OPINION: A message from Paulette Hamilton, MP for Erdington

Pics supplied by Paulette Hamilton MP

After just 45 days, Liz Truss resigned as Prime Minister, with her chaotic and disastrous leadership crashing our economy and leaving the reputation of our country in tatters. Her kamikaze ‘mini’ budget spooked the markets and forced lenders to withdraw hundreds of mortgage deals overnight, leading to working people in our community facing an average mortgage increase of £413 a month.

The Tories have also U-turned on the energy price cap, potentially leaving households with average annual energy bills of more than £4,000 from April next year.

The mess that the Tories find themselves in is of their own making. At this critical time when the country needs stability, the chaos they have created has put millions of working people in financial uncertainty.

After ousting Liz Truss and making her the shortest serving Prime Minister in UK history, Tory MPs have recently appointed Rishi Sunak as our new PM without him saying a single word to the public about how he would fix the problems we’re facing. Instead, he has boasted of taking money from deprived communities like ours and handing it to the richest areas.

The impact of Tory infighting has had a devastating effect on our economy and areas like ours have been the hardest hit. I’ve been speaking to local people at foodbanks in Erdington, Kingstanding and Castle Vale to hear about how the cost-of-living crisis is affecting them.

At Bethany Community Foodbank, I met people who are sadly having to choose between heating and eating every day. The foodbank started with helping 90 users every month 6 years ago, but now helps a staggering 1,200 users each month. I heard heart-breaking stories from families, with young children who are struggling with the rising cost of bills as their income remained the same.

The amazing volunteers at Castle Vale Foodbank told me that they are seeing nurses and police officers accessing their discreet service because they can’t make ends meet.

And at Erdington Foodbank, several local people spoke to me about unfair sanctions being applied to their Universal Credit claims, coupled with low wages that were forcing them to turn to the foodbank.

People in our community are crying out for help as they struggle with rising costs. We need economic stability and a government that puts the interests of our country first. To end this chaos, we need a general election to let the people decide.

For more on Paulette Hamilton MP for Erdington visit www.paulettehamilton.org

OPINION: Repairing Erdington Library – a message from Cllr Robert Alden, Erdington

Profile pic by Ed King

Sadly, despite the summer weather Erdington’s historic library has again suffered water damage over recent months.

Cllr Gareth Moore and I have been tackling the Council over the desperate need to repair the damaged roof and to fix the leaks at Erdington Library.

This has secured some minor works to try and plug leaks, which Gareth recently inspected with the staff from the Library Service.

However much more investment is required from the Council if we are to prevent the irreversible damage from happening to our treasured library.

The next steps of our campaign to secure the repairs to the library are happening at the end of September when we meet the Cabinet Member responsible to discuss the need for further investment.

Libraries are a vital part a local community, providing safe warm spaces, where people can come to learn, read, or just see some familiar faces.

Erdington Library is well known for the excellent service that staff provide. Libraries can be even more providing a local venue for other help acting as a ‘one stop shop’.

However, before any of that can be considered here in Erdington first it is vital that the Council gets the roof properly replaced and the building watertight to ensure that Erdington Library is still going strong in another 100 years.

Gareth and I have been clear with the Council the current state of Erdington Library is totally unacceptable. Residents can rest assured we are demanding the Council take action.

For more from Cllr Robert Alden and Cllr Gareth Moore (Erdington) visit www.facebook.com/ErdingtonNews

OPINION: A message from Paulette Hamilton, MP for Erdington

Pics supplied by Paulette Hamilton MP

It was sad to say farewell to our greatest and longest serving monarch last month. Queen Elizabeth II was loved by the people of our country and the Commonwealth, with her incredible reign lasting more than 70 years.

In my tribute speech in Parliament, I praised her devotion, integrity and service that should be an inspiration to us all. On behalf of the people of Erdington, Kingstanding and Castle Vale, I extended our deepest condolences to the King and the Royal Family. As the Elizabethan era ends, the dawn breaks on the reign of King Charles III. God save the King.

Now that the period of National mourning has ended, politics is back on the agenda. The rising cost of everyday household goods and energy bills is being felt across our community, and more increases are expected.

The impact is already being felt. I’ve been hearing some heart-breaking stories as local families struggle to cope with soaring costs. A father told me how he keeps his gas and electricity off so that he can save the money to keep his daughter and grandchildren warm.

