NEWS: High Street Health and Wellbeing Hub sees ‘huge response and demand’ from local residents

Words & pics by Ed King

Launched at the beginning of December, the new Health and Wellbeing Hub on Erdington High Street has already seen a “huge response and demand” from local residents.

Operated by Witton Lodge Community Centre (WLCA), in partnership with NHS Property Services, the Health and Wellbeing Hub offers social support over issues from employment and finance to healthy eating and general wellbeing.

Opening its doors on 1 December, the Health and Wellbeing Hub took over 196 Erdington High St – a building left empty after the Walk-In Centre moved to Northcroft Hospital early this year.

With services running from Monday to Friday, the Erdington Health and Wellbeing Hub offers a range of free to access support – through both drop in and pre-booked sessions with trained advisors.

Debbie Bates, Health & Wellbeing Development Manager at WLCA, told Erdington Local:

“This opportunity; in partnership with NHS Property Services has enabled us to reach and support more local members of our community.

“Since we opened the doors we’ve seen a huge response and demand for non-clinical Social Prescribing services, with a constant stream of people coming in for advice and support.

“Having an additional accessible Hub in the heart of the community; on the high street, will enable us to continue our work with NHS, GP’s, Adult Social Care and our partners to go some way in meeting demand.

“Money, housing and employment are still big concerns, with our benefits advice sessions and housing drop in services on Mondays, Job Club on Tuesdays, and Employment and Skills workshops on Thursdays seeing a lot of interest.

“But often people are looking for more emotional help and a room of friendly faces, which is where our Wellbeing Support, Domestic Violence Support Group and Carers Support sessions on Mondays come in, with additional services being offered around healthy lifestyles in the coming months.”

Primarily based in Perry Common, Witton Lodge Community Association has been delivering social and housing support since being established in 1994.

WLCA also have a proven track record of taking over Council assets the city could no longer run, such as Perry Common Library.

WLCA are also close to completing a new ‘Eco Hub’ at the former park-keepers cottage at Witton Lakes, turning the century old building into ‘a venue which supports, educates and promotes sustainable living… to enhance and encourage the potential for environmentally sustainable lifestyles.’

After successfully launching the Erdington Health and Wellbeing Hub, WLCA have further plans to convert the disused Erdington Swimming Baths into an Enterprise Hub.

Speaking to Erdington Local at the Health and Wellbeing Hub launch, WLCA Chief Officer, Afzal Hussain, told:

“We’re delighted to be in the building and working with the NHS Property Services team, they’ve been excellent.

“They’ve helped to refurbish the facility which means we can come in and start to provide the services – services that are needed now and will be needed in the coming months as people feel some of those pressures associated with the cost of living.

“We’re approaching winter, and the difficulties associated with the pandemic, but also helping people with advice and training, upskilling, and finding work. So, there’ll be a range of services we’ll be providing from here.

“We’re really pleased to bring this building back into use for the community and for local residents, having a Hub right on the High Street is really important. And also, I think it’s a sign of our commitment moving forward to Erdington Town Centre.”

Charlotte Jarvis, Senior Portfolio Optimisation Manager, NHS Property Services, added: “It has been a complete pleasure to work with Witton Lodge in delivering this space.

“Through our social prescribing programme here at NHSPS, we provided the space and then refurbished it to fit the needs of Witton Lodge.

“I was delighted to be invited to the opening today and see not only the space in real life, but also the colleagues and volunteers who deliver the services and most importantly the residents of Erdington who will benefit from this space. I look forward to coming back to see how it develops to continue to support local PCN’s and its patients.”

Also attending the opening were Erdington Ward councillors Robert Alden and Gareth Moore.

Councillor Alden said: “It’s great to be here at the Erdington Wellbeing Centre opening, and Witton Lodge have done a brilliant job at setting this up and running.

“I think we’ve all seen with Covid how important it is to be supporting people’s social and mental health, as well as their physical health.

“In terms of the future, going forward, with the building being empty this (Health & Wellbeing Hub) is the solution to getting it used.

