FEATURE: No laughing matter, now nitrous oxide is illegal what changes will criminalising happy gas make to our streets?

Words & pics by Ed King (except lead image – Adobe)

On Wednesday 8 November, the British Government made nitrous oxide an illegal substance as per the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1971, effectively banning the recreational use of the ‘happy’ or ‘laughing’ gas which has seen a significant rise over recent years. Now registered as a Class C controlled substance, ‘serious users’ of nitrous oxide could face up to two years in prison.

Erdington Local looks at the ambitions of the legislation and the effects of both the ban and the drug on the wider community.

We’ve all seen them, small silver bottles that look like they belong in a SodaStream or balloon pump, lying scattered around park benches or bus stops. Nitrous oxide. Or the more colloquially known ‘laughing gas’ or ‘happy’ gas.

What was originally used to numb the pain of root canal surgery has been taken by recreational drug users since the 70s. But in recent years, the increasingly overt use of nitrous oxide has become a flashpoint for community concerns over anti-social behaviour and aggressive youth culture.

Nitrous oxide had already been recognised by the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, which addressed non-legitimate supply of the substance and issues such as direct sales to consumers and cannister sizes. But the Government further criminalised it as part of their Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan, making it a ‘criminal offence to be found in possession of (nitrous oxide) where its intended use is to be wrongfully inhaled’, or ‘to get high’.

As per the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, non-authorised possession of nitrous oxide is now as illegal the synthetic sedatives Diazepam and Temazepam.

The Home Office explains: “Associated antisocial behaviour causes wider harm felt by communities and to the environment. This includes group gatherings to abuse the drug in public spaces, such as children’s parks or high streets, and subsequent littering of the discarded canisters. There have also been deaths connected to drug driving incidents.”

Over on Castle Vale, many have welcomed the new law. One resident, Barabra, who lives neighbouring Centre Park, tells Erdington Local: “(Castle Vale) is going back to the eighties, to how it was with drugs, fighting all the while, kids out on the street.

“I’m a member of Families for Peace, I have been for 20 years, I don’t believe in guns, I don’t believe in knives, and I certainly don’t believe in drugs. I pay £10 a month for children to be kept off the street so that they’re kept safe.

“I’ll walk through here (Centre Park) at 5:30pm and they’ll all be high as a kite. You feel intimidated, you have to walk out of the park and walk all the way round. Why should we? I’ve got grandchildren.”

But many of the young people that live on Castle Vale don’t use nitrous oxide and feel they are being blamed for the actions of a few or are just “getting grief” from using local parks and public spaces when “there’s nowhere else to go”.

Likewise, in a review of nitrous oxide in 2021, requested by the then Home Secretary Priti Patel, the Independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) found the drug was already adequately covered by existing laws, officially stating: “the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 remains the appropriate drug legislation to tackle supply of nitrous oxide for non-legitimate use.”

The counterpoint to further criminalising nitrous oxide is that you would turn a legally available substance, one used predominately by young people, into a criminal offence overnight.

Over on Gravelly Hill North, Birmingham’s Youth Offending Team have traditionally operated from the Kingsmere Unit. Run by Birmingham Children’s Trust the future of the site is uncertain, but it has been a widely recognised starting point for many young people entering the criminal justice system

One ex-employee explains: “I think it’s a good idea the Government have now criminalised it along with other widely used recreational drugs, such as cannabis and amphetamine, as it is a dangerous substance and young people need to be educated about the potential harm. I think a lot of young people are just ignorant to the side effects of drugs and don’t really understand how damaging they can be.”

However, mirroring the findings recommendations from the ACMD report other professional bodies and individuals feel the move could cause more damage to young people than good.

One experienced services manager with over 25 years experience in the criminal justice system, supporting people suffering with significant drug and alcohol abuse issues, explains: “Legislation in itself will not make it safer for young people who use nitrous oxide, but it will push them into the criminal justice system and the long term effect of this could harm them more.”

Over their tenure they worked closely with the police, probation service, and a variety of partners and support agencies in the West Midlands and the Northeast.

They add: “As yet we do not know all the long term effects of this substance on individuals but it can cause both physical and mental health problems if abused. This is a Public Health problem and should be treated as such. The Criminal Justice approach will not make young people safer.”

