LOCAL PROFILE: Rev. Emma Sykes – St Barnabas Church

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Words by Ed King

Rev. Emma Sykes is the vicar for St Barnabas Church, Erdington – the Anglican Church in the heart of Erdington High Street.

Originally from Wiltshire, Emma is familiar to Birmingham, previously working for local charities empowering young people, homeless charities, and for UK Youth Parliament. She was ordained in Birmingham in 2008 and, as part of her religious training, served as curate of St Martin in the Bull Ring.

Emma was announced as vicar of St Barnabas Erdington one week before the COVID-19 lockdown came into force on March 23rd. Like most people in the UK at that time she had to work remotely, and the Church of England had a rather unorthodox method of licencing her as incumbent of the church.

I was licensed via Zoom. We had a simple service, with the church wardens there, Bishop Ann of Aston, with some prayers, all over Zoom. A very unusual start to the job.”

Emma confidently launched into her spiritual leadership embracing remote working. “Straight away I started to do online video reflections and prayer that would go out every Sunday. I couldn’t access the church building at all, so I would do these from home.”

St Barnabas Church is now open with regular holy communion services on a Sunday, as well as operating a live stream for people shielding, and is open for private prayer during the week. The service includes live church organ, although Emma bemoans the current government guidelines that “we’re not allowed to sing at the moment. It’s frustrating for all of us!”

As well as leading the church’s rich spiritual life, Emma is in charge of the business side of the busy St Barnabas Church Centre – which includes the Harbour Café and conference rooms. Emma’s first few weeks in post consisted of “sorting out finances, getting up to speed with furloughing, how to reopen as a café.”

Now measures have eased, Emma is working on other plans to help her flock in Erdington. “Our café is well used, but I want to reshape it properly into a community café.” She wants to encourage “different agencies to use the café,” especially those helping with problems of “drug abuse, domestic violence and homelessness.

Whilst living not too far away in Boldmere, Sutton Coldfield, Emma notes that she’s “really enjoyed getting to know Erdington. Especially the community aspect. I love all the energy for the area, the passion for the area, it’s great to be involved in that.” She has been working closely with other church leaders in the Greater Erdington Partners group.

The Grade II listed building of St Barnabas has been a place of worship since 1824, although was severely damaged in a fire in 2007. Emma sings the praises of the previous vicar, Rev. Freda Evans, who left the parish in January 2018 and oversaw the rebuilding of the church.

Emma was impressed with “the sense of light, space and sanctuary. You get the sense that it is a safe harbour,” – all of the Church’s stained glass windows and roof were destroyed, with only the outer walls and the bell tower remaining. “I love the sense of continuity” in the church architecture, tells Emma, “honouring the old but bringing in the new.”

One of Emma’s current church projects is tackling the unkempt churchyard, which includes the graveyard. “I was very aware when I arrived that the church yard needs regenerating. We have a lot of antisocial behaviour in the church yard, which has been compounded by lockdown.” She wants to turn the churchyard into a “peaceful place where people can come and reflect and sit in God’s creation,” as well as “honour the memory of those who have died.”

The church is in the process of setting up the ‘Friends of St Barnabas Churchyard’, a fully constituted group consisting of people from the Erdington Historical Society, councillors and local police, to map out the churchyard graves – including war graves and commonwealth graves.

We’re waiting to hear more on the 5 million pound regeneration fund, as that will affect what we can do.”

Rev. Emma Sykes is yet to have her ‘installation’ service. The date has not yet been decided and will most likely take place in 2021 when the coronavirus pandemic has eased.

Emma welcomes everybody to take part and celebrate her officially as vicar of St Barnabas Erdington in the Church of England.

To find out more about St Barnabas Church, visit www.stbarnabaserdington.org.uk

EXPLOITED: HMOs – when greed meets vulnerability, carving up communities for a profit

Words by Adam Smith / Pics by Ed King

Erdington Local launches a series of articles investigating the devastation caused by the mushrooming number of HMOs (homes of multiple occupancy) in Erdington and Kingstanding.

Chief reporter Adam Smith spent the last year living in HMOs and has seen first-hand how housing associations and rogue landlords are ripping off taxpayers – whilst exploiting the most vulnerable people in society.

Do you pay tax?

If so, then your hard-earned money is lining the pockets of ruthless housing associations and rogue landlords – whose greed is wrecking the lives of Erdington residents, tenants, and the most vulnerable people in society.

Nationally the taxpayer shells out billions of pounds for eye-wateringly inflated rents for benefits claimants’ rooms in HMOs – which get planning permission, despite Erdington residents and politicians bitterly complaining they are destroying the very fabric of the local community.

Hundreds of Erdington houses, including historic and beautiful Victorian properties, have been turned into HMOs – creating a living hell for both tenants and local residents who watch helplessly as the area they love becomes blighted.

Stockland Green is one of the worst examples in the country for the negative effect of HMOs and supported accommodation.

Those classed as ‘vulnerable’ and living in HMOs and/or supported accommodation are locked in a vicious circle; landlords charge the taxpayer £900 a month for a single room, leaving the tenant no motivation to get a job as the rent will be too high on a low wage. This investigation will explore examples of housing association staff actively discouraging tenants to work.

Tenants in ‘supported accommodation’ should get an hour of professional support a week, which qualifies their extortionate rent from benefits – but instead of proper psychiatric help, staff often only see tenants to demand a weekly ‘maintenance charge’, usually between £12 and £20, out of their benefits.

Instead of tenancy agreements which offer some protection to renters, those living in HMOs are forced to sign ‘licenses’ containing pages of draconian rules and potential infringements – which if broken can see the tenants made homeless with just a week’s notice.

Staff can enter rooms when they like and there have even been examples of male staff bursting unannounced into women’s rooms after 11pm.

HMOs radically changed the rental market in Erdington, with landlords now preferring benefits claimants and even advertising rooms for the price of the maintenance charge. Meanwhile, working people are trying to find somewhere to live from a dwindling amount of properties – which are increasing in price due to their scarcity.

This scandal crosses political lines too.

Legislation from the Conservative government has allowed ruthless companies, landlords, and housing associations to exploit the benefit system – whilst Birmingham’s Labour administration has allowed thousands of HMOs to be created in the city, without the ability to scrutinise the conduct of those organisations running them.

This investigation will unveil the close links between Birmingham City Council  and to the companies profiting from the system.

During the Government’s ban on evictions during the coronavirus crisis, housing associations in Birmingham have been quietly evicting people during the deadly pandemic.

Recently, Edgbaston MP Preet Gill called on the Government to extend the evictions ban. However, Gill is on the board of Spring Housing Association, which works extremely closely with Birmingham City Council – but which also evicted vulnerable tenants during COVID-19 lockdown.

One evicted Spring Housing tenant, Shamir Hussain, told Erdington Local: “I was evicted during lockdown by Spring Housing, just when I thought I was as low as I could they made it worse. They made me homeless during a pandemic where people were dying all around us, I will never forget that.

They (Spring Housing) were getting £900 a month for me to live in a room; I could have paid a mortgage on a nice house for that obscene amount of money for one room. And when I did put a claim in for a much cheaper rent amount, for a whole flat, I was refused. It seemed like they were happy to pay £900 to Spring Housing but not a fraction of that to sort my life out.”

The area’s two most powerful politicians, Labour’s Erdington MP Jack Dromey and Erdington Councillor and leader of Birmingham’s Conservatives Robert Alden, both recognise the damage being done to the area by the scourge of bad landlords.

Dromey said: “I know how angry residents are about this issue, I went to a meeting on Frances Road two years ago expecting six people to be there and 70 residents turned up. And the problem has worsened in that time not got better.

Stockland Green is where the problem is at its most acute, where the most prosecutions of landlords in Birmingham have been due to work with the police, and with the disproportionate dumping of vulnerable tenants into the area by landlords who do not give a damn about them and not give them any help.

Some of these landlords let their tenants live in squalor in Erdington whilst they live in the lap of luxury in Sutton Coldfield. However, there are some very good landlords out there, which is all the more the shame when the bad ones undercut them to cram an extra person in.”

In the 1980’s Dromey helped residents in London fight a bitter dispute with slum landlords and even created a ‘Hit Parade of Bad Landlords’ with help from Radio 1 DJ Alan Freeman – who would regularly do a run down on television of the worst offenders.

The MP said: “We have use imaginative ways to fight these type of people but in Erdington we also need proper joined up action with the police, council, probation and mental health services working together to solve the problems created in the last five years in the housing sector which coincides with the Tories being in power.”

Councillor Robert Alden laments the changing face of the area’s housing stock, which used to be the envy of the rest of the city in years gone by.

He said: “Erdington has been blighted by HMO’s run by bad landlords.

Erdington’s large stock of larger Victorian family homes have sadly often been taken over and turned into swathes of HMO’s – in many places seeing whole rows of housing turned from the purpose they were built for, to provide housing for families, into a collection of substandard and often below even minimum standard room size bedsits.”

He added: “Often quiet residential streets have suddenly found themselves besieged by bedsits acting under exempt housing placing drug addicts, alcoholics, and ex-offenders into our local community.

Sadly, those rogue landlords have used loopholes in the system to convert houses far and beyond the scope they were designed for, often seeing three bedroom homes turned into six or seven room bedsits.

Sometimes they also claim for alleged support provided to people while failing to provide anything like that – in the process taking huge amounts of tax payers money for services barely provided, failing their tenants, while also leaving communities like Erdington to suffer from the fallout.”

As well as the co-operation of all relevant agencies in Erdington, there also needs to be strong political leadership to stop the situation getting worse – but to also undo the systemic problems caused by five years of loopholes being exploited by those who had the most money to gain from flooding Erdington with high profit dangerous housing.

Throughout this series of stories, a light will be shone on some very murky corners and shocking practices – and this investigation will follow the money.

This investigation will explore how neighbouring HMOs crammed full of men have created ‘no-go roads’ for women and teenagers fed up of cat calling, sexual harassment, and threatening acts of misogyny.

There will also be stories from the female perspective, from suddenly having men moved into your safe space, as well as the unique HMO experiences of trans refugees.

This investigation will challenge those responsible on their behaviour – reporting them to the appropriate authorities if any laws were broken. Expect explosive revelations and, as readers, you have the right to demand resignations.

If you have been affected by HMOs or any of the issues mentioned in this article, we want to hear your side of the story – email Erdington Local on exploited@erdingtonlocal.com

NEWS: Erdington guaranteed an ‘urgent care service’, following push from Jack Dromey MP to keep vital healthcare ‘at the heart of Erdington.’

Words & pics by Ed King

Erdington families have been guaranteed an ‘urgent care service’ will remain open and operational, despite widespread closures of public amenities due to the coronavirus crisis.

In an open letter to Paul Jennings, the Chief Executive of NHS Birmingham and Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), MP for Erdington Jack Dromey pushed for ‘reassurance over the future of these vital local services’ – following a ‘steady stream’ of concerns from across the constituency about the future of the Erdington Walk In Centre.

Responding swiftly to the MP’s letter, which was dated 18th August, Mr Jennings gave written assurance that the NHS ‘are now in a position to reopen an urgent care service in Erdington, in the very near future.’

In his letter, Jack Dromey MP further underlined the importance that such a service ‘will remain at the heart of Erdington.’

And whilst the location of the facility, which will be called Erdington Urgent Treatment Centre (UTC), has not been confirmed by the NHS, they were able to the commit ‘it will be open seven days per week, 12 hours a day’ – mirroring the accessibility of the High Street situated Walk-In-Centre – and ‘are hopeful that the new service will be up and running in October 2020.’

Located on Erdington High Street, the Walk-In-Centre was forced to close due to Government guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the free to access facility, which fought for survival back in 2013 – again championed by Jack Dromey MP – has been the difference between life and death for some local residents.

I’ve used the Walk-In-centre several times myself, when I’ve been unable to get doctor’s appointments,” tells Shaun Bebbington, who lives on Lindridge Road in Stockland Green. “But about three years ago my partner was quite ill… it turned out to be sepsis, but it was misdiagnosed at least once.

She started having a fit early hours one Tuesday morning; I called an ambulance, but the paramedics also missed the symptoms of sepsis. I got a taxi, with my partner, to the Walk-In-Centre as soon as they opened – they picked up the symptoms right away, asking the right questions, and then got us straight to Good Hope Hospital, where she was for 17 nights.– had she not have had medical attention within that timeframe she would not be here today.”

Jack Dromey MP previously led the campaign to save Erdington Walk-In-Centre back in 2013, when the then David Cameron led Government were looking to close eight healthcare facilities across Birmingham and Solihull.

Seven years later and the MP is back on the frontline, fighting for ‘the future of these vital local services’ – heralding ‘the CCG for your continued constructive and open dialogue.’

But Dromey’s support for Erdington’s health and wellbeing doesn’t stop at the Walk-In-Centre, as the MP has further called for the NHS Birmingham and Solihull CCG to ‘consider Erdington as a location for any future drive-through COVID vaccination site.’

Although the location of any new testing facility is too early to confirm, the NHS Birmingham and Solihull Chief Executive did ‘welcome a further conversation with you (Jack Dromey MP) about exploring the excellent community assets you have in Erdington, to see what would be possible.

We will be working harder than ever to ensure that everyone who is eligible for a vaccination is able to have one and would very much welcome your support with this.’

Interview with Jack Dromey MP and Shaun Bebbington – outside the Erdington Walk-In-Centre

For more from Jack Dromey MP, or for contact details to his constituency office, visit www.jackdromey.org

For more on the NHS Birmingham and Solihull CCG, visit www.birminghamandsolihullccg.nhs.uk

NEWS: Furious Erdington families join campaign to Save Short Heath Playing Fields

Words by Adam Smith / Pics by Ed King

An almighty row has erupted over the future of Short Heath Playing Fields, with more furious Erdington families joining campaigners to help dispel Birmingham City Council‘s claim the parkland is ‘unused’.

On Saturday 15th August, a 50 strong crowd of concerned residents gathered to listen to Save Short Heath Playing Fields campaigner Stephen Hughes – following a 12hr dash to drum up local support and spread the message.

Several huge banners were unveiled and leaflets distributed, declaring ‘SAVE OUR PARK’ and informing people about the proposed development on the public green space.

Teams of residents were allocated streets to canvas, looking to raise more awareness about the threat to the playing fields – amongst a community that has, for the large part, been left in the dark about the council’s plans.

Stephen, age 52, told the crowd: “We have to save these playing fields, we cannot let them disappear forever. Just seeing how many people are here today shows the council’s claim that it is unused is total rubbish, people care about this place.

I keep on getting told it is ‘a done deal’ but it is not – the Department of Education have not agreed to the sale yet. We all need to fight to keep our fields.”

He added: “The council have not told enough people about their plans to build, people do not even know about what they are planning, that is the biggest travesty.”

The day of action saw residents rallying together, sharing memories, and declaring they are up for the fight to keep the fields – which used to be used by Court Farm Primary School and Stockland Green Academy.

Stephen added: “To know there is this much community spirit here is an amazing feeling, to have so many people turn up to support us really makes me think we can win this campaign.”

Fellow campaigner Estelle Murphy is also determined to stop the council’s plan to build 84 houses behind her Short Heath Road home, she said: “We are going to fight this all the way. This campaign is not political, it is about keeping our green fields.

We are already under the quota in this area for green space and the council still want to build on it.”

Another Short Heath Road resident Jamie Stanley, aged 31, added: “This can’t be allowed to happen. Finsbury Grove is for the elderly and vulnerable and there is no way a lot of my friends there will be able to get to another park like Witton Lakes.”

Sheila Applebly, aged 78, has lived in the area since 1966 and remembers when fields were full of school children playing with regular sports days and other events.

She said: “We have got so many other places where houses can be built, there is land across the road. It is shocking this is going ahead, is this green space being sold off because of the debt of this council?

This has been left and neglected but it is a bonus that we have still have some green space and clean air to breathe, we live near to Spaghetti Junction so we need it.”

Another Short Heath Road resident Derek Loughead at the rally wants the campaign to hire a solicitor and start fundraising for the fight ahead.

He said: “We have to play the council at their own game, we need to get a license to get it back being a playing field, but it is all in the wording. So, we need a solicitor who understands the wording of documents, we need to raise money, hold a march and agree as a group how to fight the council. We need to tie-them-up in knots.”

However, Birmingham City Council have doubled down on their claim the fields are not used and should be sold off for housing.

In an exclusive statement to Erdington Local the council said: ‘The playing fields at Short Heath are under the ownership of education services but haven’t been used for over ten years by any of the local schools.

‘Following cabinet approval in 2019, Department for Education set processes have been followed, including consultation with local ward members and local schools, and the land will be transferred through appropriation to our housing development team.’

The confirmation statement added: ‘They will look to create a proposal whereby the land can be better used and will bring this to public consultation in around 12 months time. Residents will be notified and given the opportunity to respond, comment and ask any questions at this time.

‘The playing fields are adjacent to Bleak Hill Recreation Park which is a large open space and this will not be affected by any of these changes.’

To sign the petition to ‘Save Short Heath Playing Fields’, visit: www.change.org/p/birmingham-city-council-birmingham-education-department-bob-beauchamp-jack-dormey-save-short-heath-playing-fields

BACK TO: …work, with Dellano Lewis – Employment & Engagement Officer at Witton Lodge Community Association

Words by Dellano Lewis / Pics by Ed King

As the country takes its first steps out of lockdown – with people returning to their places of work, education, and leisure – Erdington Local has been asking for some simple steps to help us get back to normal.

This article has been supported by the Erdington Coronavirus Taskforce – for a full list of local support services, visit www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19-local-support

______________

EL:  You are the Engagement and Employment Support Worker at Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) – tell us a bit more about your role and responsibilities?
DL: My role includes outreach activities, working alongside our partners such as DWP, handling paperwork related to registration, actively updating and monitoring client database, filing away documents, ensuring monthly reports are submitted to secure finances. Other duties include helping clients with CVs, job application forms, universal credit accounts, job searching, digital skills, helping to find suitable work, training and voluntary opportunities.

Prior to the lockdown I also conducted weekly employment related activities in groups, delivering weekly online sessions, operating the WLCA Instagram page, creating content using video software, supporting with other areas which increase the associations presence through live events such as (Track Friday). Building key relationships with local providers in and across Birmingham are also a part of my role. 

EL: How long have you been working in the community?
DL: This will now be just over four years working in the community. 

EL: How did you find your job?
DL: I had met Iram (Fardus – WLCA’s Business Development & Performance Manager) at the time and the opportunity came about to do some volunteering with the association around helping the youth. I was very interested in this, so I decided to take on the opportunity. Through volunteering I was then given a part time role leading to a full time position. 

EL: The coronavirus crisis has turned many people’s worlds upside down, how has it affected the people you work with through WLCA?
DL: Due to the situation a lot of people haven’t been able to cope with looking for work – another thing is the health and wellbeing of the client, if someone is not in the right frame of mind to look for work it will be difficult for them to move forward. Alongside that, clients have been struggling with I.T. – this has also been one of the major factors preventing people from accessing opportunities. 

EL: What are the most immediate concerns facing people over employment?
DL: Some of the immediate concerns from people are finances and health – a lot of people have lost jobs and a number of business’s have closed. 

EL: What are WLCA doing to address these concerns?
DL: The response from WLCA Team has been exceptional – this is including all the volunteers that stepped in to support. Our service had a slight change in delivery, making everything accessible online; clients who had an interest in accessing jobs during the lockdown were able to contact the employment team and receive this support.

Many families and individuals were feeling very worried, the prompt action and response from the team in delivering services related to food gave the residents and people in the community a sense of reassurance that someone is looking out for them.

Health & Wellbeing was also a major factor. With the lockdown, mental health was increasingly affecting a majority of people. Staying connected with those affected, especially the elderly, was very important as they were the ones who have gone months without seeing family, friends, or even outdoors. 

EL: For anybody looking for employment, especially during the coronavirus crisis, what simple first steps should they take?
DL: If you are currently looking for work one of the things to have ready is an active CV, this is like your plane ticket. The CV is the first thing an employer is going to see so make sure everything is correct and easy to read; ensure your work history, qualifications, and any type of work experience you have done is on the CV.

Alongside the CV, create a cover letter and indeed account once you have these begin to make a plan of action. Think about the type of job you want to be doing short term and the career long term. If you require some support with taking the next step or setting these things up give us a call for support (0121) 382 1930. 

EL: What about people who are having to self-isolate, are there any pathways to employment they could take?
DL: For those self-isolating, don’t feel discouraged – with online learning you can sure find something that interests you. Platforms such as alison.com, Future Learn, and Vision2Learn have a wide range of free courses you could do online to gain knowledge and even claim a certificate upon completing.

EL: How about people who are still in employment, but feel unsupported or uncertain about their workplace – what advice would you give them?
DL: If you are feeling unsupported or uncertain about your place of work, one of the first things would be to speak to your manager and let them know how you are feeling. Also check out the furlough scheme information on the Governement’s website in the event of becoming unemployed, you will be able to claim 80% of your wages through your employer.

Click the link for more information: www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wages-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme

EL: With lockdown restrictions being imposed again on certain pockets of the country, as speculation around a ‘second spike’ of COVID-19 grows, what preparation can people take – around employment?
DL: In relation to a potential second spike I think it would be a good Idea to develop some digital skills. Starting from the very basic, if you are more advance explore areas of work that require some computer device to carry out the role.

In various areas of work the role may require you to complete an administrative task, so gaining those skills from now will be really good. Create a plan of action, think about two or three areas of work you would like explore – it may not be computer related – go online and learn the fundamentals for those roles, the information is free and accessible.

Remember to take time out for yourself as well don’t feel too pressured into doing everything all at once. Exercise, try to have something healthy to eat, looking for work is a challenge but keep going think positive and stay active.

Full more from Witton Lodge Community Association, visit www.wittonlodge.org.uk

For more on the government’s Job Retention Scheme, visit www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wages-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme

This article has been supported by the Erdington Coronavirus Taskforce – for a full list of local support services, visit www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19-local-support

NEWS: Community art project transforms Maplin hoardings into a mural ‘to celebrate Erdington’

Words & pics by Ed King

On Saturday 15th August, volunteers from across Erdington kick started a new community art project – transforming the hoardings that have ring-fenced the old Maplin site into a vibrant mural ‘to celebrate Erdington.’

Over 20 local residents and representatives gave up the start of their weekend to help whitewash the 107 boards that surround the disused commercial site by Six Ways Island.

In huge display of community spirit, members from a wide range of local action groups worked across the morning and into the afternoon – preparing a blank canvas to be filled throughout the week by four Birmingham based artists.

Displaying the very unity that they want to celebrate, the mammoth task was completed by 1pm – aided by hard work and camaraderie from organisations including Erdington Litter Busters, Erdington Community Volunteers, Ahmadiyya Muslim Association, Witton Lodge Community Association, Urban Devotion, Good Gym, Erdington Arts Forum, and Active Arts.

Erdington Councillors Robert Alden and Gareth Moore, who helped the project get up and running, also rolled up their sleeves on Saturday – working alongside the collage of community groups to get the job done quickly and professionally.

The idea is to celebrate Erdington as a place to live,” tells Claire Westmacott – a member of the Erdington Community Volunteers group who were helping whitewash the hoardings.

When you drive through here, you are going to see this mural… it’s to celebrate the different areas of Erdington and what makes Erdington so good.

It’s the people, it’s the people getting together – you can see here the community spirit. It’s been brilliant… people have been asking what’s happening and saying that’s a brilliant idea.

“People passing by have taken notice of what we’ve been doing; it’s the community making improvements.”

Steve Allen – the first of the four artists commissioned – began his painting immediately, completing the front face of the mural by the evening on Sunday 16th August. Steve, aka Nozzle and Brush, is a local ‘mural and spray paint specialist’ who uses aerosol paints to create ‘one off artwork for bedrooms, walls, shop shutters, gym spaces and more.’

Further work will continue on the mural throughout the week, with local illustrator and designer Edward Thrush using the boards along Summer Road for a piece celebrating the volunteer groups that work in and around Erdington.

Keely Iqbal, an illustrator and fashion designer with a studio at The Custard Factory, is using the Sutton New Road side for an artistic exploration into the history of Erdington.

Whilst Abian Richards, a local artist who ‘works with an expressive mixed media style’ will be painting a special piece that celebrates the green spaces from across the constituency.

Organisers hope the full mural will be completed by Sunday 23rd August – hoping to see selfies and photos captured by members of the public across social media, tagging Erdington Arts Forum or one of the other groups.

Supporting this act of community spirit, Mercia Real Estate have financed the lion’s share of costs attached to the mural – fronting £2250 for the project, with an extra £750 added by Active Arts who have helped coordinate the artists commissions as part of their Erdington Arts Forum role.

Maplin Electronic Supplies went into administration in February 2018, closing all of its UK stores and putting it 2,500 strong work force into unemployment.

Since then, the site that looks out over Six Ways Island has been boarded up – sitting as both a public eyesore and an unpleasant reminder to the employees at the Erdington branch who lost their livelihoods.

Mercia Real Estate, the Birmingham based company who took over the land following the Maplin closure, said:

Mercia Real Estate acquired the site in 2018 with a view to redeveloping the buildings into a terrace of convenience retail units.

Whilst this has been in planning we were approached by community leaders earlier this year who had expressed an interest in creating various murals on the site hoarding.

Wherever we invest we are always keen to engage with the community and in this case were happy to extend a donation to support the creativity of the various groups involved.”

For more on Steve Allen, visit www.nozzleandbrush.co.uk
For more on Edward Thrush, visit www.elthrush.com
For more on Keely Iqbal, visit www.keelyiqbal.com
For more on Abian Richards, visit www.facebook.com/faffabout

For more on Mercia Real Estate, visit www.merciarealestate.com
For more on Active Arts, visit www.activearts.wordpress.com

NEWS: Residents rally to save Short Heath Playing Fields – protecting Erdington’s green spaces from developers

Words by Adam Smith / Pics by Ed King

Shocked Erdington residents are furious about plans to turn a local beauty spot into a housing estate.

Short Heath Playing Fields have been at the heart of Perry Common for more than a century, but Birmingham City Council wants the green space for housing through a private property developer – despite families regularly using the parkland.

So far over 800 residents have signed a petition demanding to save Short Heath Playing Fields, with many claiming they were left in the dark about the multi-million pound housing development.

The council are remaining tight lipped about the timetable for the ‘disposal’ of the 26, 912 square metre site, which has proved even more popular during COVID-19 lockdown despite the council claiming ‘the fields are not being used’.

The removal of Short Heath Playing Fields during a time of worrying childhood obesity is even more controversial – the beloved green space is just over a mile from Burford Playing Fields in Kingstanding, which is also about disappear to make way for houses.

Court Farm Road resident Stephen Hughes was so upset about the prospect of losing the playing fields he set up an online petition which clocked up nearly 800 signatures within weeks.

He said: “I live opposite these playing fields, I can see them from my window. But I was not included in the so-called consultation about selling them off for housing.

I played on these fields as a child, my children played on these fields, and now I am getting the joy of taking my two-year-old granddaughter over there… but now they could be gone forever in a few months.”

The 52-year-old automotive engineer said: “This is one of the few green spaces left in Erdington, the wildlife is amazing to see, and you always see people walking their dogs or enjoying a stroll. For the council to say no-one uses it is unbelievable.

A lot of people have messaged me saying they live in a flat and do not have a garden, they are really upset about losing their only bit of green space. Throughout the lockdown more and more people began using the park to exercise.”

He added: “We have got 800 signatures from people who live around here who did not know anything about these plans. The council put up two pieces of A4 paper up informing people about the plans to sell the land, that is why so few people know about it.”

A Short Heath Road resident, Estelle Murphy, whose house backs onto the playing fields, attended the consultation meeting at St Barnabas Church last August and branded the entire exercise as a “joke”.

She said: “The consultation was an absolute joke, this fella from the council stood and told us he was going to build on the playing fields no matter what. There are supposed to be 84 houses going up, we were told it was a done deal, how is that a consultation?”

The NHS worker added: “The wildlife is something special, I sit and watch the bats fly around at night and we have a world shortage of honey bees – but we have more honey bees in the playing fields than we ever have, and they want to build over it.

The bit of land at the back which they are saying will remain a green space is a floodplain and gets soggy immediately. I fear it is a done deal.”

The consultation was held between July and September last year – with Birmingham City Council promising to spend the proceeds of the land sale on sporting facilities across the city.

But as the Short Heath Playing Fields were originally allocated for use by two local schools, Stockland Green School and Court Farm Primary, the Department of Education will have to approve the sale.

The Secretary of State for Education will ‘take into consideration residents’ comments before making the decision – however, residents who did not know about the consultation want their opposition noted.

Birmingham City Council’s proposal said: “The playing fields have not been used by a school or any community group for 10 years.

Although the fields are not being used, Birmingham City Council continues to maintain them. There are ongoing costs for the maintenance and upkeep of these fields.

Should approval be given, Birmingham City Council is proposing to use the land to address the current housing shortage.

This will be subject to planning permission and all other relevant approvals. Any proceeds from the disposal of these playing fields will be used to provide alternative sporting facilities in the city.”

Birmingham City Council would not comment further on the matter.

To sign the petition to ‘Save Short Heath Playing Fields’, visit: www.change.org/save-short-heath-playing-fields

NEWS: Snapshots of Mumbai – local writer explores historic relationship between India and Britain, marking 73 years of India’s independence from colonial rule

Pics by Paul Ward – all photography in this article has taken from Snapshots of Mumbai

On Saturday 15th August, local writer Ed King releases Snapshots of Mumbai – marking 73 years of India’s independence from British colonial rule.

Supporting the text are a series of original images from Birmingham based photographer Paul Ward, who recently won the ‘Fashion Photographer’ category at the British Photography Awards 2020.

Exploring the might and majesty of India, whilst following the roots of British imperialism, Snapshots of Mumbai is ‘a love letter’ to the modern day megacity – published in both hardback and paperback editions by Review Publishing, joint owners of Erdington Local.

The 204 page coffee table book is an anthology of essays and interviews from Mumbai – starting with ‘South City’, a walking tour through the history of this sprawling modern metropolis.

‘Places Behind’ goes deeper under the surface of prominent areas in Mumbai, such as Dhobi Ghats – the world’s largest outdoor laundromat, and Dharavi – Asia’s biggest slum where the film Slumdog Millionaire was set.

‘Modern Gods’ explores three major driving forces behind Mumbai, told through more extensive essays on religion, entertainment, and trade.

Whilst ‘Interviews’ sees Ed King talk directly to of people about their first-hand experiences of living and working in Mumbai.

Featured in the chapter are Saami – a street hawker who works and lives on the streets of Colaba, and Ashwin Merchant – Deputy Director of the Swiss Business Hub, who had to help Mumbai police identify bodies after the 2008 terror attacks, and Naresh Fernandes – a prominent Mumbai based journalist and writer, who was editor of Time Out Mumbai when interviewed.

‘The Gallery’, the final chapter in Snapshot of Mumbai, showcases a special series of twelve photographs from the project by Paul Ward – which have already been on display as standalone exhibitions at both Wolverhampton Art Gallery and Bilston Art Gallery.

Written for audiences who may or may not know the city, Snapshots of Mumbai is also ‘a reminder’ of Britain’s colonial legacy in South Asia – introducing today’s readers to the ‘forgotten history’ of the British Raj.

The first of five books that will follow Britain’s involvement with India – from the trade of the East India Company to the military occupation enforced by the British Crown – the Snapshots of… series will further cover Kochi, Chennai, Kolkata, and Kashmir.

Ed King was born in Britain and works in Erdington, but has a longstanding relationship with India – having covered music events across the country for a number of UK titles.

Although it was his own ignorance of the history between the two countries that spurred him to write Snapshots of Mumbai.

The term ‘Empire’ was never taught in my history lessons,” tells Ed King, “it was a left to fade behind tales of the League of Nations and other heroic feathers in caps.

But the legacy of British India has shaped both countries, tied them together – and it’s becoming part of the world’s conveniently forgotten history.

I wrote Snapshots of Mumbai because I wanted to learn about the relationship between Britain and India myself. Something I hoped to pass on in an engaging narrative surrounded by beautiful pictures – thank you Paul Ward.

This book is not an accusation of ignorance; I want the book to be enjoyed. It is, quite simply, a love letter to the city – an exploration of Mumbai.

But we should hold on to history and know how the world was formed by our grandparents, our great grandparent’s, and those that came before. It is a frightening and absurd chapter to forget. There’s still an audience for truth.”

Ed King interviewed about Snapshots of Mumbai – filmed at Oikos Café, as part of the Erdington Arts Forum ‘Evening of Creativity’

Snapshots of Mumbai is available in’ both hardback and paperback editions from Saturday 15th August, release by Review Publishing.  

For more on Snapshots of Mumbai, including links to online sales, visit www.reviewpublishing.net/snapshots-of-mumbai

For more on Paul Ward, visit www.paulward.net

NEWS: Witton Lodge Community Association launch Digit-All, tackling ‘digital poverty’ with a new electronic lending library

Words by Steve Sharma / Pics supplied by Witton Lodge Community Association

From Monday 24th August, isolated and vulnerable Erdington residents will be able to access essential support services thanks to an innovative new project being rolled out by Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) – Erdington Local can reveal.

The Perry Common based organisation is launching Digit-All – its own IT lending Library – to provide older residents and others in need of digital literacy support with the tools, skills, and knowledge they need to engage online.

Paul Tse, Flourishing Community Development Officer at WLCA, explains how COVID-19 has heightened an already pressing concern around digital literacy.

As a result of the lockdown, a significant number of the services and activities which older residents are dependent on have moved online,” he said.

The levels of digital poverty in Erdington were already quite high but this situation has seen even more adults become marginalised, unable to access the support they need. This puts them at greater risk of isolation, poor mental health, and mobility difficulties. Our project seeks to redress this imbalance and prevent such suffering.”

Work being delivered by the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce and Witton Lodge’s employment and skills and health & wellbeing teams, has identified a number of people in urgent need of digital literacy support. Digit-All will address the three main areas of concern which have been identified – a lack of IT facilities, a lack of connectivity, alongside confidence and capability.

We have purchased a range of portable IT equipment including laptops and tablets that will be available to lend to isolated, vulnerable adults,” added Paul.

As part of the service offer, we will also be providing users with a free data plan (and/or wireless dongles) to enable individuals to connect to the Internet where they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to.

Digital skills training will also be available to help older adults learn how to use their devices and interact with others through platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook or Zoom.”

Funding for the project has been acquired through the Erdington Neighbourhood Network Scheme – one of Birmingham City Council’s constituency-based networks, established to enable engagement with and investment in community assets which support older people to lead independent and connected lives.

Councillor Paulette Hamilton, Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care, said: “Neighbourhood Network Schemes have been set up to reduce isolation and improve social connectivity and wellbeing at a local level and in particular to support our older and more vulnerable citizens, keeping them active and engaged within their own localities.

The evidence of work carried out by organisations like Witton Lodge during the COVID-19 lockdown reveals that many of our older adults either do not have access to information technology that could help them be more in control of their lives, or do not have the confidence and ability to navigate the Internet to search for information and services that can help them remain independent.

Digit-All is a proactive response to digital poverty that has become more apparent during COVID-19 across our communities.  I am excited and look forward to seeing the service develop and being rolled out across Birmingham’s neighbourhoods,”

The project, as a prototype, launches from Monday 24th August – with those already identified as being in urgent need of support the first to receive laptops and tablets.

Following this initial trial period, the scheme Witton Lodge Community Association are looking to roll out Digit-All to a wider audience across North Birmingham.

For more information and photo opportunities call Steve Sharma on 0121 382 1930 or email steve.sharma@wittonlodge.org.uk

For more on Witton Lodge Community Association, visit www.wittonlodge.org.uk

NEWS: From fly tipping blackspot to community garden, clearing the alleyways with Stockland Green Action Group

Words by Adam Smith / Pics by Ed King

A Stockland Green fly tipping blackspot is being transformed into a community orchard and garden after a group of determined residents wanted their area to blossom.

Over the last two weeks, Erdington locals collected more than 60 tonnes of rubbish in the alleyways behind Frances, Anchorage, Kings, and Queen’s Roads – such as old furniture, mattresses, building materials, and dangerous drug paraphernalia including hundreds of hypodermic needles.

Volunteers from neighbouring streets, who are marshalled by a WhatsApp group, have spent hundreds of hours removing rubbish and laying the groundwork for the alleyways to be an inner city oasis.

Despite there being several Birmingham City Council signs warning: ‘NO DUMPING – PENALTY CAN BE UP TO £20,000,’ no-one has been prosecuted for the illegal fly tipping – which has plagued the area for years.

Following the impressive actions of the newly formed Stockland Green Action Group, launched on 20th June this year, Birmingham City Council have been sending compactor trucks to remove the piles rubbish – which have been constantly active in the area over the last few weeks.

The group have been working closely with Birmingham City Council and are hopeful about the ongoing partnership – citing the excellent work carried out by the Waste Management Team.

A member of the Stockland Green Action Group, Kamleish Parfect, told Erdington Local: “We were told nothing could be done about the piles of rubbish in the alleyways – but I love a challenge, so we did it ourselves.

I have counted nine settees and lots of mattresses which was a worry because it is such a fire risk, that’s one of the reasons why were got gates fitted by our house.

The crime rate here has gone up with burglaries happening and drug dealing on the street; we just wanted to do something to improve the area we lived in, there has been a real sense of community since it started.”

The Stockland Green Action Group believes they were kickstarted into action due to the COVID-19 lockdown – with more residents being at home than usual.

The 53-year-old mother of two said: “I have spoken to neighbours on my road since we started doing this that I had never spoken to before – and those neighbours who have been unable to do the manual labour needed have been providing us with food. I have not needed to use my own kitchen in two weeks.”

However, it was the drug needles found behind her home which caused Kamleish serious concern.

She said: “We found needles in the alleyway that runs  in between Frances Road, Ancourage Road and Mere Road, amounting to about a plant pot full. We collected them and hid them away safely, but by the next morning they had been taken. Since then we have collected another box full of needles, which I presented to the police.”

Stockland Green Action Group member Usman Aslam, from Queens Road, added: “Crime seems to have gotten worse, but COVID-19 seems to have brought the community together and made us want to do something together.”

Following the recent rubbish removal, the residents have a plan to turn the land into a community asset – an urban oasis which residents across Birmingham could emulate.

She said: “We want to have an orchard, a raised bed where vegetables can be grown, and a playground. Also some residents would like space to exercise, so we’d like to create an outdoor gym.

This piece of land will be unrecognisable in a few years and everyone’s children will be able to play safely.”

To follow the Stockland Green Action Group on Twitter, visit www.twitter.com/sg_actiongroup