“And it’s really good that once again Witton Lodge have stepped in to help support Erdington and the surrounding area when perhaps other public services have stepped back.”

Councillor Gareth Moore added: “This will be a valuable lifeline for the local community who, sadly, like many people, have suffered through the pandemic.

“So, hopefully the great work what Witton Lodge has been doing in the area will be amplified through this Hub.”

The Erdington Health and Wellbeing Hub is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm. For details on available support please call 0121 827 6295.

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

NEWS: UK’s community organisations get a sneak peak of Witton Lakes Eco Hub as energy saving example

Words & pics by Ed King

Delegates from the Locality Convention in Birmingham have been getting a sneak peak at the Eco Hub in Witton Lakes this week, as a national example of energy saving construction and community focused regeneration.

On Wednesday 17 November the first open viewing was held of the renovated Park Keepers House at Witton Lakes, which has had over £1m invested to turn it into a new ‘Eco Hub’ – in a project led by Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) after an asset transfer from Birmingham City Council.

A special bus brought representatives in from the conference for a guided tour, before the team behind the development presented the concept and construction of the Eco Hub – with an open Q&A about how to apply similar models to projects nationwide.

Attended by community organisations from across the country, the Locality Convention is the largest community sector event in the year – with delegates looking for inspiration for new concepts, campaigns, and designs.

Anoushka Deighton from the Architectural Heritage Fund told Erdington Local: “I thought it was a really inspirational vision of what you can do when you let a community organisation take over a disused building and turn it into something for the whole community.

“The way they really thought about the construction and made sure that was environmentally friendly was very positive, alongside getting input from local people and using their knowledge.”

Afzal Hussain, WLCA Chief Officer, said: “Today we wanted to showcase what local communities can do practically, on the ground, for themselves, which will make an impact to address the climate crisis – but also really helps people with everyday costs, the costs of living.

“To make the kind of big impact we need both the pledges from governments, and we need things on the ground very practically.

“That’s how change happens, and we think, equally, grass roots action can and will play a huge role in addressing the climate challenges – but also looking at positive and creative ways of bringing people together.

“So, it (environmental awareness) becomes something you do, something you enjoy with your family and friends and have fun doing it. Look at the surroundings here (Witton Lakes), it’s beautiful.

“The delegates are primarily from organisations like WLCA; they are community associations and community trusts, some agencies as well – there are some stakeholders from the combined authority, so it’s important they see this.

“The community organisations will recognise the challenges of managing assets and community buildings, but in many ways they’ve come here because they want to know that it can be done. “

An asset transfer from Birmingham City Council to Witton Lodge Community Association, the transformation of the 100 year old Park Keepers House at Witton Lakes has been designed by Axis Design Architects – using energy saving techniques and materials to reduce its carbon foot print during both the construction and maintenance.

A Wolverhampton based firm, Axis Design Architects have been spearheading ecologically focused construction across the West Midlands – working with local councils and housing associations.

Rob Annable, Director of Axis Design Architects, explained what the driving force behind the Witton Lakes Eco Hub project was: “Sustainability, and the discussion about services and the resources the building will provide in relation to ecology and health and wellbeing.

“So, the building is dubbed the ‘eco hub’ but not just because of architectural construction issues but also because it will be connected to health and wellbeing, and ecology based activities with the landscape here in the park. So, it’s all those topics combined.

“You could look at it as a benchmark, but I would be fairly humble about that in terms of trying to set a realistic benchmark with what’s possible with funding support from an organisation like Witton Lodge Community Association.

“We haven’t tried to construct or build an experimental project that spends a lot of money on brand new, cutting edge technology – the products, the materials, and operational benefits of this project are as much about trying to set a bar that is achievable for other clients, contractors, and the building sector generally.”

Set to open before the end of the year, the Witton Lakes Eco Hub will run a programme of community and ecologically focused activity – building on the work already being done with the Velvet Community Orchard and other community outreach projects from WLCA.

Once finished, the Eco Hub will help local residents find ways to ‘enhance and encourage the potential for environmentally sustainable lifestyles,’ whilst also acting as a social centre.

On the WLCA website, it further states the Eco Hub will ‘also include the creation of a hydro-power facility on the lakes, sustainable food growing, healthy eating, environmental management responsibility and a range of linked, sustainable living options addressed through community engagement, advice, and practical projects.’

Rob Annable added: “We call it ‘the eco hub’, but for me the reason it’s an ‘eco hub’ is for that long list of landscape and environmental based activities being programmed here.

“Yes, the architecture and the construction seek to reduce carbon emissions, through embodied carbon and operational carbon, but its primary benefit will be health and wellbeing issues around environment, landscape, and ecology.”

For more on the Eco Hub from Witton Lodge Community Association visit www.wittonlodge.org.uk/our-projects/environmental-projects/our-environmental-projects

For more on Axis Designs Architects visit www.axisdesignarchitects.com

NEWS: Housing boost for Erdington as Witton Lodge CIC becomes official Registered Provider

Words by Steve Sharma / Pic of refurbishment supplied by WLCA

Hundreds more homes could now be refurbished and built across Erdington, as Witton Lodge Community Interest Company (WLCIC) has successfully become a Registered Provider.

The official status will allow the Perry Common based WLCIC to apply for funding to refurbish derelict properties, as well as to build new affordable and social housing – helping to address the city’s ongoing housing crisis.

According to the Birmingham City Council, Birmingham is facing a population increase of around 156,000 people by 2031 – leaving a housing shortage of nearly 90,000 homes.

Gareth Hopkins, Homes and Assets Manager for Witton Lodge, said: “Achieving Registered Provider status enables Witton Lodge CIC to progress its housing development aspirations.

“There are currently around 17,000 housing applicants on Birmingham City Council’s waiting list (May 2021) and over 9,000 empty properties across the city (August 2019)

“Homes England (the national government agency for development and regulation of affordable housing) has a national funding pot to address the housing shortage.

“By becoming a Registered Provider we can now apply directly for funding to develop and manage properties.

“We can now pursue the refurbishment of even more empty properties, those which have become a blight on local communities and can cause issues such as anti-social behaviour.”

Before/after refurbishment by WLCIC

Witton Lodge Community Interest Company was formed in 2015 as a subsidiary of Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) to progress housing and community asset development goals.

WLCA is a charity with a successful track record of community-led housing and capital asset development across North Birmingham – established by local residents in 1994, in response to plans to demolish the Perry Common estate.

Since then, WLCA have built and manage 187 properties, as well as developing other community assets such Perry Common Community Hall and Perry Common Library.

The Association organises and delivers a rolling programme of community support and engagement activities – tackling issues from employment and digital poverty to health and wellbeing, many of which became crucial lifelines during lockdowns.

WLCA are also currently running special employment support services from Perry Common Library as part of the Ignite Aspirations initiative, to help people over 29 get back to work after Covid.

Chief Officer, Afzal Hussain, said: “We’re delighted that Witton Lodge CIC has achieved Registered Provider status. The team and Board have worked hard to get us to this stage, however, in many ways the real work starts now as we know there is huge demand for good quality, affordable homes.

“Another important feature is the ‘community-led’ element, where we are able demonstrate that there is a different model to developing new housing, which works with the grain of local communities.

“The work of the CIC will also complement the charitable activities of the Association which provides health, employment and community support services to hundreds of local residents.”

For more on Witton Lodge Community Association visit wwwwittonlodge.org.uk

NEWS: North Birmingham Economic Recovery: Jobs and Skills Fair – to be held online 17th June

Words by Steve Sharma / Pic supplied by WLCA

On Thursday 17th June, the North Birmingham Economic Recovery: Jobs and Skills Fair will be held online – giving people across Erdington and beyond information about opportunities from some of the region’s biggest employers.

The event will be held live on Zoom from 10:30am on 17th June, featuring representatives from HS2, Commonwealth Games, IM Properties, and South & City College Birmingham.

To join the North Birmingham Economic Recovery: Jobs and Skills Fair simply log on at: http://bit.ly/jobsfairnber

Presentations from these organisations will give local job seekers the chance to hear about current employment vacancies, recruitment and training schemes while small and medium size enterprises can learn about opportunities for business development and growth.

Starting at 10.30am, the Fair will be delivered into two sessions.

The first will showcase employment opportunities while the second will invite participants to join breakout rooms where they can talk directly to the featured organisations as well as employment coaches.

Afzal Hussain, Chief Officer at Witton Lodge Community Association, which facilitates the North Birmingham Economic Recovery Task force, said: ” This unique partnership is creating jobs, procurement and skills opportunities and connecting these to local communities and businesses in North Birmingham.

As we emerge from the pandemic, it is essential that we reinvigorate the local economy and the Jobs Fair is one practical response that will aid job recovery locally.”

The Fair will also feature the official launch of the Business, Employment Support and Training – BEST web portal.

Afzal added “The portal has been designed to give residents direct access to task force partner employment, business and training opportunities. Support will be available for those requiring help to access or apply for opportunities.”

Erdington MP Jack Dromey said: “The North Birmingham Economic Recovery Plan will be vital if our community is to bounce back from the challenges of Covid. Unemployment was already high before the pandemic, now it stands at double the national average.

“It is clear that action is needed, and this plan will bring a range of organisations together to support those who are seeking work to learn new skills and to find sustainable employment.

“We have a range of fantastic local organisations that are rooted in the local community, by working together I know we can tackle the scourge of unemployment and provide renewed opportunities for people across North Birmingham.”

The Jobs and Skills fair takes place on Zoom from 10.30am to 12 noon on Thursday June 17th. People can join the event by simply entering the link: http://bit.ly/jobsfairnber

 For more information about the Jobs Fair please call Jobeda on 0121 382 1930 or email: Jobeda.shahed@wittonlodge.org.uk

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

NEWS: Outstanding – the impact of the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce

Words by Steve Sharma, photography by Ed King

The Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce, established in April, has raised almost £400,000 to support the district’s vulnerable residents.

As of the 18th of June, fundraising in support of individuals and families in critical need of help reached £382,963.

The Taskforce has also mobilised an army of 244 volunteers to ensure the level of support, care and provision people have required during these unprecedented times is delivered via a co-ordinated, targeted and strategic response.

A total of 9,575 food parcels have been distributed to the elderly and needy across the constituency while online and bespoke support services have also been rolled out to safeguard people’s mental health and wellbeing.

Erdington Local, which houses the online address book of local support compiled by the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce, has reached over 27,325 people since the database was first published on 7th May – seeing over 2972 people engage directly with the newspaper, looking for essentials services and help throughout the coronavirus crisis and lock down.

Established to create a united community-based response against coronavirus, the Taskforce has connected numerous local groups, networks and organisations in order to assist those in need. A total of 1,437 residents have been supported.

As well as distributing food and household supplies, volunteers have been submitting and collecting medical prescriptions for people and providing befriending support, advice and guidance – delivering 7,154 wellbeing activities such as telephone calls and online support sessions.

Witton Lodge Community Association is a member of the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce and facilitates delivery of its services.

Chief Officer, Afzal Hussain, said the success of the Taskforce is an example of what can be achieved through collaborative and partnership working.

From the beginning the Taskforce has been focused on delivering proactive and responsive services where the need is greatest,” he said.

Every member organisation has demonstrated commitment and resilience to collaborating and co-ordinating the kind of support and activities which people have needed to be safe and healthy. 

This united approach has helped the Taskforce to achieve such an outstanding impact.”

Meanwhile, Erdington MP, Jack Dromey – also part of the Taskforce – and whose office has directly supported 480 COVID19 related cases since the outbreak of the pandemic, said his constituency is full of heroes.

The Erdington Task Force has been a vital lifeline for thousands of local residents in their hour of need,” he said.

COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the most vulnerable in our community and the work of the organisations and volunteers involved has provided crucial support. 

The commitment and dedication of all those involved has been outstanding, and the Task Force demonstrates the fantastic community spirit that is alive and well here in Erdington. 

I am proud to have been involved with the Taskforce throughout this crisis and I want to pay tribute to all those involved for their heroic efforts.”

‘We’ll be there for you’ – Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce

To visit the COVID-19 Local Support database and address book, visit www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19-local-support

FEATURE: “I don’t think I would have survived the lockdown without my volunteering,” – Erdington local woman’s cry for more community support

Words by Steve Sharma / Pics courtesy of Erdington Local Community Response

A local woman helping an Erdington community support group to deliver food and essential supplies, and safeguard elderly and vulnerable residents, says volunteering has saved her life.

Donna Tone said her experience working alongside Mutual Aid Group, Erdington Local Community Response, has helped her to survive the lockdown.

At the start of Volunteers Week (June 1-7) the primary school worker is now urging others to follow her example and reap the ‘amazing’ benefits it brings.

“Should people volunteer? Absolutely,” she said. “Because you are not only doing good for others but for yourself too. My self-esteem and confidence have increased massively since I started volunteering and I’ve made some amazing friends and met some lovely people.e 

“At the beginning of the lockdown I felt very isolated with my family living far away from me – but my volunteering has changed that. I now feel uplifted as a person. I don’t think I would have survived the lockdown without my volunteering – it saved me.” 

Donna, who has spent the last three months helping to pack and distribute food parcels from a base in Ladywood, points to the collective efforts and unity of those working to support those in need.

“It’s like your own little community,” she said.

“One minute you’ve got these strangers standing behind you, the next minute they’re becoming your friends. 

“You just start talking to people and form connections, everyone is there to help each other, they are invested in the collective effort. Everyone is united.” 

Erdington Local Community Response was founded by local woman Jo Bull. It has been delivering hundreds of food parcels every week to homes across the district and supporting people through befriending services and via social media with information and resources shared on its Facebook page.

David Owen, who co-ordinates activity for the group, said the support it has received has been ‘eye-watering’ but with certain lockdown measures now being eased and people returning to their day jobs, volunteers are needed to sustain the help that’s being delivered to people.

“The take up of volunteers in Erdington has been immense with over 70 people giving up their time to pack, shop and deliver for those in need,” he said.

“But as these people return to work, we need a new wave of volunteers to get us through the weeks and months ahead. 

“So, if anyone out there, who lives in the North Birmingham area, can spare some time to help our group over the coming weeks we’d really love to hear from them. Please email me at: erdingtoncv19@gmail.com” 

Erdington Local Community Response is a member of the Erdington COVID19 Taskforce – a network of local community organisations and individuals working together to support the district’s vulnerable, isolated and at risk during the Coronavirus pandemic.

The Taskforce is facilitated by Witton Lodge Community Association. Chief Officer, Afzal Hussain, commented: “Volunteers are the lifeblood of organisations like ours and their efforts across the constituency in support of organisations like Erdington Local Community Response has been truly inspiring. 

“We have also benefited from their incredible and selfless work in getting food parcels packed and delivered to the most vulnerable members of our community during the lockdown.

“Without their support a lot of the work that has been achieved would not have been possible. We are all very grateful to every single one of our amazing volunteers.”

To visit the Erdington Local Community Response (to COVID-19) Facebook group, where you ask for help and support during the coronavirus crisis – or offer your services as a volunteer, visit www.facebook.com/groups/625073991557017

A directory of all Erdington COVID19 Taskforce organisations can be found by visiting: www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19-local-support

Volunteers’ Week runs across the UK from 1st to 7th June – for more information, visit www.volunteersweek.org

FEATURE: Witton Lodge Community Association reaches out to local residents – as part of the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce

Words & pics by Ed King / Video by Paul Withers – Erdington Local Broadcast Unit

A special Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce has been set up in response to the coronavirus crisis, with Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) reaching out to local residents with food parcels and support services – outreach activity mirrored by community hubs and support groups across the constituency.

Established as the pandemic reached more critical levels for the UK during March, the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce is a ‘collaborative approach and co-ordinated effort’ involving many of the constituency’s community groups and care providers – alongside Jack Dromey MP, Councillor Robert Alden, representatives from Birmingham City Council, and further political and community figures known in the area.

Speaking directly to Erdington Local about the coronavirus crisis, Jack Dromey MP says: “The COVID-19 crisis is the most serious moment in our country’s history since World War II. The sheer scale of what is happening – and its social and economic impact – is frightening. But at a moment of crisis, it is crucial that community and country stand together.

As the crisis deepened four weeks ago, we moved to establish the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce to bring together those who can make a difference – to sustain our community and our citizens through these dreadful times.”

Chaired by Afzal Hussain, Chief Officer at Witton Lodge Community Association – who have been working in Perry Common since 1994, the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce has already begun a series of outreach activities focused on delivering vital public support and tackling the immediate issues effecting people across the area.

Following a call to arms to local residents and businesses, Witton Lodge Community Association have been receiving donations of food and essential goods which they are redistributing directly to households in their local community – adhering to the safety guidelines issued by Public Health England.

With a growing number of volunteers – working as parcel packers, drivers, administrators, and phoning locals residents to check directly on their wellbeing – the team at WLCA are delivering over 60 care packages those most vulnerable on Tuesdays and Fridays, alongside a daily schedule of further deliveries to the wider community.

“The absolute priority has to be welfare and safety… so people having those essential supplies,” explains Afzal Hussain.

“We already have residents, families, and individuals that we know need this support, so we’ve started with those. We are now having referrals; people are calling us, councillors and social workers and others are referring people to us, so we’ve mobilised our staff and volunteers to go and make sure those deliveries happen. We’ve scheduled those in so there are regular delivery slots a couple of times a week to do that.”

Responding to a health crisis such as coronavirus, a virulent disease that’s effecting countries and citizens around the world, takes a level of community action beyond that of WLCA’s usual support programme. But many in Erdington have already risen to the challenge, as the impact from coronavirus continues to dominate headlines, hearts and minds across the globe.

“We’re trying to reach out to those who can’t access basic provisions,” tells Marie Benjamin – Volunteer Co-ordinator at WLCA. “It’s vital right now, without support there could be people out there suffering a lot.”

Other issues highlighted by local residents are employment, financial support and advice, as well as the health and wellbeing concerns from being in prolonged self-isolation.

To effectively tackle these growing problems, the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce has been building a database of organisations called the Erdington Assets Register – with companies from Bromford Fish Bar to Birmingham Mind offering their time and resources to help deliver these important support services.

“The response has been amazing,” explains Debbie Bates – Health and Wellbeing Transformation Lead at Witton Lodge Community Association. “It’s been a collaborative approach and co-ordinated effort across Erdington, working to ensure people in the community get the help the need at this critical time.”

But as the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK continues to rise, alongside the death toll, there is still much more that needs to be done – by both Witton Lodge Community Association and the wider Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce.

Organisations are being encouraged to sign up to the Erdington Assets Register, strengthening the database of private and public sector groups that can provide support. Whilst individuals can make a significant difference by offering their time, energy, or donations of food and essential goods to the growing community outreach programme.

Volunteering is really important,” continues Afzal Hussain, “if there are supplies and food, we’ll happily take those. I think what I would say to groups and organisations who are there, who want to work together, is to come forward – we will add them to that emergency (Erdington) Asset Register.

We’re using that as the live platform; people can add their details, let everyone know what’s going on, what services they’re providing, and importantly they can collaborate with others in their neighbourhoods and communities.”

For anyone wanting to find out more about the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce, or to add their organisation to the Erdington Assets Register, please contact Witton Lodge Community Association on (0121) 382 1930 or email afzal.hussain@wittonlodge.org.uk

Organisations can also add their names directly onto the Erdington Assets Register, operated as a live platform and database, by clicking here.

People can also contact Witton Lodge Community Association though their website or social media, with full details found at www.wittonlodge.org.uk