LOCAL PROFILE: Inspector Haroon Chughtai

Words by Jobe Baker Sullivan / Pics supplied by West Midlands Police

(First published in Erdington Local’s Nov/Dec ’20 newspaper)

Haroon Chughtai is the West Midlands Police Inspector responsible for Erdington and Sutton Coldfield, overseeing both constituencies. Erdington Local caught up with the area’s top cop, to find out more about the man behind the badge.

Now 41 years old, Haroon Chughtai joined the police force in 2003 – straight after completing his degree in Business and Computer Science at Birmingham University. Being made Police Inspector for Erdington and Sutton Coldfield in January 2020, Haroon manages the neighbourhood teams and police staff across the two constituencies.

He cites his reasons for joining the police as “wanting to give back to the community,” as well as wanting to be an example of diversity in the force.

“I knew nobody who was a copper, I had no family members who were police officers. At that time, there was more of a drive to get the police force more representative – more black and Asian people.”

This literal ‘bobbie on his bike’ cycles to work regularly, operating out of Erdington Police Station, and bemoans the fact that he rarely gets out the office. Instead, Inspector Chughtai spends much of his time in the office overseeing “70-80” cops.

“I’m lucky if I get out once a month,” Haroon says, but thinks that “sometimes it’s important that I go out and see something for myself.”

When asked about changes in his career during his 17 years in the force, Haroon says that he is impressed with the “technological changes” the police have embraced and in the way it helps them operates. And in the days of cyber-crime and Internet criminality, the police now have to “operate online more, with social media.”

Inspector Chughtai also believes that huge government cuts during his time have caused the police to make “difficult decisions” such as being unable to deal immediately with “petty theft and crime.” Police departments across the country have been pushed to make substantial changes over recent years, with 16% of spending declining between 2010-2019 nationally.  

On the other hand, Haroon says that “The police force is much better at prioritizing things – based on risk and vulnerability. We deal with what needs to be dealt with immediately.”

During 2020, one of the biggest challenges for the local police force and for Haroon has been “the rise in domestic abuse”, with the Erdington Inspector estimating that domestic abuse accounts for “approximately a quarter of all Erdington’s crime.”

Victims are “predominantly women” with most offenders being male. This is also reflected in the rise of domestic abuse across the entire country since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with many violent relationships exacerbated during the national lockdowns. 

Inspector Chughtai found policing during the first lockdown “really challenging”, noting the “really poor understanding of what the restrictions were. The compliance wasn’t as good as it is now [to the rules].” This included non-essential businesses remaining open illegally.

When asked by Erdington Local to predict the immediate future of his role in the area, Haroon said that “Sadly, I think COVID is here to stay – the enforcement around COVID will have to continue”.

Haroon is also committed to reducing “under 25 violence”, especially referring to young people leaving school, hanging around streets and bus stops, and causing violent crime.  “In the past these sort of things might not have been recorded as crimes. Behind the bike-sheds a couple of lads have had a fight, nobody would remember – but nowadays, it’s officially reported.” Haroon and his officers work with parents and teachers to keep track of these crimes.

“I’m using all the overtime I have to tackle under 25 violence. We don’t want to criminalize kids, but we want to put some interventions in really early on.”

Asking Inspector Chughtai what he’d like to see changed in Erdington, he responds “a rebalance of housing market, especially with the sheer number of HMOs and hostels. It’s got more than anywhere else in the city – over 1000 in one concentration”. He wants HMOs to be “spread across the city, rather than being concentrated in small areas.”

Haroon’s regular monthly updates on the West Midlands Police website often report crime in neighbouring Sutton Coldfield as decreasing, whilst general crime rates increase across Erdington. But when asked about his own personal impressions of Erdington, he says that “Erdington’s got a real strong community spirit. You can see with the Erdington Task Force, and the Stockland Green Action Group.”

He says that Erdington is “unique” and that other inspectors from other parts of the city are surprised at hear how active the community is.

“During COVID there’s been a load of people that have stepped up to help people that are needy, that are vulnerable,” explains the Erdington Inspector. “It’s volunteers that do that work – it’s really selfless.”

To receive updates from the Neighbourhood Policing Teams in your area, visit www.neighbourhoodalert.co.uk

To find out more about Erdington’s police force, visit www.west-midlands.police.uk/node/2710

Please follow and like us:

NEWS: Story Wood School help Witton Lodge break world record for largest holly wreath

Words & pics by Ed King

On Friday 11th December, children from Story Wood School helped break the world record for the largest holly wreath – building the giant decoration around The Ring in Perry Common.

Organised by Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA), the festive feat took three days to complete – with over 60 local residents and community volunteers joining the Year 5 pupils in the world record breaking Christmas celebration.

Measuring a staggering 358.3m in circumference and 136.1m in diameter, the giant wreath was made of holly branches from Sutton Park and Christmas decorations donated Birmingham City Council.

Circling the public playing area and green space that sits between Rosedale Road and Branford Road, the mammoth task was operated under social distancing and Covid safe conditions – with people working in bubbles along separate sections of the fencing.

Measured by independent adjudicators and Erdington Councillor Robert Alden, the final count was filmed live – with the evidence now being sent to the Guinness Word Record organisation for its official endorsement.

To date, the record for the largest Christmas wreath has been held by D Presmec Dolge Njive from Volicina, Slovenia.

Completed on 1st December 2013, the pine, cypress, and grape vine wreath measured 316.82m in circumference and 100.85m in diameter – over 35m smaller than the Perry Common record breaker.

Bringing together people of all ages, from 9 to 99 years old, the Perry Common endeavour was a loud and proud community celebration – putting a positive full stop at the end of a year that has kept many friends, neighbours, and loved ones apart due to the coronavirus crisis.

Across Erdington, people are mirroring the spirit of Witton Lodge’s record-breaking wreath – with initiatives such as the Light Up Christmas campaign, by local charity Active Arts, encouraging people to end the year with a bright smile.

Debbie Bates, Heath and Wellbeing Lead at Witton Lodge Community Association, said: “We’ve been thinking about lots of things to help celebrate Christmas and bring some Christmas spirit to everyone in the community. It’s been a horrendous year… but it was important that we still did something to bring the community together.

“We came up with the idea to put a Christmas tree in the centre of The Ring and inviting members of the community to decorate the tree with messages, wishes, and hopes.

“From that idea sparked a conversation with John Porter from Sutton Park, who was cutting down holly, and we came up with the idea between us all to decorate The Ring.  

“We’ve had volunteers, children from the local schools… we’ve had so many people come out.

“People walking their dogs, just wanting to take part and have a little conversation. They’ve said how pretty it looks; how lovely it is. How fabulous it is to have The Ring decorated and how nice it is to be part pf Perry Common.

“Isolation has been so difficult for so many people. The lovely thing is people have come back out (of their houses) to have a look and be part of this, to do some of the weaving. So, it’s been building people’s confidence to come back out into the community.”

Part of the independent adjudicating team, Erdington Councillor Robert Alden joined the festive feat to mark off segments and calculate the final size of the record-breaking wreath.

“It’s almost been like taking part in a Christmas movie, you’ve had the community come together all behind this idea that Witton Lodge come up with – it’s been brilliant,” Councillor Alden told Erdington Local.

“It’s been incredible to see the children come out and take part too – they have been here all week giving up their spare time to come and take part in this record-breaking attempt. You’ve seen the whole community come together. It’s what Christmas is about, particularly in this year.

“What this is showing is the community in Perry Common; you’ve got this wonderful community who want to come together. 

“We’ve seen people who haven’t been willing to come out of their houses for months take part, because they felt they could be part of the community again in a safe way.”

With one week left until they break for the winter holidays, the children from Story Wood School were excited to bring back some festive cheer to the community.

“It’s been amazing,” said the Year 5 pupils who were putting the final branches on the world-record breaking wreath. “It’s been fun watching the whole Ring turn into a massive holly wreath.”

And whilst the year has been a challenging one for the local school children, when asked if they were feeling more festive after decorating This Ring the answer was a resounding “YEEEEAAAAHHHH.”

Central News also tuned up to film the record-breaking wreath in Perry Common, talking to local residents who helped build the giant decoration – watch the video below:

Witton Lodge Community Association organise record breaking holly wreath in Perry Common – Central News 11.12.20

For more on Story Wood School, visit www.storywood.bham.sch.uk

To find out more about Witton Lodge Community Association, visit www.wittonlodge.org.uk

Please follow and like us:

NEWS: Birmingham City Council agree to ‘move forward in partnership’ with Save Short Heath Playing Fields campaign

Words & pics by Ed King

On Friday 11th December, the campaign to Save Short Heath Playing Fields took a significant step forward – following a meeting with Birmingham City Council Leader, Cllr Ian Ward.

Set up by Erdington MP Jack Dromey, the meeting was also attended by Cllr Sharon Thompson (North Edgbaston / Cabinet Member for Homes and Neighbourhoods), Cllr Penny Holbrook (Stockland Green) and Cllr Josh Jones (Stockland Green) – with Stephen Hughes and Estelle Murphy from Short Heath Fields Trust representing their community.

In 2019, the 2.71 hectares green space situated between Bleak Hill Park and Short Heath Road was earmarked for a new housing estate – with planning application sought to allow up to 108 new homes to be built on the beloved playing fields.

Following botched community consultation, alongside objections from Erdington Councillor Robert Alden at Council meetings, the local community established themselves as Short Heath Fields Trust to fight the proposed developments and establish a two-way debate about the best use of the open space.

Earlier this year, a proposal was written by Short Heath Fields Trust outlining an alternative use for the green space and submitted to Birmingham City Council – following an intervention by Jack Dromey MP.

Birmingham City Council are now bringing the proposed development plans back to the table, with Council Leader Cllr Ian Ward looking to revisit the concerns of the community – following a meeting with campaigners last week.

Birmingham City Council leader Cllr Ian Ward said:  “This was a very constructive meeting and, having listened to the proposals, we are keen to engage with residents to find a way forward that meets Birmingham City Council’s objectives and delivers for the local community.”

Looking to strike a balance between the increasing frustration from his Short Heath based constituents and the Council’s wider agenda for social housing, Erdington MP Jack Dromey has been acting as a go-between in a fiercely contested situation that had previously looked gridlocked.

Jack Dromey MP said: “I’m pleased with the positive and constructive meeting between Birmingham City Council and Save Short Health Playing Fields campaigners to discuss the plans for Short Heath. 

“The campaigners gave a passionate and detailed presentation that outlined their vision for Short Heath Playing Fields. Throughout this process I have been impressed by their vision and determination, and these are why the campaign has generated the momentum it has. 

“I’d like to thank Birmingham City Council for agreeing to the meeting and for how responsive they have been since I first contacted them on this matter. The meeting showed they are listening to the community and that is warmly to be welcomed. 

“Both parties have agreed to move forward in partnership to build a plan for Short Heath Playing Fields that the community can be proud of. They have my full support.” 

Whilst social and affordable housing is an issue across Birmingham, a wider problem not unrecognised by Short Heath Fields Trust, the decision to tear up an urban oasis and area of natural beauty has been severely questioned by local residents.

Birmingham City Council’s own Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA), published in December 2019, made no mention of Short Heath Playing Fields as a possible site for development – whilst citing various alternatives to meet the City’s need for social housing.

The initial consultation further failed to include residents of Short Heath or Perry Common, only inviting those from Stockland Green who neighboured the playing fields.

Following months of campaigning, amassing support from people across Erdington, the 11th December meeting with Birmingham City Council seemed to mark a reversal of fortune for the beloved green space.

All those present at the start of the meeting, including Council Leader Cllr Ian Ward and Cabinet Member for Homes and Neighbourhoods Cllr Sharon Thompson, have agreed to work alongside Short Heath Fields Trust to find an alternative – one that would meet both the need of social housing and to secure valuable green space for the community.

However according to the members of  Short Heath Fields Trust present on 11th December, Cllr Josh Jones (Stockland Green), who arrived late to the meeting, is still maintaining his position that the entire of Short Heath Playing Fields should be used for social housing development.

On behalf of local residents and the Save Short Heath Playing Fields campaign, Short Heath Fields Trust said:

“As a community we have fought hard and while the battle is not over, positive first steps have been taken towards a solution that would see sports and community back on the playing fields as it always should have been.

“Councillors Ian Ward and Sharon Thompson have agreed to come and meet our community in the New Year, finally giving them a voice, with a view to building a plan for the playing fields that meets the needs of everyone.

“In Jack Dromey’s own words our community is no longer banging the door to be let in, we now have a seat at the table.

“Short Heath Fields Trust made a promise to our community to get their opinions heard and moving forward will continue to do that – working with the Council and local residents to find a solution to this problem.”

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

Please follow and like us:

NEWS: Erdington UFC star cancels Vegas fight after testing positive for Covid

Words by Adam Smith

Erdington MMA star Leon Edwards has been fored to pull out from headlining UFC Fight Night 186 in Las Vegas after testing positive for COVID-19.

Fight fans across the world were looking forward to the 19th December clash between welterweight Edwards and the UFC’s new “global star” – Russian born Swede Khamzat Chimaev. 

Catching Covid caps off a dreadful year for Edwards who has unable to fight due to a string of pandemic related cancellations, match-up disputes, and injuries.

Edwards not only tested positive but was laid low by the disease losing 12Ibs in four days and being unable to train, meaning the best-case scenario is the two reschedule a fight in January.

Edwards tweeted: “Another setback, but when you come from the mud you learn to put everything in perspective.

“This virus has affected many lives and families much worse than mine.”

He said: “Looking forward to getting this rebooked soon, thank you all for the well wishes.”

Headlining UFC Fight Night 186 in Las Vegas against the much hyped Chimaev would have cemented Edwards‘ place on the global sports stage.

Edwards and Chimaev could not have had more contrasting years, Edwards not stepping in the octogen once – whereas Chimaev burst on the UFC scene winning three fights in the first round since July.

Crucially Chimaev has impressed UFC supremo Dana White, who needs another global superstar after the retirement of Khabib Nurmagomedov.

White said: “The guy is special. I’ve been in this game my whole life; I’ve never seen anything like him. I’m telling you the guy is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Never seen anything like this in my life. Special.”

The UFC temporarily removed Edwards from the welterweight rankings last month due to “inactivity” but reinstated him as world number three when the 29-year-old accepted the fight with Chimaev.

Edwards has been calling out competitors on social media, after refusing a short notice world title shot against Kamaru Usman in July led to him consistently being overlooked for big bouts.

Edwards told MMA Fighting beating Chimaev will guarantee him a world title shot due to the interest in the fight.

He said: “Outside a title shot, I believe he’s the biggest fight. Obviously, [Jorge] Masvidal would have been good as well, but he turned the fight down. This is the biggest fight to guarantee me what’s next.

“That was my thinking going into this. The UFC loves him. Dana [White] loves him. They all think he can’t be beat. When I go out there and take him out, I can’t see what they can say next to give me my title shot. I’d be on a nine-fight win streak. I believe this was the fight to make and now here we are.”

He added: “I know the UFC’s probably banking, Dana anyway, I know he’s praying that this kid wins, but I’ll be way too much for him in there, I’m telling you,”

This time last year the former Aston Hall Academy pupil was one of the hottest properties in the UFC with his signature post clinch elbow move making him a fan favourite.

Represented by the same management company as Irish superstar Conor MacGregor, Paradigm Sports, Edwards secured his financial future by penning a five-fight deal with UFC.

On an eight-fight winning streak, one of the longest current unbeaten runs in the sport, Edwards was rewarded by headlining UFC London on March 21 at Wembley Arena. A win against legendary fighter Tyron Woodley would have given him a world title shot against champion Karamu Usman, however, the event was cancelled to the first UK lock down.

Though not a title eliminator, a rearranged Las Vegas fight will give Edwards the platform to increase his fanbase in America and stop one of the most hyped new fighters in UFC in his tracks.

The last UK fighter to top the bill in Las Vegas was boxer Tyson Fury in February, who won the heavyweight championship of the world when he dismantled Deontay Wilder in one of the greatest British sporting performances of all time.

Fury described why headlining a major event in Las Vegas is so special for any British fighter.

He said: “I always dreamed of seeing my name up in lights on the Las Vegas strip and being the main attraction.

“There is nothing like fight week in Las Vegas and for a British fighter to come over here and win is always going to be special, because of how rare it is for our fighters to come over here and be recognised as the main man and actually win.”

To find out more about Leon Edwards, visit www.ufc.com/athlete/leon-edwards

For more from UFC, visit www.ufc.com

Please follow and like us:

NEWS: Erdington MP steps in to secure mass COVID-19 testing site on Orphanage Road

Words by Adam Smith / Pics by Ed King

Getting tested for Covid is a matter of life and death, this was the stark warning given by Erdington MP Jack Dromey at the site of a brand new mass testing facility – which could be open in Erdington as early as next week.

Construction of the testing facility began on Friday 26th November, after Mr Dromey brokered an 11th hour agreement between the Department of Health, Birmingham City Council, and the NHS.

The Erdington based facility was the last testing site signed off by the Government, but a licensing issue held up construction and put the entire project in danger.

Speaking at the old Colliers site, Orphanage Road, where the centre is being built, Mr Dromey told Erdington Local mass testing offers a route out of Tier 3 restrictions for Birmingham.

He said: “We needed a facility that enables thousands of local people to be tested in Erdington.

“Lives would be lost if there was not a testing facility in Erdington and lives will be saved because there is a testing facility in Erdington, it is as simple as that.

“There were delays concerning it being approved but thankfully they were sorted out, it should take two days to build and then a few days to get the facility ready and it could be open as quickly as the end of next week, when the national lockdown ends.”

The MP admitted getting all the relevant agencies and departments to work together on the project was not easy.

He said: “To begin with it was like pulling teeth but progressively it got better; I’d like to thank NHS Birmingham and Birmingham City Council for their hard work in delivering the facility.”

The Erdington MP is in no doubt how important mass testing will be in the fight against controlling COVID-19 and saving lives.

He said: “Here and now, as we don’t have a vaccine yet, the message is test, test, test. So I say to the citizens of Erdington come and get tested.

“And to those who doubt the wisdom of getting tested I say come and get tested – if you are not tested and get Covid you might end up dying, you might be responsible for members of your family dying, and you might be responsible for your friends and members of the community dying. So come and get tested.”

Erdington residents will be able to book a test either online or by using 119, walk to the testing facility, take a test, and then they will be notified of the results between 24 and 72 hours later. A recent trial of mass testing in Liverpool reduced the R-Rate and helped the city escape Tier 3 restrictions.

The MP added: “We discovered this week that Birmingham will enter into the highest level of restrictions, Tier 3, following the end of lockdown on Wednesday. The whole city must now pull together in order to drive down the spread of the virus and get us out of Tier 3 as quickly as possible.

“Tier 3 restrictions will be devastating for many businesses and workers across Birmingham. In particular the hospitality industry, and the tens of thousands of people it employs in the city, will be severely impacted.”

He added: “We have seen from the recent trial in Liverpool, that mass testing is an extremely effective way for us to reduce the R-rate and exit Tier 3.

“This testing facility will therefore play a crucial role in Birmingham’s response to COVID-19 this winter and I’m very happy Erdington residents will have the best possible access.”

Joining Mr Dromey at the site to see construction begin was Damien Siviter, Group Managing Director of Seven Capital who own the former Colliers site.

He said: “This has been a great example of how the public and private sectors can work together. We were approached about two weeks ago to see if the site could be used for a testing facility and we did everything we could to make it happen.”

The Covid testing centre could be on the site between three and six months and, if needed, could be turned into a vaccination station.

Mr Siviter confirmed the long-term plan for the site remains a new supermarket and housing estate to be built.

Jack Dromey MP for Erdington talking from Orphanage Road COVID-19 mass testing site

For daily updates on COVID-19 from Public Heath England, visit www.coronavirus.data.gov.uk

For the latest or NHS Test and Trace (England) and coronavirus testing (UK), visit www.gov.uk/government/collections/nhs-test-and-trace-statistics-england-weekly-reports

Please follow and like us:

NEWS: Erdington Local launches monthly newspaper

Words & pics by Ed King / Newspaper design by Michelle Martin

On Friday 27th November, Erdington Local launches its monthly newspaper – distributing 20,000 copies around all the constituency wards, from Kingstanding to Castle Vale.

Leading with a cover story titled ‘Are schools safe?’, the first Erdington Local newspaper has gone in-depth into the impact of the COVID-19 across our schools and nurseries.

Also on the front page is a LOCAL PROFILE on Inspector Haroon Chughtai – the top cop for both Erdington and Sutton Coldfield, and a full page OPINION piece from Desmon Jaddoo – the Kingstanding campaigner who is saving lives by bringing bleed control kits to hotspots across Erdington.

The centre spread, on pages 10 and 11, are a map of LOCAL SUPPORT ACROSS ERDINGTON – giving information on organisations and support groups that cover the area.

This database of essentail services and local support has been hosted on the Erdington Local website since April, with plans to publish a broader directory before the end of the year.

With further stories on LOCAL NEWS and COMMUNITY NEWS, the 20 page tabloid will be delivered under COVID-19 safe conditions, from printing press to promotional staff, under the guidance of an official COVID marshal.

First appearing online in April 2020, Erdington Local has been covering news and stories from the heart of North East Birmingham for eight months – as a partnership project between Active Arts Castle Vale and Review Publishing.

From the campaign to Save Short Heath Playing Fields to the sudden death of The Charlie Hall pub’s beloved barman Paul Ralph, Erdington Local has been giving the area its first dedicated news outlet and fairer representation across the wider city.

“Erdington gets an unfair amount of ‘bad press’,” said Ed King – Editor-in-Chief of Review Publishing, “with other news outlets often only reporting on violent crime or anti-social behaviour in the area.

“But there is a strong and vibrant community spirit across Erdington, something truly inspiring and humbling.

“And whilst Erdington Local will challenge the issues that have a negative impact on people, such as unscrupulous HMO providers and distorted Council planning agendas, we will also celebrate the amazing achievements and endeavours that make Erdington such a beautiful part of the city.”

Released earlier than planned to report during the coronavirus crisis, and to support the work and outreach activity from the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce, Erdington Local has a growing online readership of 5-10,000 per week – reaching a further 20-30,000 through social media.

Now moving into a regular printed newspaper editions, the hyper-local title will expand its audience – reaching a further estimate 60,000 people each month through targeted distribution and residential door drops.

Erdington Local’s monthly newspaper will also allow the title to reach those without access to the Internet, including Erdington’s more elderly residents who often don’t live online.

Erdington Local is also expanding its news team, with paid freelance and voluntary positions available from December 20202.

Training can be provided, as well as space in the Erdington Local news room to work from – anyone interested in joining Erdington Local should email edking@erdingtonlocal.com

Ed King talking about Erdington Local at the Erdington Art Forum’s Evening of Creativity – Nov ‘20

For the Erdington Local Facebook page, visit www.facebook.com/ErdingtonLocal
To follow Erdington Local on Twitter, visit www.twitter.com/erdingtonlocal

For more on Active Arts Castle Vale, visit www.activearts.wordpress.com
For more on Review Publishing, visit www.reviewpublishing.net

 

Please follow and like us:

NEWS: A rather ‘Nice’ Friday evening – Erdington’s Evening of Creativity hosted by celebrity guest, Mrs Barbara Nice 20.11.20

Words by Jobe Baker Sullivan / Pics courtesy of Sami Saunders, Janice Connolly, and Anne-Marie Allen

Erdington’s long running Evening of Creativity has never missed a month, even during COVID-19 pandemic.

Thriving on art, creativity, and giving creatives a chance to experiment, it is now being broadcast using a mix of high quality camera-work and editing along with locals being asked to submit their art from home.

Tonight’s Evening of Creativity broadcast will be hosted by actress and comedian Janice Connolly BEM, under the guise of her lovable alter-ego Mrs Barbara Nice. Janice is a comedienne who hosted the 2019 Erdington Lights switch on.

“Up the arts!” she says, with a wry smile, in support of the event. 

November’s Evening of Creativity will commence with a traditional Indian dance from Sahana Shrikaanth in celebration of Diwali, an annual ‘festival of lights’, celebrated by Sikhs, Hindus and Jains.

It will include performances from classical guitarist Mike Bethel – alongside original musical songs by Anne-Marie Allen, promoting her album on Spotify.

Centrala Art Gallery will feature as part of the EoC with their lockdown-special online exhibition – hosting an art collective from Finland called Valmed Ry, exploring ecology and nature through photography, projection and 3d printing.

The Evening of Creativity was founded and hosted by the Erdington Arts Forum, whose primary goal is to improve the status of artistic activity in the Erdington constituency.

The Arts Forum engages people with workshops, exhibitions, training programmes, exhibitions and music performances.

It acts as a conduit for people to explore all range of artistic activities, hosting regular ‘forum meetings’ and running a Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook group, and mailing list to keep Erdingtonians and interested parties in the loop.

Ordinarily held at Oikos Café on Erdington High Street on the third Friday of each month, the Evening of Creativity had to adapt to an online format very quickly  due to the coronavirus lockdowns – embracing the chance to invest in new camera and sound recording equipment.

During the summer of 2020, as COVID-19 measures eased, the Evening of Creativity continued at Oikos Café with a small, live audience – using a table booking service to ensure social distancing and safety measures.

The regular showcase, however, continued to broadcast all their events – going out live using a multi-camera system.

Despite a new national lockdown coming into force 5th November, the Arts Forum once again continue to host their Evening of Creativity – following government guidelines – by using pre-recorded clips and editing them into a full length show.

You can watch this months’ Evening of Creativity online from the Erdington Arts Forum Facebook page, from 6:30pm on Friday 20th November.

For a live stream of the event, and for more on the Erdington Arts Forum, visit www.facebook.com/groups/cafeartsforum

Please follow and like us:

NEWS: Erdington’s Red Lion pub rally round for their longest regular, after heartless thieves steal mobility scooter

Words by Adam Smith / Pics by Kevin Smith (Stav)

Big-hearted regulars at Erdington’s Red Lion have helped replace the pub’s longest-serving patron’s mobility scooter – after it was stolen from outside his home.

Alan May, who has been drinking John Smiths bitter at the pub for more than sixty years, was distraught when his mobility scooter was taken by heartless thieves.

Within 24 hours of the Red Lion landlord, Kevin Smith, finding out about the theft Alan was presented with a new scooter in the pub in front of cheering regulars.

Kevin, also known as Stav, told Erdington Local: “Every day Alan comes in and we make sure he has a cob and his pint of John Smith, he has been drinking in here for sixty years and is in his seventies, he is part of the place. He’s got dementia so we look after him the best we can.

“So when he said his scooter had been stolen from outside his house we wanted to do something. We put a sign with ‘some dirty lowlife has stolen Alan’s scooter, let’s buy him a new one’ on the bar and within an hour we had more than £100.

“It was no surprise how generous the regulars were because everyone knows Alan and everyone was upset to hear his scooter had been stolen.”

Kevin, who recently spent five years in a wheelchair, is vice chairman of Birmingham City Football Club’s disabled supporters club AccessiBlues – and got in touch with its founder Steve Portman about getting a new mobility scooter for Alan.

Kevin said: “I phoned Steve and that night he came down with a new scooter. When I offered him the money we had raised, he said we should use it to spend on security at Alan’s house so the new one does not get stolen.

“This is a Villa pub but I’m obviously a big Blues fan, so I was really proud AccessiBlues could come through for Alan – it was a great night when we surprised him with his new scooter.

“I’ve been involved in AccessiBlues for a couple of years now and am really proud of all the good work we do. And not just for Blues fans, we have been working with Brentford Football Club to ensure best practice for disabled supporters.”

AccessiBlues, which is sponsored by Stechford Mobility, were runners up in the 2018 Footballers Supporters Federation Awards #FansForDiversity award and have recently secured charity status.

Alan was overwhelmed with the gesture, he said: “I’m overwhelmed, I can’t believe I got a new scooter so quick, the Red Lion is the best pub around.”

Kevin has been in charge of the Red Lion, which has been serving Erdington locals since 1899, since the summer and is looking forward to the end of lockdown to get back to normal.

He said: “We have been here three months and the week before the latest lockdown was our best yet, the regulars have been brilliant.

“The Red Lion is everything a pub should be, it is part of the community and we are hoping to be serving locals drinks for many a year to come yet.”

To find out more about the Red Lion in Erdington, visit www.redlionerdington.co.uk

For more on AccessiBlues, visit www.stechfordmobility.co.uk/news/accessiblues

Please follow and like us:

FEATURE: Erdington Foodbank, an increasingly essential local lifeline

As the numbers of local families in need of support double due to the coronavirus crisis, with thousands facing a “bleak winter”, MP for Erdington, Jack Dromey, visits the longstanding food distribution service at Six Ways Baptist Church.

Words & pics by Ed King – some images taken from Erdington Local archives

Erdington Foodbank has been feeding double the numbers of local families this year – due to the effects of the coronavirus crisis, including continued lockdowns and spiralling unemployment.

Operating two days a week, at 6 Ways and George Road Baptist churches, the long standing local food bank has seen ‘a significant increase’ – including twice the number of children, as compared to last year.

This year, so far… this financial year, we’ve provided food for 10,000 people and more than 3,000 of are children,” explains Reverend Gerrard Goshawk – minster at Six Ways Baptist Church, “that’s been a significant increase, doubling the number of children. Overall, we’re looking at being twice as busy as we were the last financial year.

We have new people coming all the time, where there circumstances have suddenly changed, and we have people who are coming to us week in week out because they’re stuck in a situation that’s hard for them. 

So, we open twice a week – and within a short space of time, when we open, we get very, very busy. As you can see there’s a big queue here today.”

Launched in 2013, supported by the Trussell Trust, Erdington Foodbank has been operating within the community for nearly a decade – offering free to access ‘three day emergency food supplies’ via a referral system.

Last year the local food bank distributed nearly 4,000 care packages, feeding people of all faiths. But with mass unemployment due to COVID-19 lockdowns the numbers of those in need have increased dramatically this year.

Stretching from the church hall doors out onto Wood End Road, long lines of people have become a regular sight at Six Ways Baptist Church – sometimes waiting hours in bitter weather to receive bags of food and essentials. And the same can be seen at food banks across the city. 

As we sink into what will be a bleak winter,” tells MP for Erdington Jack Dromey – whilst visiting the Six Ways centre, “for thousands of people locally in Erdington the demand for food banks is growing and growing.

We’re here today (Six Ways Baptist Church) talking to guys who were at work, who have lost their jobs, and who are now desperate – and they turn to the food bank This is a long standing food bank… but what they’re seeing is a sharp increase in families using it. The number of those using this particular food bank have doubled.”

It’s down to the Government,” tells Kenneth Ball – a qualified mechanic who now relies on extra support from Erdington Foodbank.

The way they’ve cut back benefits… bang. From ESA to Universal Credit, they’ve taken half of our money away – so, we have to rely on places like this (Erdington Foodbank).”

Universal Credit are monthly payments, but most people have deductions,” mirrors Michael Blake – a professional baker who lost his job due to the coronavirus crisis. “The money they’ve got left over can only support them for one or two weeks, but what about the other two weeks?

In this environment, the Government should cancel the deductions – I’m not saying they’re not doing a good job, but they should wait until everything’s settled down then put the deductions back into force. We know we owe the money… but give us a break.”

Echoing the call for compassion, Jack Dromey reiterates the growing number of local voices who have been left vulnerable – with thousands across the constituency seeking a range of support as the country begins a second lockdown.

In terms of the effects on people personally, and I say this with immense sadness, the scars that are being inflicted – unless we’re careful – will last for years,” continues Dromey.

The scars mental ill health, the scars of children not being able to go to school for months on end, the scars sometimes endured by women in this constituency as victims of domestic violence.

We need to act, to save lives and to save livelihoods, but then to have a strong community supporting the community. That’s why we have the Erdington Taskforce, of which I was proud to be part of establishing, which has been doing so well supporting people locally.

I would urge the people of Erdington to play their part with acts of kindness, good neighbourliness, and supporting one another. But as far as the foodbanks are concerned, they badly need food – the demand is soaring.”

To find out more about Erdington Foodbank, visit www.erdington.foodbank.org.uk
For more from Jack Dromey MP for Erdington, visit www.jackdromey.org

For a list of local support services operating during the coronavirus crisis, visit the COVID-19 Local Support database and address book, www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19-local-support

Please follow and like us:

OPINION: Coronavirus crisis, in crisis – do we have the strength for another lockdown?

Words by Ed King

Christmas is cancelled.

Or being split into three, to be exact.

The parasites of paranoia have carved our turkey into socially distanced servings this year, with support bubbles now dictating the one day my family always did well. And always did together.

It’s breaking my heart. It’s broken my family. The childhood joy I feel around Yuletide has been replaced by limitations and fear – with parlour games and presents being pushed into the cold by social isolation and shielding.

Whilst I understand why… be warned, if someone suggests a Zoom meeting on Christmas Day I’m going to start throwing sprouts (or maybe coals off the fire).

And that was all before Saturday’s announcement.

In case you’ve been living under a rock (not a bad place to be right now), on 5th November England is moving into another national lockdown – lasting four weeks or longer, we’re back to where we were in March and until at least the start of December.

Coronavirus has spiked over summer, and the precarious but pragmatic locally enforced ‘tier system’ hasn’t had the desired effect.

People are still getting sick. People are still dying. Potentially more than we can manage – 661 new ‘lab confirmed’ cases per day (Government, 1st Nov) are being reported in Birmingham, with over a million people across the UK having caught the virus since we started taking count, leading to nearly 50,000 deaths. That we know of.

But whether you’re the Office of National Statistics or Chris Whitty’s pocket calculator, the invisible beast is rampant once again. It’s a worrying and sharp upward curve – the trajectory of positive cases looks like an alpine skier’s Christmas wish.

So, it’s back to the short, sharp, circuit breaker approach to stem the contagion – a method already adopted by both our British Isle counter parts and most of mainland Europe. Lockdown, across the country. Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives. Game, set, match. God help us all.

I’ll be honest, I’m not happy about it. I’m not a lot of things about it. There are other words I could use to flesh out my feelings but I’m trying to stay on the right side of righteousness.

But I get it; I get the need for it. I support it, in my way. If it needs to be done, then it must be done. So, let’s do it as quickly as possible. And do it right.

And whilst the voice of reason rolls around my head, ‘coronavirus fatigue’ is spreading across the country in a way that ironically reminds me of the virus itself. I feel that too.

When we were first told to ‘duck and cover’ back in March, people responded. They shut their doors, they covered their mouths, and we all walked forward together in a show of unity that I never imagined I’d see. It was, despite all the horror, a beautiful sight – the innate goodness and kindness reaffirmed my sometimes ailing faith in the human endeavour.

It was not without its cost, however. To put it into a personal context, I lost £8000 as soon as the first lockdown was announced – by time it took me to drive from Stourbridge to Kings Heath. By the end of the week, I’d lost anther £2000. And I’m not a rich man.

Over the months that followed the goal post shifting cost me more that I can calculate – financially and emotionally, along with most of the country I started circling the drain. And I have not lost as much as many, many, MANY more people I both know and work with. I am one of the lucky ones.

But we did it. We did what needed to be done. And like the end of December dinner I hold so close to my heart, we did it together. It was quite an incredible sight to see too, the sheer fortitude that swept from bus stops to boardrooms was nothing short of miraculous. People showed their true colours and those colours shone bright.

Over the past, ghastly, few months, I’ve been amazed and made proud by people’s resilience during this pandemic – at their deep rooted kindness and adaptability. It’s been incredible and uplifting. It’s been inspiring. It’s almost been worth it just to see such compassion. It makes me want to cry a bit every time I really, truly, think about it. But it’s been awful, a waking nightmare. It’s destroyed lives…

…and now we have to do it all again.

I’m sitting in a pub writing this, my local, squeezing out the last drops of my Sunday and licensed premise camaraderie I’ll be able to enjoy for a while. It’s one of those pubs where they know your name and you can walk in alone. Where you’re always amongst friends.

All around me – amidst the conversations of armchair eugenics and headline politics, despite the sharp end of the stick breaking the ribs of the hospitality industry – I am getting a sense of that end-of-March solidarity. People are preparing for Thursday, for the lockdown, and their doing it with the honesty and humour that I saw back in spring.

So, again, I feel proud. Again, I feel fear. But if we can call on the inner core kindness that we found eight months ago… then again, I feel we’ll get through this.

And next Christmas I’m hiring a marquee, everyone’s welcome.

Ed King is a Birmingham born writer and editor-in-chief of Review Publishing, which publishes Erdington Local  – alongside Active Arts Castle Vale. To follow him (and his stories) on Twitter, visit www.twitter.com/edking2210

For more on Review Publishing, visit www.reviewpublishing.net/

Please follow and like us: