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

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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

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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

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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

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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/

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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

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LOCAL PROFILE: Jo Bull – founder of the ‘Erdington local community response to COVID-19’ Facebook group

Words by Terri-Anne Fell / Pic courtesy of Jo Bull

Jo Bull has been living in Erdington for 13 years. Since she was a teenager, she has been creating handmade cards which she sells to raise money for Erdington’s YMCA. Itching to be a part of her community, Jo volunteers as a peer lead for mental health service users in the area, encouraging vulnerable people to create friendships and gain creative skills they wouldn’t normally have.

When the COVID-19 lockdown began, Jo realised very quickly that services she and many others turned to in their hour of need would have to close – so she took to Facebook to look for an online community she could be a part of, to help in any way she could.

Noticing other areas in Birmingham had created response groups, Jo created the Erdington Community Response to COVID-19 Facebook group. Since its inception last month, the group has amassed over 600 members. Currently, the group has supported over 400 households and has 63 active volunteers.

Jo’s role in the group is to provide online support to people who need somebody to talk to, and she signposts to services she knows can help vulnerable people.

Erdington Local is proud to recognise and celebrate Jo Bull – a fantastic member of our community and a well-deserved Erdington Local Hero.

____________

EL: What’s your relationship with Erdington, how long have you lived/worked in the area?
Jo: I’ve lived in Erdington for 13 years; I live on Watt road and it’s the longest I’ve stayed in one place.  I moved here in 2007, just after theological college, where my first job was working in Erdington Job Centre for the Department of Work & Pensions. I remember noticing when I started working at the Job centre that almost all of my colleagues didn’t live locally. They all thought it was strange that I did!

EL: If you could shout about something in Erdington so loud the whole of Birmingham could hear, what would it be?               
Jo: Eden Café. It’s my favourite.  They are fab. They’ve been open for about three years and are attached to the YMCA. It’s just a really nice place to visit and to be a part of. I always have a latte, and any day they have good cake is my favourite day! They are friendly and have quite a few regulars who like me have various issues and disabilities. They are good at getting to know their people and catering to all of our little quirks.

EL: In your spare time, you’ve been creating handmade cards. How long have you been doing this for?
Jo: I’ve been making cards since I was a teenager. I’m 42, so I started nearly 30 years ago as I got really frustrated with finding the perfect card in the shop. I’d open them and find they’d say things inside that had nothing to do with the person I was sending it to! I thought because I can’t find what I want, I’d just do it myself. They sell my cards in Eden Café, and the profits from sales go to the YMCA.

EL: Whilst the UK is in lockdown, you’ve set up the Erdington Local Community Response to COVID-19 Facebook Group, what made you want to set up the group?
Jo: As the UK went in to lockdown I realised everything I was a part of in the community would be stopped, which made me feel absolutely devastated and lost. I thought to myself that people in Birmingham are going to need a way to talk to each other, people were setting up local COVID-19 groups and someone asked me if there was one in Erdington. There wasn’t, so I made one.

EL: Did you anticipate the group would gain the traction it has?
Jo: I wasn’t expecting people to join. To start off with I just added people I knew from the day centre and gave the link to a few people who were asking for it. For the first two days I was the only one posting anything; I was a little bit gutted so I went away for a few hours and when I came back to the group there were 30 people wanting to join, it was like the cavalry coming in. I didn’t know who they were, and they didn’t know me, we all just wanted to help.

EL: How have you managed to keep the support consistent as the group has grown?
Jo: As the group was growing, I realised I couldn’t be the only admin. I didn’t know if my mental health would hold out and if I got sick I didn’t want to leave people on their own in the group. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have all the other admins.

EL: In the group you’ve said you mostly provide online support for people who may be struggling with their mental health, why did you decide to take on this role?
Jo: At the day centre, I volunteer as a peer lead for mental health service users. So, I worked out with the other admins that it was OK for anyone to chat with me if they needed an emotional offload.  You never know who you are coming in to contact with when on deliveries and you may meet really vulnerable people and not know what to do.

I’ve spoken to people who have been really suffering whilst in lockdown, and people have come to the group saying they don’t know whether they’ll be able to get through this. I’ve found I’m able to signpost people to organisations that will be able to help them easily and I’m great at being able to motivate people.

EL: Speaking of motivating people, you’ve been using your handmade cards to spread joy to volunteers in the group. One of our writers received a card and it was so lovely!
Jo: I seem to be chief card maker for the group,  I’ve already given cards to people who have helped me personally during lockdown, but David (Owen) had the idea of sending every volunteer a thank you card and I did 23 cards – one for every active volunteer at the time.  I thought my hand was going to fall off, I wrote a proper message in all of them. They are all working hard and they deserved a handwritten personalised thank you.

EL: As the person who created the Erdington COVID-19 Community Response group, do you think other organisations in the area are doing enough to help the fight against coronavirus?
Jo: I think it is phenomenal that people are able to do anything; however much we do I think there will always be something that still needs to be done, we can’t fix everything. I would say, are we all going to bed having done what we can today?

If we focus on what we are doing and what we have done, rather than what can be done, then we are likely to help more people. We do what we can, and not what we can’t. As long as I know people are getting help, I’m happy.

To visit the Erdington local community response to COVID-19 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 your details to 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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