NEWS: Erdington mourns Vic Watson – Marsh Hill’s ‘inspirational’ former headteacher

Words by Adam Smith / Pics supplied by Alan Roberts – on behalf of Vic Watson’s family

Tributes have poured in after the death of an “inspirational” former headteacher of Marsh Hill Infant and Junior School who passed away last week aged 90.

Vic Watson was mourned by family, friends, former colleagues, pupils, and the worlds of sports and amateur dramatics. 

Vic grew up in Kingstanding and attended Central Grammar School before completing his National Service with the Royal Mechanical and Electrical Engineers.

He then trained as a teacher at St Peter’s Training College, Saltley, where he met his future wife Helen.

They married in 1953 and went on to have two children, Tim and Liz, and the pair lived happily until Helen’s death in 2014.

Vic carved out a successful career in education, first as a teacher in Winson Green and Hockley. He later became a headteacher at Nechells Primary School and Marsh Hill Junior and Infant School – now called March Hill Primary.

He was headteacher at Marsh Hill from 1969 until 1989 and hundreds of his former pupils fondly remembered him on social media this week.

Dennis Mitchell said: “I was a pupil at Marsh Hill between 1979 and 1986. In my experience Mr Watson was a wonderful head and a wonderful man, and the school was absolutely brilliant as a consequence.”

Christopher Bradley said: “He was one of my all time favourite teachers and deepest sympathies to the Watson family. Vic most certainly helped point me in the right direction on my life journey, he was hard, fair and human.

“I loved the dedication he gave to the football team and still look at my medals with pride of those happy youthful days at Marsh Hill under Mr Watson’s stewardship.”

David Fitzpatrick said: “My two daughters were pupils there in the 1980s and I am sure their success was somewhat due to his tutelage.

“I would like to think that his influence has benefits far beyond Erdington and the UK as I know ex Marsh Hill pupils are worldwide.”

Richard Timmis added: “I have a vivid memory of him running into morning assembly dressed as a cowboy firing his six shooters. He was always full of energy and life.”

Throughout the 1970s Vic ran summer camps in Wales for Birmingham children at Tal-y-Bont.

Friend Alan Roberts said: “Vic was a larger than life character, I had great respect for him as the headteacher and later as a personal friend.

“He set an excellent example as to how to live life with respect, determination, fun, hard work and commitment.”

He added: “Not only was he inspirational but his wife was also of the same mould, she in turn contributed to the education and development of so many, many young people.

“They were a couple who lived for teaching and gave their all.”

Vic played for Old Centrals Rugby Club for 20 years and went on to become the club president in 1971.

Fellow rugby player Nigel Williams said: “Vic was a stalwart Old Central who made a tremendous contribution as rugby and cricket player, Bryntailler, and event organiser over a long period.

“His competitive spirit will be long remembered by all who played alongside him, his combative nature by all who played against him.”

After retiring Vic continued to help children by organising trips for children with special needs from Wilson Stuart School, he also was a supporter of the local theatre company The Players Erdington.

Vic’s funeral will be on Wednesday, March 3 but will be subject to Covid restrictions.

To connect with alumni from Central Grammar School (Gressel Lane or Cherrywood Road), visit www.facebook.com/groups/cgs1965.1972

For more from The  PlayersErdington, visit www.facebook.com/urcplayers

For more information on March Hill Primary School, visit www.marshill.bham.sch.uk

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NEWS: Team Cat Rescue and Emre – Erdington’s amazing ‘cyborg cat’

Words by Jobe Baker Sullivan / Pics supplied by Jo Baldwin

Erdington’s very own “cyborg cat” is the new poster boy of a local charity which rehomes abandoned moggies.

Emre, aged four, was adopted by musician Jo Baldwin in 2016 after he was left for dead on the side of a road in Marmais, Turkey.

Prior to this he experienced neutering, the loss of his right eye, and was rapidly using up his nine lives.

Currently recovering well from his latest operation to his humerus, which was restored with a metal rod, Emre is now a marvel of modern science and due to amount of metal in his head has been dubbed a “cyborg cat”.

Jo said: “Although I may have saved his life, it’s fair to say he saved mine; he is boisterous cat, and very popular with the female cats of his neighbourhood.”

Emre has also found a new best friend in Josie, Jo’s black Labrador. Lockdown has been a pleasure for the two.

Jo said: “They both receive lots of attention from their mum, as she’s not out gigging as much anymore – Covid’s meant I’ve had to stay at home.”

You don’t need to go to Turkey to adopt a cat like Emre, however. Team Cat Rescue (TCR) is a Birmingham-based charity that works on “neutering, rescuing, and re-homing abandoned and needy cats and kittens.”

Coordinator, Lynne Buffery, told Erdington Local: “We work closely with local vets to ensure that all the cats in our care are given the best possible start.

“The charity has rehomed around 140 cats since April 2019. The TCR van, or the ‘catmobile’, has clocked-up hundreds of miles more in 2020 than in 2019. No wonder I’m appealing for more support with driving.”

Lynne added: “Covid-19 lockdowns have meant more people had time on their hands and more were working from home.

“But this has been a real positive for TCR, resulting in new volunteers coming on board – joining the various arms of the already 20 plus strong team – fostering, fundraising, publicity, and admin.”

For the purr-fect way to support Team Cat Rescue, or if you would like to rehome a cat yourself, contact: 0121 373 4596 or visit www.teamcatrescue-bham.weebly.com

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BACK TO WORK: Free online employment training courses for Falcon Lodge and Castle Vale residents

Words and pics from Compass Support

Compass Support has launched a free seven-week course starting in February to improve job prospects for Falcon Lodge and Castle Vale residents who are currently unemployed or looking for work.

With two places left on the next course at Falcon Lodge, if you are interested, apply quickly, though registering now will also place you on a waiting list for courses and opportunities in both Falcon Lodge and Castle Vale.

The organisers are inviting any unemployed person, especially those in Falcon Lodge, who is looking for work and would like help to apply by calling Rob Harris, Employability Advisor at Compass Support on 07841 067662.

The course follows on from the successful training that has already taken place both in person and since the lockdown online. Now due to Lockdown 3.0, the training is taking place fully online, and is open to more people with mobility issues.

The Compass Support Employability & Wellbeing team will be delivering the training, which includes CV and job application support and life coaching.

The timetable (see below) is packed with a combination of preparing for employment training and wellbeing sessions from Compass Support team members and guest speakers. There are also one to one sessions for participants and a weekly action plan so that each trainee gets the most out of the course.

Former trainees have used the skills gained during the course to secure voluntary work with the likes of Upcycle and the Environmental Trust, often going on to secure paid employment.

Interested participants can also work towards qualifications in food hygiene, first aid and computer training to improve their job prospects or route to voluntary work. A young lady who attended the last course, for example, gained her first aid and hygiene qualifications to help her to secure work in childcare.

People taking part in the course get to know each other and offer mutual support by connecting through the Get Healthy Get Working WhatsApp group, with many going on to form lasting friendships.

As well as training, the Compass Support team is providing tablet loan scheme to access course work online, apply for jobs and learn new digital skills.

As part of the course, trainees also have access to Zoom and Facebook Live fitness and wellbeing sessions, from yoga to circuit training.

An especially popular session is learning to cook with Rob Harris, with delicious dishes such as vegetable curry, leek and potato soup, bean and pasta stew on the menu. After the sessions, the ingredients are delivered to the participants to cook themselves.

Rob Harris, Employability Advisor at Compass Support, said:

“We used to run a job club at Falcon Lodge so we recognise that there is a need to help residents to improve their chances to find employment.

“Sadly, the coronavirus has left many more unemployed in our area and we are working tirelessly to ensure that we can help as many people into employment as possible. If this new course helps just a handful of residents to get a job, we have done our job.”

Project funding was secured through The Henry Smith Charity, founded in 1628, as part of its Improving Lives funding stream.

For more information, call the Education & Employment team on 07841 067662

For more from Compass Support, visit www.compass-support.org.uk

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NEWS: Council and NHS to hold Covid Vaccine Webinar/Q&A

Words by Ed King

On Thursday 4th February, Birmingham City Council will be hosting an online Covid Vaccine Webinar/Q&A session to address questions and concerns about the Covid-19 vaccine roll outs.

People can register for a free place via the popular event ticket outlet Eventbrite: www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/138628992047

Running from between 6pm and 7:30pm this Thursday, the first in the series of five citywide sessions will be focussing on North Birmingham – with local residents across Erdington invited to attend.

Hosted by Councillor Paulette Hamilton, Cabinet member for Adult Social Care and Health, Birmingham City Council will be joined by NHS staff who have been fighting coronavirus since March last year.

The online events will be a chance to hear direct from Council and NHS staff who have the latest information about the Covid-19 vaccines and the roll out process – with organisers wanting ‘local residents to ask questions, discuss and highlight their own thoughts or concerns.’

At the time of writing, there have been over 100,000 deaths in the UK from coronavirus – with the office of National Statistics counting a death toll of 178 in Erdington alone by last November.

Listed on the NHS website there are currently four GP surgeries administering Covid vaccines across Erdington, with people directly invited to get the jab in the priority order set by Government. There is also a walk-up Covid testing facility on Orphanage Road which is open to all.

Yet as vaccines are rolled out across the county, with a triage system to prioritise the millions to be treated, many people are expressing concerns about the inoculation – or are still unclear as to when, where, and how they will receive the jab.

In a recent interview, Dr Dave Sangha, Executive Chairman of the Midlands Medical Partnership, told Erdington Local: “Please be aware that the current Covid workload pressure in the local hospitals is extreme. Covid is real, please take it seriously.

“The Vaccine is safe, please have it. A lot of the social media misinformation is sad to see, it is putting people off and there’s a huge risk to that. It is safe.”

To register for a place on the Covid Vaccine Webinar/Q&A, visit www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/138628992047

For more information about the Covid vaccines, direct from the NHS, visit www.birminghamandsolihullcovidvaccine.nhs.uk

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NEWS: GKN Automotive to close Chester Road site making over 500 unemployed

Words by Adam Smith

Erdington’s sprawling GKN Automotive factory, Chester Road, is being closed down with the loss of more than 500 jobs.

GKN‘s owner Melrose Industries announced the news, which will bring down the curtain on one of the UK’s oldest engineering assembly lines, to shocked workers this week.

Workers were informed of the decision through a letter from GKN Automotive chief Liam Butterworth, who said: “GKN Automotive has taken the difficult decision to propose the closure of our assembly site at Chester Road, Birmingham.

“Sadly, an increasingly competitive global market means that the site is no longer viable. This is despite significant effort and investment over the past 10 years to reduce the site’s high operating costs and make it competitive.

“Supporting our people is our first priority as we consult on this proposal. Employees at the site are being notified today and support is being made available to them throughout this process. We will then commence a period of consultation with the union and employee representatives in the coming weeks.

“We expect this proposal to impact 519 employees. The proposal envisages that GKN Automotive will carefully wind down the site over 18 months to ensure an orderly and stable transition of operations and give those affected time to find new work. The proposal is to transfer production to other sites in our network.”

Melrose Industries bought GKN in 2018 in a controversial hostile takeover in which they promised to keep the Erdington plant open. GKN can trace its history back to the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century and has been at the forefront of engineering in the UK ever since, the Erdington site assembles automotive parts.

The restructure will not affect GKN’s plants in Sutton Coldfield and Minworth.

Unite national officer Des Quinn said: “The workforce have been left shocked and angry to learn that management is looking to close this highly viable site.

“Unite is now seeking urgent meetings with senior management at GKN to understand the business case and the logic behind this decision.”

He added: “Unite is committed to working with GKN to find a feasible solution, which will keep the factory open and preserve the jobs of this highly skilled workforce.”

Erdington MP Jack Dromey opposed the £8.1 billion takeover in 2018 warning the British multinational Melrose Industries would cut costs and jobs.

He said: “Despite all the warm words by Melrose in 2018 to protect the future prosperity of GKN and its British workforce, the cold reality three years on is that one of GKN’s finest plants now faces closure. Melrose promised a bright future to GKN’s employees – a promise they have now broken.

“This announcement is completely unexpected by employees at GKN. Working together with their trade union, Unite, I will be seeking an urgent meeting with the company.

“Government Ministers also have a responsibility to act after promises they made at the time of the hostile takeover.”

A spokesperson from GKN Automotive said: “Proposing this closure is a difficult decision which has been made despite significant effort and investment over the past 10 years to reduce the high operating costs at the Birmingham assembly site.

“Sadly, an increasingly competitive global market means that the site is no longer viable. Supporting our people is our priority as we consult on our proposals.”

John Taylor Hospice’s former press officer and Pype Hayes resident Ray Woods lamented the closure of the factory and its impact on the community.

He said: ”My thoughts are with the employees of GKN in Pype Hayes. They and their former senior management helped to raise thousands of pounds for John Taylor Hospice. They should be very proud.

“This is another blow for Erdington and the local community.”

To find out more about GKN Automotive, visit www.gknautomotive.com

For more from Unite the Union, visit www.unitetheunion.org

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NEWS: Erdington’s top politicians push for Brexit deal in support of local industry

Words by Ed King

As MPs across the country prepare to vote on the Brexit trade deal, Erdington’s top politicians both agree that a no-deal exit from the European Union (EU) would be disastrous for local industry.

Crossing the aisle in support of the UK’s business community, MP for Erdington Jack Dromey (Labour) and Erdington ward Councillor Robert Alden (Conservative) agree that the current deal, recently secured by Boris Johnson, is the best way to see in the New Year.

Although still divided by party lines, Erdington’s red and blue leaders have come out in public support of the offer negotiated from Brussels – urging the potential rebels in Westminster to push forward and vote ‘yes’ in the House of Commons on 30th December.

Jack Dromey MP for Erdington said: “We are now left with a very clear choice – the deal that has been agreed or a no deal Brexit.

“Throughout the Brexit process, I have been in intensive dialogue with leading figures from across the world of work. On the eve of the historic Brexit vote, their message is clear – vote for the deal or risk plunging British manufacturing into an unprecedented crisis.”

Quick to recognise the Prime Minister’s role in securing a deal, a diplomatic achievement many thought impossible, Cllr Alden – who is also leader of the Birmingham Conservatives – told Erdington Local:

“With Boris Johnson securing the deal others said he could not and Keir Starmer announcing Labour would vote for the deal without having seen it, Brexit is finally set to be delivered.

“All the wards in Erdington voted to leave the EU and Boris Johnson has delivered the wishes of Erdington constituency, despite repeated attempts by Labour MP’s and others to prevent the will of the people being enacted.

“What is vital now is to maximise the opportunities Brexit can offer the country and our region: the chance to strike trade deals across the world, to control our borders, to deliver world leading environmental protections, and locally the opportunity to use trade deals to regenerate our economy and deliver well paid jobs for local residents, lifting the average wage of Birmingham residents. 

Cllr Alden, who holds the Erdington ward office along with Cllr Gareth Moore, further recognised the potential growth on the horizon if the trade agreement successfully passes.

He added: “The freedoms the deal provides the country need to be used to provide investment into a gigafactory and the car industry, to support jobs in Jaguar/Land Rover and the supply chain, allowing them to modernise and grow.

“I urge the Government to ignore the City Council, who voted for gigafactories to be built in other regions instead, and to invest in Birmingham.”

MP for an area that voted to leave the EU in the June 2016 referendum, Jack Dromey has perhaps more friction within his party than in his constituency – with many Labour MPs urging Sir Keir Starmer to stymy the Johnson secured deal.

He added: “Since the British people decided that we were to leave the European Union in 2016, I have been unequivocal that a no deal Brexit would be a betrayal of the British national interest.

“This deal is far from perfect, and there are many aspects that we need to build upon at the next stages. But the alternative, a no deal and trading on WTO terms, would be a disaster for Britain’s manufacturing industry.

“So, I would urge all Members of Parliament to listen to the workers voice and vote for the Brexit deal. British manufacturing is counting on it.”

MPs will gather in the House of Commons to vote on the Brexit deal on 30th December, having been recalled from their winter break for the historic trade agreement.

Debates will start at 9:30am and are expected to continue until the afternoon, after which the bill will be moved to the House of Lords.

If successful, the Brexit trade deal could receive royal assent by morning on New Year’s Eve 2020.

For more on Brexit/Britain’s exit from the European Union, visit www.gov.uk/transition

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NEWS: Coton Lane Boxing Day death could be deliberate hit and run

Words and pics by Ed King

A man was killed in a what is believed to be a deliberate hit and run in the early hours of Boxing Day morning, on Coton Lane off Erdington High street.

The victim, who is unidentified at the time of writing, is believed to be from outside of Erdington according to sources from the crime scene.

Attending police could not issue too much information as the investigation is underway but were able to assure local residents that they were not expecting more violence.

When Erdington Local asked officers on the scene about public safety, our reporter was told: “there is no concern of that nature.”

Officers from across the city were called in to help protect the crime scene, many who have been on site since 6am on Boxing Day.

Police cordoned off the High Street entrance from Six Way down to the corner of Harrison Road, with forensics concentrating on the murder scene on Coton Lane.

A blue tent had been erected around the victim’s body whilst forensic teams and investigating officers combed the area for clues – with the victim’s body eventually moved by coroners at around 3:30pm on Boxing Day.

One local shop owner, who wished to remain anonymous, told Erdington Local: “I closed up and left the shop at half two in the morning and nothing had happened. People are saying it happened at 3am; my neighbours live up the road and they could see some of what was going on.”

Detective Sergeant Nick Barnes, from West Midlands Police homicide team, said: “My thoughts are with the family of the man who tragically died this morning.

“We’re in the early stages of our investigation and I’d urge anyone who witnesses anything who hasn’t yet spoken to us, or anyone with any information or dash cam footage to get in touch as soon as they can.

“A family have lost a loved one and we need to find out what took place and who is responsible.”

If you have any information please contact West Midlands Police via live chat on our website or call 101 quoting log number 688 of 26 December.

 

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NEWS: New police figures show 49% increasing in Erdington hate crimes during Covid

Words by Adam Smith

Hate crimes in Erdington have increased by 49% during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Inspector Haroon Chughtai revealed 130 more people were victims of hate crimes between April and December, compared with the same period last year.

In his December email to Erdington locals, Inspector Chughtai said: “Around hate crime, there has been an increase of 49% which is around 130 extra victims of crime.

“There are no clear patterns or highly concentrated geographies – rather it is a real mixture of neighbour disputes, road rage incidents, abuse of retail staff and police officers.”

He added: “Hate crime is deplorable and something I will talk about in more detail in future messages.”

Hate crimes are those incidents in which the victims feel their race, sexuality, disability, or religion were the motivating factor for the preparators.

The shocking increase coincides with the COVID-19 pandemic and two lockdowns.

Inspector Chughtai has previously outlined the sharp increase of domestic abuse and violecne as relationships were put under extra strain due to lockdowns and coronavirus restrictions. As the year draws to a close, the shocking amount of victims of domestic abuse in Erdington proves another the human cost of Covid.

He said: “Domestic abuse has seen the most significant increase this year, around 45% – which is an extra 600 victims of crime and equates for just under one quarter of all the crime in Erdington.”

There has been a 17% increase in overall crime which equates to 1,400 more victims of crime in the area compared to last year. 

However, 2020 will be remembered for how the pandemic affected everyone and how police officers have had new challenges to face.

Inspector Chughtai said: “2020 has been a year I guess none of us will ever forget or truly get over, we have all had our lives changed and suffered in different ways and like all major events it has brought both the best and worst out in people.

“When I think of the best, I draw out people like the Erdington Task Force who have been extraordinary in how they have stepped up, the Stockland Green Action Group who have come together and in a short space of time played a big part in holding us and our partners to account and making the community safer.

“Places of worship who have stepped up and started food banks and other services to support their congregations and the wider community to get through this.”

Erdington’s top cop had a further message for offenders who have used the coronavirus lockdowns as cover for their violence and bullying.

He said: ”For me, the worst is the perpetrators of domestic abuse – who have taken advantage of the restrictions and made life unbearable for their victims, we will continue to everything to bring them to justice.”

 

If you believe you are a victim of domestic abuse or violence, call the freephone 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247 – for help online, visit www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk or www.refuge.org.uk

To make an anonymous report about any crime, effecting yourself or others, call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or visit www.crimestoppers-uk.org

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

For a list of support services, as compiled by members of the Erdington Task Force, visit www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19-local-support

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Q&A: Ruby Begum – Employment & Skills Tutor at Witton Lodge Community Association

Unemployment is one of the most damaging footprints left by the coronavirus crisis, with thousands of people losing their jobs and employers across the country having to sack staff or even close down their businesses for good.

In response, local organisations agencies such as Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) are offering support services and employment training – initiatives that will help people get back to work, such as improved IT skills and access to digital technology.

Erdington Local caught up with Ruby Begum, Employment & Skills Tutor at WLCA, to find out how they can help people looking for a new job.

___________________

EL: Can you tell us a bit more about your role and responsibilities at WLCA?

RB: My role at Witton Lodge is to support and help people who are looking for work, and that’s where I provide one to one support and within a group setting.

Here at Witton lodge, we do a range of courses to help people back into work – for example, we offer customer services, CV writing, preparation for interview techniques and digital skills training.

 

EL:  WLCA launched a training and support program to get people more confident with digital skills back in October, can you tell us more about these classes?

RB: The IT classes were introduced as we had identified – especially during lockdown – how people were struggling to keep in touch with their loved ones on digital apps like Zoom, WhatsApp, Facebook etc., because they didn’t have the digital skills to do so.

There were also a lot of services that had started to offer sessions via these apps, which meant that for those people who did not have the skills to use them they would be missing out on them. This was also a barrier for many people in the community in the job market where they were not confident to type up CVs, or to look for jobs on the Internet.

 

EL:  Is it face to face; can people access the sessions remotely such as through Zoom or social media platforms?

RB: The face-to-face delivery is available on Mondays and Tuesdays in the mornings and via zoom or WhatsApp in the afternoon on the same days. My lessons are tailor made according to the learners needs, so it’s a very flexible program to access for them.

 

EL:  How many people are currently engaged on the program at WLCA – and what age ranges have you found are using the service?

RB: We have had a very good response from delivering the IT Sessions and we are receiving new referrals every week – the majority of learners have been older adults, however recently we had referrals from people younger who want to take up basic IT training.

 

EL: Talk us through your approach to teaching IT skills, what would be the standard introduction at the WLCA IT support sessions?

RB: I like to apply the VARK model of teaching. As a teacher, I develop the sessions in different learning styles of visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic styles to adapt to the learners needs.

An example of an introduction to my sessions would be an icebreaker of an activity to get the learners comfortable and give them a chance to get to know each other. I will also guide my learners through the aims and objectives of the program – what to do and what to expect – and discuss any concerns or expectations from the learners.

 

EL: What are you trying to achieve with the sessions, what would be a ‘win’ for those attending?

RB: My aim is to support people in the community to become more aware of modern technology, which is much required now especially with the continuous lockdowns that take place. It is to help people become confident in using IT skills so they can become more independent in their daily lives.

For example, there is so much that they can do if they know how to use a laptop or a modern device: online banking, booking GP appointments online, learning new skills, and much more.

We have already witnessed success stories from some of the learners that have attended as they have now progressed on to attending our Internal wellbeing classes via Zoom.

 

EL: Do people need to have any previous experiences with technology to attend?

RB: No, absolutely not… the course is open to all ages and is completely free of charge. All we require is the learner’s motivation to learn.

 

EL: In your role as Employment and Skills Tutor at WLCA, how important is it for people to be IT literate when looking for work?

RB: I think it’s very important for people to become IT literate especially now. This is due to a lot of companies having interviews via Zoom, training for jobs is mostly conducted via Zoom also.

I have recently had a lot of referrals for people who have become unemployed due to this pandemic and who did not have to use any IT in their previous roles – for them the IT sessions will help to break barriers in finding employment.

 

EL: How about in their personal lives, especially during the recent lockdown and social distancing restrictions?

RB: The IT sessions were also developed to help people during lockdown to stay connected with their friends and families by learning how to use smart devices and connecting with others.

Most of my learners are very isolated with limited or no families. For them it’s been really tough in the last few months and the IT sessions have helped to connect to other support services online. For example, we have had success stories of people getting into volunteering, attending wellbeing sessions on Zoom and making new friends.

 

EL: Do you think new technology can come with its downside, are there negatives to the increasing reliance and use of IT when looking for work?

RB: No, I don’t feel there is any downside if I’m honest. I think we are living in modern times and everything is moving forward to digital, so now is the right time to learn IT skills that will benefit the community to become independent and more confident around digital skills when looking for work.

 

EL: The term “digital poverty” is often mentioned, relating to people who may not be able to afford or access the relevant IT.  Can you tell us about the Digital -All services at WLCA?

RB: At Witton Lodge we have a great service called the digital lending library, this is a service where we have secured funding for tablets and laptops to help break barriers for people in the community around IT skills. The service is available for people either wanting to learn IT skills for work or to help develop IT skills to be able to use other services.

We offer tablets and laptops on a loan basis to help people get back into work. For example, we have identified that in the community there are a lot of people who cannot afford to buy laptops or tablets in order to do job search or apply for jobs. To help break this barrier, we offer the IT sessions and the devices on a loan agreement between the client and WLCA.

 

EL: What could be done on a larger scale, not just by WLCA, to address the deficit in access to IT and digital platforms?

RB: I would like to hope that most of the community organisations out there have noticed the gap for IT skills. It would be a good idea if community organisations could focus on securing funding around re-skilling the people of the community to develop IT skills.

This will help to break so many barriers for people – for example, improving confidence building and becoming more independent, accessing other services, being able to do things for themselves rather than relying on others. We are fortunate here at WLCA, that we are able to provide these services to the community.

For more information on the IT training at Witton Lodge Community Association, which is funded through the Erdington Neighbourhood Network Scheme, please call Ruby Begum on 0121 382 1930 or email her at Ruby.Begum@wittonlodge.org.uk

To find out more about the services and support offered at Witton Lodge Community Association, visit  www.wittonlodge.org.uk

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NEWS: Story Wood School help Witton Lodge break world record for largest holly wreath

Words & pics by Ed King

On Friday 11th December, children from Story Wood School helped break the world record for the largest holly wreath – building the giant decoration around The Ring in Perry Common.

Organised by Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA), the festive feat took three days to complete – with over 60 local residents and community volunteers joining the Year 5 pupils in the world record breaking Christmas celebration.

Measuring a staggering 358.3m in circumference and 136.1m in diameter, the giant wreath was made of holly branches from Sutton Park and Christmas decorations donated Birmingham City Council.

Circling the public playing area and green space that sits between Rosedale Road and Branford Road, the mammoth task was operated under social distancing and Covid safe conditions – with people working in bubbles along separate sections of the fencing.

Measured by independent adjudicators and Erdington Councillor Robert Alden, the final count was filmed live – with the evidence now being sent to the Guinness Word Record organisation for its official endorsement.

To date, the record for the largest Christmas wreath has been held by D Presmec Dolge Njive from Volicina, Slovenia.

Completed on 1st December 2013, the pine, cypress, and grape vine wreath measured 316.82m in circumference and 100.85m in diameter – over 35m smaller than the Perry Common record breaker.

Bringing together people of all ages, from 9 to 99 years old, the Perry Common endeavour was a loud and proud community celebration – putting a positive full stop at the end of a year that has kept many friends, neighbours, and loved ones apart due to the coronavirus crisis.

Across Erdington, people are mirroring the spirit of Witton Lodge’s record-breaking wreath – with initiatives such as the Light Up Christmas campaign, by local charity Active Arts, encouraging people to end the year with a bright smile.

Debbie Bates, Heath and Wellbeing Lead at Witton Lodge Community Association, said: “We’ve been thinking about lots of things to help celebrate Christmas and bring some Christmas spirit to everyone in the community. It’s been a horrendous year… but it was important that we still did something to bring the community together.

“We came up with the idea to put a Christmas tree in the centre of The Ring and inviting members of the community to decorate the tree with messages, wishes, and hopes.

“From that idea sparked a conversation with John Porter from Sutton Park, who was cutting down holly, and we came up with the idea between us all to decorate The Ring.  

“We’ve had volunteers, children from the local schools… we’ve had so many people come out.

“People walking their dogs, just wanting to take part and have a little conversation. They’ve said how pretty it looks; how lovely it is. How fabulous it is to have The Ring decorated and how nice it is to be part pf Perry Common.

“Isolation has been so difficult for so many people. The lovely thing is people have come back out (of their houses) to have a look and be part of this, to do some of the weaving. So, it’s been building people’s confidence to come back out into the community.”

Part of the independent adjudicating team, Erdington Councillor Robert Alden joined the festive feat to mark off segments and calculate the final size of the record-breaking wreath.

“It’s almost been like taking part in a Christmas movie, you’ve had the community come together all behind this idea that Witton Lodge come up with – it’s been brilliant,” Councillor Alden told Erdington Local.

“It’s been incredible to see the children come out and take part too – they have been here all week giving up their spare time to come and take part in this record-breaking attempt. You’ve seen the whole community come together. It’s what Christmas is about, particularly in this year.

“What this is showing is the community in Perry Common; you’ve got this wonderful community who want to come together. 

“We’ve seen people who haven’t been willing to come out of their houses for months take part, because they felt they could be part of the community again in a safe way.”

With one week left until they break for the winter holidays, the children from Story Wood School were excited to bring back some festive cheer to the community.

“It’s been amazing,” said the Year 5 pupils who were putting the final branches on the world-record breaking wreath. “It’s been fun watching the whole Ring turn into a massive holly wreath.”

And whilst the year has been a challenging one for the local school children, when asked if they were feeling more festive after decorating This Ring the answer was a resounding “YEEEEAAAAHHHH.”

Central News also tuned up to film the record-breaking wreath in Perry Common, talking to local residents who helped build the giant decoration – watch the video below:

Witton Lodge Community Association organise record breaking holly wreath in Perry Common – Central News 11.12.20

For more on Story Wood School, visit www.storywood.bham.sch.uk

To find out more about Witton Lodge Community Association, visit www.wittonlodge.org.uk

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