REVIEW: Eau da Funk’s debut gig at the first Evening of Creativity of 2023, alongside Elena Mylonas and Olivia Wilkes

Words & pics by Leni Remedios

“Music moves the world” is our motto, says Tony, guitarist of Eau da Funk, headliner of 2023’s first edition of the Evening of Creativity (EoC) – held at Oikos Café on Friday 20 January.

The world did move indeed, and so did everybody’s feet at the notes of this incredible band.

It was their very first gig, after having formed last year, and as a debut performance it was impressive – delivering a wide range of classics from James Brown to Lenny Kravitz and Kings of Leon.

Eau da Funk was founded soon after lockdown, when Tony was looking for other musicians to create a new project. Two of them are Erdington locals. “We got in touch online at first and we immediately understood that, beyond the different music tastes, we were united by a common ground,” explained Tony.

In fact, their range of music, as explained by their lead singer Sofire: “goes from funk to soul, to reggae and rock music, but also gospel, which is a big influence on our music. God is also very important to us.”

A diversity also reflected in the different backgrounds of the band members, each of them coming from English, Polish, or Caribbean heritage. Eau da Funk are also planning to compose their own songs.

In a packed Oikos Café, the Friday night crowd saw further performances from Elena Mylonas and Olivia Wilkes, both vocal coaches.

Elena performed songs by The Cranberries and Dolly Parton, but also her own song ‘Rose’ accompanied by some musicians from Eau da Funk (at the Evening of Creativity events, spontaneous collaboration between the artists is often involved). She started playing guitar at 11 years old in her native Greece, and after attending Birmingham University aged 23 she started teaching as a vocal coach.

Backstage, Elena revealed details about her song writing and approach to performing: “When I was younger, in Greece, for some reason everybody expected me to play only cheerful songs.

“Furthermore, people in the music industry were requiring from me to adhere to certain beauty standards, asking me to appear more sexy or girlish. I felt really uncomfortable with it, especially after the death of my brother about seven years ago.

“I needed to express my grief somehow, and music gave me the perfect opportunity to channel those feelings. I wasn’t fitting in the Greek scene of the time though, so I decided to move to the UK, where there is a long tradition of ballads and a broader variety of music genres.”

Elena regularly performs both original songs and covers with bands in small venues, with her debut album set for release in the coming months.

Olivia Wilkes was another big surprise. With her powerful voice, she offered her own rendition of classics from Nina Simone to Nirvana, but backstage further disclosed she is working on original material. Her upcoming gigs include Saturday 27 January at Deadwax and Friday 10 February at the Gunmakers Arms.

Olivia’s performance was followed by Josh, the guitarist and lead singer of the indie-rock band The Shore. He performed the original single ‘Left Alone’, and you can see him and his band on 28 January at The Victoria, in Birmingham City Centre.

The event also welcomed an extraordinary community activist and writer, Veronica ‘Judith’ Asare, who opened the evening talking about her book, The Healing Power of Grace – a journey about a terrible accident that changed her life.

Judith, a practicing Christian, never fell into the darkness thanks to her faith. On the contrary, she found motivation in helping others and funded the charity Judith Ark of Hope Foundation – through which, as a qualified counsellor, she helps people such as single parents, people in jail and their families, and refugees. She gives them hope, providing food, clothes, and psychological support.

“I met her about six years ago, in an outdoor event where she was promoting her charity,” says Michael – who was supporting Judith during her EoC performance. “I was going through a very dark phase in my life, she helped my family and me, and she adopted me as her child.”

Judith Ark of Hope operates in the Midlands but also offers help and support elsewhere, reaching London, Manchester, and other areas.

Another highlight of the night was the reading by Laura Liptrot – actress, poet, and playwright from Stourbridge – who started acting at just six years old. The Evening of Creativity audience was captivated by her lively performance and expressions.

Laura’s new poetry book, Cocktails, is about to be launched; already available on Kindle digital edition, the paperback will be available by the end of the month.

Finally, the event also saw the participation of some ‘regulars’ of the EoC, such as resident poet Simon, reading some of his poetry. Mitch Thomas also showed the audience a piece of her ceramic collection and talked about her artistic journey.

Then was a performance by the duo Stefan Stefanov and Nathan Czeszejko-Sochacki. Stefan is a guitarist and music teacher who is very active in the community, whilst the younger Nathan has been singing and playing ukulele, guitar, and piano at EoC events for about a year.

They performed ‘Hotel California’ and a gospel gypsy song. “All around the World Music,” so Stefan defines his style, and you can see him perform every Sunday at the Bulgaria Church by Six Ways from 5pm.

The Evening of Creativity is founded and hosted by the Erdington Arts Forum – who engages people with workshops, exhibitions, training programmes, exhibitions, and music performances.

Next month’s Evening of Creativity will be held at Oikos Café on Erdington High Street from 6:30pm on Friday 17 February, with advance tickets costing between £5-£6.13

For more on Erdington Arts forum visit: www.facebook.com/ErdingtonArts

For more from Oikos Café visit www.oikoscafe.co.uk

NEWS: Eau da Funk and Olivia Wilkes to headline Evening of Creativity on Friday 20 January

Words by Leni Remedios / Pics supplied by Erdington Arts Forum

2023 starts with two extraordinary headline acts at this month’s Evening of Creativity, Eau Da Funk and Olivia Wilkes – to be held at Oikos Café on Friday 20 January, as organised by the Erdington Arts Forum.

Eau Da Funk is a six-piece covers/function band delivering an eclectic repertoire of funk, soul, pop, reggae, and RnB.

They only started playing together in 2022, formed in Birmingham, and Erdington Arts Forum is extremely excited to host this newly formed band.

January’s Evening of Creativity will also see the participation of outstanding singer and musician Olivia Wilkes. “My vocal tutoring journey started at a music school in my home town where I have taught 45+ students in face to face private lessons,” says Olivia, a singing coach who has a long experience in teaching different genres, from musical theatre to heavier tracks.

Since the age of 15, Wilkes has performed in festivals, weddings, and charity days, collaborated with a lot of musicians and featured on local radio stations, including BBC Radio Stoke.

But that’s not all for the first Evening of Creativity of 2023.

Greek singer and musician Elena Mylonas will be also featuring on the January line up, delighting the audience with her pop rock songs.

Also on the bill will be Mitch Thomas, a regular of the Evening of Creativity, introducing to the audience her ceramic artwork “influenced by love,” alongside a poetry reading by Laura Liptrot – a Stourbridge based actor and playwright.

Members of Arts All Over the Place, a local mental charity that has been active since 2007, will also speak about their community arts projects for adults with mental health problems.

Now a permanent fixture on the city’s cultural calendar, the family friendly Evening of Creativity events at Oikos often sell out – so organisers encourage people to buy advance tickets through a special Eventbrite page.

The Evening of Creativity was founded and hosted by Erdington Arts Forum, whose primary goal is to improve the status of artistic activity in the Erdington constituency. Erdington Arts Forum engages people with workshops, exhibitions, training programmes, exhibitions, and music performances.

This month’s Evening of Creativity will be held at Oikos Café on Erdington High Street from 6:30pm on Friday 20 January, with advance tickets around £5-6. Click here to book your ticket.

The event will also be broadcast live via the Erdington Arts Forum Facebook page: www.facebook.com/ErdingtonArts

Follow Erdington Arts Forum on Facebook and Instagram
For more from Oikos Café visit: https://www.oikoscafe.co.uk/

FEATURE: Artists Conversations (part two) – Queens of the Commonwealth with Waheeda Rahman-Mair

Words by Ed King / Pics and images supplied by Myah Barrah and Waheeda Rahman-Mair

Last month, Erdington Local ran the first in a series of articles inspired by the monthly Artists Conversations group – where local artists come together at the Secret Art Studio Space in Central square, every third Wednesday.

In part one, we heard what happened when Bunny met Louvinia, and the mural so many have enjoyed brightening up the walls of Coton Lane.

In part two, Erdington Local talks to Waheeda Rahman-Mair – a Birmingham-Bangladeshi artist commissioned through the Queens of the Commonwealth project, finding out more on the subjects she chose to depict and the double-edged sword of such a royal appointment.

“I saw how attached she was to the painting, and that’s what I love – I love that people actually do see themselves and that they do connect.”

Waheeda Rahman-Mair is a multi-disciplinary artist, working with a range of mediums from traditional oils on canvas to digital animation and graphics – with a BA (Hons) in Visual Communication: Animation and Moving Image and an impressive portfolio. A respected portrait artist, Waheeda has seen private commissions across the city, country, and even Atlantic Ocean.

Inspired by her ‘childhood fascination for cartoons and video games’, Waheeda grew up interested in art – moving from Handsworth Wood to Erdington about four years ago. She was referred to the Artists Conversations monthly meetings by a friend, after leaving her job as a visual and motion graphics designer with the Ember Regis Group.

“I was already working in Digbeth, from an office,” tells Waheeda, “but when the pandemic hit, I started working from home more often. I quit my job back in April to pursue being a full-time artist, and someone recommended I go to the Erdington Artists Conversations group meeting.

“I did, and it was really nice to meet local artists from Erdington and to explore the other side of the creative industry which is more about local communities – as opposed to being in an agency that works for larger clients. It was more like ‘what can we do as a community for the people locally and the people we live next door to.’

“I’m also part of another group which is to do with South Asian art creatives within the UK, which networks across the world.”

As Birmingham prepared to host the Commonwealth Games, a series of projects were commissioned as part of the Birmingham 2022 Festival – including the LGK Productions documentary Queens of the Commonwealth, where local filmmaker Panikos Panayiotou explored the ‘unique journey of 22 women from various Commonwealth nations’ after migrating to Birmingham.

Needing local artists for a supporting exhibition at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery – depicting the women featured in Panayiotou’s documentary in their own mediums and styles – a representative from the Birmingham 2022 Festival came to the Artists Conversations group offering commissions.

This is how Bunny met Louvina Moses. And this is how Waheeda would meet Darshan Bhumba and Pastor Yvonne Brooks, two more women featured in the LGK documentary.

Whaeed explains: “I started with conceptual designs (using Procreate) of how I wanted to draw them, based off the interviews and the photos I was looking through. Just a general vibe of who they are, if they angle their face in a certain way when they laugh or smile – and from these mannerisms I worked out how they should look, and I started sketching that out.

“Then I went on to Photoshop, where I can draw on screen, and then started to do the paintings whilst I was listening to the interviews.

“Hearing them, more of their mannerisms and the way they talk, was helping me pick out extra bits. Like when they were laughing, I could see the dimples come out, or that they do this extra gesture with their hands.”

But from 22 women to choose from, each with a unique and inspiring story to tell, it was Darshan and Yvonne that stood out for Waheeda.

“They were really strong resilient women,” she tells. “This came across from all the interviews, but especially with the two women I chose to paint. They both migrated from areas that were tough on them or the lifestyle was very different, and migrated to have a better life or to be reunited with family members.

“I thought that was such a meaningful and touching part of their lives that they exposed through the interviews. The fact that they shared such vulnerability in front of a camera, with people they didn’t know, just showed me how strong they are.”

