FEATURE: Big John’s big heart – Erdington born ‘neighbourhood takeaway’ donates 100 food parcels to local food bank, as part of a citywide charity drive

Words & pics by Ed King / Video by Paul Withers – Erdington Local Broadcast Unit

Helping to feed vulnerable people across the city, Big John’s have pitched in to support Erdington residents during the coronavirus crisis – donating 100 parcels to the food bank being run from George Street Baptist Church in Stockland Green.

Organised in conjunction with the international Human Appeal charity and the Anzal Begum Foundation – the latter set up to ‘continue the visionary charity work of Anzal Begum’, the mother of Big John’s founders Jongir and Bob Siddiq – the food parcels were prepared by volunteers at Big John’s warehouse in Newtown, then taken directly to George Street Baptist Church.

Packed with essential provisions and staples for home cooking – including pasta, milk, sugar, cereals, biscuits, juice, tinned tomatoes and tinned soup – the 100 parcels taken to the Stockland Green based food bank were the last in 1000 that the ‘neighbourhood takeaway’ have donated throughout Birmingham.

I remember the struggle, when we’re trying to source the items,” Ambreen Khan – Head of Fundraising for the Anzal Begum Foundation.

“A lot of the suppliers were rationing as they had to meet their own demands, as well. But the relationship that Big John’s have with some of their suppliers, and then the Anzal Begum Foundation working with Big John’s on behalf of their late mother, that really helped source the items – it’s a really big thank you to all those suppliers who helped us source these items to go out to families and individuals.”

An Erdington born business, Big John’s have grown to be a prominent food outlet throughout the Midlands – bringing an ‘American food dining experience to traditional British and world favourites.’

Opening its doors in 1995, with the first of the franchise launched at the Six Ways Island in Erdington, Big John’s now have 12 branches located throughout Birmingham – alongside one in West Bromwich and one in Leicester.

But during the coronavirus crisis, when many businesses have been forced to close and all restaurants asked to shut their doors, Big John’s have been able to continue serving customers through deliveries and takeaways – as well as helping to feed people in the local community, especially those having trouble accessing food or basic provisions.

We just want to continue some of the great work that our late mother was doing in her lifetime,” tells Bob Siddiq, founder of both Big John’s and the Anzal Begum Foundation, “supporting local communities, supporting local causes – whenever someone’s in trouble, to be there for them. So, we decided we’d set up this (Anzal Begum) foundation in memory of what she was doing in her lifetime and continue that work.”

Big John’s used their contacts in the UK food supply chain to help others, organising for 1000 parcels to find their way to the city’s food banks and support services – an act of community that reflects the month of Ramadan, currently being celebrated by Muslims across the country.

But true kindness is secular, with the Siddiq brothers and their partners at Human Appeal and the Anzal Begum Foundation working alongside charities from all faiths and backgrounds to help feed the city’s most vulnerable.

One of the most important things we’ve seen here (Erdington/Birmingham), in Britain, and in the UK,” tells Zahir Khan – Director of Fundraising for Human Appeal, “is how people have let any sort of divide… that had previously divided us – in terms of colour, creed, religion, culture… I’ve seen everyone drop all the differences and really come together. For us, as Human Appeal, a faith based charity, it’s been a real honour to come together and support people regardless.”

This is another fine example of the community spirit we have here in Erdington,” continues Jack Dromey MP, who first told Erdington Local about the food parcels being delivered by Big John’s.

Our local food banks have seen a surge in demand since the start of the Coronavirus outbreak, so these donations are very welcome and will provide much-needed support to some of the most vulnerable in our community.

I’d like to thank Bob Saddiq and the rest of the team at Big John’s for this extremely kind gesture. It is wonderful to see a business that was started here in Erdington, and has gone on to be a great success, giving back to their community.

I’d also like to thank every member of our local community who is supporting others through this incredibly tough time. These acts of kindness and solidarity will help us all come through this unprecedented crisis together.”

Big John’s deliver 100 food parcels to George Road Baptist Church

To find out more about George Street Baptist Church, including the food bank they are currently operating, visit www.georgeroad.com/

To find out more about Big Johns, including all their online menus and delivery services, visit www.mybigjohns.com/

To find out more about the Anzal Begum Foundation, visit www.facebook.com/pg/anzalbegumfoundation/

To find out more on the Human Appeal charity, visit www.humanappeal.org.uk/

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FEATURE: Coronavirus in Erdington’s care homes

Words & original photography by Ed King / Pic of Jean & Charles Beattie courtesy of Sarah Yates

As cases of coronavirus continue to skyrocket, the number of care home residents contracting COVID-19 heads towards an equally dark horizon.

At the time of writing, the latest government figures show 133,495 reported cases across the UK – resulting in over 18,000 deaths.

But with nearly 2,000 of those registered to residents of care homes, more than doubling over the Easter weekend, by the time you read this the number will be even higher.

In a recent survey conducted by Jack Dromey MP, there were ‘19 cases of Coronavirus in Erdington Care Homes, either confirmed or suspected’ – with six residents having died either in their facility or after being moved to hospital, with another 11 cases waiting for confirmation on cause of death.

Alongside the increasing strain on supply chains crucial to the healthcare sector, such as manufactures of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), it’s arguably a case of when and not if. The only question left, is how much worse will the impact of coronavirus be for care homes and their residents?

He went in a week ago today,” tells Jean Beattie, whose husband, Charles, is currently in Heartlands Hospital being treated for coronavirus. “First of all, he went onto the pre-COVID ward, where they asses them. Then, once the test came back positive, they moved him to the COVID ward, and he’s been there the rest of the time.”

A resident of The Ridings Care Home in Castle Vale, Charles Beattie has underlying dementia and was referred to Heartlands after suffering a fall whilst getting out of a reclining chair. “Because his oxygen saturation levels were so low, which makes him dizzy and wobbly on his legs, he over balanced,” explains Jean, “and hit his head on the chest of draws.”

I think the paramedics forwarded the information (to the hospital) that there was COVID on the unit, so he automatically went to the pre-COVID ward. But he wasn’t admitted because of his general health.”

But treating the physical symptoms is only half the battle for some patients, and Jean also has concerns around her husband’s dementia.  

He’s on a high dependency unit within the care home… they know him, and he knows them. They are his security blanket. In fact, he relates more to them now than he does to us, his family. Because he’s with them 24/7… It’s the people that are looking after him all the time that are his immediate family now.”

Home is where the heart is, or where the mind can find peace. But what protection do both staff and residents have if that happens to be a care home facility?

They’d got nothing,” tells Jean – who explains the required PPE only reached The Ridings over Easter, “just the ordinary paper masks. And they’ve got COVID positive patients in there at the time; and had lost some of them as well.”

All they’d got were their plastic aprons, the gloves that they always have, and the paper masks that everybody has in a care environment – be it a hospital or whatever.”

Quick to support the staff at The Ridings, who Jean believes “should be paid in gold bars not pence,” the adversity health practitioners face during the coronavirus crisis should also highlight their worth.

It’s really important that they are pulled into the equation,” tells Jean, “they’re really have been forgotten. I understand why all the concentration, in the first instance, was on getting care and service into the frontline of the NHS. But they (Government) should have realised that this was a bombshell waiting to explode.”

I’m full of admiration and I’m very, very grateful for everything they’ve done in Heartlands (Hospital). But he needs to be with his family. Which is the home. Once he’s there, no matter what the outcome, I will feel happier.”

Away from the fierce debate over PPE, there is another supply chain crucial to the health care industry – a cookie jar the general public have their fingers stuck in too. Food.

The most difficult thing we’ve had to deal with is the food chain,” explains Anglea – an administrator at Cedar Lodge Nursing Home on Kingsbury Road.

We’ve used online shopping for many years, because as it gives the residents more variety. I’ve got Asda’s website in front on me now; the slots only go up to 7th May and every single one is sold out. Every one from 6am to 11pm is sold out.”

Going direct to the supermarket shelves can be tricky too, as care homes are currently not exempt from the store by store rationing. “We take a letter to prove that we were purchasing for a care home,” explains Angela, “but one local supermarket wouldn’t let me buy three bags of porridge – even though I was buying for a care home.”

The day before I’d been at Spar in Wylde Green, they were wonderful. Sainsbury’s at Castle Vale, they didn’t restrict us either – I said to the person going shopping, make sure you’ve got your letter with you. But he went in and nobody stopped him. So, we were able to get what we needed.”

For most of us, bare shelves and item restrictions are a frustration. But when you’re cooking over 100 meals a day, it threatens lives. Not to mention the mental stress put on already vulnerable residents.

They can’t have any family come and visit,” tells Angela, “the regular entertainers and exercise classes… we’re not able to have those people come in anymore.”

If they were to have restrictions on their food or diet… to be honest I can’t imagine what sort of impact that would have on them.”

Sadly, concerns over both PPE and food in care homes are not uncommon. The recent survey conducted by Jack Dromey MP, contacting all 47 care homes across the Erdington constituency, identified ‘9 care homes (that) have indicated that food supply is an issue,’ raising concerns about ‘both item limits and lack of availability for online deliveries’.

Then there’s the issue of PPE, which most people at the end of an Internet connection will know is a widespread concern across the country.

In Erdington, 48% of the 47 care homes still have worries over accessing the right protective equipment – whilst ‘one care home has only received 600 masks since the start of the crisis, with staff now having to re-use masks due to a shortage.’

But, in Erdington at least, there is a plan to help care homes ‘secure adequate amounts of food needed to feed their residents.’ In a letter to Tesco’s CEO, David Lewis, Jack Dromey has asked for two clear changes in operational policy:

  • Exempt care homes from the item restriction limit that is in place for regular shoppers
  • Create special online delivery slots to enable care homes to access online deliveries – preventing their staff from making unnecessary trips to the supermarket where they risk contracting COVID-19

The Government must urgently reassure care homes that they will not be forgotten during this crisis,” says Jack Dromey MP. “They deserve with the NHS full access to PPE. Care home workers, as well as NHS staff, are delivering vital care in extremely dangerous situations. They are both working in close proximity to the virus and therefore both deserve proper protection.”

That, and the ability to feed their residents; regular meals shouldn’t be too much to ask. Now is a time for community and kindness. And someone keeps telling us ‘every little helps.’

To find out more about the spread of coronavirus, from the Office for National Statistics, visit www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/conditionsanddiseases

For the latest information from Public Heath England, visit www.gov.uk/government/organisations/public-health-england

To find out more about the work being done for Erdington by Jack Dromey MP, visit www.jackdromey.org

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FEATURE: Staying home for Easter – how Eastern Europeans in Erdington celebrate Easter during the coronavirus crisis

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics courtesy of individuals featured

We were not guaranteed a future in this country,” Laszlo Molnars tells Erdington Local, via an international a phone call.

It has been several weeks since Laszlo left the UK, making the decision to take his family back to Hungary as countries across mainland Europe were taking themselves into lockdown – with Britain being one of the last on the list. “It was a big decision for us to leave the UK so soon…” sighs Lazlo, “but we are happy to be somewhere we feel safe.”

Erdington is home to many Eastern Europeans, a vibrant Diaspora who have built families, businesses, and lives in the North East Birmingham constituency. Predominately Christian by faith, Easter would normally see with many returning to their countries of origin – celebrating the festive period with their wider families and communities.

But due to the coronavirus global pandemic, and the restrictions of travel – both domestic and international – that have been enforced across the world, this Spring’s festive repatriation has raised difficult questions for many families. Laszlo and his family are now back in Hungary, but what about those who stayed in the UK?

I planned to go to Poland for Easter with my daughter,” explains Anna Fijałkowska, 34, who was unable to see her family or do the things she would normally do at Easter, “I would go to Poland and spend Easter with my family, mother, sister and grandmother.” Like many of the over 800,00 Polish people living in the UK, Anna desired to return – preferring the quicker response by the Polish government to the original ‘herd immunity’ promulgated by the UK administration.

But it is still Easter. And Wielki Post (Holy Week) is still a big deal, especially in a predominantly Catholic country like Poland. “I could not go to church for Palm Sunday,” continues Anna, “I could not go to get my basket blessed.” With all the religious rituals on hold in the UK, this time of year would seem very alien for people like Anna.

But despite all these complications Anna remains positive, finding delight at spending so much quality time with her daughter – even in the shadow of something so nasty: “I think the time of this virus is a very special time for us which shows us that we should focus more on building family relationships. I still prepared all the foods that I would at Easter.” Biała kiełbasa [smoked meats], Mazurek [Easter cakes] and of course, pisanki [Easter eggs] all take centre stage in Polish households, although this year without being taken to church for a blessing.

With an established Polish community in Erdington and across Birmingham, St Michael’s Church and the Polish Millennium Centre serving as focal points, for some Eastern Europeans their whole life is here already. Atanas Slavchev or ‘Nasko’, 34, moved to Erdington from Bulgaria six years ago.

Happy Easter!” he exclaims over the phone. Most Bulgarians would celebrate Easter on 19th April – like with most other Orthodox countries, Eastern European Christianity follows the Julian calendar, meaning common religious festivals can be held at different times in different countries.

Every day is Easter,” explains Nasko, “as Christ is risen. But we celebrate it especially today, like the Orthodox.” Nasko’s family are not orthodox, but rather part of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) church in Erdington – home to a lively evangelical band, called El Shaddai. Somewhat unlike the Orthodox style a capella chants, it’s not your typical Bulgarian affair; this time of year would still have been a time of jubilation.

Similar themes of religious celebration, gathering of families and unique cuisine, rise from Nasko’s conversation: Kozunak [Easter bread], Lamb dishes [reflecting the ‘lamb of God’], and, eggs [which they paint] define the taste and style of Easter for Bulgarians.

But there is disappointment, “our kids were rehearsing hard for the Easter play, but they can’t do that now.” Another cancelled event for Nasko’s family.

He and his wife run Sofia, a Bulgarian food and convenience store on Tyburn Road. Their wider family in Erdington numbers around 70 – uncles, aunties and cousins included – and they’ve kept Sofia open, catering to the Bu;garian community but also for non-Bulgarians who have caught on that these shops still have pasta and flour during the coronavirus crisis – only the writing is in another language.

It’s still important to Nasko and his family to visit their home country, but he predicts they won’t get time this year due to complications from the global pandemic, “we wanted to go to Bulgaria but we may end up just going to Cornwall for our holiday.”

Ramona Petrescu, 26, is not with any family this Easter. She moved to the UK about five years ago to improve her English and meet new people – working in factory jobs, alongside some translation work, and selling her wares as an artist and crafter.

Lamb dishes, Pască [Romanian Easter bread] and ‘ouă incondeiate’ [decorated eggs] also define this time for Romanians, which, like Bulgaria, is a mostly orthodox country. But it has been hard for Ramona to get into the Easter spirit at all – even whist not being religious, this time is still a marked celebration in her year.

The usual excitement for the day has definitely gone”, explains Ramona, “I am definitely less upbeat and more into introspection and peace of heart and mind, while I find myself far away from what I ‘ve known to be comfortable in Romania”. Ramona wanted to paint eggs but didn’t finds she have the will or the time this year.

Although on Easter Sunday, Ramona treated herself to ‘ouă umplute’ (devilled eggs) which she assures was a “great Romanian invention.”

With thanks to Magdalena and Oksana from the Polish Expats Association for assistance with research. For more on the Polish Expats Association, visit www.facebook.com/polish.expats

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FEATURE: Saturday night cabin fever – how Erdington musicians are coping in the coronavirus lockdown

Words by Jobe Baker Sullivan / Pics courtesy of individual musicians featured

Lampstands, sofas and surprise appearances from family pets – the new performance stages for musicians as they stay at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Requesting songs from Alexa or re-runs of Glastonbury just aren’t the same as the live-spirit that comes from a craftsman with their tool – a musician and their instrument.

Musicians want to keep the ‘food of love’ in constant supply, and live-streaming is helping feed the community.

Erdington Local caught up with three Erdington based musicians to see how their lives have changed since lockdown.

When she’s not in high profile business meetings or adventuring around Asia, Jo Baldwin (37) is usually gigging 4 times a week with her band The Jo Baldwin Project (JPB).  From pubs, bars and functions of all kinds, Jo’s weekends are often enthralling and exhausting. The JBP tend to perform rock and pop covers from the 1980s-present, and Jo singing for 3 hours with only short breaks.  

“Music has done wonders for my mental health” she says, her beaming, proud smile almost audible over the phone. Jo openly reminds audiences that she went through a dark time and that music was her constant companion.

Now she’s at home, she has found time for her three true loves: her black Labrador, Josie, her one-eyed Turkish cat, Emre, and her music. Her pets are enjoying the attention, and she’s always assured an attentive audience of two whilst in lockdown. Jo has taken to live-streaming regularly, and self-isolation has meant she has found time to work on her own original songs – and the band are finding it good fun working remotely.

But this is not enough to keep Jo occupied. She’s working from home as the key account manager for a pharmaceutical company and she’s gone the extra mile with her company’s “voluntary redeployment position” – she delivers medicine to patients, and she finds it a humbling experience. “Patients are telling me how happy they are. One was over the moon he didn’t have to catch two buses to the clinic.”

The next few weeks of self-isolation for Jo look positive. Sunshine and dog-walks, time for beloved music and to work on her album. She’s also now“into Tik Tok.”

For some, music is their full-time job. In the Chancellor’s speech on the 26th March, Rishi Sunak said:

I know that many self-employed people are deeply anxious about the support available for them. Musicians and sound engineers; plumbers and … through no fault of their own, risk losing their livelihoods.”

Perhaps this will have assuaged musician’s fears?

One such full-time muso is Reuben Reynolds (29), who before the lockdown, was in demand by schools and bands around the country. He spent his professional time teaching in Leicester and Brixton.

Like Jo, his weekends were dominated by gigs – he tends to back R&B artists, pop artists, gospel bands, and it’s not uncommon for him to be performing for 100s if not 1000s of people at concert venues.

So, what has Reuben been up to?

“I’ve been sleeping a lot more,” he proudly states over the phone. The odd hours musicians have to work – not just the gigs and the teaching, but rehearsals and preparing material, can often dominate their lives.

“I’ve found more time for study and rehearsal, as well as working on some recordings.”

Rueben has always used social media to share his beautiful music and advertise his incredible and varied guitar abilities, and he thinks “it’s important to share and connect” with people.

He seems pretty relaxed about his earnings, too: “I’ve been enjoying the lockdown!” he laughs, “initially, we’re just looking at the next few months wondering where the income is going to come from. But the Government seem to have plans in place.”

He explains that one of his schools are preparing for lessons on Zoom so they can continue to teach students following the Easter break, so he hasn’t escaped work completely.

It’s difficult to predict when this lockdown will end, but Reuben, like many musicians, would be devastated if the country is still in lockdown in August – prime festival season.

It’s saddening to hear of all the postponed-weddings and funerals with so few people attending, wakes are not an option. That also means putting the kibosh on musicians like Edwin Podolski (24) from Kraków, who now lives in Erdington.

He’s a violinist/violist who graduated from the Birmingham Conservatoire. He was in huge demand in orchestras, quartets and string-related music groups – and all bookings for his regular groups such as MAKK and Bollywood Strings have been cancelled or postponed. He was especially looking forward to a big concert in London this April, where he was top of the bill.

The lockdown has allowed Edwin to develop his creative side, arranging English folk tunes for string duo.

He’s been trying to teach his private students over Zoom, but he’s not a fan, “it’s so frustrating. The delay, the bad sound”. No replacement for real life!

Edwin’s been rather excited to find more time for exercise. Before lockdown, Edwin would attend a Muay Thai boxing group, although it’s difficult to train without a partner.

There are so many other people who work in the arts and rely on face-to-face business, as well as people who consume it and make these interactions part of their routine. Erdington MP, Jack Dromey has said: “after food and medicine, isolation will be the big issue – and I want the Arts to play a big role in it.”

All these musicians and art-types may yet have a role to play in the weeks to come. Music plays such an important role in human culture, and these Erdington musicians won’t let a pandemic stop them from creating art.

To find out more about the artists featured in this article, click here for more on The Jo Baldwin Projectclick here for more on Reuben Reynolds, and click here for more on Edwin Podolski.

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FEATURE: Rugby dad tackles COVID-19 lockdown – Erdington Rugby Club player and patron, David Owen, is ready to ‘ruck’ n roll with community response to coronavirus

Words by Keat Moore / Pics courtesy of David Owen

Erdington local, David Owen, has been a star player when it comes to community response to the COVID-19 lockdown – which has left many residents housebound and anxious about how they’re going to access food and supplies.

David (37), who works as a Data Analyst for National Express, leapt into action after seeing a post on Facebook calling for volunteers – as part of the ‘Erdington local community response to COVID19’ group set up by another Erdington resident, Jo Bull.

The Facebook group currently has over 600 members and has become a de facto hub for those seeking or offering support to the Erdington community during the coronavirus crisis. And thanks to the efforts of David and Jo, as well as their team of nearly 60 active volunteers, they’ve already helped over 200 people.

Erdington Local contacted David to find out more about the man nicknamed ‘Mr. Erdington’, and how he’s getting on.

“I feel like a kid with his finger in the dam, to be honest,” admits David, “but we’re doing well, and our volunteers are doing an amazing job”. Given the uncertainty around how long the coronavirus lockdown could last, let alone the pandemic, it’s not surprising he feels apprehensive.

At the time of writing, the Erdington local community response to COVID19 Facebook group has 57 volunteers – all members of the community who just want to help. Each evening, David posts an update to the group and gives special thanks to his ‘Angels of the Day’; whether it’s collecting hundreds of sandwiches or delivering a single bottle of Calpol, these volunteers are going that extra mile to perform small miracles of community-spirit when people need each other the most.

David also has fronted £200 of his own money to ensure everyone, even those who can’t afford much, don’t go without. “I’m not too concerned about the money at the moment,” tells David, “we can sort that out after, but right now people need food and that’s more important” – although he wishes he had more money to cover all of the volunteer’s expenses, even though they haven’t asked for any compensation.

All of the volunteers pay for the groceries out of their own pockets and give the receipts to David so he can transfer the money back to their bank accounts, a system that also works as a deterrent for those who would try to take advantage.

“We’ve had a few chancers, but not many. And once they know I’ll be checking their details and that everything we do is cashless, they don’t respond, ” David takes safeguarding seriously after reports from other parts of the city that vulnerable people have been defrauded by those pretending to be volunteers. “I know a lot of people in the area already, and you get a feel for who the dodgy ones are. But honestly, we haven’t had to deal with anything like that,” and whilst he doesn’t have the means to perform DBS checks, David does the best he can to ensure the group’s volunteers are who they say they are by verifying their addresses and identities via the electoral roll.

David and his volunteers are even happy to make shopping trips multiple times a week for the same individual, if needed. “I do have to tell people that we’re not going to do a weekly shop,” explains David, “they have to limit it to three days’ worth of supplies, and not £90 weekly shops, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to carry on.”

The Active Wellbeing Society, who have been appointed by Birmingham City Council to help coordinate and distribute food supplies across the city, are also supporting David and his efforts – which he says has helped manage the increasing demand and need from the community: “TAWS have been brilliant, they have loads of food from across the city and they’ve got people prepping and packing hot meals and we deliver them.”

“I’ve always been rubbish at being idle,” David responds when asked what inspired him to get involved, “and I’m a big believer in community spirit, especially in Erdington.” He’s no stranger to rallying for a cause either, having campaigned and fundraised for the Erdington Rugby Club. It was brought back from extinction through David’s efforts and the generosity of the local community, going from strength to strength, even replacing the changing rooms with a donated double-decker bus (nicknamed Rugger) kitted out with showers.

But the biggest surprise for David has been discovering how many organisations work in Erdington to support the community, “I’ve never really been exposed to these kinds of organisations because I’m all about the rugby club, but it’s really reassuring to know that they’re out there trying to make a difference.”

He’s also been touched by how quickly he and the other volunteers have built relationships with the people they support, “it’s lovely, we’ll call ahead to let them know we’re on the way with their shopping so they can pick it up from the doorstep, and when we get there they’ll be in the window with a big grin, giving us all a wave.”

David’s also got big plans for when the lockdown is over, “I’m going to throw a big party for all of the volunteers and for everyone we’ve supported. All of us have made friends that we didn’t have before, and I want to celebrate that and the community-spirt that I always knew Erdington had. I don’t want us to go back to being strangers.”

To visit the Erdington local community response to COVID19 Facebook group, where you ask for help and support during the coronavirus crisis – or offer your services as a volunteer, visit www.facebook.com/groups/625073991557017

Alternatively, you can get in touch with Erdington Local via phone or email and we will forward on your details to David Owen and the the Erdington local community response to COVID-19 Facebook group.

For all our contact information, visit www.erdingtonlocal.com/contact-erdington-local/

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FEATURE: Witton Lodge Community Association reaches out to local residents – as part of the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce

Words & pics by Ed King / Video by Paul Withers – Erdington Local Broadcast Unit

A special Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce has been set up in response to the coronavirus crisis, with Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) reaching out to local residents with food parcels and support services – outreach activity mirrored by community hubs and support groups across the constituency.

Established as the pandemic reached more critical levels for the UK during March, the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce is a ‘collaborative approach and co-ordinated effort’ involving many of the constituency’s community groups and care providers – alongside Jack Dromey MP, Councillor Robert Alden, representatives from Birmingham City Council, and further political and community figures known in the area.

Speaking directly to Erdington Local about the coronavirus crisis, Jack Dromey MP says: “The COVID-19 crisis is the most serious moment in our country’s history since World War II. The sheer scale of what is happening – and its social and economic impact – is frightening. But at a moment of crisis, it is crucial that community and country stand together.

As the crisis deepened four weeks ago, we moved to establish the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce to bring together those who can make a difference – to sustain our community and our citizens through these dreadful times.”

Chaired by Afzal Hussain, Chief Officer at Witton Lodge Community Association – who have been working in Perry Common since 1994, the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce has already begun a series of outreach activities focused on delivering vital public support and tackling the immediate issues effecting people across the area.

Following a call to arms to local residents and businesses, Witton Lodge Community Association have been receiving donations of food and essential goods which they are redistributing directly to households in their local community – adhering to the safety guidelines issued by Public Health England.

With a growing number of volunteers – working as parcel packers, drivers, administrators, and phoning locals residents to check directly on their wellbeing – the team at WLCA are delivering over 60 care packages those most vulnerable on Tuesdays and Fridays, alongside a daily schedule of further deliveries to the wider community.

“The absolute priority has to be welfare and safety… so people having those essential supplies,” explains Afzal Hussain.

“We already have residents, families, and individuals that we know need this support, so we’ve started with those. We are now having referrals; people are calling us, councillors and social workers and others are referring people to us, so we’ve mobilised our staff and volunteers to go and make sure those deliveries happen. We’ve scheduled those in so there are regular delivery slots a couple of times a week to do that.”

Responding to a health crisis such as coronavirus, a virulent disease that’s effecting countries and citizens around the world, takes a level of community action beyond that of WLCA’s usual support programme. But many in Erdington have already risen to the challenge, as the impact from coronavirus continues to dominate headlines, hearts and minds across the globe.

“We’re trying to reach out to those who can’t access basic provisions,” tells Marie Benjamin – Volunteer Co-ordinator at WLCA. “It’s vital right now, without support there could be people out there suffering a lot.”

Other issues highlighted by local residents are employment, financial support and advice, as well as the health and wellbeing concerns from being in prolonged self-isolation.

To effectively tackle these growing problems, the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce has been building a database of organisations called the Erdington Assets Register – with companies from Bromford Fish Bar to Birmingham Mind offering their time and resources to help deliver these important support services.

“The response has been amazing,” explains Debbie Bates – Health and Wellbeing Transformation Lead at Witton Lodge Community Association. “It’s been a collaborative approach and co-ordinated effort across Erdington, working to ensure people in the community get the help the need at this critical time.”

But as the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK continues to rise, alongside the death toll, there is still much more that needs to be done – by both Witton Lodge Community Association and the wider Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce.

Organisations are being encouraged to sign up to the Erdington Assets Register, strengthening the database of private and public sector groups that can provide support. Whilst individuals can make a significant difference by offering their time, energy, or donations of food and essential goods to the growing community outreach programme.

Volunteering is really important,” continues Afzal Hussain, “if there are supplies and food, we’ll happily take those. I think what I would say to groups and organisations who are there, who want to work together, is to come forward – we will add them to that emergency (Erdington) Asset Register.

We’re using that as the live platform; people can add their details, let everyone know what’s going on, what services they’re providing, and importantly they can collaborate with others in their neighbourhoods and communities.”

For anyone wanting to find out more about the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce, or to add their organisation to the Erdington Assets Register, please contact Witton Lodge Community Association on (0121) 382 1930 or email afzal.hussain@wittonlodge.org.uk

Organisations can also add their names directly onto the Erdington Assets Register, operated as a live platform and database, by clicking here.

People can also contact Witton Lodge Community Association though their website or social media, with full details found at www.wittonlodge.org.uk

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