Recently I delivered food parcels to someone who had been forced to choose between heating and eating. The challenges our community is facing are echoed across the country, and we desperately need real leadership to steer us through this crisis.

In early September, Conservative Party members chose Liz Truss to become our new Prime Minister. Hard working families across Erdington, Kingstanding and Castle Vale will be looking to her new Government for help.

But the Tories’ ‘trickle-down economics’ does nothing for our local community and it is scandalous that our new PM has chosen to prioritise tax cuts for the richest.

The Government’s recent mini budget completely fails struggling families who are trying to cope with the cost-of-living crisis.

The cost of their decision to cut taxes and borrow more, instead of raising money by taxing the huge profits that are being made by energy companies, will be felt for generations to come.

For more on Paulette Hamilton MP for Erdington visit www.paulettehamilton.org

OPINION: A message from Paulette Hamilton, MP for Erdington

Pics supplied by Paulette Hamilton

I hope everyone has been enjoying the lovely summer break, whether it be going on holiday or just spending some valuable time with your family. Parliament has shut down for the summer and I’m delighted to be able to spend more time getting out and about in our community, where the work to make Erdington an even better place to live never stops.

Our High Street should be a destination that showcases the best of Erdington. We all want it to provide a great variety of shops and food options, and I’ll always champion more investment that will help us to achieve this. But instead, I recently found myself leading a campaign to oppose a planning application for yet another betting shop on Erdington High Street.

Our High Street already has seven bookies. This very high concentration of betting shops in such a small space has exacerbated anti-social behaviour on the High Street, and the last thing we needed was another one.

After months of cross-party campaigning alongside local residents, Councillors and community groups, the planning committee finally decided to reject the application. This was the right decision and it shows the strength of our community. When we work together, we can win!

I want our High Street to thrive by attracting new businesses, providing jobs and becoming a destination for everyone. To kickstart this vision, I have been working with Birmingham City Council to submit an application for more than £11million to the Government’s Levelling Up Fund.

If Ministers back our proposals, the funding will create jobs and support local businesses to develop and grow. It will help tackle crime and anti-social behaviour in the area and provide a much-needed community space for local people to enjoy. The investment will also better connect Erdington train station to the High Street and once again make it a vibrant place for people to shop, eat and socialise.

This is a real opportunity to breathe life back into our High Street after years of decline that have been aggravated by Government austerity.

This will be the second time we have applied for funding, after Ministers let us down in 2021. If the Government is serious about levelling up, then they should back Erdington!

For more on Paulette Hamilton MP for Erdington visit www.paulettehamilton.org

For more on Paulette Hamilton MP for Erdington visit www.paulettehamilton.org

OPINION: Why I am Green – Siobhan Harper-Nunes

Local resident, local campaigner, founder of Shakti Women, and Green Party candidate in both the recent Erdington by election and local elections, Siobhan Haper-Nunes talks to Erdington Local about her belief in social justice and how the Green Party are ‘not just about green spaces’.

“I am the proud daughter of two exceptional people. My parents met when my father left Guyana and came to England to further his education. My grandmother then ran a boarding house in Wheelers Road, they met and married and returned to Guyana with my brother.

“My father schooled himself as a boy, studying by candlelight to become the youngest pupil teacher at 9 years old. Over the course of 20 years, he went on to become the youngest headteacher and later was appointed Minister for Education.

“My father could recite all the great English poets and birthed my love of this country. My mother was the only daughter of an exceptional Irish woman, the 21st of 21 children, determined to give my mum a better life. Mum was a campaigning white woman who in Guyana became a journalist, writing about local community issues. She gave me my love of life, my eye for beauty and majesty, and together they birthed my interest in social justice.

“As a young woman all I cared about was fun. It was only after I had my son and returned to school, that my interest in society began to take shape. I studied social administration and took courses in comparative social policy, where I saw by looking at how things were done in other places, that there were sometimes more effective ways.

“I became addicted to research and landed two research fellowships, one at Birmingham and the other at Keele University. My first job at Birmingham City Council (BCC) was in the Crime and Community Safety team, looking at different ways to bring down crime in places like Handsworth, Aston, and Kingstanding. My role was to help community groups work up their bids for funding projects to make an impact.

“I was then transferred to BCC central and became the New Opportunities Fund (now Big Lottery) Officer. My role was to attract and manage external funding, I was also responsible for the Neighbourhood Renewal Budget and worked closely with local councillors to ensure these funds went to local groups.

“I saw more opportunities to empower local groups, so I wrote the blueprint for the External Funding Unit and was given £250k to set it up. My job was to bring all the national funders to the communities of Birmingham. I trained bid writers who were bringing in an average £3million in external funds to each ward we worked in, but many councillors did not see the benefits of money going to community groups, not ward budgets, and this small thinking frustrated me. After all my hard work I eventually experienced burnt out.

“I found myself attracted to green open spaces as they calmed my soul. I realised that life was not just about work, it was about quality of life, about the quality of our relationships, being connected to our community and feeling a sense of responsibility for the quality of our environment.

“I joined the Green Party because it epitomises my values. It’s not just about climate change and sustainability. It’s about a vision for a better way of life where social goods are valued more than consumer goods and people who provide them are rewarded. Where decisions are made not on traditional economics but on the principles of social and ecological justice.

“Yes, it worries me that we are doing things to the planet that are causing fatal climate change, but at a local level we are sometimes operating as if all people need is material goods. Our quality of life must be central to our decision making and that’s what the Greens stand for, that’s why we’re not just about green spaces but services such as health, education, social care.

“I am continually in awe of the beauty and majesty of the world. Injustice hurts my soul, the problems we as a society have created hurt me to the core. But no one can do this alone.

“I want to see a stronger community fabric and have started working with a number of local groups to help them deliver on the projects which are important to them. I also want to help local people to strengthen their sense of community by setting up or growing their own local neighbourhood groups.

“The Green Party isn’t just another political party. Green politics is a new and radical kind of thinking where society is transformed for the benefit of all”.

To see the Green Party’s Core Values, visit www.policy.greenparty.org.uk/core-values

OPINION: “Conservative candidate Robert Alden is key to our plans,” says Secretary of State for Levelling Up

As the Birmingham Erdington by-election heats up, and voters explore all the candidates and manifestos to decide who is right to represent Erdington in Westminster, the Rt Honourable Michael Gove MP – Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities – throws his weight behind the Conservative candidate, Robert Alden.

Polling day for the Birmingham Erdington Parliamentary by-election is on Thursday, 3 March.

Words by Rt Honourable Michael Gove MP

While talent is spread evenly across the UK, opportunity is not. In too many communities there’s a feeling that the only way to get on is to get out.

This needs to change — and it needs to change for good. That’s why our government’s defining mission is to level up this country.

We want opportunity to reach talent wherever it exists, investment to move wherever it’s needed. We don’t want to slice the pie in a different way; we want to grow the pie for everyone.

So levelling up is a team effort. And local champions like Robert Alden, the Conservative candidate at Erdington’s by-election, are key to this team. Let me explain.

Together with West Midlands Mayor Andy Street and local MPs like Gary Sambrook, the government has already started to level up Birmingham — and not just the city centre.

Backed by hundreds of millions of pounds in government funding, the Commonwealth Games are helping to create jobs and drive investment to Birmingham. The regeneration of Perry Barr will be a lasting legacy in itself, restoring the community and transforming facilities for residents.

HS2 will put Birmingham right at the heart of our national high-speed rail network. The long-term benefits will see world-class businesses set up in the region and expand the local economy, while the short-term benefits are already being felt in the form of new jobs, including a thousand extra jobs to construct the new Curzon Street in the city centre.

So levelling up isn’t something that may or may not take place in the future; it’s happening, it’s happening right now, and at the risk of repeating myself, it’s happening across the West Midlands.

We’re regenerating the former MG Rover factory in Longbridge, a development that will create thousands of good jobs with decent pay. We’re recruiting hundreds of new police officers for the West Midlands.

And all of this is just the beginning. We have so much more planned, including here in Erdington. But to supercharge our efforts, we need a local team ready to work with us.

That’s why Conservative candidate Robert Alden is key to our plans.

If Robert Alden is elected as Erdington’s next MP, you’ll have a local champion making the case for Erdington directly to Cabinet members like me.

This is what Erdington really needs — someone willing to stand up for the area and make sure residents are heard.

To see what kind of MP Robert will be, take a look at his record as a local councillor. Over the last sixteen years, Robert has been a force to be reckoned with.

He has been a vocal proponent for Levelling Up Funding to transform Edington’s high street, and I’m currently working with him to get this bid over the line.

I’m thrilled that Robert has invited me to visit Erdington and see the opportunities for government investment myself. This is the kind of get-up-and-go that every village, town and city needs for our mission to work.

And if any readers are wondering how they can play a part in levelling up Erdington, I say this: at the Erdington by-election, vote for the person you believe can work with me and my team to secure funding and make things happen. To my mind, that person is Robert Alden.

For more on the Rt Honourable Michael Gove MP visit www.michaelgove.com

For more on Robert Alden and the Erdington Conservatives visit www.erdingtonconservatives.org.uk/

 

Candidates will be taking questions from the general public at the Birmingham Erdington by-election hustings – held from 6-8pm on Sunday, 27 February, at the GRS Lions Club, Church Road, Erdington.

Click here or on the image above to register for your free ticket – have your voice heard.

 

LOCAL OPINION: Community spirit is alive and well in Stockland Green

Words by Uzma Shaffiq / Pics by Ed King

“The beautiful thing is that they come from all walks of life and ages, from pensioners to school children – all dedicated to help.” 

Uzma Shaffiq, Community Developer Officer for The Pioneer Group, talks to Erdington Local about the community backbone and neighbourhood camaraderie that supported Stockland Green through the coronavirus crisis. 

Starting my new role at The Pioneer Group in February 2020, I had high hopes of building a strong network of organisations and people who wanted to make Stockland Green a great place to live and work. From these networks, I would be instrumental in creating several initiatives, and 2020 was going to be the best start to my working life.

Little did I realise, COVID-19 was waiting just around the corner, ready to turn everything on its head. The pandemic struck and suddenly residents needed support more than ever.

As for everyone, those first few weeks were a challenge. We needed to mobilise on a scale not seen since World War 2; but as a proud University of Birmingham History graduate, I understood the dedication behind communities in those tumultuous times and I knew our work would provide crucial support to residents during this modern crisis.

Our team works throughout a number of communities such as Stockland Green, Castle Vale and Falcon Lodge – and while each area may have a different programme of specific needs, we still come together to share ideas. Last year we faced the same challenge – we needed to support residents in all communities to ensure that no one was hungry, felt isolated or was left in a vulnerable situation.

With face-to-face interactions gone, the internet was suddenly our saviour and became critical as a tool to communicate in our quest to build a better community. It was no longer about boots on the ground, but rather fingers on keyboards and faces on video calls.

We started by meeting online with residents and community groups to understand their concerns and priorities. There were so many people that want to be actively involved in supporting the Stockland Green community, it was incredibly heart-warming to see how deeply people cared for their friends, family, and neighbours.

Food provision and mental health support was top of the list and once these areas had been outlined, we witnessed a huge mobilisation within the community. The beautiful thing is that they come from all walks of life and ages, from pensioners to school children – all dedicated to help.

Local organisations supplied food parcels and arranged prescription runs to support residents through the months of uncertainty, and an army of residents came forward to help with the deliveries. The whole initiative was so moving; without these wonderful volunteers giving their free time, we could never have helped so many people.

For those that were more isolated and may not have much use of the internet, such as some elderly, wellbeing activity packs were created and delivered to keep recipients busy during lockdowns. Fantastic at raising spirits, boosting morale, and giving those who are staying at home something exciting to do, the packs were also delivered by volunteers, the lifeblood of our community.

2020 also saw the birth of other voluntary organisations such as the Stockland Green Action Group with the aim of making the community a better place. I am always blown away with their efforts as they tackle fly-tipping, unsightly alleyways, and fight for a better tomorrow for Stockland Green. We are pleased to work closely with these members, supporting them with funding bids and various initiatives as they set a shining example of community spirit.

With a keen sense of keeping the Stockland Green passion alive, we also revived the Stockland Green Ward Forum where organisations such as the Local Regeneration Trust, Councillors, the local MP, and residents all come together to work towards a shared vision of a better Stockland Green.

For The Pioneer Group, the commitment to the area has never been stronger. We provide affordable housing and want our tenants and their neighbours to feel safe and secure in their homes which is why we are now working with Birmingham City Council to deliver the new Safer Streets programme; a £432,000 initiative in Stockland Green that will implement a range of measures including street lighting upgrades, six redeployable CCTV cameras, and a crime prevention assessment for all homes.

Over the last 18 months, our community has faced major hardships with a healthcare crisis, job losses and new way of living. We came together to survive. Today we are in a good place to build even stronger community spirit as we say goodbye to 2021, probably the hardest year many of us have faced.

I look forward to 2022 and everything we are doing to make Stockland Green a great place to live and work.

For more from The Pioneer Group, and the work they do across Stockland Green and North Birmingham, visit www.pioneergroup.org.uk

LOCAL OPINION: Vera Gilbert – Truth to Tell, Erdington united after football’s less than finest hour

Words by Vera Gilbert / Pics by Ed King

**First published in the August/September newspaper edition of Erdington Local**

Vera Gilbert is a former broadcast journalist and passionate Erdington local; a woman who has worked across a kaleidoscope of high profile regional and national broadcasters and newspapers throughout her career.

Her recent project, Truth to Tell, is organised along with several Erdington groups and individuals, providing an open platform for discussion on race and racism – currently held via Zoom.

Vera caught up with Erdington Local after Truth to Tell chose the recent racism directed at the young, black England football squad players as their topic of discussion.

Our small team which had been doing a series of community Zoom conversations aiming to improve race relations in Erdington hurriedly decided to hold another conversation after the uproar following the UEFA Euro 2020 final game between England and Italy.

I hate to repeat the painful truth that England lost on penalties. But it was not as difficult to conceive the angle for our conversations – the people of Erdington had spoken in our local social media groups. It seemed incredible, but our theme was ‘Erdington United’.

Our local media showed Erdington people pouring out compassion for the team and the three young black players, 19 years old Bukayo Saka especially – also Marcus Rashford, who is 23, and a name known even to me a non-football follower. There was also Jadon Sancho, aged 25, and Raheem Sterling, aged 26, another name I’d heard before was also in there too.

What a thing! One would think that racism was something which involved not the many but the few.  Some people had been worried when we started ‘Truth to Tell’, the name of our Zoom programme of conversations, that we were stirring up race issues.

We the multi-racial team of organisers rooted in the Erdington community said we wanted to make life better. Some of the truths that the black people spoke of their life experiences of racism were hard to hear. Some of the listeners had not heard about such experiences happening right in Erdington.

One thing we have honed, and chalk up as a success, is that sometimes facing the same situation we do not realise we are not sharing the same perspective – e.g. angry black woman is in truth frustrated because she feels hurt and says so. The white person who sees no hurt, or is embarrassed says ‘shut up, you are stirring things up’. So, we reached a point of empathy without argument, just by listening and speaking one at a time without interruption.

People in Erdington, after Euro 2020 finals and the cascade, no, torrent of abuse against the young black penalty takers who hadn’t serve up the goals, showed unprecedented empathy, support, and love for the young players.

We England lost, yes. But our community gained a startlingly massive heart.

Here’s a truth: Erdington was so positive in this matter of race that we the Zoom chat organisers decided fair is fair – this is great news. How did this happen? Why? And could we ensure this positive sprit grew?

Our hurriedly arranged a Zoom conversation just a week after the match was so beautifully lively.  We were multi-cultural and multi-racial. Any hesitancy about speaking out was gone in the first five minutes. People were tripping over each other to speak. The strands of the conversation were varied from the issues of the penalty-ship, like how decisions about who would take it were made, to the agonies the young footballers experienced first over the loss, then over the online abuse.

Some around our virtual zoom table were not surprised at the ‘abuse’ spewed by ‘racist yobs; ‘twas ever thus – they can’t help themselves’.

There was concern over the effects on young people. Another among us just wanted people to focus on the positive and be thankful; wishing for us all to live in peace and harmony never mind if we all thought her a Pollyanna.

Organising team leader, Gerard Goshawk, summed it up to me after the discussion: “The session was powerful, thought-provoking and felt an important conversation. I was so pleased to be part of an event like this, where all the participants contributed.

“There were lots of different perspectives, but I believe that in our own small way it will enable us to move forward and really truly ‘build back better’ as a community.”

I could write volumes about the slights and hurts of racism, but I reserve what little strength and energy I have now to being more direct and choosing my battles.

As a black Erdingtonian, I am not ashamed to accentuate the positive. This is my community too, made up of people born and bred in Erdington, old hands at life, newcomers, all shades of human.

We are mainly people who have invested and are investing too much effort into building good lives and continue to do so.

So, I roar like fans from the football stands; not that I have been on any famous ones… ‘COME ON ERDINGTON… Erdington united we stand and mix and mingle and laugh and cry and work and try not to be afraid.

As I finish this piece of writing in my mind’s eye, I imagine the whole of Erdington singing to each other like footie fans do on the terraces, ‘You’ll never walk alone’.

For more information on Truth to Tell and to join further discussion groups email Vera Gilbert at caribvean@gmail.com or Rev. Gerard Goshawk at everyoneerd@gmail.com

OPINION: What can we learn from Finding Nemo? Andy Winmill – Urban Devotion Birmingham

Words & pics by Andy Winmill – Urban Devotion Birmingham

Outreach and support groups are an important way of shouldering the burdens of any community, at any time. But when does the helping hand hold too tight a grip?

Andy Winmill, Director of Urban Devotion Birmingham (UDB), talks about the precarious balance between ‘heroes’ and ‘victims’.

In the popular animated movie Finding Nemo, Marlin, the dad clownfish, copes with the grief of losing his wife by adopting the role of the over-protective parent, seeking to prevent Nemo from meeting the same fate.

This role of protector becomes Marlin’s primary identity and gives him something to live for, but he inadvertently restricts Nemo’s freedom and pushes Nemo away.

“What on earth does this have to do with Erdington?” I hear you ask. It’s a fair question but stay with me.

Every week I spend an hour on a call with a bunch of brilliant people that make up the Erdington COVID-19 Task Force. They represent so much of what is good about Erdington. They lead organisations that provide housing support, financial advice, food provision and cultural enrichment. They reflect all shades of the political spectrum yet come together for the good of all of us.

Over the past year each and every one of them has gone the extra mile, worked that bit harder and put the good of Erdington ahead of their own reputations or standing.

I have huge respect for them and – full disclaimer – I am one of them. I first came to Erdington in 2004 and began doing volunteer youthwork in Perry Common as part of Urban Devotion Birmingham (UDB). I have lived in Erdington since 2005 and now lead UDB and our staff team of 10 as we seek to serve children, young people, and families in five neighbourhoods across the district.

UDB, like every one of the organisations in the Task Force, exists for the good of the people of Erdington. Most of them – UDB included – are led by local people who serve the communities we live in. Over the past year we have collectively helped source and deliver nearly 18,000 food and essentials supplies packs and enabled almost 21,000 wellbeing activities. Sounds good right?

It sounds good because it is good, but what if we inadvertently become like Marlin? What if we end up finding our identity as the protectors? What if we accidentally contribute to restricting the very sense of community that we are seeking to serve?

Last year I read a fantastic article in this very newspaper that described the great work that one of the organisations was doing but I’ll be honest the headline troubled me. It described the organisation connecting an ‘isolated community’.

The headline focused on the strength of one party and the weakness of the other. I probably overthink these things, but it conjured up images of heroes and victims, co-dependent relationships, Marlin and Nemo.

The mistake Marlin made was to have a deficit perspective. He saw tiny Nemo’s weakness and sought to protect him from being exposed to the dangers of the ocean. When Nemo protested, he shut him down. What if he had instead listened to Nemo, looked at his strength – his bravery, his curiosity, his relational skills – and helped to prepare him to take on the ocean?

The coming months are, just like the ocean, uncharted territory. Just as Marlin didn’t know the depths of the ocean nor do any of us quite know what is around the corner. Perhaps the best response therefore is not to focus on the challenges that Erdington faces but the strengths.

As organisations we are participants in the story of Erdington but we are not heroes and the community of Erdington is not the victim. Most of the organisations that we work alongside will remain deeply committed to Erdington, but it is important that we don’t fall into the Marlin trap.

We do this by focusing on all that is great about Erdington. We focus on the story of Erdington Community Volunteers that exemplifies the community spirit that makes Erdington strong.

We look to Erdington Litter Busters that shows the community care that makes Erdington kind. And yes, we think about the Erdington COVID-19 Task Force that shows the collaboration and ingenuity that makes Erdington effective.

Whisper it quietly, but we seem to be leaving the worst of the pandemic behind. Restrictions are easing, businesses are reopening. Nobody quite knows what ‘normal’ will look and feel like, but change is definitely in the air.

People will still face crises. We need to combat food poverty, stand against the challenges of exempt accommodation, rail against the scourge of youth violence.

Organisations have important parts to play in this, but greater impact comes when we all rise up as one. This is not a time for Marlin and Nemo, for heroes and victims. This is a time for community. Let’s do this together.

For more on Urban Devotion Birmingham visit www.urbandevotion.org

OPINION: Let’s make the ‘new normal’ OK

Words by Ed King – NOT NORMAL NOT OK / Pics by Callum Lees and Phil Drury

NOT NORMAL NOT OK is a campaign that challenges sexual violence – at live music events, clubs, pubs, and bars across country. As venues start to reopen, with gigs being booked and drinks being poured once again, campaign director Ed King calls for an end to ‘rape culture’ in the entertainment industry and beyond.

No one is ever ‘asking to get raped’.

It seems like an absurd sentence to say, but some still need reminding of this fact – no matter if someone is drunk or sober, quiet or laughing. If its late at night or if they’re wearing short fitting clothes. No one invites this monster in.

But sexual violence is such a systemic problem that we have coined an expression and granted it a place in the hallowed halls of society’s self-description. There is now ‘rape culture’. Like ‘gang culture’ or ‘knife culture’, although no one is ever accused of ‘asking to get stabbed’.

It’s prevalent too, dark stains across our social fabric. It’s all around us: at schools and universities, within the workplace, screamed at a stranger from the passenger side of a moving car. And as for the 45th President of the United States of America…

Rape culture trickles into nearly every facet of our society, influencing and excusing the sexual aggressors that hide behind its ubiquity.

It is destroying us; it is abhorrent. It won’t silently go away either, we need to first push it into the light and then out of the room altogether. And we need to do it now.

But how? Well, the vast majority of sexual violence is against women (and the vast majority of sexual aggressors are men) so let’s start there – to achieve any significant change the gender with the most blood on their hands needs to take some responsibility.

And if you want to jump in at this point and tell me that not all men are rapists, I know this. We all know this. It is a point that only distracts us from the ones that really need making. But yes, not all men are rapists. I hear your stamping feet. Now let’s get on with challenging those that are.

On a plus point, within the entertainment industry at least, there has never been a better time than right now – as lockdown restrictions are lifted and music venues, clubs, festivals, and licensed premises start open up and events creep back onto the calendar. Now is a golden chance for change.

We need it too. NOT NORMAL NOT OK launched in 2018, naming itself after a conversation I had with a local singer who had been groped by the man who booked her to perform – behaviour so familiar in the music scene around her that she felt it was almost ‘normal’, that people thought it was ‘OK’ to behave that way towards women.

(By the way, ‘groped’ in a legal lexicon is ‘sexual assault’ – here’s the official definition from the Crown Prosecution Service in case you think you’re too clever to end up in court:‘Sexual assault is when a person is coerced or physically forced to engage against their will, or when a person, male or female, touches another person sexually without their consent.’)

The point that spurned our campaign was that this kind of sexual aggression is not normal and not OK, all we needed after that was a logo.

But the roots of this violence come from an indoctrinated belief that it is simply part of human nature, that sex sells and lust compels. And whilst the most heinous of sexual violence crimes and carry a custodial sentence the rest are merely out-takes from someone’s own personal Carry On film.

So, let’s jump back to those terrible two words and clarify the clarion call that follows them: no one is ever ‘asking’ to get ‘raped’. And no matter how funny you think your actions are, or how ‘harmless’ the ‘bit of fun’ is in your head, it’s not. So, stop.

Find another way to impress your mates and a better way to talk to women. Because with enough clandestine endorsement this behaviour segues neatly into national news alongside words like ‘tragedy’ and ‘victim’.

Mercifully though, the answer is quite simple. Respect others. Be certain about consent. Remember that intimacy is a privilege, not a right or expectation.

And just because you think you are unthreatening, or funny, your actions – to a stranger or someone within your own peer group – can be interpreted as aggressive.

Then remember that each of us is an example to the world around us. So, be a good one.

Let us put an end to the quickfire terms so readily describe the darkness – there should never be a ‘culture’ of ‘rape’, something so inexcusable should not have something so convenient to hide behind. And if you’re still stuck then repeat the name of our campaign: sexual violence is NOT NORMAL and it is NOT OK.

Ever.

For more on the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign, or for advice and support if you have been affected by sexual violence, visit www.notnormlnotok.com