OPINION: When someone says rape…

Director of the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign, which challenges sexual violence within the music industry, Ed King explores the difficult first reactions to a victim’s cry for help – and the importance to see beyond them.

Words by Ed King

I want you to remember your best sexual experience. I want you to relive, in every detail, the most pleasurable and safe experience you have ever had with a lover.

I want you to remember where you were, what you wore, what you had to eat and to drink. I want you to remember what they wore, until they wore nothing. I want you to remember what they ate, what they drank.

I want you to remember ever step of the sex itself – every physical touch and every emotion that went with it. I want you to remember what they did first, what they did last. I want you to establish a timeline. I want you to remember the strength of their body, if their skin was hot, cold, rough, or smooth.

I want you to remember if, at any point, you smiled.

Now I want you to go into the street and tell the first person you meet, a stranger. Tell them everything.

Now I want you to do the same for your worst sexual experience.

___________________

This is an exercise in empathy I saw the Birmingham based Rape & Sexual Violence Project (RSVP) organisation deliver, to a group of venue operators and licensees at a South Side Pub Watch meeting. It was a ‘tough crowd’, fidgeting through a hot afternoon and a meeting they were obligated to attend. But this stopped the room. This made us think. Can you imagine actually doing that…?

The idea is to put yourself in the position of a victim of sexual assault – to better understand what they would have to go through just to report what had happened to them. Just to start a criminal investigation, to hold a rapist to account, to get justice. To stop it happening again.

It gets worse for victim too, this is only the first step – next is a line of cross examination to see if they would be a viable voice in court, with all the clichés and rebuttals that circle cases of sexual violence like patriarchal vultures.

Did you lead them on? Did you know them? Did you act like you wanted sex? Were you drinking? Were you high? Was your clothing too sexy? Did you laugh at their jokes? Did you actually say the word ‘no’…?

But the RSVP exercise has stuck with me as a powerful way to put yourself in this terrible situation, even by proxy, and to encourage even if only a thin line of understanding – something that can clarify the pain and process a victim of sexual violence will have to go through when they report what happened to them. Just in reporting it. Not the violence. Just the admin around it.

This pub watch meeting was nearly two years ago now, but the exercise came back into my head recently after I saw someone shout rape on social media – receiving a rather immediate and short sighted response, calling for ‘evidence’, from a prominent member of the local music scene.

Now this is not an attack on anyone for involved in this conversation, debate and open discussion is healthy. And there is a side of me that says fair enough, evidence is important. Crucial in a courtroom. As a journalist reporting on anything, not just cases of sexual violence, I would be screaming “facts, figures, and cross referencing,” into my laptop.

Also, to be falsely accused of sexual violence must be a terrible experience – it does happen, you can’t and shouldn’t say it doesn’t. People of all genders and identification, of all ages, of all strata in society, are capable of lies.

But the bigger problem – the much more serious, pressing, and pertinent issue – are all the cases of rape, sexual assault, violence, cohesion, abuse, and manipulation that never get reported. With all the sexual aggressors that continue to normalise their heinous actions because the victim is too scared, too wounded, too vulnerable or unsupported to go through the reporting process.

People of all genders and identification, of all ages, of all strata in society, are capable of causing pain too.

So, what do we do?

Being involved in the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign has been, and remains to be, a significant learning curve for me – there was a point when I may have been the one calling for something to back up someone’s claim. Although I would like to think I would have done this at a later stage, off social media, and only if it was relevant for me to do so (i.e. not challenging someone who I didn’t know about something I was not privy to).

Plus, working with RSVP and the sexual violence and modern slavery team at West Midlands Police has helped me shape my understanding – something not everyone gets the chance to experience.

But the first step to take around cases of sexual violence is relatively simple.

You listen.

Start there. Listening helps.

Listening empowers people to recall and recant the most hideous of experiences, and to find strength to do it clearly – explaining the facts, figures, and ‘evidence’ that someone at the appropriate stage will be looking for.

The point of right and wrong, of truth and lies, is a few steps down the line. And we’re only at the first – you rarely know the veracity of what anybody is telling you, about anything, from an opening statement. You certainly don’t know it from a post on social media.

Walking into this conversation immediately asking for proof will not help someone to deliver information, to explain the situation – it will only help silence them and countless other victims who need support and who need to be heard.

So, again, listen. Start there. Don’t shut someone down because you don’t want to hear what they have to say, or because you hold crossed fingers that it will turn out to be untrue.

And if it helps, use the RSVP exercise – put yourself in the position of someone who has experienced sexual violence and has found the strength to talk about. To speak out. To challenge it. To seek help and to seek help for others.

And if you are still stuck, ask yourself this – if you were sexually assaulted, or raped, and you finally found the courage to tell someone about it…

What would you want their first response to be?

Ed King is the campaign director for NOT NORMAL NOT OK, challenging sexual violence in the music industry – from dance floor to dressing room, everyone deserves a safe place to play. For more on NOT NORMAL NOT OK, visit www.notnormalnotok.com

If you have been affected by any issues surrounding sexual violence and want to seek advice or support, visit www.notnormalnotok.com/category/support-advice or email info@notnormalnotok.com  

To seek help, advice, and support from the Rape & Sexual Violence Project, visit www.rsvporg.co.uk

NEWS: Erdington Academy given green light for £6.8m expansion to cater for 300 more pupils

Words by Adam Smith

Erdington Academy has been given the go-ahead to increase the number of its pupils from 900 to 1,200 after Birmingham City Council agreed to inject nearly £6.8 million into the school.

The Kingsbury Road secondary school will be refurbished and a brand new two story teaching block will be built on site – with work beginning next month and completed by Christmas 2021.

The new teaching block will include science labs and prep rooms, a drama teaching space, staff work rooms, office space and new staff and pupil toilets.

Birmingham City Council’s cabinet approved the £6,825,463 capital investment after a report from Dr Tim O’Neill, Director for Education and Skills, which said the authority had “a statutory duty to ensure that there are sufficient pupil places.”

The near £7m bill will be paid for from the Department for Education (DfE) Basic Need Grant and School Condition Grant.

However, consequential revenue costs arising from additional places including additional staffing, utility costs and any on-going day to day repair and maintenance will be the responsibility of Erdington Academy.

Balfour Beatty has been chosen as the construction partner for the scheme and ground is set to be broken at the school on November 23.

Councillor Jayne Francis, cabinet member for education, skills and culture, backed the new investment into Erdington Academy.

She said: “We have a duty to ensure that sufficient school places are available in our city.

Erdington Academy currently has 900 pupils, and the proposal is to expand two forms of entry to 1,200 places for pupils aged 11 to 16 years old.

There’s been a slight delay with planning, so it will be heard toward the end of September and once secured we will be able to carry on with completion of the work.”

Erdington Academy (formerly Kingsbury School and Sports College) converted to an Academy within the Fairfax Multi Academy Trust (FMAT) in 2016.

To find out more about Erdington Academy visit www.erdingtonacademy.bham.sch.uk

For more on Fairfax Multi Academy Trust (FMAT), visit www.fmat.co.uk

NEWS: Socially distanced ‘grass cutting protest’ to be held on Short Heath Playing Fields

Words & pics by Ed King

On Saturday 3rd October, around 50 local residents are holding a socially distanced ‘grass cutting protest’ on Short Heath Playing Fields in Erdington – continuing their fight to save the ‘beloved parkland’ from property developers.

Meeting at 2pm, friends and families from the local community will organise themselves on Short Heath Playing Fields – cutting the overgrown grass with handheld gardening tools and scissors.

The ‘grass cutting protest’ is being organised after Birmingham City Council’s refusal to cut the long grass, or to allow privately owned motorised equipment onto the land – such as lawn mowers.

Organised by the Short Heath Fields Trust (a recently formed community action group, dedicated to protecting the 26,912 square metres of cherished green space) the demonstration will be following all the coronavirus crisis guidelines – ensuring the community endeavour is fully COVID-19 safe.

Campaigners are wanting to help make the area more accessible for local children and elderly residents, by stripping back the long grass and thistles to encourage healthy outdoor activities for people of all ages.

In a statement from Short Heath Fields Trust, representing the wider community, protest organisers Estelle Murphy and Stephen Hughes say:

We have asked Birmingham City Council to cut the grass on Short Heath Playing Fields, so that whilst our community cannot meet in their homes and gardens (due to coronavirus restrictions) they have a space to be outside and safe.

There is a fight going on to save Short Heath playing fields, as Birmingham city Council want to build a housing estate on the beloved park land. But in the interim we can see no reason why the green space cannot be used to help keep local residents healthy and happy during this global pandemic.

As the Council have refused to help make the playing fields safer and more accessible, and won’t allow any third party to help with the appropriate motorised equipment, we have organised this grass cutting protest to help everyone in our community.”

The ‘grass cutting protest’ is the latest challenge to Birmingham City Council, following outrage across the community about the proposed housing development on the park land.

There have been further concerns about the lack of community consultation, with many local residents not being informed about the huge housing development that would take place on their doorstep.

In July 2019, Birmingham City Council sought approval to ‘dispose’ of the park land from the Department of Education’s portfolio – where it had been held as playing fields for local schools, including Court Farm Primary and St Mary Margaret Primary.

So far, the campaign to Save Short Heath Playing Fields has attracted thousands of supporters across the Erdington constituency – including a petition signed by 1500 local residents, that was presented to Birmingham City Council on Tuesday 15th September.

Erdington Councillor and leader of the Birmingham Conservatives, Robert Alden, has also been challenging the proposed developments in Council meetings for months.

Short Heath Playing Fields are vital to the local area,” says Councillor Alden. “They are a green lung – that helps clean our air, helps provide residents with an area to go to help exercise, and improve their physical and mental health and wellbeing.

In the post Covid-19 world even the Council admits that it is vital to provide green space yet despite us making it clear to them at numerous Council meetings and in petitions presented to Council that Erdington and Perry Common have a shortage the Council refuse to scrap their crazy plans to build on this valuable green space.”

Erdington’s Labour MP, Jack Dromey, has also called on the Council to listen to the concerns of local residents.

It is clear the Council have not done a good enough job of consulting with concerned residents,” states Jack Dromey, “and local people understandably feel that they have been ignored and the sense of anger is palpable.

Going forward, I will continue to argue that it would be wrong to go ahead with these proposals without proper consultation that involves local voices at every stage.”

Campaigners continue to challenge Birmingham City Council’s plans to develop a housing estate on Short Heath Playing Fields.

For more information about the campaign to Save Short Heath Playing Fields, visit the group’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/groups/1007069176404521

To further support the Save Short Heath Playing Fields campaign, you can donate through the official GoFundMe fundraising platform: www.gofundme.com/f/save-short-heath-playing-fields

LOCAL PROFILE: Paulette Francis-Green – Empress P

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Jobe Baker-Sullivan and Paulette Francis-Green

Erdington Local is proud to support Black History Month (BHM). The newspaper will be releasing a LOCAL PROFILE each week of BHM on black members of the community, amplifying these voices and celebrating the richness of multi-cultural Erdington.

Paulette Francis-Green (creative alias: Empress P) is a “proud Erdingtonian of Jamaican heritage.”

Born in Saltley, she moved to Erdington aged 6 – attending Fentham Secondary School for Girls in the 1970s. Through her company, PFG Consultancy, Paulette has been key in gathering information for Birmingham’s official Black History Month brochure since 2012. The purpose of the City Council funded brochure is “giving out information about events across the city” as well as celebrating various milestones of black history.

Paulette’s first job was for Birmingham City Council, working as a clerical assistant from 1978, and she has been a passionate supporter of the city ever since. But another of her lifelong passions is netball: “I used to eat, drink, sleep netball.”

Paulette proudly tells how she was “chair of the Birmingham netball league for 13 years. I had aspirations of becoming an international netball umpire.” She fondly remembers 1995 Netball World Championship held at the NIA in Birmingham, working on a stall: “Having that here in Birmingham was ‘wow!’. And being part of netball was ‘wow!'”

Another passion for Paulette is poetry. She cites inspirations such as Shakespeare, as well as Birmingham born, nationally renowned poet, Benjamin Zephaniah: “reading his autobiography was powerful. His mum used to rhyme when she was talking to them” and that Benjamin was “Dyslexic”, although did not let this “disability” quell his ambition to write.

Paulette is an integral part of the Midlands dub poetry roots scene, performing and writing with creatives such as Panya the Poet, Sue Brown, and Miss Culture Jam. She has released an anthology called I’ve Landed as well as an accompanying album.

Paulette is also a breast cancer survivor. Diagnosed in 2012, she recalls her experience vividly: “I was scared – I didn’t want to die. My granddaughter wasn’t born yet, and I wanted to be able to live to see my grand-child.”

Her big dream was to “get to Ghana and to connect with Africa. Being in the motherland, feeling the African soil.” Making a full recovery, and now having visited Africa several times, she teaches that “what helped me dealing with the cancer was being positive. Being positive within yourself kicks out the negativity.” Paulette launched back into her work in the creative industry “straight after recovery.”

Paulette presented Erdington Local with a small, ongoing memoir of 25 “achievements” she had made since the year 2000. These included job titles such as Equality Diversity Champion, Black History Month Coordinator at The Drum (now known as Legacy Centre of Excellence), and Promotions Coordinator for the Simmerdown Festival.

One such job she had was at the Birmingham Museums Collection Centre, which is ‘a 1.5 hectare site that holds 80 per cent of Birmingham Museums’ stored collections under one roof.’ Paulette describes the Museums Collection Centre as “Indiana Jones meets Ikea”, referring to the warehouse scene at the end of the first film of the Spielberg series.

Her favourite objects include an unrealised civic plan of Birmingham city centre surrounding Baskerville House, a Giant Crab and a fold-up BSA bicycle from World War II: “Soldiers would parachute out the planes with these bikes strapped to their backs – so when they land, they can jump on their bike, and cycle to where they’re supposed to be!”

Paulette speaks about her role compiling the official brochure of Birmingham Black History Month: “One of the important things was how we wanted to spread the word about the black community, black history and letting people know about it.”

She showed Erdington Local a brochure from 2015 celebrating two important 50 years milestones: Malcolm X’s visit to Birmingham in 1965, and the 1965 UK Race Relations Act – which was the first piece of legislation in the UK to address the prohibition of racial discrimination.

The launch of Birmingham Black History Month at Birmingham Town Hall in 2018 “was powerful. It’s important for the black community that we’re in prominent places.” Paulette recalls with glee meeting American singer Dionne Warwick, who was giving a private concert for the organisers of the launch event. In her capacity of host, Paulette fondly remembers announcing, with a smile, “and now I hand over to Dionne Warwick.”

Paulette’s ebullient personality makes her a natural host. She is a co-presenter on the ‘Roots Rock and Reggae’ show on Newstyle Radio. “We do edutainment” explains Paulette, “we play music but we give out information as well – Caribbean news, black history, stuff about COVID.”

I’ve done a lot over 60 years.” Paulette exclaims. However, some of her favourite hosting moments were in Erdington. She hosted the Christmas Lights Switch On and the Erdington Community Festival in Rookery Park, both events facilitated by the Erdington Arts Forum.

Paulette is also a staple part of the Arts Forum’s monthly Evening of Creativity, saying she loves “introducing the locals – giving them a round of applause.”

For more on Black History Month in Birmingham, visit www.birminghamblackhistorymonth.co.uk

I’ve Landed, by Empress P, is out now – available to purchase from Waterstones or Amazon. The album will soon be available on Spotify.

Paulette/Empress P will be hosting the Evening of Creativity: Black History Month special in Erdington at Oikos Café on the 16th October. Tickets will be available through Eventbrite – for updates and information, visit www.facebook.com/ErdingtonArts

You can listen to Newstyle Radio’s ‘Roots, Rock and Reggae show’ with Tony Roots featuring Empress P on Wednesdays 8-10pm on 98.7FM – for more on Newstyle Radio, visit www.newstyleradio.co.uk 

NEWS: Dying Castle Vale schoolgirl’s EuroDisney wish sparks massive community fundraising effort

Words by Adam Smith / Pics supplied by Keena Cespedes

A dying Castle Vale schoolgirl’s wish to see EuroDisney is a step closer after £4,600 was raised in a month by big-hearted friends, family, and the community.

Six-year-old Kionne Holding, who has an incurable rare form of epilepsy, wants to go meet the Little Mermaid with the rest of her family – but due the specialist disability travel arrangements the holiday could cost £10,000.

However, when her mother Keena Cespedes, who has been at her daughter’s side for the last 93 days at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, launched a GoFundMe page (Kionne’s Fund) in August there was an overwhelming response.

Click here or on the hyperlink above to visit the GoFundMe page – Kionne’s Fund

Kionne’s Fund has inspired online music festival fundraisers, reggae brunches, and raffles. Family friend Lee Crofts is also undertaking a sponsored ‘Castle Vale to Paris Triathlon’ which has so far raised £1,600.

Keena, aged 37, told Erdington Local: “I can’t even begin to say how amazing people have been since I told people about Kionne, friends, family, and strangers have sent me messages of support and my daughter presents.

I put up the GoFundMe page without thinking anything would happen, I would have been happy with £50 but it feels like the whole of Castle Vale has got involved, as well as people across Birmingham.

We have now raised more than £4,600. I know times are hard for people, so it really means a lot people are donating.”

Keena remembers Kionne as a bubbly, funny, lovable child before last November when she suddenly began having seizures and headaches. Two months later she was diagnosed with small tumor on her brain and a rare form of epilepsy called Lennox Gasture Syndrome.

Her condition deteriorated and she in the last nine months she’s lost the ability to walk, talk and eat. Doctors have given her various drugs, treatments, and alternative remedies but all to no avail.

Keena said: “Due to all the drugs she is on she does not understand what is being done for her and all the love people have for her, but we still are hoping to take her to EuroDisney with her sisters.”

Tragically Keena has already had to have a conversation with specialists about Kionne’s end of life care.

She said: “This syndrome has taken everything away from her and is slowly killing my baby. She is unable to walk, eat for herself, and now her speech is going. She now speaks like a three-year-old not a six-year-old. She cannot be treated and there is no cure. I’m coming to terms with my baby dying and the little time we have left with her.

All I want to do now is make her life as amazing as possible and one way is to get her on holiday with her sisters who she loves so much.”

And due to the coronavirus pandemic, Kionne has been unable to get visits and cuddles from her three sisters.

Keena added: “Only I can go and visit her because of COVID-19, Kionne misses her sisters and they miss her but there is nothing that can be done about that – that is why it would be wonderful if we could all go away together. We would need specialist care when we are there and have to stay in adapted hotels, but it can be done and we are hoping to go early next year now.”

Castle Vale fundraiser Lee Crofts has now cycled the distance from “The Ressies to Dover” and also organised a reggae brunch at Minworth Social Club.

He said: “We’ve had amazing gestures of support with events, raffles set up, prize donations, and raised £500 in a day.

The little superhero is fighting the hardest fight of all, so let’s make the dark days a little brighter and give her. Her wish of a holiday with her sisters to make some priceless memories.”

To sponsor Lee as he continues his bid to cycle, run and walk the distance to Paris, click here to visit the Kionne’s Wish PayPal page.

The Chivenor Primary School pupil has touched the hearts of the nurses at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, where she has been for the last three months.

Nurse Victoria Mulligan posted on the GoFundMe page: ‘I have had the pleasure of looking after Kionne and every shift she brightened my day with a massive smile and huge hug.

‘She holds on to you so that you can’t leave her side, she sings to you, she makes you laugh, she is super brave and absolutely deserves to go on holiday which will never make up for all she has gone through but will give her and her family an experience of happiness to remember forever.’

For more information or to donate to Kionne’s Fund visit: www.gofundme.com/f/kionnes-fund

To sponsor Lee Crofts – as he cycles, runs and walks the distance to Paris – visit the Kionne’s Wish PayPal page here: www.tiny.cc/qpaysz   

LOCAL PROFILE: Ben Jeffery – Oikos Café & Church

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Yellow Mustard photography

Oikos Café (part of Oikos Church) on Erdington High Street has brought an alternative vibe to the local area – one of high quality coffee, work meetings, and evening events which one might see in ‘swanky’ areas of London. Ben Jeffery is Oikos‘s centre manager, as well as a founding member of the Oikos Church.

Prior to managing the café full time, Ben was a technical sales manager for a chemical company: “I travelled all over the country, in a nice company car, selling specialist chemicals to companies.” After what he described as a religious ‘calling’, he started to manage the café one year after it was founded.

Ben explains that Oikosstarted as a house church over in Short Heath road.”

The pastor of the church, Jez Dearing, would host Christian gatherings in his house until they started renting a YMCA hall on Sundays on Turftpits Lane. They finally settled with the building they have now: “We felt God call us to have a presence on the high street – to have a bigger presence in the community.” Previously a furniture store, the building was eight years “totally derelict. This was just a shell. Front staircase, toilets, telephone, internet, central heating, office – literally it had nothing.”

If you visit the church-come-café, you would be forgiven for not thinking of it as a religious building. The lack of crosses, biblical quotes, ‘smells and bells’ is no accident – nor a mere symptom of the Oikos Church‘s ‘low church’ style, but rather a conscious effort. As Ben explains: “We wanted to make the barrier to entry (into the church) as low as possible”, believing that “in a post-Christian culture, one of the hardest challenges a church faces is people stepping through the doors.”

Although now a staple feature of the high street, the café had to fight its corner to exist, as Ben explains: “there was a lot of opposition from councillors who wrote to residents to try to oppose us opening a café.” Although forgivingly he states that “it probably came out of not understanding what we were about or what we wanted to do.”

A café in the day, Oikos is also available for hire by organisations who want to use the space. Ben lists the “Evening of Creativity, Nikki Tapper’s ‘Tapper Talks’, organisations like Urban Devotion, the GAP from Sutton, and wedding receptions” as those that they welcome and support. There was a local couple that wanted their reception in the café because of its central location, “because they love Erdington so much” as Ben earnestly tells.

Ben enjoys strong relationships with the organisations and partners who use the space: “It’s really important to get to know people – that process takes time.”

With the café very much at the heart of Ben’s day to day operations, he explains that he is “Constantly walking the tightrope between running the business of the café and wanting to do the missional work of the church”, referring to all of the jobs and trials he has to undertake as a business manager on a busy high street.

He tells: “the thing that drew me to the café was interaction with people. I’m naturally an extrovert by nature… There are a lot of people who come in here with interesting backgrounds and current things they want to talk about and share.”

Oikos had to transform itself as a church during lockdown. Their regular Sunday morning service, called “a gathering”, was closed for five months to the public from March until August. “We livestreamed a full service every Sunday,” tells Ben, “it wasn’t just like a quick Zoom call or a 20 minute sermon. We were very blessed to have somebody who does this as a job (livestreaming) and has the equipment.”

Ben explains that lockdown has really taken its toll on the emotional strength of the Oikos community: “Oikos means family – family is a big thing for us as a church. It’s very weird when you can’t physically meet or be together. That’s not what families do, right?

We ‘feel’ that distance between people growing because they’re not able to be with each other in quite the same way.”

Despite five months of relative hardship, Ben’s eyes are set on making Oikosa real part of making and helping things that go on in this community,” and remarks that “it’s something we still need to ‘grow in’.”

With a Costa now opened in Erdington, as well as new plans for the high street regeneration fund, Ben can still rely on Oikos‘s strong, reliable customer base moving forward – with people of all faiths enjoying the café and all the events it has to offer.

To find out more about Oikos Café, visit www.oikoscafe.co.uk

For more on Oikos Church, visit www.oikoschurch.co.uk

NEWS: John Taylor Hospice helps make ‘special memories’ for Erdington bird of prey enthusiast

Words by Diane Parkes / Pics courtesy of John Taylor Hospice Erdington

John Taylor Hospice in Erdington gave a local family a precious day to remember thanks to a special visit from some feathery friends.

David Gilchrist and his family saw their Erdington garden turned into a bird show when Andy Plant of The Falconry Centre in Hagley brought along a few feathered friends.

It was a dream come true for 65-year-old David when he came face to face with a host of birds of prey including a bald eagle, two owls, an American kestrel, and a peregrine falcon.

David, who has the respiratory condition chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), has been supported by teams from John Taylor Hospice for two years.

As his condition has progressed, care has been stepped up to meet his needs – including creating special memories.

David’s family had organised a short holiday including a visit to a falconry centre for the life-long bird of prey enthusiast but faced disappointment when David became too poorly to make the trip.

But the team at John Taylor Hospice stepped in to arrange the visit from Andy along with a buffet so that other family members could share this special moment and enjoy the treat.

The event was made possible because David is part of the Personal Health Budget (PHB) project – a scheme in which patients are given control over how they choose to spend health and social care finance.

The scheme has been pioneered in Birmingham by John Taylor Hospice, Birmingham and Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group, and Birmingham Voluntary Service Council, working in partnership with Birmingham City Council (via the Better Care Fund). PHBs can be used to fund different services including home care, gardening or laundry and making special memories such as the Falconry event.

David’s daughter, 40-year-old Gemma Grantham, said the personalised care has made all the difference.

I can’t say enough about how much the hospice has helped Dad,” she says. “He was diagnosed nine years ago and we’ve been living with that ever since.

We were put in touch with the hospice two years ago and it has been such a help.

They explained the personal health budget to us and that has meant we’ve been able to access so much extra help. We have been able to have day sits and night visits which have really helped and the people who come can’t do enough for Dad. We’ve seen a real improvement in Dad’s mental health through getting this support.

The last few months have been really difficult as Dad had to go into hospital twice and both times we said goodbye to him – but both times he’s come back to us.

The first time he was having real breathing problems and the second time he had fallen and had to have a hip operation. With COVID-19 we were really worried about him going into hospital but he’s managed well both times.”

And the icing on the cake was the special visit from The Falconry Centre. Prior to the most recent Birmingham lockdown regulations, David was joined in the garden by his family including his three children, Gemma, Andrew and Rachel, and his nine grandchildren to see the birds.

We were all so disappointed when we realised Dad was too poorly to go on holiday,” said Gemma. “So this has been a real treat – not just for Dad but for everyone.

I still can’t believe the hospice has been able to do all of this for Dad. He’s really enjoyed it and I can see what a difference it’s made.”

John Taylor Hospice PHB Project Lead, Jan Hipkiss, said: “It was a real privilege to help David achieve his dream of seeing, once again, the birds of prey he so dearly loves and making this wonderful day come true for him and his family.

Through the personal health budget project we have been able to provide individual care, support and special memories for many patients and their families. This new way of delivering healthcare is ensuring it is the patient who is at the heart of their own decision-making.”

For more about John Taylor Hospice and Personal Health Budgets see www.johntaylorhospice.org.uk

NEWS: Castle Vale school uniform clothing bank helps hundreds of families facing the new academic year

Words by Rachael Brazier / Pics by Laura Grigg & The Pioneer Group

A staggering 276 families have been spared the cost of school uniforms, thanks to an initiative set up by Compass Support‘s Parent Champions in Castle Vale.

The school uniform clothing bank was opened at The Sanctuary on Tangmere Drive in mid-July, collecting and distributing second-hand items before the start of the new academic year. All services and items are free of charge.

Molly Miles, Volunteer Coordinator from Compass Support – the charitable arm of The Pioneer Group, who works with Parent Champions in Castle Vale, says:

I am so proud of Jodi (Dunstan), Jayne (Herbert), Jess (Llewellyn) and Lisa (Pountney) who are helping children and families far and wide. Hopefully, we’ll be able to continue to support children and families with essential school uniforms in 2021.

The project was planned back in February and was on hold till early July when lockdown eased. It’s a brilliant initiative in terms of both saving money for struggling families, especially those with multiple children, and for sustainability reasons as much of the uniform is in perfectly good condition.”

To help raise awareness of the project and let people know where they can donate unwanted school uniforms, the Parent Champions have set up a Facebook page and are planning to distribute leaflets about their service.

Via the popular social media platform, local families can directly ask for specific uniform requests – which can then be collected by appointment from The Sanctuary community centre in Castle Vale.

Once uniforms and school items have been donated at The Sanctuary they are put into ‘quarantine’, washed, dried, and ironed ready for their new owner. When picking up items, parents and carers will be met by a volunteer – all socially distanced and abiding by government regulations.

Uniforms are available for local schools, including: Chivenor, St Gerards, Topcliffe, Pegasus, and Greenwood Academy. However, families affected by the coronavirus pandemic are donating and collecting from further afield – for example Smith’s Wood Academy in Solihull – as some uniforms come as standard issue.

Boys trousers have been the most donated item, as many teenagers grow out of clothes quickly. Another popular item on the wish list are PE kits – including t-shirts, pumps, and shorts.

And whilst the cost of school uniforms can run into hundreds of pounds per pupil, the Parent Champions initiative aims to reduce some of that financial burden for local residents. 

Jodi Dunstan, one of Compass Support‘s Parent Champions, helps local families with a range of information and advice about activities and services in the local area – alongside the school uniform initiative.

As a result of her hard work at the uniform clothing bank, especially with the added fears and pressures around COVID-19, Jodi Dunstan was nominated for and won a local Facebook competition celebrating community endeavours.

Jodi says: “We are receiving requests from people of all different backgrounds, and we’re so happy to give back to the community. We had one family that needed to kit out a family of seven children – can you imagine the cost?”

We’ll carry on as long as we can as we understand the hardships many families are currently facing. Between us volunteers we have 13 school-aged children of our own. We love being able to help, and just the relief on the parents/carers faces and the joy that uniform that fits brings is phenomenal.”

Any donated items that are not suitable for use are being sent for ‘ragging’ – with any funds generated ploughed back into running the uniform clothing bank initiative.

To find out more about Compass Support’s Parent Champions uniform clothing bank, including information on donating or collecting uniforms, please call (0121) 748 8111

You can also ask to join the private Facebook group, click here or on the hyperlinks in this article.

For more on Compass Support – the charitable arm of The Pioneer Group, visit www.compass-support.org.uk

NEWS: Heartless thieves target Kingstanding charity stealing £20,000 of community equipment

Words by Adam Smith / Pics supplied by Kingstanding Regeneration Trust

A Kingstanding charity is reeling after thieves stole tools worth £20,000 which local youngsters use to clean up pensioners’ gardens.

Burglars used an angle grinder saw to break into Kingstanding Regeneration Trust’s (KRT) shipping container, Dulwich Road, and clear the shelves inside – steeling so much gardening gear they needed a large van to drive it away.

The charity, which is based at Kingstanding Leisure Centre, has now been burgled four times in two years.

Assistant manager Emily Dwyer told Erdington Local: “This is really upsetting. This is the fourth time we have been broken into in two years. We really try and do good work for the community at KRT so it is very sad this keeps happening.

These tools were used to help local young people get back into work and provide a gardening service for the pensioners.”

She added: “In December last year, thieves broke in and stole all our computers. We are waiting to find out what our insurers say about the tools but it will be so hard to get insurance after this latest break-in.

If anyone has any information about our tools or would like to donate to the charity then please contact us on 0121 439 6780.”

KRT was founded 12 years ago and provides training for young people to help them get into work.

The charity also provides a low cost gardening service for pensioners throughout North Birmingham and runs various community projects from the leisure centre.

As part of their ongoing community outreach activities, KRT also helps nurture and develop green spaces – creating eight community gardens in recent years and “greened up” Hawthorn Road by planting trees and shrubbery.

Kingstanding Police Team issued an appeal for information to the public about the theft at KRT.

PCSO Tracy Baker said: “KRT, a local charity based at Kingstanding Leisure Centre, has had their shipping container broken into over the weekend.

The container was full of gardening and power tools worth approximately £20,000. All the tools are used to train young people so they can access employment. The container had three locks on and needed an angle grinder or still saw and a large van to carry all the kit.”

She added: “Please may I ask you report any information you have, especially if you are approached by someone selling tool to us via 101 or our Live Web Chat quoting crime number 20BE/228247Q/20.”

To find out more about Kingstanding Regeneration Trust, visit www.krtbirmimingham.co.uk

For more on the Kingstanding Police team, including non-emergency contact information, visit www.west-midlands.police.uk/node/2711b

NEWS: Shocking new police stats reveal 25% of all crime in Erdington is domestic abuse

Words by Adam Smith

Domestic abuse has increased by a massive 38% in Erdington and now accounts for a quarter of all crime in the area, the latest crime statistics have revealed.

As the latest COVID-19 restrictions take hold there are fears violence at home could rise further, as victims become trapped with their abuser in their home.

Erdington’s top cop, Inspector Haroon Chughtai, promised domestic abuse is now a priority due the huge year on year rise in the crime.

In his September message to Erdington residents Inspector Chughtai outlined the extent of the problem.

He said: ‘Erdington is unfortunately showing a near 8% increase in overall crime, and that is an extra 421 victims of crime. 

‘Domestic abuse sadly contributes a large part to this increase with roughly over one quarter of the overall crime being domestic abuse offences. Domestic abuse continues to show increases with a 38% rise, which is 345 extra victims.’

He added: ‘Domestic abuse remains a force priority and we are determined to bring these numbers down.’

The United Nations described domestic abuse as a ‘shadow pandemic’ after it emerged across the world there had been a 20% increase in the crime during various lockdowns – with victims physically trapped inside abusive households.

During lockdown the UK’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline revealed calls increased by 80%.

Inspector Chughtai described how combatting domestic abuse is a daily battle in Erdington.

He said: ‘Domestic abuse remains a critical force mission, and as such a significant amount of both local and force resources are invested daily into tackling it.

‘For us locally we focus on two key areas. Firstly prioritising pursuing and arresting offenders who are wanted for domestic abuse offences and secondly we identify repeat victim of domestic abuse each month and then take a problem solving approach to work with them and even at times the perpetrators to see what part we can play to break that cycle.

‘Whether that is seeking injunctions/prevention orders, supporting with house moves, signposting help and opportunities etc.’

Inspector Chughtai did also point to a reduction in robberies and burglaries in the latest crime statistics.

He said: ‘Robbery and burglary continue to show good reductions, with robbery showing a 19% reduction with 33 less victims of robbery, house burglaries show a 9% reduction with 28 less victims of burglary.

Under 25 violence shows a 15% reduction, with 23 less victims so far this year.’

Police resources are further being diverted to ensuring Erdington residents comply to the latest ‘rule of six’ COVID-19 restrictions are being obeyed. However, Inspector Chughtai explained fines will be given only as ‘a last resort’.

He said: ‘From the start of this pandemic, specifically around the policing of social distancing, our Chief Constable has been clear that enforcement will be a last resort, we will always look to engage, educate and encourage before we chose to enforce.’

For the latest COVID-19 guidelines visit www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-outbreak-faqs-what-you-can-and-cant-do/coronavirus-outbreak-faqs-what-you-can-and-cant-do

And for the local restrictions visit www.gov.uk/guidance/birmingham-sandwell-and-solihull-local-restrictions

For a database of local support services during the coronavirus crisis, provided by the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce, visit www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19-local-support 
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If you believe you are a victim of domestic abuse, you can seek help and advice via the freephone 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline is 0808 2000 247

For more information visit www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk