NEWS: Erdington MP survey reveals “worryingly” high number of care home staff refusing Covid-19 vaccine

Words by Adam Smith

A “worrying” amount of care home staff in Erdington and Kingstanding are refusing to have the Covid-19 vaccine, a recent survey has revealed.

Shockingly 67% of 30 care homes in the constituency questioned by Jack Dromey MP had staff who have decided against having the life-saving jab.

One home reported 23 out of 25 staff refused the vaccine, including the manager. In another 75% of staff turned down the chance to be vaccinated.

The reasons for refusal show widespread misinformation about the vaccine’s side effects including fears of fertility problems or the jab being poisonous.

Mr Dromey said: “The results of my latest care home survey reveal worrying levels of vaccine uptake amongst care home staff.

“The fact that so many staff in care homes across Erdington are refusing the vaccine is deeply concerning. There is a significant risk posed to care home residents in particular who, for one reason or another, are unable to be vaccinated.

“What is also concerning is some of the reasons that were given for refusing the vaccines. Myths such as the vaccine is ‘poisonous’ and it ’causes infertility’ were both quoted in the responses, despite these being comprehensively disproven. Those who are responsible for sharing these dangerous myths should be utterly ashamed of themselves.”

The UK’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty believes care home staff have a “professional responsibility” to have the vaccine.

Government ministers are discussing whether to make the vaccine mandatory for NHS and care sector staff but unions including the GMB have warned against the idea.

Three of the UK’s biggest care home owners, Care UK, Barchester and Advina Healthcare, are insisting staff have the jab and from now on will only hire people who have been vaccinated.

Mr Dromey’s survey also revealed problems with PPE equipment not getting through to care homes seem to be solved.

Currently only three local care homes currently have current Covid outbreaks. – two with one member of staff affected, but another has seven staff and 14 residents currently battling the virus.

Mr Dromey also praised local care home staff for their bravery over the last 12 months.

He said: “Throughout the pandemic I have been in regular contact with Erdington’s care homes, including three surveys of all 47 local care homes. I have heard first-hand the extremely difficult challenges that staff and residents have faced.

“What has shone through over the past 12 months is the dedication and commitment of care home staff to the residents they care for. I know how hard they have worked, and they have gone above and beyond to provide the very best care in extremely difficult circumstances.”

He added: “I’d like to pay tribute to all care home staff across Erdington for their heroic work.”

For more information on the COVID-19 vaccines direct from the NHS visit www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-vaccination

FEATURE: A home or a prison? How domestic abuse has spiralled during life under lockdown

Words by Adam Smith

(First published in the Erdington Local newspaper – March ’21 edition)

The increase in domestic abuse has been one the most disturbing consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. As lockdown restrictions are eased, and the country prepares to go back to the ‘normal’ we knew before, Erdington Local looks at how violence and aggression in the home are damaging the lives of hundreds of local people.

Domestic abuse rose by 45% in Erdington last year and now accounts for around 25% of all crime committed in the constituency.

Officers are now trained to spot tell-tale signs of abuse and if possible, help the victim. As well as prosecute the abuser which is a big difference from the 1970s when the law was unable intervene between a married couple.

However, lockdown meant victims had the double blow of being forced to spend even more time with their partner, whilst routes to safety and support were blocked by being unable to leave the house and even have private phone calls.

Experts who have been helping Erdington women escape violence since 1980 are keen to stress the lockdowns have not created domestic abuse but exacerbated an existing problem.

For more than 40 years Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid (BSWA) has provided practical escape routes for abused women and children, last year its 220 staff and volunteers helped 7,800 victims.

The charity’s fundraising manager Anna Fawcett told Erdington Local: “Prior to COVID-19 we would rely on face-to-face meetings with victims to unpick what they had been through, from eye contact to body language we were physically there for women.

“But like everybody else we had to change how we help people, whether it be through intercoms or WhatsApp messages, but we are still making a huge difference. Demand for our services has gone up in 12 months, but during the first lockdown we were quieter than expected.

“We soon realised people could not phone us if their partner was in the house so we introduced a chat facility to the helpline which made a big difference.”

Women’s Aid provide advice, counselling and crucially a housing service so women and children will not be homeless if they do successfully leave an abusive domestic situation. BSWA run seven refuges across the city, the locations are secret to prevent violent partners tracking women down, and demand is always high.

Anna said: “For every one room we have, seven or eight women need it. When one becomes available they are free for a matter of hours before being taken.

“COVID-19 is not causing domestic violence but it has heightened it due to the restrictions. But the police are doing a great job trying to prosecute offenders.”

The causes of domestic abuse are entrenched in society and Anna believes although attitudes have improved there is still a long way to go.

She said: “One in four women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime so it will not be fixed overnight; the fact rape prosecutions are at an all time low shows how much work needs to be done.

“In the early 1970s police could not even intervene between a married couple, but perhaps with the Domestic Abuse Bill now in the House of Lords women will finally get equality. We need to keep talking about domestic abuse because our sisters, wives, and daughters are the victims.”

One Erdington mother of two, who now lives in an East Midlands town after her relationship ended violently last year, wanted women suffering in silence to know help is available.

She said: “Lockdown turned my volatile relationship into a living hell because my fella lost his job and could not go to the pub, so we spent more time with each other than we ever had.

“I suddenly realised I was trapped; I couldn’t phone my friends, sisters, or anyone without him knowing. I forgot to clear the search history on the computer and when he found out I’d been searching for hotels and hostels he snapped.

“He fractured my collar bone and broke my pelvis. But waking up in hospital meant I finally could get help, I never went back. The advice and support I got from my hospital bed with just my phone was incredible, it meant I could leave him and take my children too.”

She added: “I shudder to think what would have happened if I had stayed, but Women’s Aid and the police made me realise I was not alone. Loads of women have gone through the same trauma and come out the other side safe and well.”

Tragically, many victims do not escape their tormentor. In the last ten years at least two women every week have been killed by current or former partners in England and Wales, according to the Office for National Statistics, and 30 men die each year in similar circumstances.

Domestic abuse is also one of the main causes of homelessness. Birmingham City Council and Women’s Aid worked together to create Home Options which matched the expertise of BSWA staff and housing officers to ensure domestic abuse victims would not end up on the streets.

Birmingham City Council cabinet member for housing Councillor Sharon Thompson branded the new approach a success.

She said: “The Home Options is the first of its kind in the country and has demonstrated a valuable and much needed initiative, providing a specialist approach and ‘pathway’ for women and children at risk of, or experiencing homelessness due to domestic abuse.

“Domestic abuse is a complex and serious issue, both nationally and locally here in Birmingham, and remains one of the leading causes of statutory homelessness. It has a profound and long-lasting impact upon the safety, health, and wider life chances of women, children, and families; which can often lead to further crisis such as homelessness and financial exclusion.”

Inspector Haroon Chughtai, who decides the police’s priorities for Erdington, promised abusers who used the pandemic’s unique circumstances to their own advantage would feel the full force of the law.

He said: “Like all major events it (COVID-19) has brought both the best and worst out in people.

“For me, the worst is the perpetrators of domestic abuse who have taken advantage of the restrictions and made life unbearable for their victims. We will continue to everything to bring them to justice.

“Domestic abuse is a 45% increase which equates to around 800 extra victims. It is an abhorrent crime which we are determined to continue tackling and it is one of our top priorities.”

He added: “We have also started a pilot scheme in Kingstanding which takes a more enhanced approach at repeat offenders.”

The stereotype of domestic abuse is a husband emotionally and physically attacking his wife but there are many other scenarios which create victims.

Men have traditionally found it hard to admit or report their female partner abused them. Parents attacking their children, teenagers attacking parents or siblings, are also domestic abuse – as are altercations between same sex partners in the LGBTQ community.

The only way to eradicate the problem entirely is if everyone in society tries to stop it, from neighbours reporting violent incidents to employers offering employees help if they turn up to work with a black eye or bruises.

Kingstanding PCSO Meg Skelding wrote to residents about spotting domestic abuse and how to help.

She said: “Support a friend if they’re being abused, let them know you’ve noticed something is wrong. If someone confides in you, there is more information on how to support them.

“If you are worried someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse, you can call Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline for free, confidential support, 24 hours a day on 0808 2000 247.”

She added: “But if you believe there is an immediate risk of harm to someone, or it is an emergency, always call 999.”

If you have been affected by domestic abuse of violence, you can call Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline 24 hours a day on 0808 2000 247 or visit www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk

For more on Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid visit www.bswaid.org

For more from Refuge visit www.refuge.org.uk

NEWS: Police ‘need answers’ as community mourns tragic death of Erdington teenager in hit-and-

Words by Adam Smith

The tragic death of an Erdington teenager after a hit-and-run accident has sparked a massive outpouring of grief this week.

Liam Mooney died on Tuesday and within 24 hours more than 150 people raised £3,500 for his devastated family and countless tributes were posted on social media sites by teenagers upset by the tragedy.

Liam suffered head injuries when the moped he was a passenger on was hit by a silver car on Monday night at 7.20pm on Rocky Lane, Perry Barr. West Midlands Police, who confirmed Liam was from Erdington, are searching for the driver who left the scene after the collision.

Liam’s family paid tribute to the 16-year-old, who was a familiar face on the Topcroft estate, in a statement, they said: “Liam was a bit of a joker and had a brilliant sense of humour.

“He was also so caring at times. He had not long became a uncle and loved his niece so much. We are so heartbroken and never thought this would happen to us.”

They added: “Liam was not just loved by his mom, dad, sisters and brothers but his nans, grandads, aunties, uncles and cousins. He will be sadly missed by everyone.

“Fly high our beautiful little angel. We love you so much, sleep tight. We will all be together again one day.”

Liam Llewellyn, from youth outreach charity Urban Devotion, worked with Liam and his friends on the Topcroft estate for six years.

Liam told Erdington Local: “Liam was a big character and his loss will create a big hole which will not be filled.

“He was a full of fun and the life of the party, he was always happy to see us and we loved him for the way he was. He was very faithful to his friends and they will be hurting now. ”

Liam, aged 31, added: “As an organisation we have known him and his family for ten years, our motto is ‘Community Transformation – One Life at a Time’ and getting someone like Liam onside is what we are all about because he was so well known in the area.

“It is no surprise to see so many young people speak out about what a great person he was.”

Family friend Chelsea Kelly launched a GoFundMe page called Liam’s Funeral Fund on Wednesday which raised £3,500 in 24 hours.

She said: “Sadly we lost Liam to a tragic bike accident, he’s leaving behind his mom, dad, brothers and sisters and so many friends that will forever miss him

“Liam, also known as ‘Dennis the Menace’ touched every single heart of every person that ever met him, he was the most polite, pure hearted young boy you could ever meet and anyone that did have the pleasure to meet him is truly blessed.”

Frances Carey praised Liam’s kind nature, she said: “Such a wonderful boy who looked after my grandson who had just moved into the area.”

Detective Inspector Adam Jobson appealed for information about the driver who rammed the moped Liam was a passenger on.

He said: “Liam was a teenager and should have had his life in front him.

“This is a devastating time for his family and they need answers about what happened on Monday night.

“We really need to speak to the car driver so they can tell us what went on and help us piece together the full circumstances. It’s imperative we hear their side of the story.”

A police spokesman said: “If you were in the area at the time and saw what happened, or perhaps have dash-cam or cycle-cam footage, we’re keen to hear from you and would urge you to get in touch.

“You can send us a message via live chat at www.west-midlands.police.uk 8am – midnight or call 101 anytime. To remain 100% anonymous please call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

“Tell them what you know, not who you are. Please quote log number 3771 of 22/03/21.”

To donate to Liam’s Funeral Fund on the GoFund me platform visit www.gofundme.com/f/xhb7d-liams-funeral-fund 

NEWS: GKN Automotive to close Chester Road site making over 500 unemployed

Words by Adam Smith

Erdington’s sprawling GKN Automotive factory, Chester Road, is being closed down with the loss of more than 500 jobs.

GKN‘s owner Melrose Industries announced the news, which will bring down the curtain on one of the UK’s oldest engineering assembly lines, to shocked workers this week.

Workers were informed of the decision through a letter from GKN Automotive chief Liam Butterworth, who said: “GKN Automotive has taken the difficult decision to propose the closure of our assembly site at Chester Road, Birmingham.

“Sadly, an increasingly competitive global market means that the site is no longer viable. This is despite significant effort and investment over the past 10 years to reduce the site’s high operating costs and make it competitive.

“Supporting our people is our first priority as we consult on this proposal. Employees at the site are being notified today and support is being made available to them throughout this process. We will then commence a period of consultation with the union and employee representatives in the coming weeks.

“We expect this proposal to impact 519 employees. The proposal envisages that GKN Automotive will carefully wind down the site over 18 months to ensure an orderly and stable transition of operations and give those affected time to find new work. The proposal is to transfer production to other sites in our network.”

Melrose Industries bought GKN in 2018 in a controversial hostile takeover in which they promised to keep the Erdington plant open. GKN can trace its history back to the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century and has been at the forefront of engineering in the UK ever since, the Erdington site assembles automotive parts.

The restructure will not affect GKN’s plants in Sutton Coldfield and Minworth.

Unite national officer Des Quinn said: “The workforce have been left shocked and angry to learn that management is looking to close this highly viable site.

“Unite is now seeking urgent meetings with senior management at GKN to understand the business case and the logic behind this decision.”

He added: “Unite is committed to working with GKN to find a feasible solution, which will keep the factory open and preserve the jobs of this highly skilled workforce.”

Erdington MP Jack Dromey opposed the £8.1 billion takeover in 2018 warning the British multinational Melrose Industries would cut costs and jobs.

He said: “Despite all the warm words by Melrose in 2018 to protect the future prosperity of GKN and its British workforce, the cold reality three years on is that one of GKN’s finest plants now faces closure. Melrose promised a bright future to GKN’s employees – a promise they have now broken.

“This announcement is completely unexpected by employees at GKN. Working together with their trade union, Unite, I will be seeking an urgent meeting with the company.

“Government Ministers also have a responsibility to act after promises they made at the time of the hostile takeover.”

A spokesperson from GKN Automotive said: “Proposing this closure is a difficult decision which has been made despite significant effort and investment over the past 10 years to reduce the high operating costs at the Birmingham assembly site.

“Sadly, an increasingly competitive global market means that the site is no longer viable. Supporting our people is our priority as we consult on our proposals.”

John Taylor Hospice’s former press officer and Pype Hayes resident Ray Woods lamented the closure of the factory and its impact on the community.

He said: ”My thoughts are with the employees of GKN in Pype Hayes. They and their former senior management helped to raise thousands of pounds for John Taylor Hospice. They should be very proud.

“This is another blow for Erdington and the local community.”

To find out more about GKN Automotive, visit www.gknautomotive.com

For more from Unite the Union, visit www.unitetheunion.org

NEWS: Kingstanding gets its lifesaving first bleed control kit on the Hawthorn

Words by Adam Smith / Pics by Ed King

The first bleed control kit has been installed in Kingstanding to save lives if stabbings and shootings continue to happen in the area.

The Grapevine off licence, Hawthorn Road, now has the medical equipment needed to stop bleeding immediately if someone gets injured nearby.

After a wave in deaths in inner city Birmingham, Bishop Desmond Jaddoo from Yes2Life put the kits in Lozells, Aston, and Handsworth – and has now set his sights on Kingstanding and Erdington.

He told Erdington Local: “We have wanted to get a bleed control kit in Kingstanding for a while.

The recent spark in violence has made it essential, it is about being prepared, just in case, many times things happen and we do not know what to do.

We started in Lozells, Handsworth and Newtown but our target has been North Birmingham, Kingstanding, Erdington, Oscott etc.”

He added: “We want to get bleed control kits in these areas but also provide training too, however, due to COVID training sessions have been hampered.

When there was a shooting in Great Hampton Street, Hockley, a woman got a bleed kit and saved his life, she had not had training but had seen some of our Facebook videos, so we are looking to produce more training videos.

The violence has not stopped because of COVID, in fact it has gone up.”

The bleed control kit includes items such as a tourniquet, bandages, and a foil blanket, and has been created with the help of Bunzl Healthcare, Purple Pharma, and Blue Kit Medical.

Bishop Jaddoo is delighted to have got a lifesaving foothold in Kingstanding.

He said: “This is the first bleed control kit in Kingstanding, we would have been in Kingstanding before but we are not funded. We have to fund these ourselves, so every time we get some donations we install more kits.

Our aim is to get bleed control kits on the College Road, Witton Lodge, Kingstanding Circle, here on the Hawthorn and up Kingstanding Road.

What we try to do is cover an area completely with kits and educate people how they can be used and then move on, we will go to Erdington next. But as we are not funded we need to build it slowly.

When people talk about issues proportionality, poverty and violence, a lot of people think because Kingstanding is in North Birmingham, which is seen as more affluent than inner city Birmingham. it’s OK but there is a lot of social housing in this area, and with that there is a lot of working class white people, and they are totally forgotten about and that is so wrong.

We need to think how society rates us, they lump in the black and Asian communities in with the working class communities. So, we have to class ourselves as one group.”

He added: “We picked The Grapevine because the shopkeeper understands the importance of bleed control kits and why they need to be in the community.

If someone is hurt, and we are not just talking about stabbings and shootings, if there is a car crash, the kit is for the zero responder, the person who sees the incident and can help immediately before the emergency services get there. These kits have tourniquets and bleed pressure bandages, those first minutes are vital.”

Owner of The Grapevine off licence on Hawthorn Road, Paul Bradford, wanted to have a bleed control kit in his shop to foster a sense of community in Kingstanding.

He said: “I have followed the work (Bishop) Desmond has done over the years and he told me how these bleed control kits can save lives so I wanted to get involved.

It is not just about the rising crime; we witnessed a really bad car crash outside the shop not long ago and we could have really done with a bleed control kit to help those injured.

If something happens on the Hawthorn we will be prepared, and anything can happen, we are a community on the Hawthorn. There is a defibrillator in the Co-op as well in case anyone has a heart attack, we are all in this together.

I’m glad that The Grapevine is the first of hopefully many businesses in Kingstanding to have a bleed control kit, I wish there was no need for them but there is.”

Bishop Desmond Jaddoo – outside The Grapevine off licence on Hawthon Road, Kingstanding

For more on Yes2Life, including the work they do challenging knife and gun crime, visit www.yes2life.co.uk

For more information about Bishop Desmond Jaddoo visit www.desjaddoo.org.uk

OPINION: Invest in live music, not the pub

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Profile pics by Chris Neophytou

Imagine if the government invested in the soul of the nation.

‘If music be the food of love, play on,’ wrote Shakespeare.

I’m talking about music. From the point of view of a musician and gigaholic.

Music makes the world go round,” sang the Hamilton Brothers.

What I’ve witnessed over the past few months is a series of missed opportunities. ‘Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but foresight is better,’ taught William Blake.

Can we move forward from now, into the festive season, and reengage musicians? We can’t lose this precious part of our culture – live music. A lack of opportunities in the past few months has meant that brass players lips crumble, violinist fingers are stiff. All musicians – the well-behaved ones at least – are struggling.

It’s apparently too dangerous for musicians to be doing what they do, entertaining us all, bringing us all to a higher state of consciousness with harmonious sounds and that. Especially singers (yes, singers are musicians). Singing in groups is considered a ‘higher risk activity’ by the government, because of the potential for aerosol production. Don’t get me started on those pesky woodwind instruments. Ignore the hundreds of people protesting on the streets, Dominic Cummings on his roadshow of potential infection, or the big queue in Lidl – “there’s a flute player in this place! Shoot them! Or open a window for better circulation!”

At least I’ve had some gigs, I guess. I can’t complain, but I think I’m allowed to be somewhat sardonic. I’ve had a few livestreams, a handful of small outdoor gigs paid by the magic Arts Council England money tree of ‘please don’t forget us next year, we’re doing our best.’ Grateful. Honestly, very grateful. Here comes the cold now, where do we go?

Well, pubs are open. Great. And musicians are able to play in them, following some volume-related rules.  But that’s not really the investment in the soul I had in mind. Pubs are a chance for this full time musician to go out with his band ‘Jobe and the Spotify Playlists’ – doing requests for the ‘loud drunk guy at the front’, who shouldn’t be raising his voice anyway, but he’s bigger than me and the bouncer hasn’t spotted him yet/this pub forgot to hire security.

My experience in the pubs has been stressed landlords trying to tame insatiable extroverts and more covid-19 deniers than you can shake a Piers-Corbyn-branded stick at (I could have chosen any number of Covid-19 deniers). It’s a place for extroverts to get their fix, and the amount of antisocial behaviour I’ve seen at 21:55 because it’s kicking out time has been rather laughable. I proudly nurse my pint knowing I can stay past 22:00 curfew – I’m working!

I can see my musician mates disappearing off to ‘retrain’ under the reign of Rishi Sunak. Whether he did or did not say that people in the arts need to go and find a proper job, we’re just generally hot and bothered about the whole malaise of the situation.

Goodbye fellow musicians. Part of me wants to say ‘yey, more work for me’, but losing my band and playing to backing tracks actually makes my skin crawl. “Please!” I plea to my drummer (percussionists also considered musicians), “don’t become an itinerant electrician in Bedfordshire! You’ll be too tired by to gig on a Friday when you get back to Brum. Oh, and I need this amplifier pat tested.”

We’re quite harmless, actually, us musicians. We might complain about not being paid enough, and, no matter how much you’ve paid us, if we don’t get a free drink from the bar your name is besmirched for life. We all keep a spreadsheet of scrooge-oriented venue managers…

Anyway, we’re harmless.

On the 6th of October, there was a protest gathering of over 400 musicians in Parliament Square. They formed an impressive orchestra and blasted Gustav Holst’s ‘Mars’ from The Planets, Op.32 at the politicians, who must have enjoyed a rather delightful evening concert for free. See? We can’t even protest, right! Lorry drivers strike by not driving. Teachers strike by their absence, shutting down a school. Us musicians strike by “ooh come on let’s have a ruddy good jam session, that’ll learn ‘em!”

Just imagine if the government invested in venues over this period, ready for the world to return to normal. Clean, socially distanced, even folk-club style. All people welcome. This could be a chance for people to listen to new music, or old music in a new way. You can actually pay attention to the lyrics for once! Dancing from our seats, doing the sit-down shuffle, and practicing to become the best ‘hummers’ in the world. May I suggest Puccini’s ‘Cora a bocca chiusa’. Or be inspired by the vocal acrobatics Bobby McFerrin.

I guess the only profound quote we can be left with now is that of Jim Bowen, the host of the 80s darts-themed TV gameshow Bullseye. After the players had lost, the curtains would draw back to reveal a speedboat, a car, or a “beautifully crafted Wedgwood Dinner Service set.” “Let’s see what you could have won,” Jim would say.

We’ve invested in health. We’re investing in economy. Let’s not forget the soul.

Let’s see what we could have won.”

To find out more about Jobe Baker-Sullivan, visit www.facebook.com/jobesullivanmusic

NEWS: Erdington Rugby Club wins ‘Gallagher Rugby Club of the Season’ national award

Words by Adam Smith / Pics supplied by Erdington RFC (all team pics wrere taken before coronavirus and social distancing regulations)

Erdington Rugby Club (RFC)’s work combatting knife crime, through working with local youngsters, has gained national recognition – after winning the first ever ‘Gallagher Rugby Club of the Season’ award.

Erdington RFC beat over 100 rival clubs to win the award, which was decided following a public vote and panel selection, after the success of its Changing Lives Through Rugby scheme – which saw volunteers offer free coaching to youngsters in danger of entering a life of crime and gang related violence.

The award, devised by Gallagher Insurance – which sponsors Premiership Rugby, is all the more impressive as the club had to start from scratch in 2016 after the club house was burned to the ground in 2003.

The England & British & Irish Lion, Harlequins legend, and Gallagher ambassador, Ugo Monye, paid a surprise visit to Erdington RFC this week to speak to club representatives about what winning means to them and the wider community.

The international rugby star said: “There was only one winner for me for this competition. Erdington RFC shone amongst the rest of the shortlisted finalists due to their profound commitment to their community, and most notably youth participants, both on and off the pitch.

To overcome such adversity in 2003 and get to the point they are at now is quite astounding and proves Erdington RFC is a fantastic winner of the Gallagher Rugby Club of the Season award.”

For winning the inaugural ‘Gallagher Rugby Club of the Season’ award, Erdington RFC – which plays at Spring Lane Playing Fields – were given £2,000 worth of Gilbert training kit.

Andy Trueman, community officer at Erdington RFC, said: “We are absolutely thrilled to be crowned winner of the Gallagher Rugby Club of the Season. Our club means everything to us and the surrounding community, and we are very grateful to have been recognised for our work in using rugby to make a positive impact in North Birmingham.

As well as having the honour of winning this award, we’re also delighted with our enhanced training kit prize, which will allow us to touch the lives of even more people within the community.” 

Changing Lives Through Rugby got volunteers to take part in coaching rugby in local schools, as well as providing outreach support in North Birmingham in partnership with the local police.

An after-school club, targeting pupils with known behavioural issues, the scheme helped youngsters build their teamwork skills, control aggression, respect authority, as well as providing them with a hot meal afterwards. All membership, kit, and match fees are waived for club participants as part of the sessions, and transport costs are covered for those who need it.

Sarah Griffiths, Director of Communications for Gallagher in the UK, commented: “Giving back to our local communities is incredibly important to everyone at Gallagher and so we created this award to recognise the often life-changing work that is being carried out by grassroots rugby clubs across the country.

We are thrilled to be presenting the Gallagher Rugby Club of the Season award to Erdington RFC who were voted the unanimous winner by all our judges.

The club does so much in their local community, despite having such little resources, and it really is not just the lifeblood of their community but also offers a potential life-line for young people by providing them with support, coaching and opportunities to thrive. A truly deserving winner.”

Erdington RFC also offers free dinners, alongside international and national league tickets to at risk youngsters – and in partnership with Birmingham City Council, further provides rugby tackle demonstrations at after-school violence hotspots in the city. 

The club also is planning to engage more mothers and daughters to take part in rugby, through their development of a separate touch rugby coaching session.

The original Erdington Rugby Club was forced to close in 2003 after its clubhouse was burnt down; Erdington RFC was reformed in 2016 with no facilities or players.

Now the club has grown to include over 100 U18 players, a squad of over 50 senior males, and a mixed gender touch rugby team.

Ugo Monye visits Erdington RFC

For more information about Erdington RFC, visit www.erfc.uk   

For more on Gallagher Premiership Rugby, visit www.premiershiprugby.com/gallagher-premiership-rugby

NEWS: Highcroft Community Centre gets cash injection from electricity giant Western Power

Words by Adam Smith

Staff at the former Highcroft Sports and Social Club, which reopened as a community centre last year after being closed for two years, are celebrating after being given a grant to help its resurgence.

