LOCAL PROFILE: Niall Farrell

Kingstanding boxer Niall Farrell is preparing to represent his country in the England Boxing squad at the Commonwealth Games 2022, pegged by many as serious contender to bring back the gold.

Erdington Local caught up with Naill in the middle of his rigorous training schedule and ahead of his first fight scheduled on Monday, 1 August – at the NEC Hall 4, from 6:30pm onward.

Kingstanding boxer Niall Farrell is planning to bring a Commonwealth Games gold medal back to Kingstanding. Named in the England team for his hometown games, Niall is working around the clock to ensure he leaves nothing in the ring at the NEC.

He trains during the week in the GB Boxing facility in Sheffield and then during the weekend he can be found in the ring in Kingstanding’s Second City Suite with his dad.

The 24-year-old has been boxing for his country since he was 15 but had a nightmare few years with injuries.

He told Erdington Local: “I had to have three operations in three years on my hands. I saw then what my life would be without boxing and I did not like what I see.

“But I believe I have come out the other side of it stronger, I feel fitter than ever and am glad I got through all those injuries; it was tough physically and mentally but I’m ready to go now.

“That is why I am giving everything now. I have always had a great work ethic, I want to show the kids of Kingstanding that if you work hard then anything is possible, in and out of the ring.”

Niall could be one of the standout stars of the Commonwealth Games, being from Birmingham and in real contention for a gold medal.

He said: “I know I can beat anyone in the world on my day so I am planning on winning gold. I’ve already had ITV get in touch; they want to come to the club.

“I want them to be there when I come back to Kingstanding with a gold medal, imagine what a party that will be in Kingstanding!”

He added: “I am all about Birmingham, I always have been, I love my hometown so to be fighting at the NEC, which I remember going to see a concert with my family, is a dream come true.

“If you are a proper Brummie you love the city, you live here, so seeing the Commonwealth Games in basically my back garden is going to be unforgettable.”

However, Niall will not be staying at home during the Games as he wants to be close to the England boxing team.

He added: “There is not a more individual sport in the world than boxing, you are in that ring alone. But it also a team sport too because of all the support we give each other.

“I am going to be staying in the athlete’s village with the rest of the team, we are coming to take over and I want to be part of every moment.

“I want support my fellow boxers every step of the way.”

Niall is also keen to use the connections he has made in boxing and his rising profile to help others.

He said: “I’ve met a lot of interesting people and made connections through GB Boxing, so want to use that to do some good. I run my own charity, Support Futures, and I am patron for the Good Shepherd charity.

“I also want to be a good example for the kids of Kingstanding. I think the best way to do that is lead by example, by working hard, showing discipline. I take time to talk to the kids; boxing can change lives and I will always try and show what can be done.”

Niall is looking forward to fighting in front of his friends and family at the NEC, and it will take four or five fights to clinch the gold medal. However, he also knows the Second City Suite will be packed every time he fights.

He said: “My fights should be on TV so I know the place will be absolutely rammed on fight days. It will be the place to be that’s for sure.

“This could be the biggest few weeks of my life and I want everyone to know I will be giving everything to win that gold medal.”

For more on Niall Farrell visit: www.teamengland.org/news/generation-22-niall-farrell

For more on Second City Boxing visit: www.facebook.com/Second-City-Boxing-Club-316607835888890/

For the daily schedule for boxing and all sporting events at the Commonwealth Games 2022 visit: www.birmingham2022.com/schedule/day-by-day

LOCAL PROFILE: Jess Brown – Illustrator, Damsels Don’t Wear Glasses

Words and photos by Bianca Pirvuneanu

Born, bred, schooled, and fed in Erdington, Jess Brown is the fantastic mind behind the Damsels Don’t Wear Glasses website, as series of online graphic novels and digital comics with dark humour and kick ass protagonists.

Recently exhibiting her work at the Love Erdington Festival, as curated by Arts All Over the Place, Jess’s dark imaginings and strong characters were a bit hit throughout the weeklong showcase. Erdington Local caught up with Jess to learn more about her inspirations and ambitions.

You grew up in Erdington, going to school here – were you creative in the classroom too?

“I went to Yenton Primary School. From what I remember I didn’t do too well at a lot of classes, but I did manage to excel at things like art and poetry (even if my spelling was extremely bad).” 

What inspired you to get into illustration, and what were your first creations like?

“Honestly, I wanted to become a writer. I’ve always wanted to tell stories, but in a more visual way than just the written word. I love comics, animation, and games a lot. So drawing was always a way to convey the stories I wanted to tell.

“My first creations live in a long forgotten sketch book somewhere. I’d like to say they were baby’s first masterpieces, but honesty…? Probably a lot of Sailor Moon tracing.” 

Your stories are very evolved, with a ‘cast’ of characters living in their own new worlds; where did the inspiration for these come from?

“From my childhood, which consisted of a lot of VHS tapes (Disney, straight to home video animated movies), video games (J RPGs, Action Adventure games) and other comics (a lot of manga).

“I’d like to say I did a lot of reading as a kid to, but I didn’t. Though there are a number of authors that did inspire me in my teen and adult life – Terry Pratchett.

“I’ve always liked mix genres like urban fantasy, or horror sci-fi, stuff that’s hard to pin down but gives you a lot of creative room to explore stuff outside of general story conventions.

“I think a lot of creative people who ‘world build’ do it to explore things that don’t get explored in the stories they liked (or maybe stories they didn’t like). Especially when it comes to characters, at least that’s what got me started. Wanting to tell the story you’d want to read is cliché, but true.”

On your social media you talk about your ADHD, calling ‘your brain like soap that refuses to be gripped’. Is your artwork important to your health and wellbeing?

“Yes, I would say, art is important for me to stay in focused because ADHD makes me hard to keep focus at one thing in a time and it helps set a routine for me.

“It can be hard to start into something, like normal people can just stand up and say, ‘OK I’m going to do this right now,’ and for some reasons my brain is like ‘no you can’t do that.’ I do something for like 10 minutes and then I stop and then I do it again for 20 minutes or an hour and is important to taking many breaks for recharge.”

You mentioned you are working on a children’s story; can you tell us any more about that?

Ah yeah, it’s my next project. Working title is Knight’s Folly. It’s about a little girl who enters an enchanted forest to become a witch, with the help of a monstrous looking knight. It’s going to be aimed at kids and young adults.

“I’m a little hesitant to describe the story as traditional fantasy, but movies like The Dark Crystal and The Never Ending Story are big inspirations. It’s still bare bones at present but I’m developing the script and am hoping to maybe get it professionally published.”

You also mentioned you write narratives for phone games; can you tell us any more about that? 

“Not much to tell really, my job title is usually ‘Narrative Writer’ or ‘Narrative Director’. My role tends to be writing the stories and creating character scenarios for the games I’m brought in on.

“My last job involved writing a choose-your-own-adventure style narrative using a new app. There’s also the general writing that goes into some of these games, like item descriptions and so on. Someone’s got to write all those little blurbs, right? That’s usually me.”  

Where would you like your artwork to take you next?

“I want to be financially secure; and I am thinking of trying to do some 3D modelling, as a hobby.”

For more on Jess Brown and a full online archive of her graphic novels and comic visit www.damsels-dont-wear-glasses.com

LOCAL PROFILE: Judy Tullett

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Ed King

Working in housing for 50 years, Judy Tullett is currently the Community Support Officer for Spitfire Services, Castle Vale.

Known for her work with the social enterprise Upcycle Birmingham and the profitable asset management transfer of Castle Pool, Judy has managed a portfolio of successful endeavours.

Erdington Local caught up with the prominent project manager to find out what inspired her community focus.

Judy was born in the historic town of Bodmin, Cornwall, and graduated from Swansea University with a degree in economics and social sciences.

In 1973, she moved to Birmingham for a course with Birmingham City Council in Housing Management Training.

“It wasn’t as common in those days for a woman to go to University,” remarked Judy. “I worked in environmental health, at a depo, all various different divisions of the housing department. It was a really good grounding.”

After working for Birmingham City Council, Judy did a stint at Tamworth Borough Council’s housing department but soon became “quite frustrated with the local authority set up” – moving to a job with the housing association Trident Group. There she worked on many projects, establishing the first ‘youth foyer’ in Birmingham, a type of housing for people aged 16-25.

“I always think if I didn’t work for Trident I wouldn’t get to work on so many exciting projects,” told Judy. “In your working life – and I’ve been working 50 years – you come across inspirational people.

“I had a role model in an inspiration chief exec at Trident called Nick Morton. I learned so much from him about risk and project management, how to develop something from nothing. He used to say to me ‘if you talk about something long enough, often enough, it will happen’”.

Judy’s role in housing led her to work alongside the Home Office on a special project to support Birmingham’s older Chinese community: “The home office had established there were loads of older Chinese people who could no longer live with their families, that now needed to have supportive elderly accommodation.

“I met amazing people, had to do all sorts of research, getting involved with Chinese networks in Birmingham.”

Working across cultures was something Judy developed a knack for, finding herself in a pivotal role supporting Japanese Toyota engineers who moved to the UK in the mid-90s.

“Japanese people have a completely different culture to the Chinese,” remembered Judy. “We had to learn things that would make the development successful and create an environment of trust. They would call me ‘Judy-san’.”

Judy’s other passion in life is swimming. Erdington Local featured her work with Castle Pool in an article last August, exploring the local authority asset transfer that turned the failing council run swimming baths into a ‘national success story’ run by local residents.

Judy herself is a swimming instructor and she has travelled to competitions in Cyprus, Dubai, France, Tenerife, Spain, and Malta. Judy became a grandmother in March and is looking forward to “teaching our Sienna to swim when she is old enough.”

About to reach the age of 70, Judy explains she has no intention of stopping: “I did try retirement when I was about 65. It wasn’t for me. I found it a difficult challenge. I empathise with people who retire and then think ‘oh, what happens next?’”

In her work for Spitfire Services a lot of Judy’s tasks revolve around Upcycle Birmingham – a charitable initiative set up “to solve the conundrum of people who wanted to get rid of household goods and furniture, and to help poorer families who had just moved to the Vale who didn’t have those things.”

Having been based at Castle Vale Business Park from inception, Upcycle has since moved to St Gerard’s old social club building.

One of the downsides of working at an Upcycle is supressing the inner hoarder. “It is a danger at working in these sort of projects that you take things home you don’t need,” Judy admits.

“We received a Georgian-style side table, painted by one of our volunteers. I thought I’ve got to have that; it would fit nicely in the hall with a few family photos. Although I am under strict instructions from my husband who says: ‘don’t start bringing any more stuff home.’”

Lockdown was difficult for Upcycle as they couldn’t take a lot of donations, having to sanitise and quarantine those that they did.

But as restrictions ease and places start to open again Judy has two words to get the business back up and running: ‘sales’ and ‘donations.’ And never one to rest for too long, Judy’s next mission is to set up a community café from Upcycle which is looking to open in July this year.

“We get regular customers that come in every day,” told Judy. “I can’t wait until they can have a mooch, and then have a brew.”

For more on Upcycle visit www.upcyclebirmingham.org.uk

LOCAL PROFILE: Pastor Rasaq Ibrahim

Words by Jobe Baker Sullivan

Rasaq Ibrahim is lead pastor at the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) in Erdington, which formed its first congregation 13 years ago last month. He is also vice chair of Erdington Churches Together, treasurer of Erdington Food Bank, and has recently launched the Street Pastors scheme in Erdington.

Erdington Local caught up with the prolific pastor to learn more about his life and community work across the constituency.

Now in his late 50s, Rasaq Ibrahim is originally from Lagos, Nigeria – born into a Muslim family, he and his father converted in Rasaq’s early life. He trained as a chartered accountant, achieving a first from University of Lagos and a master’s in accountancy and finance at Birmingham City University.

Whilst successful in his studies, Rasaq worked hard at his education: “In Africa, you are either rich or poor – no middle class. I’m from a poor family. I really went through a lot. I struggled to come out of the woodwork, to become somebody.”

Moving to the UK in 2005 under the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme, Rasaq Ibrahim came to Britain: “because of my children. I was doing work in Nigeria, I was okay. I became a Chief Inspector for banks, gained a senior career.

“But I wanted my family to have a better future and education. I didn’t want my two boys to go through what I went through.”

Helping to establish the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) in Erdington in 2008, Rasaq Ibrahim was ordained as a pastor the following year. Originally founded in 1952 in Lagos, RCCG now has over 5 million members worldwide – Pastor Rasaq explains the church’s humble Birmingham beginnings.

“We started at the old swimming baths. After about eight months, we moved to Six Ways Baptist Church and were based there for 10 years.

“We would be there praying, having our service in the afternoon, and then raised some funds for our own church building. The Christadelphian Hall in Erdington was closing down, so went to the housing market to bid for the building – and now we are based there, on Orphanage Road.”

With 100 adult members in Erdington, RCCG has also founded three further ‘Church plants’ across Birmingham – wherein other Christian churches in the same denomination are created thanks to the mother church.

“We are a friendly, family church where everyone is welcome,” explained Pastor Rasaq. “We’re a Pentecostal, evangelical church – we want to show the love of Christ. We show this through our lives, not just through the things that we say.

“We gave birth to RCCG Kingstanding, Sheldon, and our Bulgarian Church.”

With many churches relying on the gathering of people to one place, the coronavirus crisis and lockdowns have drastically affected how they reach their congregation.

The RCCG has continued to meet where it is safe and legal to do so, but also adopted online services to stay in touch with their community.

“We can only have 20 adults in the building on a Sunday for a ‘hybrid service’, livestreaming to Facebook and Zoom as well. We tend to leave two seats for first-time visitors. But we have services Tuesday and Thursday online.”

Outside of his own church, Pastor Rasaq is co-founder of Erdington Food Bank and remains its treasurer. From an initial investment of £1000, the Food Bank has become a breadbasket for Erdington, from its two outlets at Six Ways Baptist Church and George Road Baptist.

“The foodbank started with Churches Together,” told Pastor Rasaq. “Nine years ago, we started very small – 10 churches contributed £100 each. Now we feed 300 people every week in Everyone Erdington. This is a blessed project!”

Pastor Rasaq is also project manager for the RCCG BAME Project, which assists: “those affected by Covid – stress, out of work, troubled, worried, going through challenges.” It employs two external councillors running four sessions per week.

He explained that whilst the RCCG BAME Project has a particular calling to help Black and Asian minorities, it is for everyone: “We council Chinese, Caribbean, Indian, African, English… We’ve never turned anyone down. The project also gives food, separately from Erdington Food Bank.”

Through his role as vice chair of Churches Together, Rasaq has connected and launched many other projects – including most recently the Erdington Street Pastors scheme, covered in the community pages of this newspaper.

Asking him about his hopes for the future, Pastor Rasaq told Erdington Local: “I want to see Erdington come back to life. Everything used to be prosperous, when I came 13 years ago – now I see so many charity shops on the high street, and most businesses are closing.

“16 years ago, I would come to the UK on holiday. On Sundays, on the road, we could feel the presence of God on the street. I want the churches to be filled again.”

For more on the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) in Erdington visit: www.rccgcraerdington.org

LOCAL PROFILE: Vera Gilbert

Words by Jobe Baker Sullivan / Pics by Ed King

**Read our LOCAL PROFILE with Vera Gilbert in the March edition of the Erdington Local newspaper, out now**

Once viewed on television screens across the UK, Vera Gilbert is a former broadcast journalist and passionate Erdington activist. Previously working for newspapers and radio, alongside her career in TV, Vera has found a happy home supporting her local church and animating events and festivals in Erdington. Erdington Local took up the chance to relive some great moments with her.

Vera was born in St Vincent and the Grenadines, her home country made her “very happy – I still retain that atmosphere as my little heaven. That sense of community… We were poor, but the people were very loving, very kind.”

Vera moved to Birmingham during her primary school years, first living in Washwood Heath. She attended Hodge Hill Girls School in the 1970s.

Vera’s interested in journalism stemmed from her love of engaging with people. “To this day, I enjoy telling people’s stories. They were always a focus – and because they were a focus for me, it was a real privilege. I loved it. All the quirkiness, the different accents, the peculiarities.”

She studied her undergraduate degree at Birmingham Polytechnic, with her thesis concerning ‘Community Newspapers’. She was prodigious and noticed for her talents early on.

“I remember always having offers. I had an offer from the Evening Mail – I even got a front cover scoop for a local newspaper in Luton! I ended up at BRMB. Ed Doolan was there at the time – Les Ros was there. I was a reporter, sent out with a tape recorder, the old style, and I remember covering the Fireman’s strike.”

Vera continued to work for broadcast companies, including ITV and BBC. She went on to become a much sought-after freelance journalist, presenting content for Nationwide, a news and current affairs programme that ran between 1969 and 1983.

“It was excellent, doing pieces to camera. I did a lot of main stories and many ‘and finally’s. I remember doing something on a nudist beech… and I had to report a piece to camera… I won’t tell you how I managed it!”

Travelling the country in search of stories, Vera visited many places and met many people, including celebrities. One such celebrity was the popular English comedian Rodd Hull, best known for his mischievous hand puppet named Emu. Vera notes being very confused when first meeting him, with Rodd Hull’s material today relying on the same celebrity-embarrassing energy seen in the characters of Sacha Baren Cohen.

She recalled: “He had the bird, which I really saw as a prop. Then I started noticing that this bird was moving. I don’t know why, but I took it was real. If ever the bird moved, I would jerk.

“The bird started to get what I thought as ‘aggressive’ and I backed away – the bird came forward, and I ran and I was screaming! This was all on live TV. I was shouting ‘control the bird! Somebody come to my help!’ I didn’t realize that the crew was filming it all. There are some people that remember that to this day.”

But life in broadcasting was not all glitz and glamour, and Vera lived through a dark times in British history. Black Britons were subject to waves of racism, with slogans such as ‘no blacks, no dogs, no Irish’ cemented in the national mindset as an example of such intolerance.

Black women were likely to be only seen in lower paid jobs, as Vera comments: “Back then, as a black woman, the best job you could hope for was nursing, and not even the highest echelons of that.” Vera felt that she had to be “a role model – not like people speak as it now – but, as a black person, you felt you were putting the community on show.”

Vera stopped working as a journalist some 20 years ago but turned instead to her local area. She writes the newsletter for the Erdington United Reformed Church where she takes great pride in finding interesting stories and putting people’s good deeds on higher pedestals.

“I love Erdington. I love the people. I want to do what I can to uphold the area.”

On March 26 at 7pm, Vera is organising an online event called ‘Truth to Tell’ which she says the purpose is “to have conversations where black people talk about their experience, for them to say why they feel supportive of Black Lives Matter and so that people know about racism.”

For more details on ‘Truth to Tell’ email: everyoneerd@gmail.com

LOCAL PROFILE: Lady Sanity

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Profile pics by Kristine Lakontra

From the Birmingham Music Awards to the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony on Australia’s Golden Coast, Lady Sanity has been performing her songs across the world. With a new single coming out at the end of February, Erdington Local talked to the Birmingham-based musical artist about her Erdington roots and global ambitions.

Lady Sanity has always lived in Erdington, attending Stockland Green School for her secondary education. Despite being passionate about music from an early age, Sanity told how “I have no musicians in the family – me being a musician was a little bit of a curve ball for everyone… Although my grandfather used to take out his harmonica every now and then.”

Her family did, however, expose her to many different musical genres – encouraging the artist to embrace a variety of genres in her own music. “My cousin was showing me Hip Hop over in America. My sister was listening to bands in the UK. Another cousin was listening to Indie and Rock music… A lot of the music I was listening to were fusions of rap.” Sanity even notes Linkin Park as being an early influence.

At aged 12, Lady Sanity got a guitar from Home Bargains – bought for her by her older sister, which was a “cheap, crappy guitar with nylon strings.” Sanity was self-taught, using ‘tabs’ – a type of musical notation system.

Sanity ‘went electric’ aged 14, which was also around the time she was performing her own original music. She fondly remembers her music teacher, Mr Scott, as “very much encouraging me to rap and play guitar…. I was quite a reserved and quiet kid at school!”

Lady Sanity is one of many great musical artists to have come out of Birmingham – producing music inspired by Jazz, Hip-Hop and Grime.

Having played at many venues and events across the city, including Handsworth/Hockley based urban festival The Flyover Show and the Shard End Park hosted Shardfest, Lady Sanity’s first major festival appearance was at Glastonbury 2016.

Sanity entered into a competition called ‘Glastonbury Emerging Talent’, which although she didn’t win, she benefited from immensely: “I was picked up by other bookers to perform smaller stages of the festival – I had three different slots during the weekend. It was an amazing experience”.

She also recalls performing as part of a Hip Hop conference called ‘New Skool Rules’ in Rotterdam, Netherlands. “There were people from America, Canada, UK,” told Sanity. “Artists who came from all around the world – it’s a great weekend to really jam and connect with people.”

A crowning moment for Lady Sanity was performing at the Gold Coast Australia-Birmingham handover ceremony for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, although it came as a surprise for the young artist. 

“I was asked if I was free for a couple of days. I went down to the Hippodrome for an interview and they said they had a gig for me – the Commonwealth Games gig! That was only the second gig that me and the band played together! They offered me a house-band but I wanted to keep my own musicians.”

Covid has been adverse for many musicians, making live gigs impossible – an important source of income for a touring musician like Lady Sanity. She estimates she had some “20-30 gigs cancelled” and numerous, potential last-minute requests unaccounted for: “I finished touring with Sound UK before lockdown, and I even performed with Pee Wee Ellis – he was James Brown’s saxophonist… Some gigs were postponed – I was supposed to tour Belgium.”

Nonetheless, Lady Sanity adapted to cyberspace, performing on many livestream gigs – including one facilitated by The Sunflower Lounge which she took part in “to support this amazing venue so it can stay open”. It wasn’t as enjoyable as the live experience, but for Lady Sanity it was still “good to get out to gig, although it’s not the same as interacting with a crowd”.

But the web is indeed worldwide, and during the coronavirus lockdowns Lady Sanity has “been in contact people around the world. I’m working with an Italian power ballad singer I met over the Internet… Now is the time I can sit down and work on EPs, because I’m not up and down doing shows.”

On a personal level, Sanity also believes the lockdown has allowed her to “slow down… It’s helped me be grateful for my life and family.”

Lady Sanity is now looking forward to a year of gigs-that-should-have-happened, as well as releasing her new single, ‘Love’ – coming out at the end of February 2021.

“It’s about the different aspects of love,” explained the Erdington born and raised artist, “your family, friends, and yourself.”

For more on Lady Sanity find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/OfficialSanity

LOCAL PROFILE: Inspector Haroon Chughtai

Words by Jobe Baker Sullivan / Pics supplied by West Midlands Police

(First published in Erdington Local’s Nov/Dec ’20 newspaper)

Haroon Chughtai is the West Midlands Police Inspector responsible for Erdington and Sutton Coldfield, overseeing both constituencies. Erdington Local caught up with the area’s top cop, to find out more about the man behind the badge.

Now 41 years old, Haroon Chughtai joined the police force in 2003 – straight after completing his degree in Business and Computer Science at Birmingham University. Being made Police Inspector for Erdington and Sutton Coldfield in January 2020, Haroon manages the neighbourhood teams and police staff across the two constituencies.

He cites his reasons for joining the police as “wanting to give back to the community,” as well as wanting to be an example of diversity in the force.

“I knew nobody who was a copper, I had no family members who were police officers. At that time, there was more of a drive to get the police force more representative – more black and Asian people.”

This literal ‘bobbie on his bike’ cycles to work regularly, operating out of Erdington Police Station, and bemoans the fact that he rarely gets out the office. Instead, Inspector Chughtai spends much of his time in the office overseeing “70-80” cops.

“I’m lucky if I get out once a month,” Haroon says, but thinks that “sometimes it’s important that I go out and see something for myself.”

When asked about changes in his career during his 17 years in the force, Haroon says that he is impressed with the “technological changes” the police have embraced and in the way it helps them operates. And in the days of cyber-crime and Internet criminality, the police now have to “operate online more, with social media.”

Inspector Chughtai also believes that huge government cuts during his time have caused the police to make “difficult decisions” such as being unable to deal immediately with “petty theft and crime.” Police departments across the country have been pushed to make substantial changes over recent years, with 16% of spending declining between 2010-2019 nationally.  

On the other hand, Haroon says that “The police force is much better at prioritizing things – based on risk and vulnerability. We deal with what needs to be dealt with immediately.”

During 2020, one of the biggest challenges for the local police force and for Haroon has been “the rise in domestic abuse”, with the Erdington Inspector estimating that domestic abuse accounts for “approximately a quarter of all Erdington’s crime.”

Victims are “predominantly women” with most offenders being male. This is also reflected in the rise of domestic abuse across the entire country since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with many violent relationships exacerbated during the national lockdowns. 

Inspector Chughtai found policing during the first lockdown “really challenging”, noting the “really poor understanding of what the restrictions were. The compliance wasn’t as good as it is now [to the rules].” This included non-essential businesses remaining open illegally.

When asked by Erdington Local to predict the immediate future of his role in the area, Haroon said that “Sadly, I think COVID is here to stay – the enforcement around COVID will have to continue”.

Haroon is also committed to reducing “under 25 violence”, especially referring to young people leaving school, hanging around streets and bus stops, and causing violent crime.  “In the past these sort of things might not have been recorded as crimes. Behind the bike-sheds a couple of lads have had a fight, nobody would remember – but nowadays, it’s officially reported.” Haroon and his officers work with parents and teachers to keep track of these crimes.

“I’m using all the overtime I have to tackle under 25 violence. We don’t want to criminalize kids, but we want to put some interventions in really early on.”

Asking Inspector Chughtai what he’d like to see changed in Erdington, he responds “a rebalance of housing market, especially with the sheer number of HMOs and hostels. It’s got more than anywhere else in the city – over 1000 in one concentration”. He wants HMOs to be “spread across the city, rather than being concentrated in small areas.”

Haroon’s regular monthly updates on the West Midlands Police website often report crime in neighbouring Sutton Coldfield as decreasing, whilst general crime rates increase across Erdington. But when asked about his own personal impressions of Erdington, he says that “Erdington’s got a real strong community spirit. You can see with the Erdington Task Force, and the Stockland Green Action Group.”

He says that Erdington is “unique” and that other inspectors from other parts of the city are surprised at hear how active the community is.

“During COVID there’s been a load of people that have stepped up to help people that are needy, that are vulnerable,” explains the Erdington Inspector. “It’s volunteers that do that work – it’s really selfless.”

To receive updates from the Neighbourhood Policing Teams in your area, visit www.neighbourhoodalert.co.uk

To find out more about Erdington’s police force, visit www.west-midlands.police.uk/node/2710

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

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

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