Back on Castle Vale, local resident Barbara is concerned about the sizes of cannisters found in Centre Park. And as she works with the estate’s groundskeeper to clean up the mess left by a weekend of late summer sun, the immediate impact drug misuse has had on her family comes out in conversation.

“My son was a drug addict… I’ve just lost him. It would have been his fiftieth birthday tomorrow, and I’m in bits. He was off drugs at the finish, my grandson got him off them. He was off them for nearly two years, but he died from kidney failure.

“But this is all you see,” Barbara adds, picking an empty Sealy Bag up from the park grass.

“I told my son to get help, I took him to get help… but addicts don’t accept help. I spoke to the kids (in the park) last night, I asked where are your parents? They just told me it was none of my f’ing business. I’m worried they might hurt themselves… too damn right I am.”

But with extended or relaxed legislation, the answer to many social ills lies in the community itself. And when it comes to the little silver bottles, at least on Castle Vale, there is also a silver lining.

Cllr Ray Goodwin (Castle Vale Ward, Labour), explains what he and his team are doing to tackle the issues highlighted on the North Birmingham estate: “I have been working closely with worried residents, The Pioneer Group and Castle Vale Community Housing, our local police teams, and local youth organisations, to come with robust plan of action – we need to engage with young people and ensure they are engaged with other activities.

“Young people need good facilities and places for them to be actively involved in things. They need youth centres, creative outlets, and sports clubs to join, so they are not just hanging around parks and public spaces where their presence and actions can infringe on other members of the community – even if they did not intend to cause concern or trouble to others.

“This collaborative and proactive approach, and ongoing relationship building with young people and local services, is the best way to protect our young people, prevent them from accessing these clearly dangerous cannisters, and make our communities a safer and happier place for everyone to live in.”

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article and want to tell Erdington Local about it please email: mystory@erdingtonlocal.com

For more on the recent Government legislation over Nitrous Oxide visit www.gov.uk/government/news/possession-of-nitrous-oxide-is-now-illegal

NEWS: Erdington MP calls on Police Chief to “walk along Erdington High Street” over fears of “concerning levels of crime”

Words & pics by Ed King

Erdington MP Paulette Hamilton has called on the West Midlands Police Chief Constable to “walk along Erdington High Street” with her, to see firsthand the “concerning levels of crime and anti-social behaviour” that blight Erdington Town Centre.

In an open letter sent earlier this week to the region’s most senior police officer, Ms Hamilton MP raised the alarm over policing in the retail district – stating crime on the High Street was one of the “main reasons constituents contact my office” and that “despite considerable efforts” from both the police and local officials, the MP has “not seen a clear improvement in over a year”.

The letter, addressed to West Midlands Police (WMP) Chief Constable Craig Guildford and dated 21 September, goes on to challenge one of the key promises made by the regional police force – namely that WMP are committed to ‘Providing a service that works for local people’.

In response to this commitment, which is the first of the three ‘strategic pillars’ WMP outline in their official strategy for policing in the region, Ms Hamilton states this promise is “simply not being met when it comes to Erdington High Street”.

The letter concludes with a request for the Chief Constable to “reassure” the Erdington MP “the High Street is a priority” and an invitation to join Ms Hamilton “on a walk along Erdington High Street to discuss the next steps we can take together”.

At the time of writing, the Erdington MP’s office had received not yet received a response from Chief Constable Craig Guildford or WMP about the letter.

Crime and anti-social behaviour on Erdington High Street have long been a concern for local businesses, shoppers, and residents alike – with stores reportedly losing out on thousands a week from aggressive shoplifters, and members of the public telling Erdington Local they are increasing afraid to shop there.

Recently, the Erdington Business Improvement District employed a second Street Warden to help support local businesses and shoppers.

But a perceived lack of uniformed presence on the High Street has left both the private security and retail staff feeling dangerously unsupported, with members of the public also questioning where the police foot patrols have gone.

In West Midlands Police’s official strategy document, published on their website, the regional force declares a ‘new local policing model’ which will present ‘a local, visible police service, delivered in the heart of our diverse communities.’