Highcroft Community Centre, Slade Road, was forced to close in October, 2017, due to financial problems and then again earlier this year, just months after reopening, due to the pandemic.

However, now the centre is back open, thriving and hosts a variety of groups and outreach community projects in Stockland Green.

Electricity company Western Power Distribution has given the club a £750 community grant to be spent on a new games room which will be available for the Stockland Green community to use.

Pauline Wright runs the bar at the centre and is delighted with the cash injection.

She told Erdington Local: “The grant is fantastic news. I’m Erdington born and bred and was delighted when the club reopened, the place means so much to so many people.

From my experience running the bar at the Highcroft Community Centre and the people who support us are some of the nicest I have met. It’s like one big family and this grant can only bring more happiness to many by enabling the use of the games room.”

Centre manager Maxine McNair also welcomed the grant.

She said: “The funding has been gratefully received. The money is also being used to help upgrade the lighting on the car park and signage, therefore making sure that the building is safe for all that use the centre now and those that will hopefully use it in the future.

Thank you very much Western Power Distribution.”

The centre also boasts a bar, function rooms, a cricket pitch, darts, snooker and a host of other facilities.

Erdington MP Jack Dromey nominated Highcroft Community Centre for the grant from Western Power Distribution and is delighted the club is up and running again.

He said: “Highcroft Community Centre has been at the heart of the local community for many years. It is not only a social hub, but also has excellent sports facilities and plays hosts to many local and charitable organisations.

I have attended countless events at the Community Centre myself over the years.”

Dromey added: “When I heard the centre was experiencing financial difficulties and was forced to close, I felt deeply saddened as it was a huge blow to the local community.

However, I’m delighted that they were eventually able to reopen and once again be an invaluable community and social hub. I’d like to pay tribute to everyone involved with getting Highcroft Community Centre back on its feet, and I hope this grant from Western Power will help them to continue that process.”

Highcroft Sports and Social Club was a firm favourite of Erdingtonians for decades, however, dwindling membership numbers meant the club was not viable, however, now running as a community centre the place is appealing for local people and groups to use its facilities.

Western Power Distribution’s donated the money to the community centre from its In This Together – Community Matters Fund which was set up at the start of the COVID-19 lockdown to support grass root organisations in delivering care to vulnerable people and families.

The fund supported 300 organisations with £500,000 funding and asked MPs to nominate deserving community projects, another £250,000 has now being allocated to good causes across the country.  

Alison Sleightholm, Western Power Distribution’s Resources and External Affairs Director, said: “Highcroft Community Centre is a multi-function community hub offering space for local groups to run activities from wellbeing, recreation, community development including cricket.

The funding will be used as a contribution to refurbishing the games room in the centre which will enable greater usage of this vibrant hub in a challenged ward.”

She added: “Throughout this crisis we have worked tirelessly to support our local communities and keep the energy flowing to our 7.9 million customers.

The crisis is far from over and as we enter the next phase of the UK’s response to the pandemic, we’re delighted that 92 MPs in our regions have nominated deserving causes for up to £1,500 of funding.” 

For more information on Highcroft Community Centre, visit www.highcroftcommunitycentre.co.uk

For more on Western Power Distribution, visit www.westernpower.co.uk

EXPLOITED: Part 3 – The unchallenged rampage of HMOs and shared houses, wreaking havoc for a profit across our community

Words by Adam Smith

In the third instalment of EXPLOITED, Adam Smith looks at the oversaturation problem in the HMO and supported living sector – hearing from the top of two housing associations and going right down to the root cause of the misery.

It’s a license to print money,” one former employee of a housing association tellingly revealed.

And it stands to reasons where there is easy money on offer there will be a queue of people ready to take it.

On the Birmingham City Council website there is a list of HMOs where landlords can charge the benefits system £900 for a room, which often can be more than £500 over the private rented market value. And the list runs into the thousands.

Across Birmingham there are 2345 HMOs with six or more people living in them, with applications pending for another 758 properties – including houses in Mere Road, Queens Road, Chester Road, Hillaries Road, Norfolk Road, Kings Road, Slade Road and George Road in Erdington.

As well as the licensed HMOs there are thousands more smaller HMOs and shared houses which fall into the category of ‘exempt’ or ‘supported’ accommodation. There are hundreds of companies which can apply for an HMO license in Erdington, many of which have been arguably set up just to take advantage of the system.

Spring Housing Association (SHA) is a Birmingham based Housing Association which operates HMOs, hostels and social housing – an organisation that has been referenced in previous Exploited articles. SHA has close links to Birmingham City Council and is one of the biggest housing associations in the Midlands, managing or owning more than 700 properties.

SHA, which has Edgbaston MP Preet Gill on its board of directors, has lobbied the Government to tighten up regulations and is now even turning shared houses into family homes.

SHA group chief executive and founder, Dominic Bradley, told Erdington Local there should be tighter regulations on the mushrooming number of companies which can run HMOs and shared accommodation.

He said: “We believe that there is over saturation of exempt shared housing provision in Birmingham. This is not to say that this type of housing doesn’t have an important part to play in the prevention of homelessness in all of its forms. In fact it’s essential.

However, we have long recognised that in parts of the city we are over saturated with this style of housing – which is disruptive to local communities. Stockland Green is an obvious example of this.”

Dominic added: “It’s one of the reasons we are about to purchase a shared house in Erdington and convert it back to a family home. We are aiming to do something similar in Edgbaston, which has had similar community issues to Stockland Green.

Whilst this is a start and one we are keen to develop further there are wider more systematic issues that need to be tackled around strengthening existing regulations about what we mean about care, support and supervision and work with providers to curb the current unmitigated growth and target provision linked to local strategy which we know Birmingham City Council are very keen to achieve.”

In the last article, Exploited – Humans Must Obey,  we outlined the rules tenants have to follow whilst living in supported housing and HMOs.

In the housing sector the term used is ‘Exempt Accommodation’ because in 1996 Housing Benefit regulations were changed to include ‘non-commissioned EA’ which were defined as ‘accommodation which is…provided by a non-metropolitan country council, a housing association, a registered charity or a voluntary organisation where that body or a person acting on its behalf also provides the claimant with care, support or supervision.

‘If a provider or landlord meets these criteria, they are exempt from rent restrictions within the private rented sector and are able to yield rent levels, paid for from housing benefit, far in excess of ‘general needs’ social sector rents and, often, market rents.’

These two paragraphs provided the starter of the sector gun, as landlords and housing associations realised they could charge more rent without the hassle of tenancy agreements – and the introduction of Universal Credit in 2012 massively increased the sector. The Conservative government’s change of rules, that the tenant received the housing benefit and not the landlord, meant it made sense for landlords to claim their houses were ‘exempt’ so they could get the cash directly as had been the case for decades.

The last Parliamentary research into HMOs, published in 2019, revealed there were more than 497,000 HMOs in England in Wales in 2018. And that number is growing.

Spring Housing Association, the University of Birmingham, and Commonweal Housing combined to produce a 60 page report – Exempt from Responsibility? Ending Social Injustice in Exempt Accommodation – which detailed the shocking state of housing provision and detailed how thousands of people were stuck in negative housing situations across the city. 

Ashley Horsey, chief executive of Commonweal Housing, a charity formed to ‘implement housing solutions to social injustice’, described the damage exempt housing is doing to tenants and communities.

He said: “The findings of this report are stark. That over 11,000 people in Birmingham – and many thousands more across the country – are living in potentially unsafe and unsuitable ‘exempt’ accommodation should concern us all.

Residents interviewed for this report described feelings of ‘entrapment’ in financial instability; exclusion from decision-making processes; lack of control over where, and with whom, they are housed.

At the same time, the nature of too many of the business models involved in this space are causing some concern, not least inflation linked leases from property owners requiring ever rising rents.

In addition, the deficit-based tenant modelling – talking up your tenant’s weaknesses to justify your income stream – is all too common, and a tricky place to be morally. Especially where there remains little oversight.”

Ashley added: “The ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ nature of some of the governance and regulation of this sector is alarming. Of course, everyone accommodated in the exempt accommodation sector is in need of a home. But asking no questions simply because this sector is putting a roof over a head is not good enough.

In particular, the exempt accommodation sector is too often the only housing available for the marginalised, the overlooked, the undervalued and the de-valued in society. They are the women who find themselves here after fleeing domestic violence, as their only housing option.”

The next instalment of EXPLOITED will reveal the shocking stories of women who have either lived in, live in, or have been affected by HMOs, exempt, or shared housing.

To read Exempt from Responsibility? Ending Social Injustice in Exempt Accommodation, visit www.springhousing.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Spring-Housing-Final-Report-A4.pdf

To read the 2019 Parliamentary briefing paper on HMOs, visit www.commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/sn00708 

For more on Spring Housing Association, visit www.springhousing.org.uk

For more on Commonweal Housing, visit www.commonwealhousing.org.uk

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

Words by Adam Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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