LOCAL PROFILE: Oliver Hassell

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics supplier by Oliver Hassell

Artist Oliver Hassell took Erdington by storm with his striking, colourful, and darkly-inspired pieces displayed for Black History Month. Erdington Local catches up with him to find out what makes him tick.

Born in Erdington and living here his whole life, Oliver started to enjoy art “as a toddler.”

I’d draw what I’d see on TV – things like Harry Potter,” although he admitted, with a smile, that at this age they were “stickmen, and I’d just label them ‘Harry Potter’.” He sees these early years of drawing “cartoons and action figures” as an important sign he had a calling for visual art.

Oliver says that he “didn’t get into making proper art until I was about 16.” He studied illustration at Birmingham City University (BCU), saying that “Uni was fun, I had a good time” – spending that time developing new skills, professing that he learned a lot “by himself” as opposed to part of the university course.

Oliver creates colourful, eye-catching pieces with dark figures, foreboding smiles, and references to social media, religion, sex, death, and his latest piece regarding coronavirus (with the virus literally coming out of a Corona bottle of beer).

Oliver explains his general working method when creating his artwork. Commencing with a sketch, then “mainly drawing in pens, adding small details in with paints for “mouths and eyes.”

To give the art an extra layer of otherworldliness, Oliver then scans his piece onto the computer and edits slightly to “step it up from a drawing to something to look at.”

Oliver has various inspirations, saying the “past year or so I’ve been concentrating on the concept of the shadow self.”

He goes onto say that “Everyone’s got their dark-side that they don’t really want to look at – It’s up to you to figure out and understand that [dark] side of yourself so you can become a complete person.” He explored these themes in his debut exhibition in January 2020 at The Gap Arts in Balsall Heath.

Oliver worked in a collective setting as part of Gallery 37 which is a ‘creative residency programme where young people can rediscover themselves as artists’. The joint exhibition of 5 artists was called ‘Karma-Utopia’ hosted at Centrala in Digbeth.

Oliver created an art piece which was a colourful, illustrated “stack of blocks, with different values on it like love – creativity.” The words were written backwards, placed next to a mirror.

Viewers could participate with the piece, ordering the blocks in the order of values which they found most important to them. “It puts you with what you think is important,” and the fact it is next to a mirror represents that the values are a “reflection of yourself.”

Erdington Local asks Oliver his opinions regarding Black History Month [BHM]. Oliver is “mixed – Black Caribbean and white British.”

He feels like “We’ve come so far with it now,” thinking that 2020 BHM should be the “start of something that goes on forever.”

Oliver sees the murder of George Floyd in May as a great “injustice” and that it’s important to “support the fight.”

He says he personally “hasn’t felt oppressed by the government,”but was aware of racist language when he was growing up. “It’s a joke when we were kids, but that’s still a problem,” Oliver says.

Oliver was featured as part of October’s Evening of Creativity at Oikos Café and is happy that “stuff like this is happening now in Erdington,” bemoaning that there isn’t much for visual arts in the area.

He transformed lockdown into a chance to concentrate on his own business, ‘Death in Colour’, which is his own clothing line featuring his art work: “Upcycled, vintage clothing with my art work – all customized.”

Starting the business in March, Oliver says he’s been “doing quite well during COVID” with some of his stock now sold out.

He did have intentions for a pop up shop-come-exhibition space, although this was not possible due to the pandemic. “A couple things have been scrapped, but it hasn’t stopped the train,” says Oliver, positively.

Oliver is now learning more about animation, 3D, and digital art forms. He’s interested in “Wallace and Gromit-style,” plasticine 3D animation.

I’m just trying to evolve – build up my skills as much as possible. Good stuff will happen.”

To find out more about Oliver Hassell, visit www.oliverhassell.com

To find out more about Birmingham Black History Month, visit wwwb.irminghamblackhistorymonth.co.uk

Please follow and like us:

LOCAL PROFILE: Nikki Tapper

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Nikki Tapper

Erdington Local is proud to support Black History Month. The newspaper will be releasing a local profile piece each week focusing on black members of the community, amplifying these voices and celebrating the richness of multi-cultural Erdington.

Erdington resident Nikki Tapper professes to wear “three hats. Teacher by profession, radio broadcaster and event host.” She is a familiar voice to many local people via radio airwaves, working for BBC WM since 2003.

Her regular BBC WM programme ‘Sunday Night with Nikki’ focuses on ‘stories that matter to the Midland’s African and Caribbean communities.’ Erdington Local explores her varied life as a local personality.

Born in Smethwick, Nikki now lives and works in Erdington. She tells Erdington Local about her experience as a teacher.

I started off lecturing in Business Studies in Wolverhampton for four years. I left there and came to Kingsbury – now Erdington Academy – and taught there five years.” She fondly remembers a student who would call her teasingly call her ‘Miss TT’ after the Audi TT car she owned at the time.

Nikki made the tough leap from mainstream education to teaching at City of Birmingham School, a citywide Pupil Referral Unit [PRU] with sites across Birmingham. In her own words, these are often for “emotionally based school refusers – they struggled with anxiety and had mis-diagnosed learning needs, or were diagnosed with being autistic or ‘on the spectrum’”.

Whilst Nikkiloved teaching” at the PRU, she bemoans the way that young people from difficult backgrounds or with emotional needs continue to get inadequate support – even in PRUs. She feels like the educational system is saying: “if you don’t fit the mainstream setting, then we’ll put you in another setting that will just fit the mainstream setting again.”

Nikki’s work at City of Birmingham School understandably caused her a lot of stress, bringing with it more challenges that a mainstream educational setting.

Nikki remembers one time “one of my students got stabbed and I ran after one of the perpetrators,” and rather boldly “went straight back to work after that.” She also recalls how “last year we had an attempted kidnapping, to do with ‘County Lines’” – the system of recruiting young people to courier drugs and contraband in and out of the city.  

From working in one of the toughest teaching environments, Nikki is now self-employed. She wants to “take how I would like to work with young people, work with them in a small group setting, help them build their confidence and self-esteem.”  

Nikki is also a familiar voice across Birmingham radio, having presented shows on BBC Radio West Midlands for over 20 years. Recently Nikki also presented a six part series called ‘COVID Conversations’ on Newstyle Radio, speaking to ‘people living and working in Black Communities across the West Midlands to understand how COVID has affected their lives.’

Also known for her long running Radio WM show ‘The Gospel Lounge with Nikki Tapper’, she commenced her radio career in Christian radio: “I’m a proud wife, mother, and committed Christian” proclaims Nikki.

She recounts an early job with radio being to “run around Church notices boards in Birmingham noting down service times” – gathering content and information for congregations, announcing on air: “St John’s in Great Barr, Sunday service starts at eleven O’clock, with Bible study on a Wednesday at seven.”

Now a prestigious broadcaster working for the BBC, Nikki thoroughly enjoys working in radio, saying it’s “a great medium to use your imagination,” and a “great way of not having to stress about what you look like. That’s why I tell people I look like Halle Berry!”

In her time as a broadcaster, Nikki has interviewed a high calibre of celebrities, including singer Mary Wilson from The Supremes, poet Benjamin Zephaniah, musician Tito Jackson from the Jackson Five, comedian Sir Lenny Henry, Dawn Butler MP, and one of her favourites DJ Trevor Nelson.

A champion of her city and community, when asked about Black History Month Nikki tells Erdington Local: “I struggle with Black History Month, if I’m honest. Black history is just HISTORY. It’s history across the year.”

She recalls, as a teacher, that “my education and teaching head would say ‘Oh here we go again, we better do black history; let’s put up Martin Luther King, Malcolm X. We didn’t really change the conversation, the rhetoric, we didn’t really look at the curriculum.”

But the agenda of Black History Month is still a relevant one, with the global struggle for, and through emancipation, an ongoing and important conversation. Nikki notes some huge milestones to celebrate in 2020, such as “The National Trust saying ‘actually, 93 of our stately homes have been built by slaves.”

Talking about her personal experience as a black woman, she felt growing up she was “not really valued,” and that the opinion was that “the race that I come from didn’t add anything, other than ‘let you run for my country. Play your music – I love your music – play a bit of Bob Marley.’”

Adding to the narrative, Nikki has a positive call for the future way black history is thought of: “I want people to recognise that actually yes – in the 18th century, 19th century, there were black people that could have been utilised differently, and they were only presented as subservient.”

Erdington Local asked Nikki her thoughts on Erdington itself. “I love Erdington,” she says with a smile. Speaking of its past, she continues: “it was like this little unknown jewel in the north of the city that had this eclectic mix of characters, those who had money, those who didn’t, those who were very creative, those who just wanted to get on with it.”

She expresses concerns, however, for Erdington today: “what I’ve seen change in our part of the city has been neglect for those who really need help.”  She praises the huge efforts by volunteer groups and churches “such as Oikos Church, St Barnabas, the Arts Forum, Standing Ovation,” to make Erdington a better place to live.

With plans for more investment into the High Street, Erdington “could be like Brixton,” suggests Nikki. “Let’s just hope we don’t price ourselves out.”

For more on BBC WM’s ‘Sunday Night with Nikki’, visit www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p07pcktr

To find out more about Nikki Tapper, visit www.nt-events.co.uk 

For more on Birmingham Back History Month , visit www.birminghamblackhistorymonth.co.uk

Please follow and like us:

LOCAL PROFILE: Paulette Francis-Green – Empress P

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Jobe Baker-Sullivan and Paulette Francis-Green

Erdington Local is proud to support Black History Month (BHM). The newspaper will be releasing a LOCAL PROFILE each week of BHM on black members of the community, amplifying these voices and celebrating the richness of multi-cultural Erdington.

Paulette Francis-Green (creative alias: Empress P) is a “proud Erdingtonian of Jamaican heritage.”

Born in Saltley, she moved to Erdington aged 6 – attending Fentham Secondary School for Girls in the 1970s. Through her company, PFG Consultancy, Paulette has been key in gathering information for Birmingham’s official Black History Month brochure since 2012. The purpose of the City Council funded brochure is “giving out information about events across the city” as well as celebrating various milestones of black history.

Paulette’s first job was for Birmingham City Council, working as a clerical assistant from 1978, and she has been a passionate supporter of the city ever since. But another of her lifelong passions is netball: “I used to eat, drink, sleep netball.”

Paulette proudly tells how she was “chair of the Birmingham netball league for 13 years. I had aspirations of becoming an international netball umpire.” She fondly remembers 1995 Netball World Championship held at the NIA in Birmingham, working on a stall: “Having that here in Birmingham was ‘wow!’. And being part of netball was ‘wow!'”

Another passion for Paulette is poetry. She cites inspirations such as Shakespeare, as well as Birmingham born, nationally renowned poet, Benjamin Zephaniah: “reading his autobiography was powerful. His mum used to rhyme when she was talking to them” and that Benjamin was “Dyslexic”, although did not let this “disability” quell his ambition to write.

Paulette is an integral part of the Midlands dub poetry roots scene, performing and writing with creatives such as Panya the Poet, Sue Brown, and Miss Culture Jam. She has released an anthology called I’ve Landed as well as an accompanying album.

Paulette is also a breast cancer survivor. Diagnosed in 2012, she recalls her experience vividly: “I was scared – I didn’t want to die. My granddaughter wasn’t born yet, and I wanted to be able to live to see my grand-child.”

Her big dream was to “get to Ghana and to connect with Africa. Being in the motherland, feeling the African soil.” Making a full recovery, and now having visited Africa several times, she teaches that “what helped me dealing with the cancer was being positive. Being positive within yourself kicks out the negativity.” Paulette launched back into her work in the creative industry “straight after recovery.”

Paulette presented Erdington Local with a small, ongoing memoir of 25 “achievements” she had made since the year 2000. These included job titles such as Equality Diversity Champion, Black History Month Coordinator at The Drum (now known as Legacy Centre of Excellence), and Promotions Coordinator for the Simmerdown Festival.

One such job she had was at the Birmingham Museums Collection Centre, which is ‘a 1.5 hectare site that holds 80 per cent of Birmingham Museums’ stored collections under one roof.’ Paulette describes the Museums Collection Centre as “Indiana Jones meets Ikea”, referring to the warehouse scene at the end of the first film of the Spielberg series.

Her favourite objects include an unrealised civic plan of Birmingham city centre surrounding Baskerville House, a Giant Crab and a fold-up BSA bicycle from World War II: “Soldiers would parachute out the planes with these bikes strapped to their backs – so when they land, they can jump on their bike, and cycle to where they’re supposed to be!”

Paulette speaks about her role compiling the official brochure of Birmingham Black History Month: “One of the important things was how we wanted to spread the word about the black community, black history and letting people know about it.”

She showed Erdington Local a brochure from 2015 celebrating two important 50 years milestones: Malcolm X’s visit to Birmingham in 1965, and the 1965 UK Race Relations Act – which was the first piece of legislation in the UK to address the prohibition of racial discrimination.

The launch of Birmingham Black History Month at Birmingham Town Hall in 2018 “was powerful. It’s important for the black community that we’re in prominent places.” Paulette recalls with glee meeting American singer Dionne Warwick, who was giving a private concert for the organisers of the launch event. In her capacity of host, Paulette fondly remembers announcing, with a smile, “and now I hand over to Dionne Warwick.”

Paulette’s ebullient personality makes her a natural host. She is a co-presenter on the ‘Roots Rock and Reggae’ show on Newstyle Radio. “We do edutainment” explains Paulette, “we play music but we give out information as well – Caribbean news, black history, stuff about COVID.”

I’ve done a lot over 60 years.” Paulette exclaims. However, some of her favourite hosting moments were in Erdington. She hosted the Christmas Lights Switch On and the Erdington Community Festival in Rookery Park, both events facilitated by the Erdington Arts Forum.

Paulette is also a staple part of the Arts Forum’s monthly Evening of Creativity, saying she loves “introducing the locals – giving them a round of applause.”

For more on Black History Month in Birmingham, visit www.birminghamblackhistorymonth.co.uk

I’ve Landed, by Empress P, is out now – available to purchase from Waterstones or Amazon. The album will soon be available on Spotify.

Paulette/Empress P will be hosting the Evening of Creativity: Black History Month special in Erdington at Oikos Café on the 16th October. Tickets will be available through Eventbrite – for updates and information, visit www.facebook.com/ErdingtonArts

You can listen to Newstyle Radio’s ‘Roots, Rock and Reggae show’ with Tony Roots featuring Empress P on Wednesdays 8-10pm on 98.7FM – for more on Newstyle Radio, visit www.newstyleradio.co.uk 

Please follow and like us:

LOCAL PROFILE: Ben Jeffery – Oikos Café & Church

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Yellow Mustard photography

Oikos Café (part of Oikos Church) on Erdington High Street has brought an alternative vibe to the local area – one of high quality coffee, work meetings, and evening events which one might see in ‘swanky’ areas of London. Ben Jeffery is Oikos‘s centre manager, as well as a founding member of the Oikos Church.

Prior to managing the café full time, Ben was a technical sales manager for a chemical company: “I travelled all over the country, in a nice company car, selling specialist chemicals to companies.” After what he described as a religious ‘calling’, he started to manage the café one year after it was founded.

Ben explains that Oikosstarted as a house church over in Short Heath road.”

The pastor of the church, Jez Dearing, would host Christian gatherings in his house until they started renting a YMCA hall on Sundays on Turftpits Lane. They finally settled with the building they have now: “We felt God call us to have a presence on the high street – to have a bigger presence in the community.” Previously a furniture store, the building was eight years “totally derelict. This was just a shell. Front staircase, toilets, telephone, internet, central heating, office – literally it had nothing.”

If you visit the church-come-café, you would be forgiven for not thinking of it as a religious building. The lack of crosses, biblical quotes, ‘smells and bells’ is no accident – nor a mere symptom of the Oikos Church‘s ‘low church’ style, but rather a conscious effort. As Ben explains: “We wanted to make the barrier to entry (into the church) as low as possible”, believing that “in a post-Christian culture, one of the hardest challenges a church faces is people stepping through the doors.”

Although now a staple feature of the high street, the café had to fight its corner to exist, as Ben explains: “there was a lot of opposition from councillors who wrote to residents to try to oppose us opening a café.” Although forgivingly he states that “it probably came out of not understanding what we were about or what we wanted to do.”

A café in the day, Oikos is also available for hire by organisations who want to use the space. Ben lists the “Evening of Creativity, Nikki Tapper’s ‘Tapper Talks’, organisations like Urban Devotion, the GAP from Sutton, and wedding receptions” as those that they welcome and support. There was a local couple that wanted their reception in the café because of its central location, “because they love Erdington so much” as Ben earnestly tells.

Ben enjoys strong relationships with the organisations and partners who use the space: “It’s really important to get to know people – that process takes time.”

With the café very much at the heart of Ben’s day to day operations, he explains that he is “Constantly walking the tightrope between running the business of the café and wanting to do the missional work of the church”, referring to all of the jobs and trials he has to undertake as a business manager on a busy high street.

He tells: “the thing that drew me to the café was interaction with people. I’m naturally an extrovert by nature… There are a lot of people who come in here with interesting backgrounds and current things they want to talk about and share.”

Oikos had to transform itself as a church during lockdown. Their regular Sunday morning service, called “a gathering”, was closed for five months to the public from March until August. “We livestreamed a full service every Sunday,” tells Ben, “it wasn’t just like a quick Zoom call or a 20 minute sermon. We were very blessed to have somebody who does this as a job (livestreaming) and has the equipment.”

Ben explains that lockdown has really taken its toll on the emotional strength of the Oikos community: “Oikos means family – family is a big thing for us as a church. It’s very weird when you can’t physically meet or be together. That’s not what families do, right?

We ‘feel’ that distance between people growing because they’re not able to be with each other in quite the same way.”

Despite five months of relative hardship, Ben’s eyes are set on making Oikosa real part of making and helping things that go on in this community,” and remarks that “it’s something we still need to ‘grow in’.”

With a Costa now opened in Erdington, as well as new plans for the high street regeneration fund, Ben can still rely on Oikos‘s strong, reliable customer base moving forward – with people of all faiths enjoying the café and all the events it has to offer.

To find out more about Oikos Café, visit www.oikoscafe.co.uk

For more on Oikos Church, visit www.oikoschurch.co.uk

Please follow and like us:

LOCAL PROFILE: Joanne & Olivia Duggins

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics supplied by Joanne Duggins

During lockdown, many people came out to help those self-isolating and in need across the local area. Grandmother Joanne Duggins, 52, from Kingstanding, along with her granddaughter Olivia, 6, were amongst them – making a rather unique duo, bringing a tale of cross-generation inspiration to the people of Erdington.

Catering Assistant at King Edward VI Handsworth School for Girls, Joanne made the transition from feeding hungry students to voluntary food deliveries during the COVID-19 crisis – assisting first via the Erdington Community Volunteers (ECV) group, Joanne “started about a week after lockdown.” As the city’s plan to help the vulnerable became clearer, she went on to volunteer for The Active Wellbeing Society [TAWS], “packing of food parcels” as well as going on to “collect more food parcels, then do deliveries.”

Joanne and her granddaughter Olivia are almost inseparable, Joanne having taken care of Olivia almost every weekend since she was six months old: “I take her on holidays. We have a membership for the Think Tank in the city centre – I used to take her dancing.”

Treasuring those early golden memories, Joanne continues to support her granddaughter: “If I didn’t pick Olivia up from school, I wouldn’t see her as much.” But Joanne recognises the opportunity she has and the value of being with her constant companion: “I live on my own, so I have plenty of time to spend with her. I’m trying to make the most of her young years, really.

Joanne’s volunteering would have been curtailed by her grandmother-duties, until she realised that taking her granddaughter with her on deliveries would be a good bonding experience. Olivia, who was aged five at the time of lockdown, became the ECV’s youngest volunteer – even being awarded her own lanyard and t-shirt.

Having a five year old girl helping deliver to different places can also really make someone’s day from the doorstep. Olivia gave simple, powerful compliments, which she happily lists: “I like your house, I like your garden, I like your car!” Olivia estimates that she did a “thousand billion thousand” deliveries, and Joanne confirms that at one point they were delivering food to homes in Erdington “every day.”

Olivia chirps that one of her jobs was to ask people, “do you want another one (parcel) next week?” Her favourite place to deliver was a flat in Great Barr that had “a black and white cat” and a tantalizing set of “slide and swings” in the front garden. As Erdington Local met with Joanne and Olivia in a playground in Sutton Park, there was also some time to play – with Olivia disappearing to play and make friends.

It might be difficult to get her back,” joked Joanne.

The dynamic duo also made an impact on fellow volunteers, as co-founder and treasurer of the ECV, David Owen, tells Erdington Local: “Olivia’s an absolute star – she’ll make anyone smile.” He also recognises Joanne’s constant hard work: “Jo’s just one of those ladies – her heart’s as big as a bucket, but never feels like she’s doing enough.”

Asking Joanne in more detail about her experience delivering food and essential items during lockdown, she recounts visiting houses where “people don’t have a lot and are struggling. It used to upset me sometimes.” There was one repeat house wherein, “a young lad would open the door. There was rubbish in the garden, in the house, up the stairs. I wanted to take him home with me!”

On the other end of the spectrum, however, Joanne was irked by the houses with seemingly more wealth but were still taking food parcels: “one house had Audi 4x4s on the drive, they seemed brand new. I still delivered it (the food parcel) because I didn’t know the circumstances. I did feel sometimes people were taking advantage.”

Joanne wasn’t too happy with what seemed to be a PR stunt one day at Aston University, one of the main hubs where TAWS and ECV volunteers would gather for food deliveries: “This one day, all of a sudden they had all the students in from the university with proper t-shirts saying ‘we’re volunteers.’”

Upset by the fact that she and so many other volunteers from Erdington were helping out consistently, she said: “I thought ‘where have they been all this time?’ Later we found out it was because there was some sort of camera crew. You didn’t see them again afterwards!”

Nonetheless, when Erdington Local approached TAWS for a comment their Food Operation Duty Manager, Keith Cross, fondly remembers Joanne and Olivia: “Nothing was too much trouble for them. They were a smashing team, always bubbly, lots of stories, very entertaining. A pleasure to work with.”

Joanne and Olivia’s story is heart-warming and one of the silver linings to come from the COVID-19 crisis. To this day, Joanne continues to help with deliveries to people who are shielding.

However, as David Owen reminds Erdington Local: “We’ve had a bit of a lull over summer, but we’re due a hard winter – we’re not done yet,” referring to the volunteering that will still needed in the future.

With Olivia back at school and Joanne back at work, we may not see the grandmother and granddaughter team as part of the arsenal of volunteers any time soon. But theirs stands as an inspirational story that deserves to be celebrated.

To find out more about The Active Wellbeing Society, visit: www.theaws.co.uk

To find out more about the Erdington Community Volunteers, click here to visit the group’s official Facebook page: www.facebook.com/groups/625073991557017

If you need help accessing food and essential supplies, or with a range of other issues during the coronavirus crisis, please visit the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce database of local support services: www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19-local-support

Please follow and like us:

LOCAL PROFILE: Reuben Reynolds

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics supplied by Reuben Reynolds

Accomplished guitarist Reuben Reynolds, 29, has lived in Erdington for most of his life – one of many hidden talents in our local area.

Falling in love with the guitar around age 15, Reuben graduated from Coventry University with a ‘Professional Practice’ Music Degree. His earliest musical interests reflect his eclectic playing style: “Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, Green Day, Reggae music. These are like my early influences.”

Living in Erdington, but gigging all around the UK and abroad, Reuben has a hectic and varied life as a freelance musician. “My schedule is split between a few days teaching, performing, creative sessions, production, recording sessions dotted around.”

A travelling troubadour, Reuben teaches weekly outside of Birmingham – including at the Evelyn Grace Academy in Brixton and Uppingham School, a boarding school in East Midlands.

He also has private, one-to-one tuition with clients and is often booked for workshops, for a day or a few weeks, as a tutor. Teaching, for Reuben, is “rewarding” as it’s a chance “to connect with people who are less experienced, or people who are just coming up. It’s good for me because it keeps me connected with learning.”

A staple part of the music scene in Birmingham, Reuben has performed at many venues – big and small. He also works on a monthly event at Mama Roux’s in Digbeth called ‘The Unique Experience’, a regular showcase promoted by his longstanding musical partner Call Me Unique: “I would organise the band and lead the band, sometimes I wouldn’t even be playing! I tend to do a lot of house band events like that.”

In 2017 he performed at the world famous TED talks when the series came to Birmingham. He was the guitarist for Lumi HD – a Nigerian born, Birmingham-raised singer-songwriter, with a small ensemble. He’s no stranger to venues such as Town Hall or the Hippodrome, large music venues that can seat hundreds of spectators.

Reuben comments that his biggest audience was around 2000 people at the 02 Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London. Although he hasn’t been keeping score, giving a high quality performance no matter what the numbers on or off stage: “I try to play as if it doesn’t make a difference – It doesn’t matter if it’s 100 or 1000, I just play.”

Taking a piece of Erdington out into the world, Reuben has performed in France, The Netherlands, Poland, Bulgaria, Germany, and even North Carolina – playing as part of Soul or Gospel bands in various festival tours. He was due to tour in Germany this year, although this was cut due to COVID-19 – cancelled thanks to coronavirus, like a lot of his work.

Erdington Local previously spoke to Reuben about his thoughts on how musicians first responded to the coronavirus crisis – in our ‘Saturday night cabin fever’ feature, first published in April this year.

During the lockdown Reuben stayed positive, enjoying “more sleep”, a chance to reconnect with other creative projects, and to teach over Zoom. Now he notes a “significant loss of work” and especially bemoans the fact that he missed “summer – the most significant season for performing. He lost three weeks of work working with Punch Records too, where he was teaching up to ten students every day for three weeks.

But as lockdown eased and live music in the UK was able to resurface, albeit in a limited capacity, Reuben has been back gigging around Birmingham. Performing as part of a function band at Digbeth’s ‘Zumhof Biergarten’, Reuben laughs: “people aren’t allowed to dance – it’s a bit strange, when you’re playing song about dancing!”

Reuben also plays with a trio and was booked to play a series of quirky gigs in residential spaces in Handsworth this summer. Bringing music directly to the people, he performed in “open garden type areas outside people’s homes within earshot of their windows.” Residents were elated to be listening to live music from their balconies, performed in the open green space below. “I haven’t really done things like this before,” tells Reuben. “Lockdown has made people think of different ways to bring art to people.”

He was also booked to perform by the Erdington Arts Forum to support a family fun day in Erdington. With nothing but a gazebo, a battery powered amp, and vocalist Tavelah Robinson, Reuben’s makeshift duo were able to entertain kids with a two hour selection of upbeat music on Spring Lane Playing Fields – despite the unorthodox circumstances and unpredictable weather. Check out the video below.

When asked about the wider arts scene in Erdington, Reuben says: “I know about Oikos Café and the Secret Art Space Studios, but I feel like that’s all there is to know.” He acknowledges that “there’s a lot of musicians” but grieves that “there aren’t the type of venues that have live music, it seems. If you go up to Sutton (Coldfield) there’s seems to be more activity.”

Nonetheless, Reuben loves Erdington’s location in the country so he can gig anywhere, and the convenience of the high street.

By the sounds of things, Erdington isn’t going to lose this home-grown talent any time soon.

Reuben Reynolds and Tavelah Robinson @ Spring Lane Playing Fields

To find out more about Reuben Reynolds, visit www.instagram.com/reubzmusic

Please follow and like us:

LOCAL PROFILE: Dave Travers – Castle Vale Stadium

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Ed King

Castle Vale Stadium boasts three football pitches, a function room, bar, a maximum total capacity of 1500, and an enviable amount of parking. It is now owned by The Pioneer Group, who recently hired Dave Travers as the new stadium manager – coming into post just before lockdown.

An engineer for 30 years, “designing press tools and making components for aerospace companies, 50 year old Dave Travers leapt into stadia management some five years ago – as a keen volunteer at Boldmere St Michael’s Football Club. His aptitude swiftly led him to become full time as the commercial director for that club.

When I first joined [Boldmere] they had one adult team, one junior team. It became my job, and then when I left Boldmere St Michael’s they had over 60 teams playing under the St Michael’s banner.”

Now firmly on the Vale, Dave has encouraged two prominent local teams – Castle Vale Town and Romulus F.C. – to run their football training on the same evening, helping the sport to help itself.

To me, if you’re a club – this is what we did at Boldmere – you can have peer coaching. There’s nothing better than under 10s joining an under 8s session, and them trying to be a leader as such. It’s great experience for them.”

At its centre, Castle Vale Stadium houses a four year old ‘3G Artificial Turf’ pitch – allowing matches to be played “52 weeks of the year – the only thing that stops us from playing football on this is snow. If it’s windy, rainy, sunny, you can still play on this. It is a fabulous football pitch.” There are two further grass pitches that require regular maintenance, which can also be used for other field sports and events.

Looking to further drive the site’s revenue, Dave is yearning for the bar to be more accessible and recognised on the Vale: “I wouldn’t say the bar had any regulars at the moment, it’d be nice to encourage them.”

He wants the function room to be utilised and has already accepted an “over 50s men’s group,” for regular bookings.

On top of this, the newly appointed manager aims “to open the little hatch as a café for match days, although that might take a month or two to get off the ground.”

But football is at the heart of Castle Vale Stadium, on the pitch and off. As the centre becomes more popular post-lockdown, diving full throttle diving into the F.A. Cup, Dave anticipates larger crowds and the need for more helping hands.

Now we’re getting busy, the stadium actually needs more staff. Bar staff we’re looking for, and someone young and dynamic who wants to work under me and see the inner workings of a football stadium.”

Football is a sport with a passionate spectatorship, so it has been a challenge for Dave to keep people abiding to the two meter rule necessary to ensure safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. The stadium ensures that no more than six people sit next to each other in the same bubble.

But the stadium manager is pragmatic and he is resolute about safety: “you’ve just got to use your noggin,” says Dave, having to cope with ever changing guidelines, “we can only fit 25 people in the bar due to current regulations.”

Dave’s concentration is also set on preparation for the F.A. cup season. “The beginning of the season is very stressful. Now is the busy time as you have to get all schedules in,” he tells, sounding jubilant about the match between Romulus F.C. and Coventry Sphinx later that night.

Tonight’s the first round of the FA cup. To get to the final – most boys dream about playing in the F.A. cup sometimes – as daft as it seems, they’re only 13 games from being away from the F.A. cup final.”

Whilst the weekly fixtures and management at Castle Vale Stadium will take up a lot of Dave’s time, his soul is still with the community.

He wants to plan a fun day in “July next year… Fields sports, general sports, family facilities where you can play rounders.” He fondly reminisces about times he dressed up as a clown and as Santa Claus for various family fun days in his previous role at Boldmere St Michael’s.

Whilst Dave quips with a wry smile that he’d “rather just be watching football”, his passion for organisation for the ‘The Beautiful Game’ is palpable.

Asking him what it takes to do his role, he responds: “It’s everything, isn’t it? There’s the financial planning, pitch planning, customer liaison – it takes in a hell of a lot of spheres. You have to have a thick skin as well.”

To find out more about Castle Vale Stadium, visit www.castlevalestadium.co.uk 

For more from The Pioneer Group, visit www.pioneergroup.org.uk

Please follow and like us:

LOCAL PROFILE: Rev. Emma Sykes – St Barnabas Church

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Words by Ed King

Rev. Emma Sykes is the vicar for St Barnabas Church, Erdington – the Anglican Church in the heart of Erdington High Street.

Originally from Wiltshire, Emma is familiar to Birmingham, previously working for local charities empowering young people, homeless charities, and for UK Youth Parliament. She was ordained in Birmingham in 2008 and, as part of her religious training, served as curate of St Martin in the Bull Ring.

Emma was announced as vicar of St Barnabas Erdington one week before the COVID-19 lockdown came into force on March 23rd. Like most people in the UK at that time she had to work remotely, and the Church of England had a rather unorthodox method of licencing her as incumbent of the church.

I was licensed via Zoom. We had a simple service, with the church wardens there, Bishop Ann of Aston, with some prayers, all over Zoom. A very unusual start to the job.”

Emma confidently launched into her spiritual leadership embracing remote working. “Straight away I started to do online video reflections and prayer that would go out every Sunday. I couldn’t access the church building at all, so I would do these from home.”

St Barnabas Church is now open with regular holy communion services on a Sunday, as well as operating a live stream for people shielding, and is open for private prayer during the week. The service includes live church organ, although Emma bemoans the current government guidelines that “we’re not allowed to sing at the moment. It’s frustrating for all of us!”

As well as leading the church’s rich spiritual life, Emma is in charge of the business side of the busy St Barnabas Church Centre – which includes the Harbour Café and conference rooms. Emma’s first few weeks in post consisted of “sorting out finances, getting up to speed with furloughing, how to reopen as a café.”

