work my manager called me and told me I had been chosen to go and have tea with the Queen at Buckingham Palace, I could not believe it. We sat just behind Maggie Thatcher.

“Buckingham Palace! I never thought I would get to the door, let alone get inside. If you are a poor person back home you would never think you could get to Buckingham Palace. I went back again when one of my sons got an MBE and it was easier then.

“I tell my children, stand up for yourself, you can’t go backwards in life you want to move forward in life. You have to take each day as it comes, live for today and praise God for tomorrow.”

An active Louvina instilled the desire to give back to the community into her children, her son Lincoln was awarded with an MBE for his work with youngsters and setting up the Holford Drive Community Hub.

He gathered siblings, cousins, nephews, and nieces for an epic photo underneath the watching eyes of Louvina at the mural, although the matriarch missed the gathering as she was back in St Kitts.

Lincoln told Erdington Local: “My mother is my Queen, she and my father have been together for 63 years, they are an inspiration.

“The Queens of the Commonwealth did a great job reminding everyone the hard work and sacrifices my mother’s generation went through to give their children a better life.”

He added: “She loves the mural, we all love the mural, from one come many! Bunny did an amazing job and hopefully it will be there for years to come.”

Bunny said: “It was an absolute honour to paint a remarkable woman like Louvina and shine a light on the huge self-sacrifices her generation made to help others, and become the backbone of institutions like the NHS and the transport industry.”

Shortly after Louvina appeared near the High Street, another Erdington local who came from the Caribbean has been immortalised by a mural – new UFC welterweight champion Leon Edwards.

Bunny, who recently created the Lozells art trial featuring pictures of local reggae stars, said: “It is great to see another mural pop up in Erdington after Louvina, and I another one will appear soon. I have been commissioned by Erdington Litter Busters to design a mural.

“So, Louvina will be the first of many, now every time I see an empty wall or space I am thinking what mural could we put there.”

For more on Bunny / Create Not Destroy visit www.createnotdestroy.com

Erdington Artists Conversations are held every on the third Wednesday of each month, from 7pm to 9pm, at the Secret Art Studio Space in Central Square on Erdington High Street.

Free to attend, for more information on Artists Conversations call 07966 699 894 or email: erdingtonartists@gmail.com

FEATURE: The Skatepark Initiative – a campaign to give an Erdington home to the Olympic urban sport

Words by Erdington Local editorial team

A campaign has been launched to give Erdington its very own skateboarding park. With Birmingham still basking in the success of the Commonwealth Games, a lasting sporting legacy could be created where the Queen’s Baton brought so much joy to residents.

Erdington skateboarder Rick Swift, aged 32, is spearheading The Skatepark Initiative which if successful will see a £200,000 facility for the Olympic urban sport built in Pype Hayes Park.

He told Erdington Local: “I’ve been skating since I was ten and there has never been anywhere in Erdington to go, we always have to travel to Sutton Coldfield, Yardley, or Perry Barr. So, after looking into the feasibility of getting our own skatepark we’ve decided to go for it.

“I thought it is about time the youngsters in Erdington were given somewhere to go, they get a lot of bad press but there is nothing for them to do locally.

“Skateparks are proven to help young people’s physical and mental health, just half an hour a day at a skatepark will make a huge difference to the overall health of our residents.”

Rick has been working on the plans for more than five years and slowly started overcoming the practical hurdles needed to make his and the Erdington skateboarding community’s dream a reality.

He said: “There is everything from noise pollution to ensuring access for ambulances…. but the most important is there ‘where’. Erdington has a lot of parks, but they are all quite small and do not have space for a skatepark like the size of Sutton Coldfield’s one.

“However, when we approached Erdington Councillor Robert Alden he told us it was pretty much Pype Hayes Park or nowhere, so we have decided to go with Pype Hayes Park.”

The next step for Rick is to register the fundraising committee for the skatepark as a charitable organisation.

He said: “We are beginning the process of becoming a registered charity because then we can go for all kinds of funding. There are lots of pots of money if you know where to look, whether it be Sport England or the National Lottery. Skateboarding is an Olympic sport now, which in itself seemed an impossibility ten years ago.”

Rick is determined from the outset to ensure wheelchair skaters are welcome in Erdington.

He said: “The Commonwealth Games success was merging able bodied and disabled sports so we are determined for our park is to be diverse as possible and most importantly wheelchair friendly.

“Wheelchair skateboarding is a big thing, and there is a big push for the sport to be included in the Paralympics – and when you see the tricks that are done in Wheelchair Motocross then we would be mad not to want to be inclusive as possible.”

Las Vegas native Aaron ‘Wheelz’ Fotheringham, who coined the term WMCX (wheelchair and BMX), began entering BMX competitions and his tricks and videos have inspired a generation of disabled athletes.

Rick added: “We will not compromise on making our skatepark wheelchair friendly, we already have had professional skatepark designers get in touch.”

The Skateboard Initiative launched a petition to Birmingham City Council to show the depth of support for a new facility in Erdington.

So far 710 people have signed the petition at Change.org with residents echoing the complaint there is nothing to do in Erdington for youngsters.

Jade Morgan said: “I’m signing because the youth of today have absolutely nothing to do. Outside of school, children cause trouble and get up to no good because there’s nothing to do.

“It’s about time we make changes for this so that the kids of today have more space and safe places to socialise and creatively express themselves without turning to a life of crime and alcoholism.”

Erdington has got a dearth of facilities for youngsters in comparison to other constituencies. A recent internal Birmingham’s City Council report recommended Erdington should be the home of any new youth centre if funding to be secured, such was the lack of activities locally.

Mark Preston, who founded iconic skateboard Birmingham shop Ideal in 1991, has been at the forefront of the skating scene in Birmingham since the 1980s believes it is the perfect time to get the public and political support to build new skatepark.

He told Erdingotn Local: “Skateboarding is on an upcycle now, it is cyclical, but it is becoming more popular. It is in a good place, there is a lot of people skating at the moment. The Olympics has helped.

“Skateboarding is a lot more diverse now, the ethnic diversity is better than ever before and there are also a lot more women and girls skating too, which is great to see.

“The pandemic was really good for skating, a lot of people got involved then. So, numbers are high.”

The second city has been at the bottom of the league when it comes to official organised parks, but skaters had their own paradise of a sprawling 1960s urban landscape which has now all but disappeared.

Mark said: “Birmingham has always been very poorly serviced by skateparks, for a big city it has been a joke basically down the years. But what we had in Birmingham was great streetskating.

“Birmingham had places like the Central Library and other places which were brilliant. The 1960s designed Birmingham was fantastic, it was made for skating. It was like a fantastic playground for skaters in the 1980s and early 1990s, I’m 53 so I was lucky to be around at that time.

“However, when as the city gets developed we have lost these places and architecture these days is very aggressive against skaters. So skateparks now are the future.”

In the last 20 years skateparks have sprung up in Yardley, Selly Park, Perry Barr, and Sutton Coldield and remain popular.

And Mark, also known as Zippy, backs the proposed Pype Hayes skatepark, even offering to advise its design.

He added: “Skateparks are always a good thing because people can congregate there and they know they will not get kicked off. Families can go down there and have fun.

“However, the design is important, they have to be brave, there is no point having a beginner’s area because after a few weeks people are no longer beginners.

“A new skatepark has to be adventurous, and we are more than happy to poke our noses in at the design stage.”

One skateboarder familiar with the streets of Erdington, who will find any design easier than most, is Team GB Olympian Bombette Martin.

The 16-year-old was born in New York but her grandfather is Paddy Martin who has run the Rose and Crown Boxing Club in Erdington for decades.

Her brother Kayo is also following in his sister’s footsteps and despite being American born will jump and skate for England.

Bombette said: “I like to make the joke that I’m half a New Yorker, and 3/4ths a Brummie! I spent so much of my childhood in Erdington because my dad is British, so I guess it didn’t really cross my mind, or my family’s mind, to even try and compete for America.

Bombette has spoken fondly of Birmingham and Erdington, and Rick is planning to enlist her for his campaign.

He said: “Imagine if Bombette came to our park after winning medals, imagine how that would inspire a generation of Erdington skaters?”


 
For more on The Skatepark Initiative visit www.facebook.com/TheSkateparkInitiative

To sign The Skatepark Initiative petition visit www.change.org/p/birmingham-city-council-theskateparkinitiative

NEWS: The Recovery Foundation showcases over 100 pieces of local artwork at Secret Art Studio Space

Words by Ed King / Pics by Ellycia Gardner – with additional images from Ali Walker and Robert Alden

On Monday, 8 August, The Recovery Foundation launched their art showcase  exhibition at the Secret Arts Studio Space (SASS) in Erdington.

Over the past few months, more than 50 local residents picked up a pencil or paint brush, many without any previous art experience, to create over 100 pieces of original artwork – as part of a programme of workshops to support mental health, wellbeing, and social inclusion.

Still on display at SASS, situated downstairs at the Central Square Shopping Centre, The Recovery Foundation exhibition can be seen through the gallery windows and on selected open days – and will remain installed over the next few weeks.

Running six separate groups over six weeks, The Recovery Foundation art sessions were free to access workshops – supporting anyone with “lived experience of mental illness”, or those just looking for a social or creative outlet.

Formed in 2020 by Emma Sitole, after her own issues with mental health and subsequent recovery, The Recovery Foundation places ‘hope’ and the centre of its support programmes.

Also embracing creativity and art as helpful tools of recovery, the six week workshops followed a series of oversubscribed Art in Parks sessions, where people would come together in outdoor green spaces, such as Rookery Park,  to learn new art techniques.

As part of a post lockdown programme to help bring people out of isolation and come together again in community groups, the subsequent workshops allowed The Recovery Foundation to continue its work in Erdington – reaching out to more people and building a wider network of budding creatives.

Emma Sitole explained: “We trialled Art in Parks last year, which was really successful, and off the back of that people were saying they’d love something that explored different techniques and looked into different things.

“Angie (Chapman), our Creative Arts Director, put together a programme and we’ve seen about 50 people come through our doors with these workshops.

“It’s a privilege to walk alongside people and see them discover they’re really creative – and they’ve created some incredible artwork.

“Today is the showcase… there’s a real sense of pride around people wanting to show what they’ve created.

“There’s been a lovely buzz about the place, some lovely conversations. But also lovely to see that community come back together again and support each other.”

A local mum, Ali Walker, took part in The Recovery Foundation art workshops after suggesting the programme to a friend.

With a new born baby to look after, who she took to each session, Ali found the workshops a chance to meet other people and further explore her passion for art – already being a keen photographer.

Attending the showcase exhibition at SASS with her now 10 month old daughter, Ali told Erdington Local: “I got a range of things from it (the art workshops), on the art side I learnt a lot of skills and techniques and things that I didn’t think I’d be able to do.

“On the other side of things, it was connecting with people from different backgrounds and getting involved in all sorts of conversations. And getting to know about Erdington a lot more, which I really enjoyed.

“I was trying to encourage someone I know, who struggles with their wellbeing, to come along but they couldn’t make it.

“I’d already put my name down and thought because I’m a new mother it was a good chance to get out for myself as well.”

After the success of Art in Parks and the subsequent art sessions, The Recovery Foundation are looking to establish a more permanent home in Erdington – and will be running another series of creative workshops in September.

Birmingham based professional mixed media artist, Eddy Aigbe, knows first hand the impact both creating and exhibiting art can have on people’s sense of self-worth.

Eddy told: “It’s something I’ve promoted myself in my previous job, where we had a community centre in Lozells.

“The problem was a lot of people were isolated and had mental health issues… and had a lot of talent. Just like you do here in Erdington – there’s a lot of talent going on.

“But there’s not much space to exhibit and show it off. A key part in being an artist is not just producing the work but showing it off – it validates you as an individual.

“As an artist, it’s a way to evaluate all the processes, styles, and everything you’ve been doing.”

The Recovery Foundation art workshop showcase on Monday, 8 August was open to the public, with the exhibition still on display at SASS.

Local resident and campaigner Basharat Dad attended the showcase’s opening. He told Erdington Local: “I think it’s brilliant, The Recovery Foundation have been great at engaging with the local community.

“Some of the artwork is the first-time people have tried art, and they’ve created some amazing pieces.

“There’s more of a need in Erdington, in terms of art spaces and projects, that could really help not just with mental health but also community building and bringing people together.”

Erdington Ward Councillor Robert Alden also attended The Recovery Foundation art showcase launch.

Cllr Alden has long championed the constituency’s creative industry and endevours, alongside his running mate Cllr Gareth Moore – from the mural on the hoardings around the old Maplin site, to the ongoing Active Arts and Kaleidoscope events.

Cllr Alden added: “It was great to be at The Recovery Foundation art event in Central Square and to see so many people from across the area together who had benefited from the art sessions that they have put on locally, especially in Rookery Park.

“These kind of events can help provide people with that support and community conversations that help people when they need it.

“Cllr Gareth Moore and I will be doing what we can to help support The Recovery Foundation with their plans for further events and services to support the local area in the coming months and years.

“While this was their first Erdington art show, at the Secret Art Studio Space, I have no doubt it won’t be their last.

“Well done to all of the local residents who produced some stunning pieces of art as part of the show.”

For more on The Recovery Foundation visit www.therecoveryfoundation.org.uk

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

____________ 

 

“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

____________ 

 

“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

____________ 

 

“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

____________ 

 

“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

____________ 

 

“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

____________ 

 

“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

____________ 

 

“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