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