LOCAL Q&A: Andy Harper – author of Knitted Swimming Trunks

Words by Ed King / Pics supplied by Andy Harper and Brewin Books

Just before Christmas, local author Andy Harper released his tell all autobiography – Knitted Swimming Trunks, published by Brewin Books. Click here for our first news story about the book and its author.

A searingly honest portrayal of school life in the 50s and 60s, told through the eyes of a self-confessed “massive target for bullies”, the 252 page paperback begins as the Erdington based author is born.

Knitted Swimming Trunks then takes the reader through his childhood growing up in the back to backs in Birmingham and continues across his troubled school years, until the day he received his City and Guild certificate after leaving education.

An intrinsically Brummie journey of hope and humility, hear more about Knitted Swimming Trunks as Erdington Local caught up with Andy Harper just before his debut book hit the shelves.

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Congratulations on you first book, what compelled you to write about your life?

“Lockdown came along and I was bored to tears. I help out with a charity called Dogs for Good (based in Banbury), socialising assistance dogs, and that gave me an excuse to go out. But everywhere was closed down and it was weird, it was a bit like a horror film. And there’s only so many repeats of Bargain Hunt you can stay indoors and watch.

“So, I started to write things down about those very early years as a legacy for my children and grandchildren – and then it seemed to grow and grow, and my wife said you’ve got a book here.”

 

The narrative focuses on your difficult school years, but what made them so challenging for you?

“It wasn’t until the back to backs were being knocked down, and we ended up moving to Rubery, that I was enrolled for any length of time into a school. And when I started at Colmers Farm I was very weak, very frail – emotionally and educationally I was well, well down. I was a massive target for bullies. And I was put on the ‘thick table’ which didn’t help.

“Then I went into senior school, and I remember sitting in reception and the headmaster coming onto the stage and telling us: ‘there are two types of people in this world, there are the chefs and they’ve passed the Eleven Plus and gone onto Grammer School. You lot are destined to stir the pot.’

“Now if you say that to a frail young lad who is very emotionally damaged because of the bullying and everything, what’s going to happen…? I went into a little bubble, sat at the back of the classroom, and just looked out of the window. And I did that for the majority of my school years.”

 

That must have been difficult as a younger child.

“I did feel let down by my schooling. But it isn’t a ‘woe is me’ book because it wasn’t just happening to me, it was happening the thousands of other children at that time. And all the teachers seemed to be interested in were the bright ones at front who keep putting their hands up and answering questions.

“But really they should be concentrating on those ones at the back who just sit there – those are the ones who need the teacher’s attention. But it wasn’t given, that’s just the way education was back in the 50’s.”

 

And where did the title, Knitted Swimming Trunks, come from?

“Back in the 50’s mothers used to kit you everything: hats, gloves, jumpers, everything. Because it was cheaper. My mother, bless her, decided to knit me swimming trunks… it didn’t work out. I didn’t notice the flaw in the design until I got into the sea at Westen Super Mare; I got a very strange feeling in the material around the groin, then they just billowed out and became very saggy.

“And it was a hell of a long walk back to where my mum and dad were, at the far end of Weston beach, holding on for dear life to these soggy knitted swimming trunks.”

 

That sounds embarrassing…

“All through the book it’s the rather embarrassing, rather bizarre things that happened to me. And that just typified what might have started out as a wonderful idea but ended up in complete disaster. So, the ridicule of that walk back sums up a lot of what was happening to me in those years.

“But It’s not just about knitted swimming trunks, it’s about my personal story of growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, seeing how the world and Birmingham was changing through my eyes. It’s very nostalgic.

“There are lots of tears in the book but also lots of laugh out loud moments; I experienced the whole lot across those twenty odd years.”

 

And for someone learning about your life today, through this book, what would you want them to take away from reading Knitted Swimming Trunks?

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

“Hopefully some teachers will read it and think, let’s see what’s happening at the back of the class…”

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

To contact Andy Harper directly please email: Andyharper74@btinternet.com

LOCAL Q&A: John Hodgkiss, Erdington Town Centre Manager

Pics by Connor Pope & Ed King

John Hodgkiss was appointed Erdington Town Centre Manager in August 2022, after his longstanding predecessor, Terry Guest, left the role. Responsible for delivering the Erdington Business Improvement District (EBID) agenda, and supporting the businesses that finance the EBID, the position stands between the retail community and local stakeholders and blue light services.

Now a year in post, Erdington Local caught up with John Hodgkiss to look back at the last 12 months and sneak a peek at the next.

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What have been the biggest challenges facing Erdington High Street?

Like every town centre in the county, the cost of living crisis has continued to cause uncertainty for retailers and shoppers on the High Street.

This all comes at a time when town centres are moving in a new direction in the Post Covid era, such as becoming a home for community projects and charities able to connect more widely with those who need help.

The biggest challenge facing Erdington High Street has proven to be the raising level of crime and anti-social behaviour. To really be able to continue growing footfall and attract inward investment, it is vital that we work hard to reduce crime which will in turn change people’s perception of Erdington High Street, enabling us to do so much more when marketing the town centre in the future.

 

And what have been the main highlights and achievements from your time as Town Centre Manager?

The main highlight has been working with some of Erdington’s great charity projects. I haven’t worked in a town before with such a strong community as in Erdington. There is so much great work going on out there. Erdington is most certainly a leader in this field, but more work needs to be done here in getting the word out about these organisations, not only to Erdington residents, but Birmingham-wide.

The Christmas, Easter, and Jazz & Blues Festival events were great fun, and they were opportunities to welcome visitors from outside Erdington and showcase the town.

Another highlight has been applying for and securing funds over and above what we receive via BID levy in order to pay for extra events this winter and to employ a second Street Warden to patrol the High Street.

 

We agree, especially the Jazz & Blues Festival gigs at Oikos – any more events like this planned?

We’re really pleased with how the Birmingham Jazz and Blues gigs turned out. Despite the awful weather, the town pulled together to make sure the show went on.

It was the first time that Erdington had taken part in the city-wide festival. The feedback was extremely positive with great attendance. We have already been asked to take part again next year, so let’s hope we can make it even bigger and better in 2024 and attract people from all over Birmingham to attend.

 

As we head out of summer and into autumn and winter, are there any seasonal events in the pipeline – over Halloween or Christmas for example?

Believe it or not, we have been working on Christmas for a few weeks now, recruiting community members and volunteers to help make Christmas in Erdington even bigger and better this year.

We were really pleased with the turnout for the switch-on last year, but we aim to improve in 2023 and put on a great switch-on as well as other events throughout December.

November and December are crucial times for retail, so we want to work alongside retailers to bring in as many shoppers possible, reminding local residents and shoppers further afield that they can get so much of their Christmas shopping in Erdington.

 

The EBID was reinstated for its next five year tenure a few months before you took over, do you feel it is making headway on its campaign promises – to tackle crime, encourage higher footfall, and promote Erdington to a wider audience?

These issues are still those that are the most important to deliver for Erdington during the lifetime of this EBID tenure and it’s very evident how these goals are ultimately linked, with a ‘knock-on’ effect on each other.

As mentioned, crime is still the biggest issue facing Erdington at the moment. By recently employing a new Street Warden, we hope to see a decrease in anti-social behaviour and crime, making full use of the Public Space Protection Order.

Through getting to grips with crime, we would expect greater footfall, bringing back those shoppers who have been concerned to visit the High Street more recently. At this time, it is vital that we continue communicating the positives about Erdington far and wide and encourage shoppers to revisit and enjoy Erdington Town Centre. Therefore, it’s essential that these three promises stay at the top of the list for delivery.

 

The EBID recently helped set up meetings between the retail community, local police teams, and elected officials, to draft a 10 point plan for the High Street – can you update our readers on this?

The formation of this 10 point plan dates back to February this year with a public meeting to discuss a way forward with the crime situation in Erdington. The latest meeting took place in May and the next I believe is to go ahead in October (later confirmed to be scheduled for 19 October).

The EBID has been involved by offering to take details of crime from retailers on the High Street due to the wide-spread observation that they are unable to get though the 101 non-emergency number to report crime.

We were also very keen to help with the provision of a ‘pop-up’ police surgery, providing an essential point of contact for those affected by or concerned about crime on the High Street.

We are still waiting on updates on progression with these projects, which is why we felt it necessary to do what we could in the private sector, by seeking extra funding to employ another Street Warden to help alleviate the worsening situation right now.

We will continue to apply for extra funding where we can ‘step-up’ what the EBID is able to do in order to achieve lower crime rates in Erdington.

 

You have a strong history of working with BIDs in London and the West Midlands, do you feel they work well with other local stakeholders – such as the Council and police?

BIDs can certainly work well and closely with other stakeholders, but it is important to clarify that BIDs are here to provide services over and above what public sector organisations are funded to provide.

The EBID brings in just over 100k per year, so we’re working hard at the moment to apply for as much extra funding as possible to deal with the crime situation and make sure that we also deliver the projects outlined and voted for in the business plan. Unfortunately, we are unable to ‘pick up’ funding shortages of others.

 

You mentioned to Erdington Local before that you were keen to establish Erdington High Street as and LGBTQ+ ‘safe space’, can you tell us any more about this ambition?

This came up in response to the report that there was a lack of grass roots LGBTQ+ support in North Birmingham and the fact the team at the Recovery Foundation had launched an LGBTQ+ support programme, ‘Rainbow Minds Matter’.

Together, we want to highlight the fact that Erdington is safe and supportive of the LGBTQ+ community by highlighting the safe spaces throughout the High Street. This is a project we will be working on in the near future to get the message of diversity and inclusivity across.

 

Are there any other aims for the EBID in the next twelve months?

Looking at the next 12 months, tackling crime will continue as a priority, evaluating the improvement on the High Street over this time.

We will continue reporting on the many positives regarding Erdington Town Centre, enhance our events programme, and increase a higher percentage of shoppers from outside Birmingham.

Another important aim is to attract new retailers, both national and independent into Erdington Town Centre.

 

If you could wave a magic wand and change any aspect of Erdington High Street overnight, what would you want to see when you woke up in the morning?

I would love to see Erdington as leading the way in what a quickly evolving British town centre looks like. So many town centres are in a transition period at the moment due to many external and economic pressures not experienced to this extent before.

The exemplary community projects are here in Erdington already, so an ambition would be to have an Erdington Community Hub with a home on the High Street, to bring together as many opportunities and assistance together for the community together in one place and the perfect way to shout about everything Erdington!

For more on the Erdington Business Improvement District visit www.erdingtonhighstreet.co.uk or visit the EBID Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ErdingtonTownCentre

(Ed’s note: This LOCAL Q&A was first submitted to Erdington Local before the announcement of any Section 114 notice issued by Birmingham City Council.)

LOCAL Q&A: Bishop Desmond Jaddoo MBE

Pics supplied by Bishop Desmond Jaddoo MBE & Ed King

On 16 June, King Charles III issued his first birthday honours list – celebrating individuals across the country for their charitable work, fearless campaigning, and significant contributions to British society.

Amongst the nine dignitaries recognised from the West Midlands, Kingstanding’s Bishop Desmond Jaddoo was awarded with a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for his ‘services to the Windrush Generation’.

The first LOCAL PROFILE to ever appear on our printed pages, Erdington Local caught up with the prominent man of faith and community leader – now titled Bishop Desmond Jaddoo MBE.

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Bishop Jaddoo, congratulations on the MBE. Can you tell our readers more about the work you’ve done to support those affected by the Windrush scandal?

“I have been involved in helping families caught up in the Windrush scandal prior to it being exposed, as it were. The first case I got involved with was back in 2014 and it was a local Erdington family, and since then there have been several hundred cases which have come forward with people who have lived in the UK almost all their lives and they were told they were not British as a result of the hostile environment.

“It is important to note that the hostile environment is a direct result of the 2007 immigration and borders bill, which was presented by the then government as a mechanism to control migration into the UK. We found that the impact on Commonwealth countries – and particularly Jamaica – was quite substantial and it would appear that a level of common sense was not adopted when dealing with people from the Commonwealth countries, coupled with the lack of appreciation of Britain’s role as an Empire State or colonial ruler.

“Therefore, since the exposure of the Windrush scandal we have assisted in building a bridge between victims and the Home Office, and we have assisted many families in obtaining status – and I do say families as well, as unfortunately this has impacted not just on individuals but also families.

“We have also assisted compensation claims, welfare support, and reintegration support coupled with trauma support – as one thing which is not appreciated is many people have seen their lives destroyed in front of them and as a direct result they have become withdrawn from society. Some have also developed mental health issues, particularly after losing their lifelong careers.”

 

In your view, what is left to be done to support people from the Windrush generation?

“There’s a lot still to be done, for the simple reason as we delve into the impact of the Windrush scandal we are finding that youngsters born in the UK after 1983… if their parents had a status issue this then has a knock on effect to them. We’ve had recent cases of where 16 year olds have been asked to produce a British passport to go to college and they have been unable to do so as their parents’ status have been called into question, and currently they are going through the scheme as well.

“In addition to this, health and well-being support needs to be looked at more carefully and we are now picking up the additional thematics such as poor housing, mental health issues, worker’s rights, and health inequalities as a result of being denied access to GP surgeries.

“It was disappointing that recommendation which talks about truth and reconciliation was withdrawn, as this would have helped to develop greater understanding of the social impact that the hostile environment has exposed people who are British to – for simply not having documentation.”

 

And what does receiving an MBE mean to you, especially being recognised for your work over Windrush?

“I see the award as an acknowledgement by the establishment of the work which has been done and that needs to be done. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t stop until we get the end result, and that’s what it’s all about; they know who they are giving this award to, and let’s be clear it won’t change who I am.

“However, I had to reflect upon the sacrifices that my family have to make sometimes when I’m not around and also give honour to my mother as well, who was made a widow when I was 11 years old and had to bring five children up on her own.”

 

In your campaigning, over Windrush and other causes, you’ve had to engage with establishment organisations from the Home Office to local police services. How do you get the voice of the community heard? 

“You have to be persistent when you want your voice heard, and you need to stick to the narrative as well. There are times when you will not be popular, there are times when people would describe you as a glorified pain, but there you go. You have to keep going and that’s what I’ve done over the years, keep going – but one thing, stand by the truth.”

 

Where do you find the strength to do what you do?

“Faith as a Bishop; He is all that means a lot to me and has kept me going, particularly through the recent illness which I had. When you think the game is over, it is just beginning…”

 

Erdington Local first featured you over your work to bring bleed control kits to Kingstanding, is this still a cause that needs campaigning for?

“Yes. We have revamped the blink control scheme and sessions, and we’re getting greater community involvement now and we intend to extend this accordingly. It has taken a while to revamp as we do not receive funding for this, so we’ve had to develop greater awareness of it. But we do intend to develop this further because it’s about saving lives and that’s the important issue.

“However, we do see the importance of having simplified access to bleed control kits as well and there is no point placing bleed control kits in communities without training. So, we’ve developed our training programme we intend to develop that even further within the next few months – and let’s be clear, Kingstanding and Erdington are definitely on the agenda.”

 

From the work you do, how bad is the knife and gun crime in our city?

“Knife crime and gun crime at the moment, in my view, is out of control in the city – particularly knife crime, because those that carry knives now… to them it is just like putting their trainers on before they go out.

“There’s a lot of work to be done on this, and more joined up work would be far beneficial than work that produces reports but no tangible outcome.”

 

And on a more local level, what are big issues facing people in Kingstanding?

“We are coming across more families where disaffection is setting into the locality, alongside them feeling left behind by the authorities under charge. In some cases, some feel that there is a lack of representation and that their voices are not being heard.

“There is a change in donor graphic in the area as well, which will bring forward new challenges which will just exacerbate the pre-existing issues. Currently, educational underachievement and the cost of living crisis are plunging more families into poverty and increasing crime rates. Violent crime is fast becoming an issue, and also the ever increasing HMOs which brings its own social issues.

“I just feel the development of community forums to ensure that people have their own independent voice is essential, for which one has been formed in Kingstanding and will be launched very shortly.”

 

You supported the family of Dea John Reid after he was fatally stabbed in broad daylight on College Road, whilst working to maintain peace in the area and stop further violence. What is the best way to keep a community together?

“We launched a project called We Live As One, which is still ongoing, and alongside that there is the development of community forums and a strategy being developed with short term, medium term, and long term plans for the area.

“The things we must not lose sight of are, with the changing demographic, on born racial lines and age lines within the vicinity – this will of course bring additional issues and it’s important that we start developing greater community cohesion in order that people share issues, share solutions, and implement solutions as a community, and importantly that they have ownership of this as well.”

 

And as a born and raised Brummie, and a Bishop heavily involved in his community, what are the positives of the area that perhaps don’t get enough celebration?

“I was born in Handsworth but have lived in Kingstanding for the past 26 years; my children have grown up here and some are born in Kingstanding.

“Kingstanding is a vibrant community, and following the tragic events of last year with the gas explosion it showed the real tenacity of the community when they all came out to assist those that were caught up in the various losses.

“We need to demonstrate this every day of the week in our lives, and there are challenges. However, I think when the chips are down communities rally together and Kingstanding is no different to that –it tells me there is hope and together we can create a brighter future.”

 

If people want to get involved in any of the community work you organise and support, what should they do?

“Anyone who wants to get involved please email me directly at birminghamef@gmail.com – it is an open house.”

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For more on Bishop Desmond Jaddoo MBE visit www.desjaddoo.org.uk

For more on The Windrush Movement (UK) visit www.facebook.com/windrushmovement

Q&A: West Midlands mayoral candidates Liam Byrne MP and Andy Street

Words by Ed King and Helen Knott / Profile pics supplied by cadidates, supporting images by Ed King 

The West Midlands will elect a mayor for the combined authority on 6 May 2021, the second time the position will be contested – alongside the position for Police and Crime Commissioner.

Incumbent mayoral candidate Andy Street (Conservative) is facing fierce competition from his rival across the aisle, Liam Byrne MP (Labour), mirroring the close call of the first West Midlands Mayor election in 2017.

Erdington Local caught up with both Liam Byrne MP and Andy Street to find out their thoughts on some of the issues most pertinent to our readers.

Each candidate has been asked the same questions and given the same overall space/word count to reply – and as with the rules of most competitions, the challenger goes first.

**VOTING FOR BOTH THE WEST MIDLANDS MAYOR AND POLICE & CRIMES COMMISIONER TAKES PLACE ON 6 MAY 2021 – to register to vote visit: www.gov.uk/register-to-vote**

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Erdington has suffered from high rates of unemployment – if successfully elected, how would you help people get back to work?

LB: “The future for Erdington is for us to bring back industry. I want Birmingham to be the Green Workshop of the world. That will be good for Erdington because it will bring manufacturing jobs to Jaguar Land Rover and its supply chain.

“In the short term, we will do an emergency audit of all public contracts, council, police, NHS and anyone in the public sector and we will ask them to start routing those contracts to local businesses to support local jobs.

“And we need to start actually using the Adult Skills Budget to deliver free re-training for people who lose their jobs.”

AS: “We’ve given a clear commitment that we will work to produce 100,000 jobs in two years – the fastest growth this region would ever have seen. It’s called the Mayoral Jobs Plan; it’s not about fantasy, it’s about stuff that is happening now.

“First of all, take advantage of the big investments that’s we’ve already won. HS2, that’s 7,000 jobs. And make sure the highest proportion of those jobs go to local people though local SMEs getting those jobs.

“Secondly, thinking about new areas where growth is going to come – the best example of that is the electrification of the automotive sector, which is so important to JLR at Castle Bromwich. Think about the new sectors, get public money behind them, generate jobs there.

“The next thing is about retraining people for the jobs of the future – programmes are open and available at the moment for people to reskill in the areas that are growing.”

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The impact of coronavirus has left many businesses closed and high streets suffering, how would you support local shops and businesses?  

LB: “Firstly, we have to push through the Future High Street Fund, which is key to unlocking investment in Erdington High Street.

“We have to recognise that high streets will look different in the future, so we need to make sure that there is a mixture of not just business space, but start-up space for new businesses.

“We need to start using festivals and markets, culture and sport to bring life back to high streets. What high streets need more than anything else is footfall.”

AS: “I genuinely believed that the Erdington (Future High Street Fund) bid was a good bid, I actively got behind it.

“We have already, straight away, stepped with the Witton Lodge Community Association – to encourage their application for the regeneration of the Erdington Baths.

“I would also support Councillor Alden’s bid for the balance of the regeneration to come from the Erdington Levelling Up Fund bid.

“A critical point is getting SMEs the contacts – whether it be through HS2 or the Commonwealth Games, whether it be on the transport contacts that we’re running – we actively try to make sure local SMEs get those contacts.”

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Building on parks, allotments and playing fields has been a big issue for many local residents and families. How would you protect our green spaces?

LB: “Local residents like those involved in Short Heath Playing Fields are right to kick up a fuss. We need to start building the houses that we need without losing the places that we love. We don’t think that you should be losing green space, in fact you should be investing in green space to make it nicer.

“My commitment is that we will build on brownfield first and I’m confident that we will only need brownfield sites for the next mayoral term.

“We think that there is plenty of space on the estates that we’ve already got, to redevelop them to create the housing numbers that we need.”

AS: “The categoric reassurance is that I would not develop any of the green spaces, so I stand shoulder to shoulder with the team over on Short Heath Playing Fields.

“The way that you meet the housing need is to ensure we do develop the brownfield sites; I would welcome any brownfield application from a developer so we can protect those green spaces.

“To communities recovering from Covid, green spaces are critical to their physical wellbeing and their mental wellbeing. The Council also need to maintain the green spaces so they can be used appropriately.”

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Erdington has a high number of HMOs, with areas like Stockland Green suffering from the crime and social disorder they can invite. How would you, as mayor, address this issue?

LB: “The MPs in Birmingham have worked together to create a five-point action plan on HMOs that Jack Dromey MP is helping to galvanise. It is an especially serious problem in Stockland Green, but it is a problem all over the city.

“Many of the changes are legal changes nationally to give the council the power it needs. This is another is example of where we need a campaigning Mayor, someone who is going to stand up and fight for the powers that we need locally to make our communities nice again.

“Part of the problems with HMOs is that there is such an acute shortage of homes for social rent. 97% of the homes built in the West Midlands last year were not for social rent. So, it’s not surprising that we’ve got a housing crisis.

“We would use the resources that the Mayor has sitting there to double the number of homes for social rent that we’re building.”

AS: “Across the West Midlands we have doubled the number of homes being built in the last five years and doubled the amount of affordable housing. We’ve also changed the definition of ‘affordable’ so it relates to people’s income and not the property’s market value. So, it genuinely is ‘affordable’.

“HMOs and exempt accommodation are an acute issue. We will work with the city council to review the geographical allocation, their management, and the national legislation. That sector has been overdeveloped in Birmingham.

“I would hope to be in discussion with Government within a year, I know this needs tackling. Particularly in Stockland Green.”

For more on Liam Byrne MP visit www.liambyrne.co.uk
For more on Andy Street visit www.andystreet.org.uk

For more on elections and voting from Birmingham City Council, including links to check if you’re registered to vote – or to register, visit: www.birmingham.gov.uk/info/20097/elections_and_voting