Now measures have eased, Emma is working on other plans to help her flock in Erdington. “Our café is well used, but I want to reshape it properly into a community café.” She wants to encourage “different agencies to use the café,” especially those helping with problems of “drug abuse, domestic violence and homelessness.

Whilst living not too far away in Boldmere, Sutton Coldfield, Emma notes that she’s “really enjoyed getting to know Erdington. Especially the community aspect. I love all the energy for the area, the passion for the area, it’s great to be involved in that.” She has been working closely with other church leaders in the Greater Erdington Partners group.

The Grade II listed building of St Barnabas has been a place of worship since 1824, although was severely damaged in a fire in 2007. Emma sings the praises of the previous vicar, Rev. Freda Evans, who left the parish in January 2018 and oversaw the rebuilding of the church.

Emma was impressed with “the sense of light, space and sanctuary. You get the sense that it is a safe harbour,” – all of the Church’s stained glass windows and roof were destroyed, with only the outer walls and the bell tower remaining. “I love the sense of continuity” in the church architecture, tells Emma, “honouring the old but bringing in the new.”

One of Emma’s current church projects is tackling the unkempt churchyard, which includes the graveyard. “I was very aware when I arrived that the church yard needs regenerating. We have a lot of antisocial behaviour in the church yard, which has been compounded by lockdown.” She wants to turn the churchyard into a “peaceful place where people can come and reflect and sit in God’s creation,” as well as “honour the memory of those who have died.”

The church is in the process of setting up the ‘Friends of St Barnabas Churchyard’, a fully constituted group consisting of people from the Erdington Historical Society, councillors and local police, to map out the churchyard graves – including war graves and commonwealth graves.

We’re waiting to hear more on the 5 million pound regeneration fund, as that will affect what we can do.”

Rev. Emma Sykes is yet to have her ‘installation’ service. The date has not yet been decided and will most likely take place in 2021 when the coronavirus pandemic has eased.

Emma welcomes everybody to take part and celebrate her officially as vicar of St Barnabas Erdington in the Church of England.

To find out more about St Barnabas Church, visit www.stbarnabaserdington.org.uk

Please follow and like us:

LOCAL PROFILE: Saba Malik

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Ed King & Saba Malik

Saba Malik moved to Erdington some two years ago with her husband Adeel Bajwa and three children. In normal circumstances she would be working as a secondary school science teacher. During lockdown, she took to volunteering to help the vulnerable in our community.

Saba is part of the Ahmadiyya Muslim faith – a movement founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, formed officially in Punjab in 1889 – and does community work through the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association (AMWA) in Erdington. Ahmadiyya Muslims are a unique and worldwide religious movement outside of the more well-known Sunni or Shia faiths, with 144 ‘branches’ across the UK alone.

Initially, the AMWA didn’t cope well with the monotony of lockdown: “they are used to having about 20 people over every weekend,” says Saba. Better at cooking potatoes rather than being couch potatoes, Saba galvanized the team of about 25 women into cooking up hot meals for vulnerable people around Birmingham, but especially in the Erdington Community. “Why not?”, explains Saba, “this is using skills, resources, something they can do, so we got in contact with those ladies and they’re more than happy – we got a bit of a rota going now.”

The AMWA joined up with Birmingham Community Solidarity group, which was set up very quickly in response to the announcement of lockdown on March 23rd – the group acts as sign posting for people with free time wanting to help those in need, with Saba becoming a key part in their delivery work in North Birmingham.

Always humble, she notes that “there’s amazing charities out there and organisations. We have a really good COVID-19 response as well in Erdington with the food deliveries.”

Helping those in need is a family affair for the Malik-Bajwas. Saba has created more than 50 protective masks at home using her sewing machine, and explains how her son, Yousuf, “wanted to learn to sow after he saw me on the machine for two days – and I thought, ‘good these are the things you learn!… I’m grateful we can share this with our children.”

But the Malik-Bajwa’s family approach didn’t stop there. “The littlest one has got a fan base of her own,” explains Saba – referring to Ayla, her youngest daughter, who has been writing letters and creating artwork for those people receiving regular food packages.

She can’t write completely! When I give deliveries, she comes with me. She just makes cards. She’ll write ‘I love you’ to whoever it is, and draw a picture, she puts it in an envelope, goes into the study, finds an envelope herself and decorates it.”

These simple acts of kindness can go a long way. As a proud mother, Saba recounts that “there are some who are completely on their own and they’re isolating, and it really makes their day. It breaks my heart when they tell me that they stare at her cards all day and it makes them feel happy, or they’ve got them on their fridge. If it makes them feel happy it’s good. I tell her ‘it’s so nice that you’re sharing your talent. It’s the cycle of wellbeing.”

But whilst volunteering efforts can be noble, they aren’t always appreciated. Not at first, anyway, as Saba recalls a situation where one of the women she met became suspicious of her appearance – noticeably the headscarf she was wearing at the time.

You know you are right,” explains Saba, “because one of the women I met first…. she spoke to me after and said ‘when you turned up… I don’t wanna be offensive, I don’t wanna get anything wrong. But you had this a scarf on your head, you had this mask on your face… and I just thought, who is this person who’s come to me’?”

Headscarf,” Saba laughed, politely correcting the mistake. And after talking some more, the woman admitted: “I never felt like I’ve ever discriminated, but without realising that’s what I felt when I saw you… she felt bad about it after, and we’re really good friends now. But that’s how you break down barriers sometimes, and it works both ways.”

But it’s not all about the hearts and minds when it comes to community action, someone has to do the paperwork – and admin queen Saba Malik keeps a keen record of all that the ladies group do. To date the Birmingham North branch of Ahmadiyya Muslims have distributed 200 meals, delivered 340 PPE masks, and are in constant contact with families across the constituency: “who have been 100% supported through donations and cooked food.”  

Now the lockdown pressures easing, Saba reflects on her time over the past couple of months. “It’s been long weeks of lockdown. I don’t want to open my diary,” she jokes. Always comparing her family to those less fortunate, Saba continues, “we’re just incredibly grateful it’s not been as challenging for us.”

Volunteer efforts, like Saba’s and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association, have been integral to helping people cope during the coronavirus pandemic – with faith and community groups working together to help their friends and neighbours. This phenomenal show of strength and community action has alleviated the anguish of lockdown for thousands across Erdington, much of which is unseen and unreported.

But the message that runs though many of the groups who are out there serving the community, is inclusivity – regardless of faith, age, status, or standing, now is the time to help. And as the web address and strap line for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association declares, ‘Love for all, hatred for none.’

Words Saba Malik underlines, clearly and confidently, when asked about the people her group want to reach out to and help: “…any religion, it’s irrelevant.”

To find out more about the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community UK, visit www.loveforallhatredfornone.org/

Please follow and like us:

LOCAL PROFILE: Reverend Gerard Goshawk

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Ed King

Reverend Gerard Goshawk has been a Baptist minister for “probably about 18 years.” Working first as a lay pastor, he became a full time pastor 13 years ago – finding his way to Six Ways Baptist Church after coming “from Nottingham, and it’s been brilliant. I love Erdington.”

But the ‘new normal’ created by the coronavirus crisis has established new ways of working, socialising, and even worshipping – as everywhere from classrooms to congregations have been subject to physical and social distancing restrictions.

Reverend Goshawk’s working week before lockdown “was a different rhythm. It was more based with things happening up at Six Ways Baptist Church. The different groups, activities we had there, being around for those, and visiting people – and lots of meetings, meetings, meetings! Lots of worship based at the church, and (the Erdington) foodbank based at the church.”

An important part of the community, the Erdington Foodbank is based at Six Ways Baptist Church – providing ‘three days nutritionally balanced emergency food and support to local people who are referred to us in crisis.’

But during the COVID-19 pandemic, The Trussell Trust – who support the Erdington Foodbank – have seen usage across their UK network increase by 89% from April 2019 to April 2020. For Reverend Goshawk, his active role helping the people who need access to food has become even more pertinent.

Although reaching his congregation was also a concern, as places of worship across the country were completely closed during the coronavirus lockdown. “It’s been a big learning process,” explains Reverend Goshawk, as social media became the most viable method of communication with people in self-isolation.

We have a service on YouTube that we pre-record for each Sunday, that goes out… I do some Daily devotions on Facebook live each day and I send them out on a WhatsApp list as well. That’s Monday to Friday.

Then, we also have a zoom fellowship – a service on a Sunday where most people that can do that get together. That’s been really great and we’ve kinda adapted to how we do that.”

Excited by the prospect of this new normal, Reverend Goshawk notes that “there’s statistics out there about people who have not done church before but are watching church services online. There’s a whole new field of people out there who are being reached, and in our small way, Erdington is part of that.”

But while he can’t yet meet his congregation at church, Reverend Goshawk still goes out to members where they live – spending a lot of his time “cycling round Erdington, delivering news sheets, written information for people as well… because we have… 25 people in our church not connected on the Internet.”

There’s even a chance for prayer, as Reverend Goshawk finds himself “sometimes praying with people on their doorstep… 2 meters away.”

Places of worship are now set to open for private prayer in England from the 15th June, and Reverend Goshawk is preparing for “coming out of lockdown, as of next week. We’ll be able to open up for people to come in just for quiet prayer, socially distanced and everything.”

But like many businesses and social groups in the UK, Six Ways Baptist Church has seen how some engagements are actually better off being at least partly conducted online.

We wouldn’t want to be losing all the new things that we’ve done,” tells Reverend Goshawk, “because we are reaching different people in different ways, you know.

Sometimes I used to do a bible study for a very small number of people who would turn up on a Sunday evening at the church – on a cold winter’s evening, about four faithful people perhaps sometimes just turning up. And now we’re in double figures every time and growing with the number of people that will come to bible study [via zoom].

I believe we’re made by God to connect with each other and to be alongside each other. I think we will still do lots of things online. It would be a shame to lose that experience and that benefit that we had. It just means a bit more work!”

Outside of the coronavirus crisis, and the changes Reverend Goshawk has made to stay in touch with his immediate community, Six Ways Baptist Church has received recognition for its hard work helping migrants and asylum seekers.

Reverend Goshawk is also the chair of the group Everyone Erdington, which celebrates diversity, and in the past has organised “get togethers”, lunches, and festivals specifically inviting people from different backgrounds. And whilst institutionalised racism is a constant concern, affecting communities worldwide, following the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota people and protest have risen up across the globe in solidarity.

Our church at six ways is a black majority church,” explains Reverend Goshawk. “I don’t really feel equipped to speak on behalf of people that would identify themselves as black. But the response has been deep… actually looking at the practical ways that we as a church can make a difference for ourselves and for this community to actually be part of that transformation.

That exciting change that seems to be out there as a possibility at the moment. There’s a whole range of feelings about it. One of those, the more positive thing about it, there’s a move that’s happening. It does feel like there’s potential for real change.”

Reverend Gerard Goshawk is pastor at Six Ways Baptist Church. To find out more about the church, visit: www.sixwayserdington.org.uk

For more on the Everyone Erdington Facebook group, visit: www.facebook.com/EveryoneErdington

For more on the Erdington Foodbank, including information on how to access provision or to make a donation, visit: www.erdington.foodbank.org.uk

Please follow and like us: