NEWS: Eden Café to be taken over by new management from March

Words & pics by Ed King


 
Eden Café, on Reservoir Rd, just off Six Ways roundabout, is to be taken over by new management from March this year – with the official launch scheduled for April.

2 Much Passion, a local Community Interest Company (CIC) ‘committed to teaching and creating mouthwatering projects’ and encouraging ‘real life cooking that will impact (on people’s) health and well being’ has been using the Eden Café kitchen for their community food solution projects.

But the CIC made the decision to move permanently into the YMCA owned site this spring, to extend their community support and breathe new life into the beleaguered café.


 
Already running a Warm Space facility from Eden Café on Wednesdays and Fridays between 12:30pm and 4:30pm, and a Community Pantry on Thursdays between 10am and 2pm, 2 Much Passion are looking forward to getting the once popular hub back open to the general public.

The hardworking CIC also have ambitious plans to extend their community outreach and support programmes, which currently provide lunches to the Northcroft Hospital “on a daily basis” and saw them use Eden’s kitchen to make meals to feed up to a thousand people a day during the summer.


 
There are also plans to bring live music and entertainment to the site, mirroring the current Eden Café strapline that declares the venue offers ‘more than coffee’.

Managing Director of 2 Much Passion, Vanessa Kelly, told Erdington Local: “We are looking forward to being the go to community café, providing the community led food solutions that Erdington really needs.

“We operate the Warm Welcome and Community Pantry, but for people using the café they will know that by buying a coffee or a meal with us that is being reinvested back into the community.

“We want people to know that Eden is there for benefit of the community, and with the cost of living crisis and everything that’s happening we don’t want anyone to go to bed hungry. So, if you can afford to – you can buy. But if you can’t we will feed you.

“By eating with us you support us to feed somebody else.”


 
For more on 2 Much Passion CIC visit www.2muchpassioncic.co.uk

For more on Eden Café visit www.facebook.com/eden.coffee.erdington/

NEWS: Man appears before Birmingham Crown Court for murder and fraud charges after body found at Baldmoor Lake Road address

Words by Ed King / Pic of Wallis Webb supplied by WMP – pics of Baldmoor Lake Rd from Google Maps

A man has appeared before Birmingham Crown Court, charged with murder and fraud by false representation after a body was found at a Baldmoor Lake Road address last week.

On Tuesday 6 February, Mr Wallis Webb, aged 65, was discovered dead at the Erdington address – sparking a murder investigation by local police.

Days later and Sakander Hussain, aged 25, was arrested and subsequently charged with the murder of Mr Wallis and fraud by false representation – after police found the deceased’s bank card had been used posthumously.

Mr Hussain, from Ingleton Road, Ward End, first appeared before magistrates and has now been processed through to Birmingham’s Crown Court, where he appeared via video link from HMP Hewell to confirm his name.

Judge Simon Drew KC, presiding, set a plea and trial preparation hearing for 22 April – where the accused will be asked to enter a plea against the charges brought before him. A provisional trail date has also been set for 5 August 2024.

Addressing Mr Hussain, Judge Simon Drew KC said: “I am going to adjourn your case.

“The next hearing will be on April 22, that is the hearing at which you will be expected to enter a plea of either guilty or not guilty.”

He added: “I am fixing your case for trial on August 5. You must attend the trial and if you fail to do so, you could face a separate offence.”

A spokesperson for West Midlands Police further confirmed: “A 51-year-old man, who was arrested on suspicion of fraud, has been bailed with conditions while enquiries continue.”

They added: “We’re doing all we can to support (Mr Webb’s) family during this terrible time.

“We remain keen to hear from anyone with information which could help our investigation.”

Mr Webb, who served briefly as a local councillor, was found dead at the scene by emergency services on Tuesday 6 February.

His family released a statement through West Midlands Police: “To try to compress a life into short sentences does not do anybody justice. This is by far the hardest of them all.

“Wallis was a Councillor for a short period of time, because he really believed in trying to help others and felt strongly about the hardships people now have to endure without the help so many need.

“This is yet another life taken in a shocking and senseless manner.”

Anyone with any information that might prove useful to the investigation have been asked to contact West Midlands Police via Live Chat on their website at: www.west-midlands.police.uk/contact-us/live-chat  

Alternatively, people can call 101 and quote Log No. 631 of 6/2 – or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111

NEWS: Erdington community mourns ‘local legend’ and Town Centre Manager Terry Guest

Introduction & pics by Ed King 

Local residents and businesses across Erdington are in mourning for the “local legend” and once Town Centre Manager Terry Guest, after he sadly passed away during the Christmas period.

Having run the Erdington Business Improvement District (BID) from 2011 to 2022, and acting at the Town Centre Manger throughout that period, Terry was a well known and respected face on Erdington High Street and beyond.

A local resident and business owner, Terry knew all the good, bad, and bright possibilities Erdington had to offer and worked tirelessly to champion the High Street – from fighting for the rights of local retailers, to supporting the music and art events that continue to bring the High Street together.

On hearing the news of his passing, Erdington Local asked some of the people who worked closely with him to express their condolences – which you can read below.

We would also welcome more thoughts, prayers, pictures, and personal messages from anyone who knew Terry for a wider memorial feature in our February/March newspaper. To get in touch please click here or email edking@erdingtonlocal.com

From everyone at Erdington Local: Terry, you will be sorely missed. Our thoughts and love are with Jill, your wider family, and friends.

Cllr Robert Alden: “It was an honour to call local legend Terry Guest a friend as well as a colleague, having worked with him as BID Manager in my roles as a local Councillor and director of the BID for over a decade.

“Terry in his time as a fellow Erdington resident and first shop keeper and then BID manager for the High Street truly left his mark on the community and helped to make it a better place than would otherwise have been.

“They simply don’t make them like Terry anymore and Erdington is worse off without people like Terry. Our thoughts and prayers and with Jill and the rest of his family and friends at this awful time.”

Cllr Gareth Moore: “Terry Guest was a true stalwart for the High Street for many years and strived to make it a vibrant destination for people to shop and visit.

“I am grateful for all of the considerable effort he put in, working with myself and Robert, to secure improvements for the High Street, some of which are still there today, and to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour which has sadly blighted our local centre for far too long. It was a pleasure to work with him as BID manager and he will be missed by local residents and businesses alike.”

John Lynch, Erdington Street Warden: “Terry did a lot of work on the High Street and a lot of people respected him, and he’ll be sadly missed.

“He lived in Erdington so this was his home as well and he really cared about the High Street; he always did his best to make sure things were OK here and help as many stores and people as he could. He made a difference, a big difference.”

John Hodgkiss, Town Centre Manager: “Terry worked tirelessly to continually improve Erdington Town Centre. He was extremely kind, generous, and was so well loved by all retailers and stakeholders on the High Street. Terry will be greatly missed by everyone in Erdington and all who knew him.”

Paulette Hamilton MP: “I am deeply saddened by the news of Terry Guest’s passing. As the former BID manager, Terry made a lasting impact on Erdington’s Business Improvement District for over a decade.

“He was instrumental in improving the security, environment, and vitality of our High Street, as well as being a strong voice for our local business community.

“He will be greatly missed by all who knew him and worked with him. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends at this difficult time.”

Claire Marshall, Active Arts: “In one of our last conversations he fondly joked how he loved how out of mad and wild ideas, events would happen.

“Not everyone saw all that he did for the High Street, but he was often quietly supporting local activity and open to thinking about new ways to bring people to shop on the High Street.

“Thank you, Terry, for letting us put on music, crafts, and doing some really bonkers events, and for loving Erdington in a way that it deserves.”

If you would like to contribute any words or pictures to a wider memorial feature for Terry Guest in our Feb/Mar newspaper, please email: edking@erdingtonlocal.com

NEWS: Pype Hayes resident launches petition to ‘Stop Birmingham City Council’s Unfair Council Tax Increase’

Words by Ed King

Pype Hayes resident, Daniel Edge, has started an online petition to ‘Stop Birmingham City Council’s Unfair Council Tax Increase’ – amassing hundreds of signatures a day from people across the city.

Launched on 10 January, the petition set a target of 1500 signatures which it is well on course to reach.

At the time of writing, only five days after the petition went live on the recognised campaigning website Change.org, 1358 people had put their name down in support – with 228 recorded in a single day.

To access the petition to ‘Stop Birmingham City Council’s Unfair Council Tax Increase’ on Change.org, click here.

Birmingham City Council (BCC) has recently come under question after they wrote to the government last year, to get Westminster to allow the beleaguered local authority to increase Council Tax above the legal limit of 4.99% without holding a referendum.

Current laws limit the amount a local council can increase their yearly Council Tax charge to residents without a public vote on the matter.

But following BCC’s financial crisis, after the city issued a Section 114 notice in September 2023 – effectively declaring itself bankrupt – the drastic step has been taken to get government approval to jump those restrictions, meaning Birmingham residents could face an increase of up to 21% on their Council Tax bills over the next two years.

The decision to approach central government to allow such a significant hike in Council Tax, without the legally required public consultation or vote, was approved by BCC in a full Cabinet meeting in December 2023 – with Council Leader John Cotton stating it would only be implemented “if necessary”.

Cllr Cotton added: “It’s clear that we’ll need to seek exceptional financial support from the government in order to bring the council’s budget back into balance.

“These are obviously very tough times, we’ve got some difficult and challenging decision ahead of us in shaping this budget.”

On 5 September 2023, Birmingham City Council issued a Section 114 notice after facing a budget shortfall of around £84m for their next accounting year.  

There were also reported debts over equal pay liabilities amounting to an estimated £760m and costs surrounding the Oracle IT system of up to a further £100m – although these figures have been questioned by some sources in the city.

With a team of commissioners now overseeing Birmingham’s bank balance, local residents are worried they will end up footing the bill for BCC’s mistakes – seeing “unfair” increases in Council Tax and losing services.

Speaking to Erdington Local about his decision to start a petition to ‘Stop Birmingham City Council’s Unfair Council Tax Increase’, Daniel Edge explained: “I was moved to create the petition because of the unfairness and injustice of the proposed council tax hikes.

“Birmingham has 1.1M citizens of various socio-economic groups and a large proportion of those will be significantly impacted by these above inflation increases.

“It is simply not fair that the council tax payers are picking up the pieces of over 10 years of financial mismanagement. I’m happy for a 4.99% increase, the most the council can do without seeking government approval, but not a penny more.”

One signee of the petition comments: “I’m a resident of Birmingham and the councillors should be held to account for their mismanagement of finances over the years as opposed to this ridiculous increase in council tax.”

Another adds: “Daylight robbery! Stealing from the poor full stop for mis-management of public funds.”

Whist a further supporter of the petition ends their comment by saying: ”… I am being penalised for being a good resident and paying my way. I am not prepared to be a cash cow.”

To read more on the petition to ‘Stop Birmingham City Council’s Unfair Council Tax Increase’ visit: www.change.org/p/stop-birmingham-city-council-s-unfair-council-tax-increase

NEWS: New Small Grants Programme could give Erdington community groups up to £10k support

Words by Erdington Local editorial team

A new Small Grants Programme could see community groups across the Erdington constituency get up to £10k support from government funding.

Launched in Erdington on 3 January and managed by Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA), the scheme aims to support local organisations and charities extend their existing reach and to encourage new projects.

Those wanting to know more are invited to attend a free workshop about the Small Grants Programme on 11 January, held at Perry Common Hall. For online directions to Perry Common Community Hall click here.

With sessions running from 11am to 7pm, the day will “provide full details of the fund, give help and advice as well as the opportunity to access face-to-face support with completing the grant application.”

Interested groups are asked to email WLCA Wellbeing Officer Fauzia Begum at Fauzia.begum@wittonlodge.org.uk or to call (0121) 382 1930.

Aimed at community and voluntary groups across the whole constituency – including the wards of Castle Vale, Erdington, Gravely Hill, Kingstanding, Perry Common, Pype Hayes, and Stockland Green – the Small Grants Programme funding is available to help grow existing programmes and services, but also to encourage work that tackles issues around mental health, employment, community engagement, and environmental issues.

The specific “themes” that funding would be available for are outlined on the WLCA website as: Organisational capacity building, Community events, engagement and reach, Health and Wellbeing, Job, Skills and Enterprise, and Environmental Activities and Improvements.

A statement from WLCA further confirmed: “This new programme will build community capacity, capability, and networks in Erdington Constituency.

“Grants of up to £10,000 will be available to develop and deliver services for vulnerable residents and groups, and successful applicants will be encouraged to join local networks that share knowledge and collaborate on future opportunities.”

The Small Grants Programme is funded by the government’s UK Shared Prosperity Fund, a £2.6 billion pot of money to support ‘local priorities’ and ‘empower local leaders and communities’.

Launched in April 2022 by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the UK Shared Prosperity Fund is set to run until March 2025.

For more information on the Small Grants Programme, or to book a place for the workshops on 11 January, please email Fauzia.begum@wittonlodge.org.uk or call (0121) 382 1930.

FREE SANTA’S GROTTO at Erdington Library, Erdington High Street – Saturday 2 December

Words by Ed King / Pics by Connor Pope

On Saturday 2 December, the big man in red and white will be setting up a FREE SANTA’S GROTTO at Erdington Library at the end of Erdington High Street – inviting local children and families to meet him and his elves as they prepare all the presents for Christmas Day.

Open from 10am until 3pm, no booking is required for the FREE SANTA’S GROTTO – families and children are invited to just come down to Erdington Library and join the fun.

A queue system will be in place, getting people in to meet Santa first come first served, with Santa’s elves on hand to help keep the younger ones occupied with special Christmas crafts and fun.

Plus, the main library will be open with all it’s fantastic books and resources. And if the FREE SANATA’S GROTTO is especially busy there are a host of cafes and shops near to the library where you can grab a quick drink or bite to eat, or make a last dash for those special gifts ahead of the big day.

Organised by the Erdington Business Improvement District (EBID) and supported by local businesses and retailers, the FREE SANTA’S GROTTO will help take the financial sting out of the festive season – offering Erdington families a free way to meet Santa and join in on the winter celebrations.

Erdington Town Centre Mangere, John Hodgkiss, told: “With the challenging year which we have all had, it’s that time again when we focus on Christmas and maximising on footfall in Erdington Town Centre throughout late November and December.”

He added: “Everything is totally free to attend, paid for by the BID and supported by the local shops and businesses. In these difficult times we still want people to be able to together and celebrate our wonderful Erdington community.

“Winter brings the longer nights and colder weather, but we look forward to welcoming local families, residents (and even the occasional reindeer who might fly by) for a bit a festive fun to brighten up the darker days. See you all on the High Street.”

On Saturday 25 November, Erdington High Street celebrated the official Christmas Lights Switch On event – where local Councillor Robert Alden (Erdington Ward, Conservative) and BBC WM Breakfast presenter Rakeem Omar kicked off the festive season and High Street illuminations, joined by a host of other familiar faces and family fun.

All EBID Christmas activities in Erdington Town Centre are supported by local retailers and businesses, who pay a yearly levy for bring services and activities to encourage people to use Erdington Town Centre.

Erdington Business Improvement District (EBID), for example, pay for the Street Wardens who patrol the High Street and act as an immediate line of defence against shoplifters – often in the absence of any effective police presence, and with community police resources having been significantly stripped back over recent years.

Erdington once had one of the busiest High Street’s in Birmingham, with a thriving market community and a bustling variety of independent traders and shops.

But the Covid pandemic, rising cost of living, rising energy prices, and increase in online retail hass seen shops across the country pull down their shutters and the culture of High Street shopping and community diminish.

Crime and anti-social behaviour have also affected Erdington High Street, with some local residents and shoppers becoming increasingly concerned about aggression and criminality in the Town Centre.

Organised activities such as the FREE SANTA’S GROTTO and Christmas Light Switch On event hope to encourage more people to visit Erdington High Street and support the local shops and businesses there.

Erdington Town Centre Manager, John Hodgkiss, added: “The festive period is a crucial time for retail in general, so once again, we want to focus on showing Erdington in its best light and provide family entertainment to increase footfall from the end of November through until New Year.”

For more from the Erdington Business Improvement District visit www.erdingtonhighstreet.co.uk or follow the on Facebook at www.facebook.com/erdingtonBID

NEWS: Chester Road manufacturer and disability employer featured in King Charles III commemorative album

Words by Kevin Emery & LOCAL AMBASSADORS / Pics supplied by Shelforce

Shelforce, a Chester Road based window and door manufacturer, has been featured in a special 75th birthday commemorative album for King Charles III.

The Erdington company was founded in 1836 and is committed to ‘employing and training those with disabilities’.

Earlier this year, Shelforce was presented with The King’s Award for Enterprise in Promoting Opportunity (through social mobility) after His Majesty the King approved the Prime Minister’s recommendation that the Erdington company be recognised in the inaugural King’s Award for Enterprise.

The Erdington based business has now been further recognised in the new book King Charles III: The Leadership and Vision of a Modern Monarch, launched at Claridge’s in central London on His Majesty’s 75th birthday earlier this month.

Published by St James’s House and royal biographer Robert Jobson, the fully illustrated and beautifully presented hardback book charts Charles’s life, from his role and responsibilities as the Prince of Wales, to his accession and coronation as king.

The special celebratory publication also highlights examples of achievement and progress across social, cultural, technological, and commercial spheres.

Howard Trotter, Shelforce’s Business Manager, met King Charles III at a royal reception hosted by His Majesty the King at Buckingham Palace for all Kings Award for Enterprise winners.

Mr Trotter said: “It is an unbelievable honour for Shelforce to feature in such an important and historic book in the year of the King’s coronation, and we are delighted to represent the local community of Erdington.”

Located at Erdington Business Park, off the Chester Road, Shelforce provides a place where people with mental or physical disability can thrive in employment and produce high quality products in a competitive market.

First established in 1839, the organisation was set up as part of the Royal School for the Blind to provide visually impaired people with paid employment and training – originally producing items such as brushes, baskets, and mats.

Relocating to Erdington in 1981 and changing its The City of Birmingham Sheltered Workshops of the Disabled in Erdington, a wider brief was established to begin employing people with different disabilities.

Eventually changing its name to Shelforce, after working with Coventry University, the local manufacturer was officially opened by The Princess Royal, HRH Princess Anne in 1984 – expanding its operations to include bed manufacturing, engraving, and woodwork, and making gates and fences for Birmingham City Council.

For more on Shelforce visit www.shelforce.com

NEWS: Kingstanding’s K-Star Academy Muay Thai fighter Gene Smith wins ISKA British Campion belt in rare hometown contest

Pics supplied by K-Star Academy

Kingstanding K-Star Academy fighter Gene Smith recently won the ISKA British Campion belt, continuing his spectacular rise in the world of competitive Muay Thai.

The 16-year-old impressed the judges at the recent hometown fight, held on Sunday 19 November at North Solihull Leisure Centre, and is now preparing to face the best from across the globe at the world championships in Thailand next year.

Smith has found it increasingly difficult to find matches as his reputation has grown throughout the sport following a lightning run of form – earning him Midland, British, and World Muay Thai titles.

Then on Sunday 19 November, the Kingstanding trained fighter also became the ISKA British Champion – winning on points against Fin Mueller from Wales. The fight was matched prior to the event by the organisers.

The WBC World Mauy Thai Games are in February at the iconic Lumpinee Boxing Stadium in Bangkok. However, Gene Smith’s next fight is a little closer to home when he will face Josh Duncan in Liverpool on 16 December.

Smith told: “I am delighted with another victory and another title. Everything I am doing is working towards the world championships in Thailand.

“I loved every minute of representing my country at the WBC World Championships in Venice in June and in Canada the year before at the World Muay Thai Games. But know I have to be 100 per cent dedicated to the sport for me to compete with the best in the world in Thailand.

“Being in Asia, where the sport originated, makes me even more excited to fight in Thailand.”

Gene’s coach is Steve Logan, who first set up the first K-Star in Kingstanding more than 30 years ago and is hoping to guide Smith to world glory.

He said: “Sunday was another brilliant performance by Gene. We know the entire division, junior and adult, fear him and this is brilliant for when he represents his country in Thailand next year.”

Gene’s father, Great Barr businessman Roland Smith, a former fighter himself, understands the work which goes behind his son’s rise to the top table of the global sport.

He added: “Gene has got the talent, the determination, and dedication to get to the top, but this sport costs money and his sponsors have helped him to focus more on just being the best he can.

“Gene has achieved so much already, from his title wins, to representing his country to being the youngest UK fighter to have ranking.

“However, he could not have done it without sponsors Jacksons Recovery, Green Power Plant Hire, Beeches Recovery, 24 7 Worldwide Exhibition Services, Level Group, Endangered Fightwear, Foxstar Clothing and Art Attack Design Associates with support from Luke1977.”

Mauy Thai doesn’t receive sports funding from outside sources, with sponsorship one of the only ways new and rising fighters can professionally compete.

For the Kingstanding K-Star Academy fighter Gene Smith, training and travel costs can easily climb into the thousands as he takes part in fierce competitions across the world competing to be the best.

Anyone interested in supporting Gene contact design@artattack.org.uk

Follow Gene Smith on Instagram at www.instagram.com/gene_kstar

For more on K Star Academy visit www.k-starthaiboxing.com

NEWS: “They are playing with people’s lives; I am in shock today,” – Birmingham City Council scraps MARS voluntary redundancy scheme

Words by Erdington Local editorial team

Birmingham City Council (BCC) has scrapped a voluntary redundancy scheme offered to all employees in August as it cannot afford to implement the agreements.

Earlier this year, the cash-strapped authority offered every BCC employee the option of taking voluntary redundancy ahead of the potential compulsory job cuts needed to prevent the council going bust.

All the reported 10,600 employees at BCC were told in an email, sent just before last August Bank Holiday, that they could sign up for the city’s Mutually Agreed Resignation Scheme (MARS).

However, in an email to workers sent this morning (Friday 17 November) the Council’s Chief Executive Deborah Cadman informed them now no-one can take the offer due to the cost of implementing the scheme.

A Birmingham City Council spokesperson verified: “We can confirm a decision has been made to stop the MARS process meaning no MARS applications will be approved. This was a collective decision made by the Corporate Leadership Team and the Commissioners.

“As part of our financial recovery, the council is focused on making savings and any decisions made need to consider our current financial position. The cost of MARS was far greater than we anticipated and therefore could not guarantee we make financial savings we need.

“The council is currently in a very different situation from when we first announced MARS, and we must take a more considered and stringent approach to our budget challenges and any changes to staffing.”

Birmingham City Council, the biggest local authority in Europe, has been facing a serious financial crisis over recent years.

On 5 September, the Interim Director of Finance, Fiona Greenway, issued a Section 114 notice – effectively declaring the city bankrupt and confirming the city did not have enough reserves to balance its books. Factors including historic equal pay discrepancies, which could cost the Council hundreds of millions in backdated claims, and the ill-fated Oracle IT system were heavily referenced.

The Section 114 notice issued on 5 September, and further notices issued by city officers, prompted intervention from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) in Westminster – with the government then appointing a team of external commissioners, led by Max Caller, to address the financial crisis at Birmingham City Council.

The MARS scheme was created to help reduce the wage bill amid these financial pressures and to tackle the rocketing costs of dealing with issues and support around homelessness, adult care, and children’s services.

Since being given the option of the MARS scheme, Birmingham City Council workers, many of whom have given decades of service to the city working within theSe sectors, have been weighing up whether to accept the voluntary redundancy offer.

Now those who decided to leave the council have had their plans thrown into turmoil due to the U-turn made over MARS, even after they were allowed time to calculate the redundancy pay off they would get under the scheme and start planning their retirement or new career path. Many now fear they will get reduced terms if they are made redundant. 

One BCC employee in Kingstanding, who did not want to be named, told Erdington Local: “I cannot believe this has happened. I have had so many sleepless nights making this decision, which is one of the biggest decisions I’ve ever had to make in my life.

“I did not know whether to stay in the job I like, but which I could lose in future redundancies or leave with a pay off.

“I decided to apply for MARS, I’ve made plans to take a break and then retrain in a different role. And now after all that I’ve been told they cannot afford to offer anyone MARS. They are playing with people’s lives; I am in shock today.”

If you have been affected by any of the financial issues currently facing Birmingham City Council, please get in touch with Erdington Local at mystory@erdingtonlocal.com

NEWS: Knitted Swimming Trunks – “It’ll make you cry on one page, then laugh out loud on the next”, local author releases tell all autobiography of 50s and 60s school life

Words by Ed King / Pic supplied by Andy and Bridget Harper

Local author Andy Harper has released his tell all autobiography of 50s and 60s school life in Birmingham – Knitted Swimming Trunks is out from 17 November, published by Brewin Books.

A searingly honest portrayal of life in and around the classrooms of the 50s and 60s, told through the eyes of a self-confessed “massive target for bullies”, the 252 page paperback begins as the Erdington based author is born and takes the reader up to the day he received his City and Guild certificate after leaving secondary school.

Having lived across the city – from early beginnings in Weoley Castle, to the ‘adventure playground’ of the back to in Birmingham City Centre, to starting his married life in Erdington – Andy Harper is a brummie born and raised.

However, his entry into the world was not an easy one. Delivered at home with nuchal cord asphyxiation, where the umbilical cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck preventing air supply to the new lungs, Andy suffered with “every illness going” when he was a young child – keeping him out of education until attending Colmers Farm School in Rubery several years later in life.

“It wasn’t until the back to backs were being knocked down, and we ended up moving to Rubery, that I was enrolled for any length of time into a school,” explains Andy, “and when I started at Colmers Farm I was very weak, very frail – emotionally and educationally I was well, well down.”

He continues: “I was put on the ‘thick table’, which didn’t help. But I met some wonderful characters, and a lot of the book is about a very dysfunctional bunch of friends at school – getting into all sorts of scrapes.”

Pulling no punches, the title of the book describes a life changing humiliation at Weston Super Mare, when the titular knitted swimming trunks – made from love because “back in the 50’s mothers used to knit you everything” – prompted a long walk of shame back from the sea to his parents on the beach. 

The book goes on to challenge the cruelty of school life, from both teachers and fellow students, and stand as a stark warning not to disregard the quieter children as “those are the ones who need the teacher’s attention.”

But as the author himself describes, Knitted Swimming Trunks “is not a woe is me book”, but more a clarion call for young people struggling to navigate the challenges of youth.

“I really hope that when people read the book they can reflect on that (the difficulties some children face at school) because it may be happening to them now. And this is what I say – put your hand up, do something, tell someone about the bullying, tell someone what’s going on.”

He continues: “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done or what people say you are, you’ve every right to become the person you want to be. You don’t need to be an academic, you just need passion and desire.

“This book is about making sure you’re not defined by these people and doing the best you can. It’s about making the most of yourself and not allowing it to be a bad experience. It’ll make you cry on one page, then laugh out loud on the next.”

Knitted Swimming Trunks by Andy Harper is available through Brewin Books – out from 17 November. For more information and links to online sales visit: www.brewinbooks.com/knitted_swimming_trunks

To contact Andy Harper directly please email: dyquest1@outlook.com