The final digital drawings are similar in style, but strongly unique with the colours and iconography Waheed felt brought her subjects to life – such as the hydrangea engulfing Dashan, and the amber jewellery and background that adorns and surrounds Yvonne.

Deeply engaged with the women she was vicariously coming to know, Waheeda admits it was instinct that prompted some of her artistic choices – but on a chance meeting with Yvonne, her gut turned out to be right.

“I wanted to show that amber was part of her (Yvonne), that she is so warm, and glowing, and inviting to people. The circles also show how she connects people, and how (though her outreach work) she has made these circles of unified women.

“She told me ‘I’m so happy you put in the amber jewellery’, when she was in Jamaica she used to play with sap, which is where amber comes from. It’s part of her childhood… everything I guessed in her painting was solidified when I met her.”

Although Waheed was unable to meet Darshan, she was introduced to some of her close family members and reached more who know her muse through the Internet.

Waheeda continues: “Art is subjective, and I do worry sometimes… especially when I do portrait paintings, because people see themselves differently to how people see them from the exterior, they notice things about their face or their bodies that strangers wouldn’t see.

“I met one of her (Darshan) daughters and her husband, and they both said how I’d really captured her. And once I posted the painting on Instagram I had so many of her relatives say, ‘that’s my aunt; that’s my grandma… you’ve really captured her.’ It was reassuring to hear how many people had recognised in her in the painting.”

From Bunny’s widely embraced mural of Louvina Moses on Coton Lane, to Waheeda’s deeply personal depictions of Darshan Bhumba and Pastor Yvonne Brooks exhibited at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, the Queens of the Commonwealth project has been a significant showcase for these Erdington artists.

But the history of the British Empire, the foundation blocks to the Commonwealth, is still the elephant in the room– with the Commonwealth Games Chief Creative Officer, Martin Green, publicly criticised for having ‘sidestepped’ Birmingham’s ‘Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities’ when allocating Birmingham Festival 2022 funding.

“I made sure the projects I contributed to were addressing the racial aspects (of the Commonwealth),” tells Waheeda, whose family’s heritage is Bangladeshi.

“With the Queens of the Commonwealth, it was more about the women; these strong resilient women who’ve done things for the community, who are still doing things for the community.

“And I thought in that sense it was empowering to uplift other women, and that’s where I stood with the Queens of the Commonwealth project.

“In the interviews they did shed light that when they moved to England… it shocked them, and they weren’t afraid to say what they were truly feeling about migrating to England. I found that a reassuring aspect of this, and the fact it was more about the women really helped me find peace in this.

“There was another project I worked on which was about the opinions of the South Asian community about the Commonwealth, that I also did a painting about. That’s going to be posted on my Instagram and on my website… it’s called ‘The Golden Mask’.”

For more on Waheeda Rahman-Mair visit www.waheeda.co.uk or follow @waheeda_art on Instagram.

Erdington Artists Conversations are held every on the third Wednesday of each month, from 7pm to 9pm, at the Secret Art Studio Space in Central Square – on Erdington High Street.

Free to attend, for more information call 07966 699 894 or email: erdingtonartists@gmail.com

FEATURE: Erdington Artists Conversations (part one) – when Bunny met Louvina, the Coton Lane mural set to change the city’s streets

Words by Erdington Local editorial team / Pics supplied by Bunny (Create Not Destroy)

Erdington has a varied, vast, rich, and ripe art community, with monthly run ‘Artists Conversations’ held at the Secret Art Studio Space in Central Square – a vibrant think tank of creative endeavour, bringing new ideas and splashes of colour to the North Birmingham streets.

Recently commissioned under the Queens of the Commonwealth project, four Edrington artists from the collective were asked to paint portraits of inspiring women from the Commonwealth – to be hung in Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.

But one was too big for a museum wall…

Erdington Local caught up with Bunny, the talented creative behind the cherished Coton Lane mural reviving a street art trend.

The mural of Caribbean born, Erdington resident nurse Louvina Moses on Coton Lane, just off the High Street, is not just a pretty face.

The mural, painted by Erdington artist Bunny, also known as Create Not Destroy, is one of the first visible artworks of a transformative exciting new art movement. Bunny joined the Erdington Artists Conversations collective in November last year, and after a successful start – and some daring ideas – there is real hope every empty Erdington wall will be adorned by art.

If Helen of Troy was the face which launched a thousand ships, then Louvina’s face could launch a thousand murals across Erdington and further afield.

Bunny told Erdington Local: “We wanted to bring artists in Erdington together, and our first meeting in October at the Secret Art Studio Space; there was just six of us in the freezing cold.

“What has happened since has been amazing, we now have a real diverse group of artists, young, old, every colour, Muslim, Christian, you name it. But everyone is connected together through a love of art.

“We meet every month and have really great discussions about art. But what really gave us a boost was when we were approached by those running the Commonwealth Queens project to help them create 22 portraits of women.

“As soon as I saw a picture of Louvina and a video of her talking, I knew I wanted to paint her. Her face shows such a journey; she, like my parents, came from a Caribbean island to another island all those years ago and made such sacrifices. Her face tells so many stories.”

He added: “I asked if instead of painting a canvas portrait whether I could create a mural on a local wall, they loved the idea and it has taken off from there.”

From the moment Bunny pitched up on the corner of Coton Lane to paint the giant mural, he knew the people of Erdington would take it to their hearts – just as many did with the mural around the hoardings of the old Maplin site.

He said: “I spent as much time on the ground chatting to people than I did up the ladder painting. People were so interested what I was doing, normally they would walk past me without giving me a second glance but when I start painting murals people are suddenly interested.

“There is a real appetite for art in Erdington, through our (Artists Conversations) group we know there is talent in the area and art can make a difference. I want art to become part of Erdington, like how the murals and art really are part of Brixton; there is no reason why Erdington cannot be the Brixton of Birmingham.”

Father-of-two Bunny, who lives near Six Ways island, began his art career in the mid 1980s, incorporating painting, photography, videography, music, aerosol art, and graffiti. But his renewed love for mural making was sparked two years ago when he was asked to paint one in honour of an old friend in London.

Bunny said: “Social media has really changed art. In the old days we would travel miles to look at a wall with graffiti or a mural, now people can see what you have created on their phones and give instant feedback.

The 55-year-old added: “This got me back painting murals. They are within the open realm, they are there to provoke a reaction, whether people love it or hate it they will look at it.”

Those who will be taking more than a second glance at the dignified lady emblazoned in the colours of St Kitts are her Louvina’s children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, many of whom live around Erdington.

Louvina was born in Tabernacle Village in St Kitts in the Caribbean in the 1940s and left for Britain with her husband in 1961.

She said: “I came to England when I was pregnant but left two children behind as well as my parents and grandparents who I missed, but leaving my children was worse than anything.

“We brought our first house in 1966 and sent for both of them. We have four children, 12 grandchildren, 14 great grandchildren, and one great great grandchild.”

Louvina is still married 63 years later and featured in Queens of Commonwealth documentary, which celebrated the migrant women who helped to rebuild the UK after the Second World War.

The 22 positive stories of the women contrast vividly against the backdrop of the Windrush Scandal, which saw the British Government illegally deport Caribbean pensioners who had lived in the UK for decades – many of whom are yet to receive compensation.

Louvina, known to many as Rose, unsuccessfully tried to become a teacher in the 1960s but finally got a job in the NHS at East Birmingham Hospital.

She said: “There was racism by my white colleagues, they gave me the hardest time; I was given the worse jobs all of the time.”

However, Louvina stood her ground in the NHS and worked for 43 years at Heartlands Hospital until her retirement.

She continued: “One day at work my manager called me and told me I had been chosen to go and have tea with the Queen at Buckingham Palace, I could not believe it. We sat just behind Maggie Thatcher.

“Buckingham Palace! I never thought I would get to the door, let alone get inside. If you are a poor person back home you would never think you could get to Buckingham Palace. I went back again when one of my sons got an MBE and it was easier then.

“I tell my children, stand up for yourself, you can’t go backwards in life you want to move forward in life. You have to take each day as it comes, live for today and praise God for tomorrow.”

An active Louvina instilled the desire to give back to the community into her children, her son Lincoln was awarded with an MBE for his work with youngsters and setting up the Holford Drive Community Hub.

He gathered siblings, cousins, nephews, and nieces for an epic photo underneath the watching eyes of Louvina at the mural, although the matriarch missed the gathering as she was back in St Kitts.

Lincoln told Erdington Local: “My mother is my Queen, she and my father have been together for 63 years, they are an inspiration.

“The Queens of the Commonwealth did a great job reminding everyone the hard work and sacrifices my mother’s generation went through to give their children a better life.”

He added: “She loves the mural, we all love the mural, from one come many! Bunny did an amazing job and hopefully it will be there for years to come.”

Bunny said: “It was an absolute honour to paint a remarkable woman like Louvina and shine a light on the huge self-sacrifices her generation made to help others, and become the backbone of institutions like the NHS and the transport industry.”

Shortly after Louvina appeared near the High Street, another Erdington local who came from the Caribbean has been immortalised by a mural – new UFC welterweight champion Leon Edwards.

Bunny, who recently created the Lozells art trial featuring pictures of local reggae stars, said: “It is great to see another mural pop up in Erdington after Louvina, and I another one will appear soon. I have been commissioned by Erdington Litter Busters to design a mural.

“So, Louvina will be the first of many, now every time I see an empty wall or space I am thinking what mural could we put there.”

For more on Bunny / Create Not Destroy visit www.createnotdestroy.com

Erdington Artists Conversations are held every on the third Wednesday of each month, from 7pm to 9pm, at the Secret Art Studio Space in Central Square on Erdington High Street.

Free to attend, for more information on Artists Conversations call 07966 699 894 or email: erdingtonartists@gmail.com

NEWS: Spread your wings with Festival of Flying free origami butterfly workshop on Castle Vale

Words by Ed King

People across Castle Vale and Erdington are being invited to spread their wings at a free origami workshop today, making special commemorative butterflies as part of the ongoing Festival of Flying project.

Held at Greenwood Academy on Sunday 4 September, running from 10am to 4pm, the origami workshop will be a fun and family friendly activity – exploring the ancient Japanese tradition of paper folding.

Hundreds of beautiful butterflies will be made to help decorate the event in Castle Vale on Saturday 10 September – as part of the culmination of the Festival of Flying project, which will showcase stories and the talent of the Vale.

There will also be a special performance of Taking Flight – a new theatre show from the world renowned High Sprung Performance company, featuring professional and community cast.

Open to people of all ages, the Festival of Flying origami workshop is completely free to attend with no art and craft experience necessary – simply come to Greenwood Academy between 10am and 4pm on Sunday 4 September. There are also pop-up workshops across the week with full details on the website.

Castle Vale and Erdington locals can also make their own butterflies at home, to be featured in the Festival of Flying on Castle Vale on 10 September – just follow the step-by-step instructions featured in the article, or on the Active Arts website.

The ‘butterfly’ is a central theme in the Festival of Flying, being used as a symbol of inspiration and showing people the impact small actions – such as a butterfly beating its wings – can have across a wider community and even the world.

Following on from The Butterfly Effect in 2015, which spurned a series of local arts and community projects across Castle Vale, the butterfly origami workshop and Festival of Flying are a unique blend of art and engineering experiences – celebrating the ingenuity and history of the North Birmingham estate and showing local residents the sky is literally the limit for their ambitions.

Led by Active Arts, Festival of Flying Project Director, Claire Marshall, told Erdington Local: “We hope as many people as possible can join us at Greenwood Academy on Sunday 4 September – helping us to make the hundreds of butterflies we need for the finale event.

“Castle Vale is full of creative, talented, and ambitious people, and the Festival of Flying is a chance for us to show the world what is possible from people on the estate – with the butterfly representing the chance for people to spread their wings and fly.

“In an area famous for the Spitfire plane, we want to spark new creative ideas and engineering ambition from people on Castle Vale – and show both them and the wider world the difference their dreams can make.

“The origami workshop will be a lot of fun, and something both individuals and families can get involved in and enjoy – helping us decorate a day packed with performance as the Festival of Flying celebrates its final day.

“We hope to see as many people as possible join us for both the origami workshop at Greenwood Academy on Sunday 4 September – and the big public event on Saturday, 10 September.”

The Festival of Flying is also looking for local artists, performers, and volunteers to take part in the Castle Park event on Saturday 10 September – anyone interested in knowing more should contact Active Arts via the email below.

The Festival of Flying is led by Active Arts and presented as part of the Birmingham 2022 Festival.

To get involved in The Festival of Flying, email Active Arts Project Director Claire Marshall on activeartscv@gmail.com

NEWS: The Recovery Foundation showcases over 100 pieces of local artwork at Secret Art Studio Space

Words by Ed King / Pics by Ellycia Gardner – with additional images from Ali Walker and Robert Alden

On Monday, 8 August, The Recovery Foundation launched their art showcase  exhibition at the Secret Arts Studio Space (SASS) in Erdington.

Over the past few months, more than 50 local residents picked up a pencil or paint brush, many without any previous art experience, to create over 100 pieces of original artwork – as part of a programme of workshops to support mental health, wellbeing, and social inclusion.

Still on display at SASS, situated downstairs at the Central Square Shopping Centre, The Recovery Foundation exhibition can be seen through the gallery windows and on selected open days – and will remain installed over the next few weeks.

Running six separate groups over six weeks, The Recovery Foundation art sessions were free to access workshops – supporting anyone with “lived experience of mental illness”, or those just looking for a social or creative outlet.

Formed in 2020 by Emma Sitole, after her own issues with mental health and subsequent recovery, The Recovery Foundation places ‘hope’ and the centre of its support programmes.

Also embracing creativity and art as helpful tools of recovery, the six week workshops followed a series of oversubscribed Art in Parks sessions, where people would come together in outdoor green spaces, such as Rookery Park,  to learn new art techniques.

As part of a post lockdown programme to help bring people out of isolation and come together again in community groups, the subsequent workshops allowed The Recovery Foundation to continue its work in Erdington – reaching out to more people and building a wider network of budding creatives.

Emma Sitole explained: “We trialled Art in Parks last year, which was really successful, and off the back of that people were saying they’d love something that explored different techniques and looked into different things.

“Angie (Chapman), our Creative Arts Director, put together a programme and we’ve seen about 50 people come through our doors with these workshops.

“It’s a privilege to walk alongside people and see them discover they’re really creative – and they’ve created some incredible artwork.

“Today is the showcase… there’s a real sense of pride around people wanting to show what they’ve created.

“There’s been a lovely buzz about the place, some lovely conversations. But also lovely to see that community come back together again and support each other.”

A local mum, Ali Walker, took part in The Recovery Foundation art workshops after suggesting the programme to a friend.

With a new born baby to look after, who she took to each session, Ali found the workshops a chance to meet other people and further explore her passion for art – already being a keen photographer.

Attending the showcase exhibition at SASS with her now 10 month old daughter, Ali told Erdington Local: “I got a range of things from it (the art workshops), on the art side I learnt a lot of skills and techniques and things that I didn’t think I’d be able to do.

“On the other side of things, it was connecting with people from different backgrounds and getting involved in all sorts of conversations. And getting to know about Erdington a lot more, which I really enjoyed.

“I was trying to encourage someone I know, who struggles with their wellbeing, to come along but they couldn’t make it.

“I’d already put my name down and thought because I’m a new mother it was a good chance to get out for myself as well.”

After the success of Art in Parks and the subsequent art sessions, The Recovery Foundation are looking to establish a more permanent home in Erdington – and will be running another series of creative workshops in September.

Birmingham based professional mixed media artist, Eddy Aigbe, knows first hand the impact both creating and exhibiting art can have on people’s sense of self-worth.

Eddy told: “It’s something I’ve promoted myself in my previous job, where we had a community centre in Lozells.

“The problem was a lot of people were isolated and had mental health issues… and had a lot of talent. Just like you do here in Erdington – there’s a lot of talent going on.

“But there’s not much space to exhibit and show it off. A key part in being an artist is not just producing the work but showing it off – it validates you as an individual.

“As an artist, it’s a way to evaluate all the processes, styles, and everything you’ve been doing.”

The Recovery Foundation art workshop showcase on Monday, 8 August was open to the public, with the exhibition still on display at SASS.

Local resident and campaigner Basharat Dad attended the showcase’s opening. He told Erdington Local: “I think it’s brilliant, The Recovery Foundation have been great at engaging with the local community.

