Words by Terri-Anne Fell / Pic courtesy of Jo Bull
Jo Bull has been living in Erdington for 13 years. Since she was a teenager, she has been creating handmade cards which she sells to raise money for Erdington’s YMCA. Itching to be a part of her community, Jo volunteers as a peer lead for mental health service users in the area, encouraging vulnerable people to create friendships and gain creative skills they wouldn’t normally have.
When the COVID-19 lockdown began, Jo realised very quickly that services she and many others turned to in their hour of need would have to close – so she took to Facebook to look for an online community she could be a part of, to help in any way she could.
Noticing other areas in Birmingham had created response groups, Jo created the Erdington Community Response to COVID-19 Facebook group. Since its inception last month, the group has amassed over 600 members. Currently, the group has supported over 400 households and has 63 active volunteers.
Jo’s role in the group is to provide online support to people who need somebody to talk to, and she signposts to services she knows can help vulnerable people.
Erdington Local is proud to recognise and celebrate Jo Bull – a fantastic member of our community and a well-deserved Erdington Local Hero.
EL: What’s your relationship with Erdington, how long have you lived/worked in the area?
Jo: I’ve lived in Erdington for 13 years; I live on Watt road and it’s the longest I’ve stayed in one place. I moved here in 2007, just after theological college, where my first job was working in Erdington Job Centre for the Department of Work & Pensions. I remember noticing when I started working at the Job centre that almost all of my colleagues didn’t live locally. They all thought it was strange that I did!
EL: If you could shout about something in Erdington so loud the whole of Birmingham could hear, what would it be?
Jo: Eden Café. It’s my favourite. They are fab. They’ve been open for about three years and are attached to the YMCA. It’s just a really nice place to visit and to be a part of. I always have a latte, and any day they have good cake is my favourite day! They are friendly and have quite a few regulars who like me have various issues and disabilities. They are good at getting to know their people and catering to all of our little quirks.
EL: In your spare time, you’ve been creating handmade cards. How long have you been doing this for?
Jo: I’ve been making cards since I was a teenager. I’m 42, so I started nearly 30 years ago as I got really frustrated with finding the perfect card in the shop. I’d open them and find they’d say things inside that had nothing to do with the person I was sending it to! I thought because I can’t find what I want, I’d just do it myself. They sell my cards in Eden Café, and the profits from sales go to the YMCA.
EL: Whilst the UK is in lockdown, you’ve set up the Erdington Local Community Response to COVID-19 Facebook Group, what made you want to set up the group?
Jo: As the UK went in to lockdown I realised everything I was a part of in the community would be stopped, which made me feel absolutely devastated and lost. I thought to myself that people in Birmingham are going to need a way to talk to each other, people were setting up local COVID-19 groups and someone asked me if there was one in Erdington. There wasn’t, so I made one.
EL: Did you anticipate the group would gain the traction it has?
Jo: I wasn’t expecting people to join. To start off with I just added people I knew from the day centre and gave the link to a few people who were asking for it. For the first two days I was the only one posting anything; I was a little bit gutted so I went away for a few hours and when I came back to the group there were 30 people wanting to join, it was like the cavalry coming in. I didn’t know who they were, and they didn’t know me, we all just wanted to help.
EL: How have you managed to keep the support consistent as the group has grown?
Jo: As the group was growing, I realised I couldn’t be the only admin. I didn’t know if my mental health would hold out and if I got sick I didn’t want to leave people on their own in the group. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have all the other admins.
EL: In the group you’ve said you mostly provide online support for people who may be struggling with their mental health, why did you decide to take on this role?
Jo: At the day centre, I volunteer as a peer lead for mental health service users. So, I worked out with the other admins that it was OK for anyone to chat with me if they needed an emotional offload. You never know who you are coming in to contact with when on deliveries and you may meet really vulnerable people and not know what to do.
I’ve spoken to people who have been really suffering whilst in lockdown, and people have come to the group saying they don’t know whether they’ll be able to get through this. I’ve found I’m able to signpost people to organisations that will be able to help them easily and I’m great at being able to motivate people.
EL: Speaking of motivating people, you’ve been using your handmade cards to spread joy to volunteers in the group. One of our writers received a card and it was so lovely!
Jo: I seem to be chief card maker for the group, I’ve already given cards to people who have helped me personally during lockdown, but David (Owen) had the idea of sending every volunteer a thank you card and I did 23 cards – one for every active volunteer at the time. I thought my hand was going to fall off, I wrote a proper message in all of them. They are all working hard and they deserved a handwritten personalised thank you.
EL: As the person who created the Erdington COVID-19 Community Response group, do you think other organisations in the area are doing enough to help the fight against coronavirus?
Jo: I think it is phenomenal that people are able to do anything; however much we do I think there will always be something that still needs to be done, we can’t fix everything. I would say, are we all going to bed having done what we can today?
If we focus on what we are doing and what we have done, rather than what can be done, then we are likely to help more people. We do what we can, and not what we can’t. As long as I know people are getting help, I’m happy.
To visit the Erdington local community response to COVID-19 Facebook group, where you ask for help and support during the coronavirus crisis – or offer your services as a volunteer, visit www.facebook.com/groups/625073991557017
Alternatively, you can get in touch with Erdington Local via phone or email and we will forward your details to the Erdington local community response to COVID-19 Facebook group.
For all our contact information, visit www.erdingtonlocal.com/contact-erdington-local