BACK TO: …work, with Dellano Lewis – Employment & Engagement Officer at Witton Lodge Community Association

Words by Dellano Lewis / Pics by Ed King

As the country takes its first steps out of lockdown – with people returning to their places of work, education, and leisure – Erdington Local has been asking for some simple steps to help us get back to normal.

This article has been supported by the Erdington Coronavirus Taskforce – for a full list of local support services, visit www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19-local-support

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EL:  You are the Engagement and Employment Support Worker at Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) – tell us a bit more about your role and responsibilities?
DL: My role includes outreach activities, working alongside our partners such as DWP, handling paperwork related to registration, actively updating and monitoring client database, filing away documents, ensuring monthly reports are submitted to secure finances. Other duties include helping clients with CVs, job application forms, universal credit accounts, job searching, digital skills, helping to find suitable work, training and voluntary opportunities.

Prior to the lockdown I also conducted weekly employment related activities in groups, delivering weekly online sessions, operating the WLCA Instagram page, creating content using video software, supporting with other areas which increase the associations presence through live events such as (Track Friday). Building key relationships with local providers in and across Birmingham are also a part of my role. 

EL: How long have you been working in the community?
DL: This will now be just over four years working in the community. 

EL: How did you find your job?
DL: I had met Iram (Fardus – WLCA’s Business Development & Performance Manager) at the time and the opportunity came about to do some volunteering with the association around helping the youth. I was very interested in this, so I decided to take on the opportunity. Through volunteering I was then given a part time role leading to a full time position. 

EL: The coronavirus crisis has turned many people’s worlds upside down, how has it affected the people you work with through WLCA?
DL: Due to the situation a lot of people haven’t been able to cope with looking for work – another thing is the health and wellbeing of the client, if someone is not in the right frame of mind to look for work it will be difficult for them to move forward. Alongside that, clients have been struggling with I.T. – this has also been one of the major factors preventing people from accessing opportunities. 

EL: What are the most immediate concerns facing people over employment?
DL: Some of the immediate concerns from people are finances and health – a lot of people have lost jobs and a number of business’s have closed. 

EL: What are WLCA doing to address these concerns?
DL: The response from WLCA Team has been exceptional – this is including all the volunteers that stepped in to support. Our service had a slight change in delivery, making everything accessible online; clients who had an interest in accessing jobs during the lockdown were able to contact the employment team and receive this support.

Many families and individuals were feeling very worried, the prompt action and response from the team in delivering services related to food gave the residents and people in the community a sense of reassurance that someone is looking out for them.

Health & Wellbeing was also a major factor. With the lockdown, mental health was increasingly affecting a majority of people. Staying connected with those affected, especially the elderly, was very important as they were the ones who have gone months without seeing family, friends, or even outdoors. 

EL: For anybody looking for employment, especially during the coronavirus crisis, what simple first steps should they take?
DL: If you are currently looking for work one of the things to have ready is an active CV, this is like your plane ticket. The CV is the first thing an employer is going to see so make sure everything is correct and easy to read; ensure your work history, qualifications, and any type of work experience you have done is on the CV.

Alongside the CV, create a cover letter and indeed account once you have these begin to make a plan of action. Think about the type of job you want to be doing short term and the career long term. If you require some support with taking the next step or setting these things up give us a call for support (0121) 382 1930. 

EL: What about people who are having to self-isolate, are there any pathways to employment they could take?
DL: For those self-isolating, don’t feel discouraged – with online learning you can sure find something that interests you. Platforms such as alison.com, Future Learn, and Vision2Learn have a wide range of free courses you could do online to gain knowledge and even claim a certificate upon completing.

EL: How about people who are still in employment, but feel unsupported or uncertain about their workplace – what advice would you give them?
DL: If you are feeling unsupported or uncertain about your place of work, one of the first things would be to speak to your manager and let them know how you are feeling. Also check out the furlough scheme information on the Governement’s website in the event of becoming unemployed, you will be able to claim 80% of your wages through your employer.

Click the link for more information: www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wages-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme

EL: With lockdown restrictions being imposed again on certain pockets of the country, as speculation around a ‘second spike’ of COVID-19 grows, what preparation can people take – around employment?
DL: In relation to a potential second spike I think it would be a good Idea to develop some digital skills. Starting from the very basic, if you are more advance explore areas of work that require some computer device to carry out the role.

In various areas of work the role may require you to complete an administrative task, so gaining those skills from now will be really good. Create a plan of action, think about two or three areas of work you would like explore – it may not be computer related – go online and learn the fundamentals for those roles, the information is free and accessible.

Remember to take time out for yourself as well don’t feel too pressured into doing everything all at once. Exercise, try to have something healthy to eat, looking for work is a challenge but keep going think positive and stay active.

Full more from Witton Lodge Community Association, visit www.wittonlodge.org.uk

For more on the government’s Job Retention Scheme, visit www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wages-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme

This article has been supported by the Erdington Coronavirus Taskforce – for a full list of local support services, visit www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19-local-support

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NEWS: Community art project transforms Maplin hoardings into a mural ‘to celebrate Erdington’

Words & pics by Ed King

On Saturday 15th August, volunteers from across Erdington kick started a new community art project – transforming the hoardings that have ring-fenced the old Maplin site into a vibrant mural ‘to celebrate Erdington.’

Over 20 local residents and representatives gave up the start of their weekend to help whitewash the 107 boards that surround the disused commercial site by Six Ways Island.

In huge display of community spirit, members from a wide range of local action groups worked across the morning and into the afternoon – preparing a blank canvas to be filled throughout the week by four Birmingham based artists.

Displaying the very unity that they want to celebrate, the mammoth task was completed by 1pm – aided by hard work and camaraderie from organisations including Erdington Litter Busters, Erdington Community Volunteers, Ahmadiyya Muslim Association, Witton Lodge Community Association, Urban Devotion, Good Gym, Erdington Arts Forum, and Active Arts.

Erdington Councillors Robert Alden and Gareth Moore, who helped the project get up and running, also rolled up their sleeves on Saturday – working alongside the collage of community groups to get the job done quickly and professionally.

The idea is to celebrate Erdington as a place to live,” tells Claire Westmacott – a member of the Erdington Community Volunteers group who were helping whitewash the hoardings.

When you drive through here, you are going to see this mural… it’s to celebrate the different areas of Erdington and what makes Erdington so good.

It’s the people, it’s the people getting together – you can see here the community spirit. It’s been brilliant… people have been asking what’s happening and saying that’s a brilliant idea.

“People passing by have taken notice of what we’ve been doing; it’s the community making improvements.”

Steve Allen – the first of the four artists commissioned – began his painting immediately, completing the front face of the mural by the evening on Sunday 16th August. Steve, aka Nozzle and Brush, is a local ‘mural and spray paint specialist’ who uses aerosol paints to create ‘one off artwork for bedrooms, walls, shop shutters, gym spaces and more.’

Further work will continue on the mural throughout the week, with local illustrator and designer Edward Thrush using the boards along Summer Road for a piece celebrating the volunteer groups that work in and around Erdington.

Keely Iqbal, an illustrator and fashion designer with a studio at The Custard Factory, is using the Sutton New Road side for an artistic exploration into the history of Erdington.

Whilst Abian Richards, a local artist who ‘works with an expressive mixed media style’ will be painting a special piece that celebrates the green spaces from across the constituency.

Organisers hope the full mural will be completed by Sunday 23rd August – hoping to see selfies and photos captured by members of the public across social media, tagging Erdington Arts Forum or one of the other groups.

Supporting this act of community spirit, Mercia Real Estate have financed the lion’s share of costs attached to the mural – fronting £2250 for the project, with an extra £750 added by Active Arts who have helped coordinate the artists commissions as part of their Erdington Arts Forum role.

Maplin Electronic Supplies went into administration in February 2018, closing all of its UK stores and putting it 2,500 strong work force into unemployment.

Since then, the site that looks out over Six Ways Island has been boarded up – sitting as both a public eyesore and an unpleasant reminder to the employees at the Erdington branch who lost their livelihoods.

Mercia Real Estate, the Birmingham based company who took over the land following the Maplin closure, said:

Mercia Real Estate acquired the site in 2018 with a view to redeveloping the buildings into a terrace of convenience retail units.

Whilst this has been in planning we were approached by community leaders earlier this year who had expressed an interest in creating various murals on the site hoarding.

Wherever we invest we are always keen to engage with the community and in this case were happy to extend a donation to support the creativity of the various groups involved.”

For more on Steve Allen, visit www.nozzleandbrush.co.uk
For more on Edward Thrush, visit www.elthrush.com
For more on Keely Iqbal, visit www.keelyiqbal.com
For more on Abian Richards, visit www.facebook.com/faffabout

For more on Mercia Real Estate, visit www.merciarealestate.com
For more on Active Arts, visit www.activearts.wordpress.com

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NEWS: Residents rally to save Short Heath Playing Fields – protecting Erdington’s green spaces from developers

Words by Adam Smith / Pics by Ed King

Shocked Erdington residents are furious about plans to turn a local beauty spot into a housing estate.

Short Heath Playing Fields have been at the heart of Perry Common for more than a century, but Birmingham City Council wants the green space for housing through a private property developer – despite families regularly using the parkland.

So far over 800 residents have signed a petition demanding to save Short Heath Playing Fields, with many claiming they were left in the dark about the multi-million pound housing development.

The council are remaining tight lipped about the timetable for the ‘disposal’ of the 26, 912 square metre site, which has proved even more popular during COVID-19 lockdown despite the council claiming ‘the fields are not being used’.

The removal of Short Heath Playing Fields during a time of worrying childhood obesity is even more controversial – the beloved green space is just over a mile from Burford Playing Fields in Kingstanding, which is also about disappear to make way for houses.

Court Farm Road resident Stephen Hughes was so upset about the prospect of losing the playing fields he set up an online petition which clocked up nearly 800 signatures within weeks.

He said: “I live opposite these playing fields, I can see them from my window. But I was not included in the so-called consultation about selling them off for housing.

I played on these fields as a child, my children played on these fields, and now I am getting the joy of taking my two-year-old granddaughter over there… but now they could be gone forever in a few months.”

The 52-year-old automotive engineer said: “This is one of the few green spaces left in Erdington, the wildlife is amazing to see, and you always see people walking their dogs or enjoying a stroll. For the council to say no-one uses it is unbelievable.

A lot of people have messaged me saying they live in a flat and do not have a garden, they are really upset about losing their only bit of green space. Throughout the lockdown more and more people began using the park to exercise.”

He added: “We have got 800 signatures from people who live around here who did not know anything about these plans. The council put up two pieces of A4 paper up informing people about the plans to sell the land, that is why so few people know about it.”

A Short Heath Road resident, Estelle Murphy, whose house backs onto the playing fields, attended the consultation meeting at St Barnabas Church last August and branded the entire exercise as a “joke”.

She said: “The consultation was an absolute joke, this fella from the council stood and told us he was going to build on the playing fields no matter what. There are supposed to be 84 houses going up, we were told it was a done deal, how is that a consultation?”

The NHS worker added: “The wildlife is something special, I sit and watch the bats fly around at night and we have a world shortage of honey bees – but we have more honey bees in the playing fields than we ever have, and they want to build over it.

The bit of land at the back which they are saying will remain a green space is a floodplain and gets soggy immediately. I fear it is a done deal.”

The consultation was held between July and September last year – with Birmingham City Council promising to spend the proceeds of the land sale on sporting facilities across the city.

But as the Short Heath Playing Fields were originally allocated for use by two local schools, Stockland Green School and Court Farm Primary, the Department of Education will have to approve the sale.

The Secretary of State for Education will ‘take into consideration residents’ comments before making the decision – however, residents who did not know about the consultation want their opposition noted.

Birmingham City Council’s proposal said: “The playing fields have not been used by a school or any community group for 10 years.

Although the fields are not being used, Birmingham City Council continues to maintain them. There are ongoing costs for the maintenance and upkeep of these fields.

Should approval be given, Birmingham City Council is proposing to use the land to address the current housing shortage.

This will be subject to planning permission and all other relevant approvals. Any proceeds from the disposal of these playing fields will be used to provide alternative sporting facilities in the city.”

Birmingham City Council would not comment further on the matter.

To sign the petition to ‘Save Short Heath Playing Fields’, visit: www.change.org/save-short-heath-playing-fields

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NEWS: Snapshots of Mumbai – local writer explores historic relationship between India and Britain, marking 73 years of India’s independence from colonial rule

Pics by Paul Ward – all photography in this article has taken from Snapshots of Mumbai

On Saturday 15th August, local writer Ed King releases Snapshots of Mumbai – marking 73 years of India’s independence from British colonial rule.

Supporting the text are a series of original images from Birmingham based photographer Paul Ward, who recently won the ‘Fashion Photographer’ category at the British Photography Awards 2020.

Exploring the might and majesty of India, whilst following the roots of British imperialism, Snapshots of Mumbai is ‘a love letter’ to the modern day megacity – published in both hardback and paperback editions by Review Publishing, joint owners of Erdington Local.

The 204 page coffee table book is an anthology of essays and interviews from Mumbai – starting with ‘South City’, a walking tour through the history of this sprawling modern metropolis.

‘Places Behind’ goes deeper under the surface of prominent areas in Mumbai, such as Dhobi Ghats – the world’s largest outdoor laundromat, and Dharavi – Asia’s biggest slum where the film Slumdog Millionaire was set.

‘Modern Gods’ explores three major driving forces behind Mumbai, told through more extensive essays on religion, entertainment, and trade.

Whilst ‘Interviews’ sees Ed King talk directly to of people about their first-hand experiences of living and working in Mumbai.

Featured in the chapter are Saami – a street hawker who works and lives on the streets of Colaba, and Ashwin Merchant – Deputy Director of the Swiss Business Hub, who had to help Mumbai police identify bodies after the 2008 terror attacks, and Naresh Fernandes – a prominent Mumbai based journalist and writer, who was editor of Time Out Mumbai when interviewed.

‘The Gallery’, the final chapter in Snapshot of Mumbai, showcases a special series of twelve photographs from the project by Paul Ward – which have already been on display as standalone exhibitions at both Wolverhampton Art Gallery and Bilston Art Gallery.

Written for audiences who may or may not know the city, Snapshots of Mumbai is also ‘a reminder’ of Britain’s colonial legacy in South Asia – introducing today’s readers to the ‘forgotten history’ of the British Raj.

The first of five books that will follow Britain’s involvement with India – from the trade of the East India Company to the military occupation enforced by the British Crown – the Snapshots of… series will further cover Kochi, Chennai, Kolkata, and Kashmir.

Ed King was born in Britain and works in Erdington, but has a longstanding relationship with India – having covered music events across the country for a number of UK titles.

Although it was his own ignorance of the history between the two countries that spurred him to write Snapshots of Mumbai.

The term ‘Empire’ was never taught in my history lessons,” tells Ed King, “it was a left to fade behind tales of the League of Nations and other heroic feathers in caps.

But the legacy of British India has shaped both countries, tied them together – and it’s becoming part of the world’s conveniently forgotten history.

I wrote Snapshots of Mumbai because I wanted to learn about the relationship between Britain and India myself. Something I hoped to pass on in an engaging narrative surrounded by beautiful pictures – thank you Paul Ward.

This book is not an accusation of ignorance; I want the book to be enjoyed. It is, quite simply, a love letter to the city – an exploration of Mumbai.

But we should hold on to history and know how the world was formed by our grandparents, our great grandparent’s, and those that came before. It is a frightening and absurd chapter to forget. There’s still an audience for truth.”

Ed King interviewed about Snapshots of Mumbai – filmed at Oikos Café, as part of the Erdington Arts Forum ‘Evening of Creativity’

Snapshots of Mumbai is available in’ both hardback and paperback editions from Saturday 15th August, release by Review Publishing.  

For more on Snapshots of Mumbai, including links to online sales, visit www.reviewpublishing.net/snapshots-of-mumbai

For more on Paul Ward, visit www.paulward.net

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NEWS: Witton Lodge Community Association launch Digit-All, tackling ‘digital poverty’ with a new electronic lending library

Words by Steve Sharma / Pics supplied by Witton Lodge Community Association

From Monday 24th August, isolated and vulnerable Erdington residents will be able to access essential support services thanks to an innovative new project being rolled out by Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) – Erdington Local can reveal.

The Perry Common based organisation is launching Digit-All – its own IT lending Library – to provide older residents and others in need of digital literacy support with the tools, skills, and knowledge they need to engage online.

Paul Tse, Flourishing Community Development Officer at WLCA, explains how COVID-19 has heightened an already pressing concern around digital literacy.

As a result of the lockdown, a significant number of the services and activities which older residents are dependent on have moved online,” he said.

The levels of digital poverty in Erdington were already quite high but this situation has seen even more adults become marginalised, unable to access the support they need. This puts them at greater risk of isolation, poor mental health, and mobility difficulties. Our project seeks to redress this imbalance and prevent such suffering.”

Work being delivered by the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce and Witton Lodge’s employment and skills and health & wellbeing teams, has identified a number of people in urgent need of digital literacy support. Digit-All will address the three main areas of concern which have been identified – a lack of IT facilities, a lack of connectivity, alongside confidence and capability.

We have purchased a range of portable IT equipment including laptops and tablets that will be available to lend to isolated, vulnerable adults,” added Paul.

As part of the service offer, we will also be providing users with a free data plan (and/or wireless dongles) to enable individuals to connect to the Internet where they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to.

Digital skills training will also be available to help older adults learn how to use their devices and interact with others through platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook or Zoom.”

Funding for the project has been acquired through the Erdington Neighbourhood Network Scheme – one of Birmingham City Council’s constituency-based networks, established to enable engagement with and investment in community assets which support older people to lead independent and connected lives.

Councillor Paulette Hamilton, Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care, said: “Neighbourhood Network Schemes have been set up to reduce isolation and improve social connectivity and wellbeing at a local level and in particular to support our older and more vulnerable citizens, keeping them active and engaged within their own localities.

The evidence of work carried out by organisations like Witton Lodge during the COVID-19 lockdown reveals that many of our older adults either do not have access to information technology that could help them be more in control of their lives, or do not have the confidence and ability to navigate the Internet to search for information and services that can help them remain independent.

Digit-All is a proactive response to digital poverty that has become more apparent during COVID-19 across our communities.  I am excited and look forward to seeing the service develop and being rolled out across Birmingham’s neighbourhoods,”

The project, as a prototype, launches from Monday 24th August – with those already identified as being in urgent need of support the first to receive laptops and tablets.

Following this initial trial period, the scheme Witton Lodge Community Association are looking to roll out Digit-All to a wider audience across North Birmingham.

For more information and photo opportunities call Steve Sharma on 0121 382 1930 or email steve.sharma@wittonlodge.org.uk

For more on Witton Lodge Community Association, visit www.wittonlodge.org.uk

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NEWS: From fly tipping blackspot to community garden, clearing the alleyways with Stockland Green Action Group

Words by Adam Smith / Pics by Ed King

A Stockland Green fly tipping blackspot is being transformed into a community orchard and garden after a group of determined residents wanted their area to blossom.

Over the last two weeks, Erdington locals collected more than 60 tonnes of rubbish in the alleyways behind Frances, Anchorage, Kings, and Queen’s Roads – such as old furniture, mattresses, building materials, and dangerous drug paraphernalia including hundreds of hypodermic needles.

Volunteers from neighbouring streets, who are marshalled by a WhatsApp group, have spent hundreds of hours removing rubbish and laying the groundwork for the alleyways to be an inner city oasis.

Despite there being several Birmingham City Council signs warning: ‘NO DUMPING – PENALTY CAN BE UP TO £20,000,’ no-one has been prosecuted for the illegal fly tipping – which has plagued the area for years.

Following the impressive actions of the newly formed Stockland Green Action Group, launched on 20th June this year, Birmingham City Council have been sending compactor trucks to remove the piles rubbish – which have been constantly active in the area over the last few weeks.

The group have been working closely with Birmingham City Council and are hopeful about the ongoing partnership – citing the excellent work carried out by the Waste Management Team.

A member of the Stockland Green Action Group, Kamleish Parfect, told Erdington Local: “We were told nothing could be done about the piles of rubbish in the alleyways – but I love a challenge, so we did it ourselves.

I have counted nine settees and lots of mattresses which was a worry because it is such a fire risk, that’s one of the reasons why were got gates fitted by our house.

The crime rate here has gone up with burglaries happening and drug dealing on the street; we just wanted to do something to improve the area we lived in, there has been a real sense of community since it started.”

The Stockland Green Action Group believes they were kickstarted into action due to the COVID-19 lockdown – with more residents being at home than usual.

The 53-year-old mother of two said: “I have spoken to neighbours on my road since we started doing this that I had never spoken to before – and those neighbours who have been unable to do the manual labour needed have been providing us with food. I have not needed to use my own kitchen in two weeks.”

However, it was the drug needles found behind her home which caused Kamleish serious concern.

She said: “We found needles in the alleyway that runs  in between Frances Road, Ancourage Road and Mere Road, amounting to about a plant pot full. We collected them and hid them away safely, but by the next morning they had been taken. Since then we have collected another box full of needles, which I presented to the police.”

Stockland Green Action Group member Usman Aslam, from Queens Road, added: “Crime seems to have gotten worse, but COVID-19 seems to have brought the community together and made us want to do something together.”

Following the recent rubbish removal, the residents have a plan to turn the land into a community asset – an urban oasis which residents across Birmingham could emulate.

She said: “We want to have an orchard, a raised bed where vegetables can be grown, and a playground. Also some residents would like space to exercise, so we’d like to create an outdoor gym.

This piece of land will be unrecognisable in a few years and everyone’s children will be able to play safely.”

To follow the Stockland Green Action Group on Twitter, visit www.twitter.com/sg_actiongroup

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NEWS: Upcycle Birmingham launches new showroom in the heart of Castle Vale

Words & pics by Ed King

On Monday 3rd August, Upcycle Birmingham launches its new showroom – selling second hand furniture and household goods at ‘an affordable price’, whilst raising money for community projects and support services on the Castle Vale estate.

Taking over the old St Gerrards community hall, Upcycle Birmingham has moved its large furniture facility into centre of Castle Vale – relocating from its previous premises on the Castle Vale Enterprise Park, situated off Park Lane.

With a sister shop on the local High Street, which sells smaller household items and clothes, Upcycle Birmingham now has all of its public operations right in the heart of Castle Vale – within easy walking distance of each other, as well as the estate’s main shopping and social hub.

We set Upcycle up about six and half years ago,” explains Judy Tullett – Community Services Coordinator at Spitfire Services – who created and operate the social enterprise, “with funding from the end of the Endowment Trust – legacy funding from the Housing Action Trust.

It was always people’s vision that there would be a place where we would not only sell good quality second hand furniture, but where people could volunteer and come in and have a gossip as well. And that’s exactly what it’s turned out to be.”

By being in the centre of the estate, we can attract more people,” adds Ray Goodwin – CEO at Spitfire Services, “and we’ve done a lot of learning – we looked at selling more online, but unless you specialise in antiques and high end stuff it just doesn’t work. Do what you do and do it well.”

Opening in January 2014, Upcycle Birmingham is a ‘thriving furniture recycling business that helps people transform their homes with low cost, high quality goods.’

The Castle Vale based social enterprise, run diligently by a team of around 26 dedicated volunteers, sources unwanted stock – donated by local businesses and residents. The items are then cleaned, polished, and presented to the public at a significant saving.

But quality is key, with Upcycle Birmingham only accepting and reselling items that are still fit for purpose and in good condition. Erdington Local used the Castle Vale based social enterprise to furnish its newsroom – buying desks and office equipment that would have cost ten-fold from a branded retailer.

I went it to research a story and came out with a van load of desk and tables,” admits Ed King, Editor-in-Chief of Erdington Local. “I usually buy bits of office equipment from a reclamation yard in Digbeth, but the quality at Upcycle Birmingham was a different level.

Before I had finished talking to the staff and arranging our interviews, I’d bought a thick glass topped desk to replace the wooden one I’ve been working from.

It’s beautiful, in great condition, and cost me £20. To buy it new you’d be looking at around £300 minimum. Upcycle Birmingham saved me a small fortune.”  

Upcycle Birmingham have also ensured they are protected again coronavirus, sterilising all new items and placing them into a 72hr quarantine – ensuring no trace of COVID-19 could be passed on through a sale.

Both the showroom and High Street shop also operate under Government guidelines to combat the spread of coronavirus, implementing social distancing measures and hand sanitiser points for all customers.

Because of the lockdown we’ve had lots of new donations,”  tells Sue Spicer, a local resident and volunteer who has worked at Upcycle Birmingham since it opened.

But we have to isolate all items for three days before we can touch them. Everything is stored at Spitfire House before we can sterilise it and bring it over to the shop.”

Established and operated by Spitfire Services, with initial investment also coming from The Pioneer Group – though its Employment and Enterprise Trust Fund – Upcycle Birmingham first opened its doors in January 2014.

But as with many of the social enterprises supported or run by Spitfire Services, including Castle Vale Library and Castle Pool, Upcycle Birmingham is as much about community as it is about commerce – providing more than just a reasonable price for the people it serves.

It’s more of a community hub being here,” continues Sue Spicer, “if you didn’t have a car you had a long walk to get to the old place.

It’s good that were more local now. And it’s good for families, especially with things like children’s clothes… we call it the boutique on the high street. 

But the big thing is the sense of community – people come in and have a natter, they don’t’ always have to be buying something.

Before coronavirus and the lockdown, if someone came in and they looked like they needed a friendly face, we’d invite them to sit down and have a cup of tea and a chat.

And the kids love to come in and have a mooch after school too, with their parents or grandparents. We can’t do that as much at the moment because we’re only allowed limited numbers in the shop.”

In six and a half years, Upcycle Birmingham has become a firm fixture on the Castle Vale estate – now accepting 120 tonnes of stock each year and selling quality items to hundreds of households. Hopes are that the more central location of its new showroom will allow them to reach even more residents.

Celebrated and championed by the Erdington MP, Jack Dromey, the Castle Vale social enterprise also receives regular visits from its member of parliament.

There are homes throughout Erdington with residents who could not afford to furnish them,” tells Jack Dromey MP – after visiting the new showroom before they opened their doors to the public.

Thanks to Upcycle, these families can be proud of where they are bringing their children up. A remarkable organisation led by the inspirational Judy Tullett, Upcycle takes what local residents no longer want and gives it those who need.” 

To learn more about Upcycle Birmingham, visit www.upcyclebirmingham.org.uk

To learn more about Spitfire Services, visit www.spitfireservices.org.uk

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NEWS: “Furious local parents and residents” stand up against plans to turn Cross Key pub into ‘stepping stone’ hostel

Words by Adam Smith / Pics by Ed King

The campaign to stop the Cross Keys pub being turned into a hostel has been given a boost after top private school Highclare have formally objected to the controversial plan.

Furious local parents and residents” have complained about the Fairfield Fox Ltd application to create a 15 bedroom hostel for homeless people, despite the building bordering a senior school and overlooking two nurseries.

Birmingham City Council is currently considering the application and should either reject or approve the plan by the end of September.

Independent senior school and sixth form Highclare borders the Cross Keys and normally has more than 200 children, whose parents pay £4,410 a term, on site.

Headmaster Dr Richard Luker told Erdington Local his school did not want to have a hostel as its neighbour.

He said: “I can confirm the school has lodged an objection to the planning application and we await the outcome of the due process.”

Osbourne Nursery and Moonstone Children’s Day Centre are both overlooked by the proposed hostel, which could have a large turnover of guests as it will be a ‘stepping stone’ for homeless people before they get permanent accommodation.

Erdington Councillor Robert Alden is leading the campaign against the hostel.

He said: “This will be an absolute scandal if planning consent is given for this hostel which is surrounded by schools and nurseries.

The amount of children walking past the hostel every day alone should be enough of a reason for this to be refused. The prospect of drug paraphernalia and needles on the street is another major worry.

We have had hundreds of furious local parents and residents get in touch about this hostel application, they are rightly worried about the impact on the area and the dangers to local children.

The building overlooks a nursery’s playground, borders another school and is opposite a children’s day centre – the developer should withdraw the application immediately.”

Cllr Alden fears if a hostel is approved then plans for a reinvigoration of the High Street could also be in danger.

He added: “The Cross Keys is surrounded by listed buildings, including Highclare School and the Abbey, the shops opposite are a heritage asset and it sits in the heart of historic Erdington; a hostel is wholly inappropriate.

And the building is on the approach to Erdington Train Station, if it should become a blight then that effectively cuts off half of the town.”

Cllr Alden believes the application for a hostel is due to the loopholes in housing rules which creates massive profits for companies housing vulnerable people.

There is a lot of money to be made through hostels and HMOs and Erdington has enough of these properties. Our opposition is not about stopping the homeless getting homes, Birmingham City Council has accommodation for the homeless, this is just totally the wrong place.”

Fairfield Fox Ltd revealed its plans for a hostel in a document submitted to the council, despite their pleas for it ‘to remain confidential’ details have been made public.

The document reveals the hostel managers will seek regular meetings with local police concerning what happens in the property.

The document states: ‘There will be two full time and two part time staff. All occupants will be of low risk and requiring accommodation due to being homeless. This could be due to being evicted from previous accommodation or being unemployed.

‘The intention is to provide emergency housing and support to individuals and provides a stepping stone whilst more permanent accommodation is sought.’

Prospect Housing and Vanguard Direct will run the hostel on a rolling five year lease.

The Cross Keys’ public consultation closes on June 16 – to object email Faisal.Agha@birmingham.gov.uk quoting the application number: 2020/02902/PA

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NEWS: Leon Edwards – Erdington’s global UFC star stands up against knife crime

Words by Adam Smith

Erdington’s very own global UFC superstar Leon Edwards still believes he will be world champion this year but is now also determined to stop local youngsters falling into a life of crime.

The 28-year-old’s plans for global domination were put on hold by COVID-19 but during lockdown he decided to fight knife crime by trying to get free gym memberships for poverty-stricken youngsters.

Currently on an eight fight winning streak and awaiting a welterweight title shot Edwards has shown in recent months he is prepared to use his celebrity status to further causes he believes in.

Edwards, who trained at the Ultimate Training Centre on Erdington High Street, urged people to support NHS and care workers, helped raise money for Birmingham Children’s Hospital, and attended the Black Lives Matter march in Birmingham city centre last month.

A spate of knife crime deeply affected Edwards after the video of his friend’s cousin being stabbed to death in Oldbury was widely circulated online. He immediately told his management and the UFC he wanted to do something, and now he and fellow UK fighters Darren Till and Jimi Manuwa are working on launching a new anti-knife crime organisation.

Edwards told MMA Junkie: “For me, I grew up in that same environment. I understand what these kids are going through and what’s going through their heads.

I retweeted a video a few weeks ago on my Instagram about that kid getting stabbed in Birmingham – one of my friends’ cousins. It was heart breaking to actually see the video, because you hear about it all the time. On that same day, that video of that guy that got stabbed, there was another three stabbings in that same day.

So, I messaged my management straight away and said ‘what can I do to help?’ And set something up that can help and prevent this. Jimi Manuwa reached out to me literally the next day and he was saying the same thing as me and it would be good to get Till involved as well.

We all came from the same situation as these kids. We all understand the kids. I think martial arts changed our lives and it can hopefully change someone else’s life.”

He added: “At first the plan that came was like we are going to join someone else’s organisation. Our thing is though we want to do our own thing. We want to do it in our own way. We don’t want to join a pre-existing organisation. So at the moment it’s bouncing ideas, speaking to the UFC – they want to be involved as well. We think we are going to be doing our own thing with the UFC. It’s moving forward and we are getting more people involved which is good.”

Edwards, who was due to headline a global UFC event against Tyrone Woodley in March in London before the sports world came to a grinding halt, understands lack of money for local youngsters is a major problem.

He added: “It’s about getting them into martial arts. Some of these kids don’t have money to come to the gym and can’t afford the memberships. So somehow we are trying to get it so the government can help us get these kids in the gym for free basically by covering the costs and we teach them, we mentor them and use the UFC to help as well..”

The Jamaican born fighter, whose brother Fabian is also an MMA star, added: “It’s been going on for a very long time now. Youth violence in the UK, especially Birmingham and London knife crime, it’s been massive.

I’m trying to bring awareness to it and trying to see what I could do to help, because I remember being in environments like that growing up as a kid with my friends, so I would love to try and help and put awareness to it.”

The former Aston Manor Academy pupil admitted he could easily have fallen into a life of crime growing but his mother forced him to join a gym.

He added: “When I grew up as a kid, I was involved in gangs and stuff like that. My mum took me to the gym to keep me away from my friends, to try and make a better life for myself.

I stuck to it. It’s changed my life. It changed my family’s life, and I’ve been trying to push it, push it, push it in the UK, to say martial arts has changed my life and it could also change your life.”

In January, Edwards secured his financial future by penning a multi-fight deal with Las Vegas based UFC after becoming a fan favourite with his signature post-chinch elbow move.

In a statement released through his management company Paradigm Sports, he said:  “I am excited to re-sign with the world’s foremost MMA promotion.

I have had an incredible run in the UFC thus far, and this contract secures my financial position as I make my run towards the welterweight title.”

To find out more Leon Edwards, visit www.ufc.com/athlete/leon-edwards

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NEWS: From Slade Road to Six Ways, Erdington Litter Busters organise a Community Clean Up on Saturday 25th July

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics supplied by Erdington Litter Busters – all taken before the coronavirus crisis and when social distancing was required

Donning high vis jackets, brandishing litter picks and black bin bags, Erdington Litter Busters are a group of volunteers that work as a team to clean up Erdington – meeting regularly at the YMCA’s Eden Café on Reservoir Road before launching into their designated areas.

On Saturday 25th July, Erdington Litter Busters will once again mobalise their members for a widespread Community Clean Up – clearing the rubbish and litter that clutter up the streets and green spaces across Erdington.

New recruits are also welcome, with Erdington Litter Busters issuing a call across the community for volunteers to pitch in and help with the Clean Up initiative. All the relevant tools of the litter picking trade will be provided, with organisers offering advice on what to wear and how to stay safe.

The group was founded in June 2018 by Erdington resident Rob Gunnell. “To be honest with you at the start of it was just me and my wife Jan,” tells Rob, “we unofficially adopted our street.”

Rob invited others to join in and go onto other streets that needed sanitary attention, although the help wasn’t always reciprocated: “When we first started it was really frustrating. It felt a bit like Groundhog Day. You’d clean a street and it would just get messy again.”

This lack of progress didn’t dampen the spirits, and Rob’s can-do attitude quickly attracted others to join in a fortnightly litter pick: “There is a core group of us of approximately 8-10 people. But on the 11th July, we had 27 people!”. Erdington Litter Busters also boasts about 300 members on their Facebook group, at the time of writing.

Outside of the fortnightly litter buster outing, individuals in the group have ‘adopted a street’, some adopting areas of a canal or park, vigilantly and regularly picking up litter in their designated places. Members post this, often along with ‘before-and-after’ photos on the Erdington Litter Busters Facebook group and are praised and encouraged by other members when they do.

Having grown immensely, Erdington Litter Busters were successful with a funding application though  Near Neighbours in September 2018. “It was fantastic. It gave us the impetus to get off the ground”. The group was even praised by a member of the House of Lords – Rob Gunnell gave a speech to the Viscount Younger of Leckie when he visited the YMCA in Erdington.

Rob also points towards the other social benefits of the group. “It’s not just about picking up litter. It’s about raising spirits,” he comments. “What I’ve found with the litter busters is the best thing is the coffee and cake!”

It’s a great advert for Erdington, to Birmingham and the rest of the country” praises Robert Alden, councillor for Erdington and a regular litter buster. When asked about other litter picking groups in the city, Councillor Alden says: “There are groups that go out all across the city, but nothing to the scale, with the longevity of the Erdington Litter Busters.”

The group are continuing in a post-COVID world with what Rob is calling, “guerrilla gardening.” Using their mutual community resources, Erdington Litter Butters are adopting public planters, untamed and uncared for in the community to bring more life, colour and greenery to Erdington.

There are 16 planters on Holy Lane/Woodacre Road,” explains Rob, “we planted wildflowers in there.” They even have a plan “to link it with local schools and local residents. We want them to ‘adopt a planter.”

Fly tipping and litter is a serious environmental hazard and a huge cost to the city, with Birmingham City Council spending £14.2 million on street cleaning in 2018/19. Yet, so many public streets, including many alleys and areas in Erdington go uncleaned. Unfazed, Rob says: “They haven’t got enough staff anyway the council, so we thought just get on with it”.

The next Community Clean Up is being organised for Saturday 25th July, beginning at 10am and finishing at 11:30am – when the group will stay and socialise. Erdington Litter Busters calling for more volunteers to help to deep clean parts of Slade Road and all its side streets, something welcomed by local residents.

We’re really privileged to have Erdington Litter Busters leading and coordinating this Saturday,” tells Kamleish Parfect from the Stockland Green Action Group – who have been campaigning against illegal fly tipping in the area.

Please come down and support. Paul and John (Erdington Litter Busters) have been amazing, we really need someone with a big van or digger to move some of these discarded sofas and mattresses.”

If you want to join the Erdington Litter Busters on their Community Clean Up this Saturday, you can meet the members at 10am on Saturday 25th July, at the Stockland Café on Slade Rd – or at the Eden Café on Reservoir Road.

High Vis jackets, litter picks, and bags will all be provided – organisers suggest to bring a safe pair of gloves and sensible shoes.

To find out more about Erdington Litter Busters, visit www.sites.google.com/view/erdington-litter-busters

Or to find Erdington Litter Busters on Facebook, visit www.facebook.com/groups/ErdingtonLitterBusters

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