“Some of the artwork is the first-time people have tried art, and they’ve created some amazing pieces.

“There’s more of a need in Erdington, in terms of art spaces and projects, that could really help not just with mental health but also community building and bringing people together.”

Erdington Ward Councillor Robert Alden also attended The Recovery Foundation art showcase launch.

Cllr Alden has long championed the constituency’s creative industry and endevours, alongside his running mate Cllr Gareth Moore – from the mural on the hoardings around the old Maplin site, to the ongoing Active Arts and Kaleidoscope events.

Cllr Alden added: “It was great to be at The Recovery Foundation art event in Central Square and to see so many people from across the area together who had benefited from the art sessions that they have put on locally, especially in Rookery Park.

“These kind of events can help provide people with that support and community conversations that help people when they need it.

“Cllr Gareth Moore and I will be doing what we can to help support The Recovery Foundation with their plans for further events and services to support the local area in the coming months and years.

“While this was their first Erdington art show, at the Secret Art Studio Space, I have no doubt it won’t be their last.

“Well done to all of the local residents who produced some stunning pieces of art as part of the show.”

For more on The Recovery Foundation visit www.therecoveryfoundation.org.uk

EXCLUSIVE: Real to Real – stories of how music shaped the lives of local residents / Invite to exclusive live recording with a free drink for Erdington Local readers

“If music was removed from the world, I would feel empty, bereft, and devoid of anything.”

Erdington Local readers are being invited to an exclusive recording of Real to Real – an eclectic living history of how music inspired and shaped the lives of local residents, being performed as monologues at The Highbury Theatre on Wednesday 13 July from 7:30pm to 9pm.

From the soca and reggae of Trinidad and Jamaica, to the prog rock of Birmingham’s biker bars and the city’s legendary soundsystems and blues parties – all the stories are real life, recorded on to audio reals and video for digital archive.

Suitable for all ages, to get your free ticket to Real to Real visit: www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/real-to-reel-tickets-379007560817

For the first Erdington Local readers to book their tickets, there will be a free drink on arrival at The Highbury Theatre Bar – alcoholic or soft drinks are available.

To get your free drink, simply book your ticket via the Eventbrite link above and email the confirmation to: edking@erdingtonlocal.com

Held at The Highbury Theatre on Wednesday 13 July, Real to Real was going to be a closed set recording – but organisers are now opening the theatre doors to allow members of the public to hear these amazing and inspiring stories for the first time.

Hear how Pete and Linda fell in lust over their love of vinyl (and Pete looking like David Cassidy), found friends and escaped the school bullies by bonding over music, played progressive rock to the notorious Birmingham biker gangs of the 80’s, and make a modern living out of music running Boldmere’s own Psychotron Records.

Listen to Dionee and Janet tell you about growing up around the ‘old time’ soca and reggae of Jamaica and Trinidad – embracing the music of their family’s roots in kitchens and churches, to start hosting their own soundsystems and blues parties across Birmingham in the 80’s and 90’s.

And Phil, who grew up with an Irish, Scottish, Yorkshire, and Liverpool family tree – embracing the political call to arms from Public Enemy and Dead Kennedy’s, as he travelled across Europe juggling fire (and knocking down speaker stacks) with bands on the booming free party and squatter scene of the early 90’s.

Or Henry Robert Hayes, the self professed “music nutcase”, who DJed his way through pubs and clubs before maxing out his credit cards and launching a £350,000 radio station – which he later sold for £5million.

Real to Real is directed by Tonia Dáley-Campbell, a Midlands actress, award-winning writer, published author, director, and now casting director for heart casting.

Tonia has been working in the creative industries for over 21 years, is the annual host for Tedx Wolverhampton, and the new Audience Development consultant for The Grand Theatre Wolverhampton.

The live monologues with be accompanied by Birmingham based punk/reggae band Lobster.

Joe Cook from Lobster said: “I’m really interested when different art forms meet – so having music and monologues in the same space such as the theatre pushes the band out of its comfort zone and allows us to create in a different way.

“The gig should be a great mix of different art forms coming together, as well as inspiration coming from stories from local people.”

For more from Blackstory Partnership visit www.blackstorypartnership.com 

For more on The Highbury Theatre, including details on how to get there, visit www.highburytheatre.co.uk

NEWS: Citywide project 10 to 11 launches in Erdington on 26 June – connecting the city by music, arts, culture… and the No 11 bus route

Words by Ed King

10 to 11 is an exciting new arts project from Number 11 Arts, helping people celebrate arts and culture all over the city through the No 11 bus route – presented as part of the Birmingham 2022 Festival

Spread over five Sundays, from 26 June to 24 July, Birmingham’s neighbourhood arts forums will be hosting a programme of free arts activities in areas along the popular bus route, operated by National Express West Midlands.

From music to gardening activities, performances to processions, mask making and blossom tree decorating, 10 to 11 presents something for the whole family to get involved in. All ages are welcome, and all events will be free of charge.

Launching in Erdington on Sunday 26 June, the first 10 to 11 event will be an ‘Afternoon of Creativity’ – as organised by Erdington Arts Forum.

Taking place from 12noon to 3pm at the Secret Arts Studio Space in Central Square, on Erdington High Street, the ‘Afternoon of Creativity’ will feature with arts, crafts, and children friendly storytelling

Live music will come from world touring artists, including Roksana Grobelna, Paul Riley, and Stefan Stefanov.

There will also be a special performance from the Village Green Band, who have built a strong local reputation performing live Irish music at the New Inn Traditional Music Sessions – and who recently played in support of Refugee Week at Minerva Works on Fazeley Street.

A second event will continue the 10 to 11 festivities in Sutton Coldfield, taking place at the Holy Parish Church on Mill Street on Sunday, 3 July – as organised by Sutton Arts Forum

Jobe Baker Sullivan, head of Erdington Arts Forum, told Erdington Local: “This is an exciting chance to show off our lovely Secret Art Space Studios in Erdington to other parts of Birmingham.

“The 10 to 11 project is a really cool idea, and I believe after the Commonwealth Games have left the city we should do it again. It’s so important to fund artistic innovations like this, and to find a sustainable model in the future.

“I’m also looking forward to hosting the Sutton Coldfield event on 3 July, at the church where I am music director – though I promise to everyone reading we will have a wide array of arts, music and poetry.”

Travelling the length and breadth of Birmingham, the 10 to 11 project will also be running a special No 11 ‘arts bus’ to take people to each event – in partnership with National Express West Midlands.

While onboard the arts bus, entertainment will come from Birmingham’s comedy ‘cleaner to the stars’ and Britian’s Got Talent finalist Mrs Barbara Nice, Stan’s Café’s out of work sporting critics The Commentators, and singer Mabowunje Harrison.

The National Trust will also be at the 10 to 11 events, encouraging local people to plant their own blossom trees along the No11 bus route this winter – as part of their Blossom Together project.

For more information on Blossom Together visit: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/helping-communities-blossom

The 10 to 11 project is led by Number 11 Arts, an umbrella organisation that supports and champions a city-wide network of neighbourhood arts forums in Birmingham.

Tom Jones and Gurminder Sehint from Number 11 Arts said: “We’re really excited to be connecting up all the local arts forums in one project together, to celebrate all the wonderful arts work they do in their local communities.

“The number 11 arts bus is also a great opportunity to reach more audiences and transform one of Birmingham’s much loved bus routes.”

The 10 to 11 project has been funded by Arts Council England and is in partnership with National Express West Midlands and the National Trust.

The events will be running on five consecutive Sundays: Sunday 26 June, Sunday 3 July, Sunday 10 July, Sunday 17 July and Sunday 24 July.

Roksanna Grobelna – who will be performing at the ’Afternoon of Creativity’ on Sunday 26 June

The Commentators – who will be entertaining people aboard the 10 to 11 arts bus

For more information on 10 to 11, including details on individual events and the arts bus timetable, visit: www.number11arts.co.uk/10-11

LOCAL PROFILE: Jess Brown – Illustrator, Damsels Don’t Wear Glasses

Words and photos by Bianca Pirvuneanu

Born, bred, schooled, and fed in Erdington, Jess Brown is the fantastic mind behind the Damsels Don’t Wear Glasses website, as series of online graphic novels and digital comics with dark humour and kick ass protagonists.

Recently exhibiting her work at the Love Erdington Festival, as curated by Arts All Over the Place, Jess’s dark imaginings and strong characters were a bit hit throughout the weeklong showcase. Erdington Local caught up with Jess to learn more about her inspirations and ambitions.

You grew up in Erdington, going to school here – were you creative in the classroom too?

“I went to Yenton Primary School. From what I remember I didn’t do too well at a lot of classes, but I did manage to excel at things like art and poetry (even if my spelling was extremely bad).” 

What inspired you to get into illustration, and what were your first creations like?

“Honestly, I wanted to become a writer. I’ve always wanted to tell stories, but in a more visual way than just the written word. I love comics, animation, and games a lot. So drawing was always a way to convey the stories I wanted to tell.

“My first creations live in a long forgotten sketch book somewhere. I’d like to say they were baby’s first masterpieces, but honesty…? Probably a lot of Sailor Moon tracing.” 

Your stories are very evolved, with a ‘cast’ of characters living in their own new worlds; where did the inspiration for these come from?

“From my childhood, which consisted of a lot of VHS tapes (Disney, straight to home video animated movies), video games (J RPGs, Action Adventure games) and other comics (a lot of manga).

“I’d like to say I did a lot of reading as a kid to, but I didn’t. Though there are a number of authors that did inspire me in my teen and adult life – Terry Pratchett.

“I’ve always liked mix genres like urban fantasy, or horror sci-fi, stuff that’s hard to pin down but gives you a lot of creative room to explore stuff outside of general story conventions.

“I think a lot of creative people who ‘world build’ do it to explore things that don’t get explored in the stories they liked (or maybe stories they didn’t like). Especially when it comes to characters, at least that’s what got me started. Wanting to tell the story you’d want to read is cliché, but true.”

On your social media you talk about your ADHD, calling ‘your brain like soap that refuses to be gripped’. Is your artwork important to your health and wellbeing?

“Yes, I would say, art is important for me to stay in focused because ADHD makes me hard to keep focus at one thing in a time and it helps set a routine for me.

“It can be hard to start into something, like normal people can just stand up and say, ‘OK I’m going to do this right now,’ and for some reasons my brain is like ‘no you can’t do that.’ I do something for like 10 minutes and then I stop and then I do it again for 20 minutes or an hour and is important to taking many breaks for recharge.”

You mentioned you are working on a children’s story; can you tell us any more about that?

Ah yeah, it’s my next project. Working title is Knight’s Folly. It’s about a little girl who enters an enchanted forest to become a witch, with the help of a monstrous looking knight. It’s going to be aimed at kids and young adults.

“I’m a little hesitant to describe the story as traditional fantasy, but movies like The Dark Crystal and The Never Ending Story are big inspirations. It’s still bare bones at present but I’m developing the script and am hoping to maybe get it professionally published.”

You also mentioned you write narratives for phone games; can you tell us any more about that? 

“Not much to tell really, my job title is usually ‘Narrative Writer’ or ‘Narrative Director’. My role tends to be writing the stories and creating character scenarios for the games I’m brought in on.

“My last job involved writing a choose-your-own-adventure style narrative using a new app. There’s also the general writing that goes into some of these games, like item descriptions and so on. Someone’s got to write all those little blurbs, right? That’s usually me.”  

Where would you like your artwork to take you next?

“I want to be financially secure; and I am thinking of trying to do some 3D modelling, as a hobby.”

For more on Jess Brown and a full online archive of her graphic novels and comic visit www.damsels-dont-wear-glasses.com

NEWS: Hundreds welcome Little Amal to Erdington as a ‘community of sanctuary’

Words, images & video by Ed King

Erdington High Street saw hundreds of people welcome the world famous ‘living puppet’ Little Amal on Thursday 28 October – as part of the Kaleidoscope events, organised by the Erdington based charity Active Arts.

Gathering outside Oikos Café from 1pm, people started the day’s celebration by playing traditional street games from countries around the world and dancing to live music – building the carnival atmosphere before Little Amal arrived at 3pm.

Members of Birmingham’s refugee community were joined by hundreds of local families, support agencies, churches, and schools.

After saying hello to several children and meeting the crowds, Little Amal then walked up the High Street, accompanied by children and dancers – to a welcome ceremony held in the Central Square Shopping Centre.

Central Square had been specially decorated and transformed into a one day festival venue, with stages and a canvas roof over the main concourse.

At the welcome ceremony Little Amal continued to meet the hundreds of people who had come out in support of her journey, and her message of sanctuary and community, before being greeted by the Birmingham Lord Mayor.

A special poem celebrating Birmingham as a city of sanctuary was then read to Little Amal by two sisters, Sheema and Logeen Aroob, who had themselves fled from Syria to the UK with their family five years ago.

Writer Stephanie Neville joined Sheema and Logeen in delivering the poem, which had been selected from Stories of Home Hope and Home – ‘a story-telling project offering Asylum Seekers and Refugees a space to share their stories and others a space to hear them.’

Sheema and Logeen also presented Little Amal with a friendship bracelet specially crafted for the giant puppet, as event organisers handed out further bracelets to the audience.

In the weeks running up to Little Amal’s Erdington visit, a series of Kaleidoscope arts and craft workshops had been held at the Secret Arts Studio Space in Central Square – where local children and families had been making the friendship bracelets out of colourful twine and materials, working with Celebrating Sanctuary Birmingham.

Little Amal is a 12ft high ‘living puppet’ who has been walking across the world since July, to raise awareness about the plight of refugee children.

Starting on the Turkey/Syrian border, Little Amal has travelled over 8000km through Greece, Italy, Switzerland, and France, before coming across the Channel to the UK – even meeting with Pope Francis in early September 2021.

Visiting only a handful of locations in the UK, Little Amal had been in Coventry the day before her visit to Erdington, before ending her global walk in Manchester on 3 November.

Attending the event and joining the team escorting Little Amal to the Central Square welcoming ceremony, Erdington MP Jack Dromey told Erdington Local: “I am deeply proud that Erdington is the Birmingham home that Little Amal will come to.

“All throughout the last 10, 20, 30 years we’ve had war after war and famine after famine – people have therefore fled for their lives, wanting a new start for them and their families and looking for sanctuary and safety. We have a moral duty to say those who come to our shores desperate for refuge, you’re welcome here.

“I’m proud that Amal is coming to Erdington because it sends the message that we are a constituency and community of sanctuary – that we are there to give home and support to those who desperately need it.”

Also attending the Little Amal event were Erdington ward councillors Robert Alden and Gareth Moore.

“It’s absolutely brilliant to see so many people here in Erdington, on our High Street – it really emphasises the possibilities of how we can regenerate Erdington High Street and what the long term attraction to the area can be.

“I think this exactly the thing that people have been talking about – we need to ensure that actually all countries are safe for people, so that people don’t have to go through the horrific things that you hear refugees have had to go through.”

Local arts charity Active Arts was leading Erdington’s Little Amal visit and the Kaleidoscope events on behalf of Birmingham City Council and Birmingham 2022 Festival.

Further partners include Celebrating Sanctuary Birmingham, Centrala, Open Theatre Company, Mama Dojo, Surge Forward Music & Arts, Vortex Creates, Autin Dance Theatre, Everyone Erdington, Oikos Café, Six Ways Baptist Church & Food Bank, Erdington BID and Godwin Development.

Active Arts Project Director Claire Marshall told Erdington Local: “Little Amal’s message is one of sanctuary, about showing refugees and displaced people that they can find a place to call home if they have been forced to leave theirs.

“Erdington is a welcoming and diverse community, one with a history of embracing people from many different countries and cultures – and a place that continues to do so.

“This event is about celebrating that sanctuary, it’s about showing people they can find a new home here if they have had to leave theirs.

“The atmosphere here, today, as we welcome Little Amal, has been something wonderful – it’s been a truly special day and I couldn’t be prouder of the people around us.

“Little Amal’s message, highlighting the plight of refugee children, is one born from desperation and sorrow.

“But the kindness and compassion you can feel from people in Erdington here today, the simple sense of love and community in the air, gives us all a feeling of hope to hold on to.”

Watch Little Amal as she walks down Erdington High Street and into Central Square Shopping Centre

For more on Little Amal and ‘The Walk’ visit www.walkwithamal.org

For more on Active Arts visit www.activearts.wordpress.com