Under the first heading of ‘Providing a service that works for local people’ – as referenced in the letter from Ms Hamilton MP – West Midlands Police say: ‘People can expect to see more officers spending more time in their local community, understanding and preventing local problems’.

Regarding crime on Erdington High Street specifically, Chief Constable Craig Guildford has previously told Erdington Local: “First and foremost we’re (WMP) absolutely committed to providing the best service we can to the residents, business owners, and any visitors to the High Street in Erdington.”

A meeting to discuss crime on the High Street alongside the local police teams, with local retailers and residents also invited to attend, has been scheduled for 19 October – as arranged by the Erdington MP’s office.

For more from Erdington MP Paulette Hamilton visit www.paulettehamilton.org

To read more about West Midlands Police’s ‘Mission, Vision, Values, Behaviours and Strategy’ visit www.west-midlands.police.uk/about-us/vision-values-strategy

LOCAL Q&A: John Hodgkiss, Erdington Town Centre Manager

Pics by Connor Pope & Ed King

John Hodgkiss was appointed Erdington Town Centre Manager in August 2022, after his longstanding predecessor, Terry Guest, left the role. Responsible for delivering the Erdington Business Improvement District (EBID) agenda, and supporting the businesses that finance the EBID, the position stands between the retail community and local stakeholders and blue light services.

Now a year in post, Erdington Local caught up with John Hodgkiss to look back at the last 12 months and sneak a peek at the next.

___________

What have been the biggest challenges facing Erdington High Street?

Like every town centre in the county, the cost of living crisis has continued to cause uncertainty for retailers and shoppers on the High Street.

This all comes at a time when town centres are moving in a new direction in the Post Covid era, such as becoming a home for community projects and charities able to connect more widely with those who need help.

The biggest challenge facing Erdington High Street has proven to be the raising level of crime and anti-social behaviour. To really be able to continue growing footfall and attract inward investment, it is vital that we work hard to reduce crime which will in turn change people’s perception of Erdington High Street, enabling us to do so much more when marketing the town centre in the future.

 

And what have been the main highlights and achievements from your time as Town Centre Manager?

The main highlight has been working with some of Erdington’s great charity projects. I haven’t worked in a town before with such a strong community as in Erdington. There is so much great work going on out there. Erdington is most certainly a leader in this field, but more work needs to be done here in getting the word out about these organisations, not only to Erdington residents, but Birmingham-wide.

The Christmas, Easter, and Jazz & Blues Festival events were great fun, and they were opportunities to welcome visitors from outside Erdington and showcase the town.

Another highlight has been applying for and securing funds over and above what we receive via BID levy in order to pay for extra events this winter and to employ a second Street Warden to patrol the High Street.

 

We agree, especially the Jazz & Blues Festival gigs at Oikos – any more events like this planned?

We’re really pleased with how the Birmingham Jazz and Blues gigs turned out. Despite the awful weather, the town pulled together to make sure the show went on.

It was the first time that Erdington had taken part in the city-wide festival. The feedback was extremely positive with great attendance. We have already been asked to take part again next year, so let’s hope we can make it even bigger and better in 2024 and attract people from all over Birmingham to attend.

 

As we head out of summer and into autumn and winter, are there any seasonal events in the pipeline – over Halloween or Christmas for example?

Believe it or not, we have been working on Christmas for a few weeks now, recruiting community members and volunteers to help make Christmas in Erdington even bigger and better this year.

We were really pleased with the turnout for the switch-on last year, but we aim to improve in 2023 and put on a great switch-on as well as other events throughout December.

November and December are crucial times for retail, so we want to work alongside retailers to bring in as many shoppers possible, reminding local residents and shoppers further afield that they can get so much of their Christmas shopping in Erdington.

 

The EBID was reinstated for its next five year tenure a few months before you took over, do you feel it is making headway on its campaign promises – to tackle crime, encourage higher footfall, and promote Erdington to a wider audience?

These issues are still those that are the most important to deliver for Erdington during the lifetime of this EBID tenure and it’s very evident how these goals are ultimately linked, with a ‘knock-on’ effect on each other.

As mentioned, crime is still the biggest issue facing Erdington at the moment. By recently employing a new Street Warden, we hope to see a decrease in anti-social behaviour and crime, making full use of the Public Space Protection Order.

Through getting to grips with crime, we would expect greater footfall, bringing back those shoppers who have been concerned to visit the High Street more recently. At this time, it is vital that we continue communicating the positives about Erdington far and wide and encourage shoppers to revisit and enjoy Erdington Town Centre. Therefore, it’s essential that these three promises stay at the top of the list for delivery.

 

The EBID recently helped set up meetings between the retail community, local police teams, and elected officials, to draft a 10 point plan for the High Street – can you update our readers on this?

The formation of this 10 point plan dates back to February this year with a public meeting to discuss a way forward with the crime situation in Erdington. The latest meeting took place in May and the next I believe is to go ahead in October (later confirmed to be scheduled for 19 October).

The EBID has been involved by offering to take details of crime from retailers on the High Street due to the wide-spread observation that they are unable to get though the 101 non-emergency number to report crime.

We were also very keen to help with the provision of a ‘pop-up’ police surgery, providing an essential point of contact for those affected by or concerned about crime on the High Street.

We are still waiting on updates on progression with these projects, which is why we felt it necessary to do what we could in the private sector, by seeking extra funding to employ another Street Warden to help alleviate the worsening situation right now.

We will continue to apply for extra funding where we can ‘step-up’ what the EBID is able to do in order to achieve lower crime rates in Erdington.

 

You have a strong history of working with BIDs in London and the West Midlands, do you feel they work well with other local stakeholders – such as the Council and police?

BIDs can certainly work well and closely with other stakeholders, but it is important to clarify that BIDs are here to provide services over and above what public sector organisations are funded to provide.

The EBID brings in just over 100k per year, so we’re working hard at the moment to apply for as much extra funding as possible to deal with the crime situation and make sure that we also deliver the projects outlined and voted for in the business plan. Unfortunately, we are unable to ‘pick up’ funding shortages of others.

 

You mentioned to Erdington Local before that you were keen to establish Erdington High Street as and LGBTQ+ ‘safe space’, can you tell us any more about this ambition?

This came up in response to the report that there was a lack of grass roots LGBTQ+ support in North Birmingham and the fact the team at the Recovery Foundation had launched an LGBTQ+ support programme, ‘Rainbow Minds Matter’.

Together, we want to highlight the fact that Erdington is safe and supportive of the LGBTQ+ community by highlighting the safe spaces throughout the High Street. This is a project we will be working on in the near future to get the message of diversity and inclusivity across.

 

Are there any other aims for the EBID in the next twelve months?

Looking at the next 12 months, tackling crime will continue as a priority, evaluating the improvement on the High Street over this time.

We will continue reporting on the many positives regarding Erdington Town Centre, enhance our events programme, and increase a higher percentage of shoppers from outside Birmingham.

Another important aim is to attract new retailers, both national and independent into Erdington Town Centre.

 

If you could wave a magic wand and change any aspect of Erdington High Street overnight, what would you want to see when you woke up in the morning?

I would love to see Erdington as leading the way in what a quickly evolving British town centre looks like. So many town centres are in a transition period at the moment due to many external and economic pressures not experienced to this extent before.

The exemplary community projects are here in Erdington already, so an ambition would be to have an Erdington Community Hub with a home on the High Street, to bring together as many opportunities and assistance together for the community together in one place and the perfect way to shout about everything Erdington!

For more on the Erdington Business Improvement District visit www.erdingtonhighstreet.co.uk or visit the EBID Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ErdingtonTownCentre

(Ed’s note: This LOCAL Q&A was first submitted to Erdington Local before the announcement of any Section 114 notice issued by Birmingham City Council.)

NEWS: Erdington BID enlists second Street Warden to tackle crime on High Street

Words & pics by Ed King

Erdington Business Improvement District (EBID) has enlisted a second Street Warden to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour on Erdington High Street.

Camran Montgomery-Ashiq is already getting on with the job, patrolling the retail district alongside existing Street Warden, John Lynch – with both men managed by longstanding local firm, Euro Guard Security.

Familiar with the problems facing Erdington’s retailers, Camran has family directly affected by the shoplifters and anti-social behaviour turning so many shoppers away.

“My brother is one of the managers on the High Street,” told Camran. “He introduced me to John (Lynch) who told me about the role and the company (Euro Guard Security) and I was interested.

“It’s life, people are going to shoplift and we’re here to stop them. But hopefully we’ll get the High Street back to how it used to be.”

Seeing two Street Wardens on Erdington High Street will be a welcome sight to many local retailers and residents. It also gives long needed support to John Lynch, who many regard as the only real defence against crime on the High Street.

“It makes me feel safer,” admits Lynch, “because I don’t get any support from the police. Now when it does get into a situation, I’ve got someone to back me up.”

Fulfilling part of the mandate that got the EBID re-elected in November 2021, the extra Street Warden is one step both the Erdington BID and Euro Guard Security are taking to turn the tide of criminality in the area.

Euro Guard Security Operations Manager, William Byrne, told Erdington Local: “First and foremost it was important to get another Street Warden along with John, due to the high risk in Erdington with things that are going on.

“The whole point of brining the wardens onto the (High) street is to make everybody’s environment a safer place to work, and a safer place to be in. Hopefully, if we can bring some of that to the High Street we may then increase the footfall which will in turn benefit the shops.”

And with many of retailers relying on them in the absence of more police presence, Byrne recognises “having the Street Wardens is an integral part of keeping Erdington safe.”

John Hodgkiss, Erdington BID and Town Centre Manager, added: “From the beginning of this year the (EBID) board recognised that crime and anti-social behaviour was one of the biggest – if the not biggest – issues facing Erdington Town Centre. So, back in February we started consulting with BID levy payers and the public, and we realised that we really needed to do something to tackle these major issues.

“It’s great to now have Cam on board to enhance all the great work that John (Lynch – original Street Warden) does, and to have support and help for him.”

“It’s (crime on the High Street) basically one of our biggest problems; we want to improve inward investment into Erdington Town Centre, we want to increase footfall, we want to bring new retailers in, and one of the only ways that we’re actually going to do this is if we tackle the crime issue and start getting the positives in.

“The BID essentially a private sector organisation, and our levy payers are paying over and above on their business rates to pay for these enhanced services (Street Wardens).

“But it would be nice to have some extra help from the public sector.”

For more on the Erdington Business Improvement District visit www.facebook.com/erdingtonBID

NEWS: BoyleSports appeal against Planning Committee ruling over new High Street betting shop

Words & pics by Ed King  (image of Paulette Hamilton supplied)

BoyleSports (UK) are appealing a Birmingham City Council (BCC) decision to refuse planning consent for their proposed new betting shop at 56 High Street, Erdington.

After getting the knockback from the BCC Planning Committee on Thursday, 28 July – where all members present voted against the proposed application – the Ireland born betting giant has now taken its appeal to the national Planning Inspectorate.

Plans to convert the once HSBC bank into a betting shop were also heavily contested by local residents, community groups, and elected officials from both sides of the aisle.

The deadline for representation is 2 February, where people can contact the Planning Inspectorate either in favour of or against the appeal – with many local campaigners and elected representatives encouraging locals to once again help block the application.

To contact the national Planning Inspectorate over the BoyleSports appeal, visit www.gov.uk/appeal-planning-inspectorate – click ‘Start now’ and ‘search’ for case 3307082.

Originally presented to Birmingham City Council in March 2022, BoyleSports (UK) had applied to turn the planning consent for the ground floor premises at 56 High Street, Erdington, from ‘Class E’ into ‘Sui Generis’ – allowing them to covert old HSBC bank into a gambling outlet.

The planning requests from BoyleSport (UK) also included an application to turn the first floor of the building into ‘self contained flats’, where it had previously been used for ‘office space’.

Launched in Ireland in 1982 by John Boyle, BoyleSports entered the UK gambling market in 2019 after buying out the independent bookmaker Wilf Gilbert – taking over 13 betting shops across the Midlands.

According to the Belfast Telegraph, as of May 2022 BoyleSports operates ‘more than 340 shops across the UK and Ireland, including 45 stores in Northern Ireland and two on the Isle of Man.’

Erdington High Street currently has seven betting shops open, one of which is already operated by BoyleSports (UK).

Official objections to were made in the initial BCC Planning Committee meeting on 7 July by Cllr Robert Alden (Con, Erdington), Sargent Ellis from the Neighbourhood Police Team (NPT), and ‘a local resident’.

The planning officer’s report cited ‘increased litter’, the threat of ‘anti-social behaviour/crime’, and ‘increased demand for on-street parking’ as driving factors behind the objections. T

he report further stated the site’s requested opening hours ‘are excessive’ and ‘would be detrimental to residential amenity’, which could also ‘impact on (Erdington’s) application for Levelling Up funding.’

Objections were also made by more local residents, campaign groups, and Paulette Hamilton – with the Erdington MP challenging the current appeal made by BoyleSports directly to Leader of the House of Commons.

BCC’s final decision to refuse BoyleSports’s requested change of planning consent for 56 High Street, despite it initially being ‘acceptable in principle’, was based on the grounds another betting shop ‘would fail to maintain or enhance the vitality and viability’ of the area and ‘would result in an increased fear of crime and anti-social behaviour’.

Crucially, the Council’s decision cited these reasons as conflicting with Policies TP21 and TP24 of the Birmingham Development Plan 2017, Policy PG3 of the Birmingham Development Plan 2017, and the National Planning Policy Framework.

Aside from galvanising local campaigners and residents, the application to green light another betting shop on Erdington High Street incensed political figureheads on both sides of the aisle – with more than one laying claim to the challenge.

Cllr Robert Alden (Con, Erdington) told Erdington Local: “Thank you to all the residents who signed the petition I submitted objecting to the original application, and for all the residents who supported protests against the application, this helped secure the rejection of the application.

“Now we need one more push as the applicant has appealed to the independent national Planning Inspectorate.

“When I spoke against the application at the Planning Committee meeting, they agreed with myself and residents that the application was wrong for Erdington.

“We now need residents to comment again and show the Planning Inspectorate that this application for another betting shop is wrong for Erdington and they should reject the appeal.

Cllr Gareth Moore (Con, Erdington), who sits on BCC’s Planning Committee and had previously been legally unable to comment, added: “It is vital people looking to comment on the appeal focus on the reasons the Council gave for refusing the application.

“The proposed development would provide a non-retail use that would fail to maintain or enhance the vitality and viability of the Erdington Local Centre or protect its primary retail function.

“The proposed development would result in an increased fear of crime and anti-social behaviour and would fail to create a safe environment that promotes positive social interaction.”

Cllr Moore further identified the relevant policies within the Birmingham Development Plan 2017 and National Planning Policy Framework – as referenced above.

Local resident and campaigner Basharat Dad, who ran as a Labour candidate for the Erdington Ward in the May local elections, also told Erdington Local: “I led the original campaign and our petition, supported by our local MP Paulette Hamilton and Police, was signed by hundreds of residents, community organisations and businesses all objecting to another betting shop coming to our High Street.

“It was rightly refused by Birmingham City Council. The company has now gone to government and appealed against the council decision. I now have led another campaign so that residents can write directly to the Planning Inspectorate and object, we will keep on persevering!”

Erdington MP Paulette Hamilton (Labour) added: “Last year, following a campaign I led with local people, Birmingham City Council made the right decision and rejected the application that would have opened an eighth bookies on our High Street.

“The gambling bosses are now appealing to the Government to overturn the wishes of local people. It’s very telling when gambling bosses believe they stand a chance of securing another bookies on our High Street by appealing to Ministers. You can tell whose side the Government is on, and it is not the side of local people.

“I have submitted my objection to the appeal and would urge everyone make their voice count by saying no to another betting shop on Erdington High Street.”

Any concerned parties can contact the Planning Inspectorate, either in favour or against the appeal made by BoyleSports (UK), by visiting: www.acp.planninginspectorate.gov.uk and searching for ‘case 3307082’.

For more on BoylesSport visit: www.boylesports.com

Anyone seeking help over issues around gambling, please visit: www.nhs.uk/live-well/addiction-support/gambling-addiction

NEWS: West Midlands Crime Commissioner celebrates ‘fantastic job’ by Erdington Street Pastors

Words & pics by Ed King

On Saturday 13 November, the Erdington Street Pastors were joined on their morning patrol by West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner Simon Foster – walking with the team up and down Erdington High Street.

Celebrating the efforts of the Street Pastors, Simon Foster told Erdington Local: “My message to the Street Pastors is that they’re doing a fantastic job on Erdington High Street.

“I think it’s a brilliant initiative and I’ve been very pleased to support it as Police and Crime Commissioner.

“It really does help the neighbourhood police teams; helping them prevent crime, protect people, and ensuring that vulnerable people are kept safe.”

Erdington MP Jack Dromey, who also joined the Street Pastors and Simon Foster on patrol and talking to people on Erdington High Street, added: “The Street Pastors reassure the local community that the High Street is a welcoming place that they can go to.

“As Simon (Foster) has said, they reach to and put their arms around sometimes some of the most vulnerable in our community who have fallen through the net and as a consequence of which sometime behave badly.”

A global initiative, Street Pastors are currently active in over 240 cities and town across the UK – including 20 in the West Midlands alone. Twelve Street Pastors have been patrolling Erdington High Street since their ‘commissioning’ on Saturday 18 September.

Working with the police and local community leaders/groups, the Street Pastors help tackle issues around anti-social behaviour and public disturbances, whilst offering a friendly face for anyone who needs help or just wants to talk.

Pastor Rasaq Ibrahim is lead pastor at the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) in Erdington and Chair of the Erdington Street Pastors, who joined with churches across Erdington to bring the inititive to the area.

An active Street Pastor himself, Pastor Rasaq led the Saturday morning team on patrol with Simon Foster and Joack Dromey. He told Erdington Local: “It’s greta to have Simon (Foster) join us on patrol in Erdington, he has been humbly walking with us for two hours – meeting popel and seeing what we do.

“Erdington Street Pastor have been well supported by the West Midlands Crime Commissioner’s office and we look forward to building on that partnership.”

But since 2010 the West Midlands has had £175m pulled from its policing budget, seeing a drop of over 2000 police officers – around 25% of those in active service, and over 50% allocated to community policing..

Recently re-elected as Police and Crime Commissioner for the region, Simon Foster has put this top of his agenda.

He added: “My key campaign pledge is to rebuild community policing in the West Midlands because I think dismantling it was a big mistake; it was counterproductive, it’s a false economy

“It’s really important that we have community initiatives like the Street Pastors, like Neighbourhood Watch, like Street Watch, Speed Watch, Street Wardens, all of those different projects play a really important role in providing that help, reassurance, and support to local communities.”

A very real concern for many across Erdington, Jack Dromey has been hearing about street safety from local residents during sessions at his surgery.

He explained: “If you lose 2000 police officers, if you lose so much of the social fabric that diverts young people from crime, what you see as day follows night is a rising crime and that’s wrong.

“Time, and time, and time again I get people who come to my surgery – people I’ve met today on the High Street here with Simon (Foster) – who say, at the most extreme, we’re afraid to go out at night, we no longer feel comfortable in our community, on our High Street. That is absolutely and fundamentally wrong.”

For more information about the Erdington Street Pastors and to see if you can get involved email Pastor Rasaq at chair.erdington@streetpastors.org.uk

For more on the Street Pastors initiative visit www.streetpastors.org

NEWS: Erdington Street Pastors are now on patrol

Words by Adam Smith

The first Street Pastors were commissioned this week, with a ceremony taking on Saturday 18 September. The uniformed support workers are set to become familiar faces in Erdington patrolling the High Street.

The outdoor commissioning ceremony was held near Costa Coffee, where 12 volunteers from local churches were given the relevant powers by The Ascension Trust to become Street Pastors.

First launched in 2003 in Brixton there are now 240 towns and high streets in the UK where The Ascention Trust have trained volunteers to provide a reassuring presence during the day and night.

Erdington MP Jack Dromey and Assistant West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner Tom McNeil attended the service.

Erdington Street Pastors chairman Rasaq Ibrahim told Erdington Local: “This has been a journey of ten months to get to this point.

“We had a target of 20 pastors to start with but at the moment we have 12. We will be recruiting more in October and I urge anyone who believes they could be a street pastor to get in touch.

“Eventually we hope to patrol the High Street every day but for now we can only do twice a week, Mondays and Saturdays for a few hours at a time.”

He added: “We will engage with everyone on the High Street, no matter their race or religion, we want to be recognisable and be there to help people who need help.”

Mel Taylor, from Six Ways Baptist Church, was commissioned as a Street Pastor and is looking forward to starting his role.

He said: “I have lived in Erdington for a long while and have seen the difference food banks have made so I wanted to get involved.

“Through the foodbank I have got to see the problems local people face and I think being a Street Pastor will help me help others.”

Erdington MP Jack Dromey believes the new Street Pastors will make a difference to the High Street.

He said: “The High Street has been in decline for years and the launch of Street Pastors initiative is a landmark.

“What we badly need is local people, from the churches, patrolling the High Street combating crime and anti-social behaviour but also reaching out to the vulnerable.

“I think it is an outstanding initiative and will hopefully go some way to tackle people who are causing problems for the High Street.”

He added: “The Street Pastors along with the investment we hopefuly will get from the Levelling Up fund will make a huge difference to Erdington High Street.”

Assistant West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner Tom McNeil spoke to the Street Pastors and members of the public on the High Street.

He said: “We support the Street Pastors and are very grateful for the work they will be doing.

“The PCC Simon Foster is very aware of this project and is happy to be funding it and he has said he will go out with the Street Pastors as soon as is possible.

“The kind of work Erdington Street Pastors will be doing is so important because people will respond to them as they will know they are coming from a place of compassion, and they will be part of the community.

“The privilege is ours and we look forward to working with the Street Pastors in the future.”

If you believe you could be a Street Pastor email chair.erdington@streetpastors.org.uk and for more information – or visit www.ascensiontrust.org/street-pastors

NEWS: Erdington Street Pastors take to the streets with official ‘commissioning’ ceremony

Words by Ed King

Erdington will the see the ‘commissioning’ of twelve Street Pastors on Saturday 18 September, at a public event taking place outside Costa Coffee on the High Street from 11am.

From Saturday onward a dozen Street Pastors will be patrolling the streets of Erdington, after being officially welcomed into the community during a ceremony from the nationwide Ascension Trust  – who pioneered the original Street Pastors project in 2003 in London.

Working with the police and local community leaders/groups, the Street Pastors will be helping to tackle issues around anti-social behaviour and public disturbances, whilst offering a friendly face for anyone who needs help or just wants to talk.

A global initiative, Street Pastors are working in communities across the world – with teams active in over 240 cities and town across the UK, including 20 in the West Midlands alone.

Recruitment is also already underway for more volunteers, with plans to train a further 20 Street Pastors from October – who will be active across Erdington in groups of twos and threes from November 2021.

Speaking at the commissioning event for the first twelve Erdington Street Pastors on Saturday 18 September will be the West Midlands Assistant Police Crime Commissioner, Tom McNeil, who will be making the keynote speech to welcome the initial team.

Also addressing both the public and Street Pastors will be MP for Erdington Jack Dromey, Pastor Rasaq Ibrahim from the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), and a selected group of civic and Church leaders.

Pastor Rasaq is the Chair of the management committee for the Erdington Streets Pastors project.

Pastor Rasaq told Erdington Local: “The Erdington Street Pastors are a chance for the Church to get out onto the streets – to help, listen to, and care for the people of Erdington. They will be there to offer support to everyone, no matter what faith or background the Street Pastors will be there to help.

“Erdington has seen an increase in crime an anti-social behaviour and the Street Pastors will be working with the police to tackle these ills in our community.

“There are Street Pastors working in cities and community across the world, and they have been proven to help reduce crime and increase support for the community.

“The Street Pastors are going to give people in Erdington another layer of support and will be a visible helping hand on the High Street and further across the constituency.

“Anyone looking to join the Erdington Street Pastors should get in touch – we offer full training and support, taking in new recruits from October.”

For more information about the Erdington Street Pastors and to see if you can get involved email Pastor Rasaq at chair.erdington@streetpastors.org.uk