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

ON THURSDAY: A sneak peek – check out the celebrations at Central Square ahead of Little Amal visit

Words & images by Ed King

**LITTLE AMAL CELEBRATIONS FROM 12:30PM/1PM OUTSIDE CO-OP ON ERDINTGON HIGH STREET ON THURS 28 OCTOBER – FREE**

Central Square Shopping Centre has been bursting with colour, music, and dance as people get ready for Little Amal’s’ visit to Erdington on Thursday 28 October.

Little Amal is a 12ft high ‘living puppet’ that has been travelling the world to raise awareness about the plight of refugee children – travelling over 8,000km before arriving in Erdington for a special one day celebration of sanctuary.

The festivities will begin outside the Co-op supermarket on Erdington High Street at 12:30/1pm – with live music, dance, and street games – before Little Amal will walk up the High Street to a special welcoming ceremony at Central Square.

The entire day is free to attend and open to children and adults of all ages – led by local arts charity Active Arts on behalf of Birmingham City Council and Birmingham 2022 Festival.

Transforming the old Central Square Shopping Centre, Active Arts and the creative team behind the Little Amal Erdington event have been busy decorating the High Street retail hub.

A team of dancers, local children, and families spent the week practicing a special routine to welcome Little Amal – whilst a creative team transformed the High Street retail hub into a festival venue with bright colours and decorations.

A special stage has been constructed at Central Square for the event, which will see everyone from Birmingham’s Lord Mayor to local school children welcome Little Amal to Erdington.

A large canvas roof has also been installed over the Central Square concourse – ensuring the day will be a truly special occasion that all ages can enjoy, come rain or shine.

The event is Covid safe and stewarded by official security and event safety staff.

Have a sneak peek below of what’s happening when Little Amal visits Erdington on Thursday 28 October.

Central Square gets ready for Little Amal Erdington visit

Little Amal will visit Erdington on Thursday 28 October, with a one day carnival starting at 1pm outside the Co-op and Oikos Café on the High Street – before heading up to the Central Square Shopping Centre.

For more on the Kaleidoscope event and Little Amal’s visit to Erdington visit www.activearts.wordpress.com/little-amal or email activeartscv@gmail.com

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

2 DAYS TO GO: Syrian refugee sisters to present friendship bracelet to Little Amal at Erdington visit

Words & images by Ed King

Two sisters who escaped the war in Syria five years ago will be presenting Little Amal with a handcrafted friendship bracelet, when the 12ft high ‘living puppet’ visits Erdington on Thursday 28 October.

Sheema (16) and Logeen (11) Aroob will be a central part of Little Amal’s visit to Erdington, gifting the friendship bracelet – a symbol of sanctuary and welcome – as part of the official welcoming ceremony.

Starting outside the Co-op on Erdington High Street at 1pm, the celebration will also include live music and street games from across the world – before Little Amal leads a procession of local children and adults to Central Square Shopping Centre.

Recommended through Refugee Action, Sheema will also be reading a specially selected poem which celebrates the beauty of Birmingham and welcomes people to the city.

A poet in her own right, Sheema recently performed one of her own works at the Erdington Arts Forum’s Evening of Creativity – at a special showcase event recently held during Refugee Week.

Sheema told Erdington Local: “I was asked by Refugee Action to present special friendship bracelet to Little Amal when she comes to visit Erdington.

“I am very excited to be part of the Little Amal event, and a little nervous. But I like to join in with these events as it helps bring out my confidence.

“We came from Syria to the UK five years ago, after leaving Lebanon because of the war – once a bomb dropped right outside the front of our house, it was a dangerous place, and our family were scared for their lives.

“Also, my father had injured himself and was unable to work; life was very difficult.

“The poem I am reading when Little Amal comes to Erdington was suggested to me by Johnny (Autin, choreographer) and is about Birmingham, how beautiful the city can be, and how people should come and visit Birmingham and see it with their own eyes.

“I like to write poetry as it is a good way to get my thoughts and feelings out, and I can be more honest in a poem. I have also written a story about our journey from Syria to the UK.”

Inspired by stories from the Calais refugee camp, and made by the production team behind Warhorse, Little Amal is based on a young Syrian girl who lost her family whilst out looking for food – with the ‘living puppet’ having travelled over 8,000km to reach the UK.

Little Amal has been travelling across the globe since July, starting on the Syria/Turkey border, to raise awareness on the plight for refugee children – who account for over 50% of the world’s displaced people, according to UNICEF.

Having travelled from Syria with her family five years ago, escaping the ongoing war, Sheema Aroob has a direct understanding of Little Amal’s journey, with members of her family still living amidst the violence.

“Little Amal began her walk in Jarabulus, on the border of Syria and Turkey, which is where my aunt – my mother’s sister – still lives. So, the journey Little Amal has made is very close to our hearts.

“My auntie still lives in Jarabulus but in a tent, with her children – she has two daughters and one son; one of the daughters is disabled.

“We are still in touch, but there is still trouble and violence there and it is going to be very hard for her and her family this winter.”

Local arts charity Active Arts is leading Erdington’s Little Amal event 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: “We’re really pleased to have Sheema and her family as part of Little Amal’s visit to Erdington – they have experienced, first-hand, some of the issues faced by refugees this international art project is trying to shine a light on.

“Sheema and her family have been a huge part of the Kaleidoscope workshops and have been heavily involved in preparations for the event too. It’s been a joy working with and getting to know them, individually and as a family.”

Little Amal will visit Erdington on Thursday 28 October, with a one day carnival starting at 1pm outside the Co-op and Oikos Café on the High Street – before heading up to the Central Square Shopping Centre.

The final Kaleidoscope arts, craft, street games and dance workshop will be held between 1-3pm at the Secret Art Studio Space on Wednesday 27 October – at the Central Shopping Centre on Erdington High Street.

For more on the Kaleidoscope event and Little Amal’s visit to Erdington visit www.activearts.wordpress.com/little-amal or email activeartscv@gmail.com

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

3 DAYS TO GO: Businesses boom as Central Square Shopping Centre is ‘transformed’ for Little Amal event

Words & images by Ed King

Businesses in Central Square are enjoying a boom in passing trade as the old shopping centre is “transformed” for the Little Amal event on Thursday 28 October.

As preparations continue for the one day carnival later this week, Central Square has seen a “significant spike” in trade as a team of local artists, event organisers, and cleaning companies give a facelift to the dilapidated shopping centre.

Little Amal is a 12ft ‘living puppet’ which has been on a worldwide ‘walk’ to raise awareness about the plight of refugee children – coming to Erdington at the end of her 8,000km journey from the Syria/Turkey border.

Local arts charity Active Arts is leading Erdington’s Little Amal event on behalf of Birmingham City Council and Birmingham 2022 Festival.

“When they (Active Arts) came down on Saturday it was driving more people down,” told Michelle Haynes, manager of the Global Educational Trust Charity Shop.

“As soon as they were putting things in the window people were coming to the counter and asking about prices.

“Last week was really slow, it was horrendous, but on Saturday, because everything was going on in the square, you’ve got the dancers and everything, it was drawing people down.”

“Thursday should bring even more people down; I really do hope so. We get people down here, but they don’t come to the back of the centre, they get halfway down and turn back.

“We put signs up all the way down, but they just tent to turn around. If there were more events happening here it would help – you saw it that Saturday, it was like a totally different feeling – it was brilliant. Even I was by the door watching, it was a different vibe. It was loads better.”

Anthony Daulphin has recently re-opened the Standing Ovation HUB, a large unit at the back of Central Square with a café, children’s play area, pool, table tennis, and a hairdressing salon, and has been keen to see trade return to the shopping centre.

“After all the lockdowns we have been keen to get our doors back open,” told Daulphin, “but it’s not been as busy as we would have hoped – we’ve been booking some great private parties but the day to day trade has really dropped off.

“But since Active Arts and the Little Amal team have been here we’ve seen a significant spike, it’s been great.

“They’ve cleaned up the old shop fronts, pulled down all broken signs, and made it feel like a place people want to walk into.

“Plus, we’ve been selling a few bacon and egg sandwiches to the team themselves… they’ve been working all hours and said our breakfast menu is the best on the High Street. We’ve thrown them a few free coffees to keep them going too.

“But it’s been a lot of fun having the team here; it’s built a real sense of comradery between all the shop owners and there’s a feeling something big happening here again.”

Erdington once boasted the busiest High Street in Birmingham but has suffered in recent years as retail increasingly moves online – with banks and nationally recognised outlets all shutting up shop, as lower end and bargain retail take their place.

In the last year, Peacocks and Santander closed their Erdington branches for good – with Poundstretcher moving into the former’s prominent shop front opposite Central Square.

Erdington’s businesses also missed out on a multi-million pound boost in January, following a failed bid for the Future High Street fund which would have seen around £52m invested in the High Street.

But as the Central Square Shopping Centre prepares for the Little Amal event, interest in the businesses there is growing again – with shop owners citing the simple fact it has been cleaned and decorated by Active Arts and the team behind the Little Amal project.

Active Arts Project Director Claire Marshall told Erdington Local: “I used to come to Central Square shopping with my mum as a child. I love the area and I’ve seen how vibrant the local businesses and community can be.

“Central Square is a fantastic space for events; it is a perfect little enclave if you have a creative eye, it just needs a bit of tender loving care… and a lot of elbow grease to clean the windows.

“Our team have working day and night; the place already feels brighter and more welcoming, and by the time Little Amal visits on Thursday (October 28) Central Square Shopping Centre will be transformed.

“We’ve got workshops happening every day this week too – there’s a real buzz around the place with new people coming in every day.

“It’s a really exciting thing to be a part of and the businesses have been incredibly supportive. I’m glad they’ve had a boost in trade, they deserve a bit of good fortune after the past couple of years and lockdowns.”

Central Square could see even more improvement in the next 12 months, as Godwin Developments – who own the shopping centre and land – have plans to turn the High Street site into a destination venue with shops, bars, cafes, and apartments.

Little Amal will visit Erdington on Thursday 28 October, with a one day carnival starting at 1pm outside the Co-op and Oikos Café on the High Street – before heading up to the Central Square Shopping Centre.

Kaleidoscope arts, craft, street games and dance workshops will be held between 1-3pm at the Secret Art Studio Space on Tuesday 26 and Wednesday 27 October – at the Central Shopping Centre on Erdington High Street.

For more on the Kaleidoscope event and Little Amal’s visit to Erdington visit www.activearts.wordpress.com/little-amal or email activeartscv@gmail.com

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

For more on the Standing Ovation HUB visit www.facebook.com/StandingOvationHUB

4 DAYS TO GO: Johnny Autin runs free dance and street games workshops at Central Square Shopping Centre – ahead of Little Amal’s visit to Erdington

Words, images & video by Ed King / Images of Little Amal supplied by Good Chance Theatre and Active Arts

“You just become friends straight away because you play a game together.”

International choreographer and dance artist Johnny Autin will be running free dance and street games workshops at Central Square Shopping Centre on Monday 25, Tuesday 26, and Wednesday 27 October – between 1pm and 3pm each day.

Open to families, children, and adults of all ages, the workshops will be practicing a simple and specially devised dance routine – to be performed as part of the one day carnival welcoming Little Amal to Erdington on Thursday 28 October.

Little Amal is a 12ft ‘living puppet’ which has been on a worldwide ‘walk’ to raise awareness about the plight of refugee children, based on a young Syrian girl separated from her mother as her family try to find food.

Starting on the Turkey/Syria border in July, Little Amal will have travelled through countries including Greece, Italy, Switzerland, and France, before finishing her 8,000km journey in the UK.

According to UNICEF, the United Nations’ child support agency, 33 million children had been ‘forcibly displaced’ at the end of 2019 – accounting for over 50% of the world’s refugees and displaced people.

Johnny Autin is the Creative Director of Autin Dance Theatre, Artistic Director of Man Made Youth Company, and an Associate Artist of Midlands Arts Centre.

Autin has been commissioned across the world, including Dance Hub (Birmingham, UK), The Arden School of Acting (Manchester, UK), MUDA (Africa), IBUKA Dance (East Africa), and in Opera choreographing ‘Carmen’ (Macerata, Italy).

Johnny Autin’s dance and street games workshops are part of the Kaleidoscope events being organised to welcome Little Amal to Erdington, led by local arts charity Active Arts on behalf of Birmingham City Council and Birmingham 2022 Festival.

“My team is coming to play some games with people in Erdington, games that come from different parts of the Commonwealth countries,” explained Johnny Autin.

“Those games are then being used chorographically for a performance when Little Amal comes to Erdington (Thursday 28 October) – people will be able to come out onto the streets and play those games live, with a band, with music and some workshop facilitators.

“It’s really about just having fun, about play, and about having a sense of community.

“There will be a stylised performance of these games, as a way of saying thank you for coming, showing our love and respect for her journey, and wishing her well on the last part of her journey.

“We’ll play games because Little Amal is a young girl, so we want to bring back that sense of play that we all have when we’re children and that some people might have forgotten.

“I feel like the world needs more fun, and joy, and play, and that’s the message – because children are generally more welcoming and playful with others, than adults.

“You just become friends straight away because you play a game together.

“It’s fun, it’s physical, and it’s healthy. It’s good for yourself and it’s good for everybody.”

As part of the ongoing Kaleidoscope workshops there will also be arts and crafts sessions run by Celebrating Sanctuary Birmingham – where people can learn to make friendship bracelets, to be gifted to members of the public on the day Little Amal comes to visit Erdington.

Johnny Autin added: “They can help make some friendship bracelets, that we’ll be offering to all the audience that come (on Thursday 28 October).

“We will be making things, painting things, decorating things.

“But also learning some street games, rhythms, and music, and being surrounded by beautiful musicians, dance, and movement.”

All the Little Amal events and Kaleidoscope workshops are open to children and adults of all ages, and are completely free to attend,

People are invited to simply drop into the workshops, being held at the Secret Art Studio Space downstairs at the Central Square Shopping Centre on Erdington High Street.

Or email activeartscv@gmail.com directly for more information.

Johnny Autin leads dance workshop at Central Square, Erdington

Images from previous Kaleidoscope arts and craft workshops

Kaleidoscope arts, craft, street games and dance workshops will be held between 1-3pm at the Secret Art Studio Space on Monday 25, Tuesday 26, and Wednesday 27 October – at the Central Shopping Centre on Erdington High Street.

Little Amal will visit Erdington on Thursday 28 October, with a one day event from 1pm.

For more on the Kaleidoscope event and Little Amal’s visit to Erdington visit www.activearts.wordpress.com/little-amal/ or email activeartscv@gmail.com

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

6 DAYS TO GO: Arts, craft, and street games – free Little Amal workshops at Erdington’s Central Square 

Words by Ed King / Images supplied by Good Chance Theatre and Active Arts

Erdington’s Central Square will be hosting free arts, craft, and street games workshops this half term – running between 1pm and 3pm on Saturday 23 October, then at the same time on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday next week.

A creative and exciting way to kick start the half term holidays as a family – or to meet new people and make new friends – the Saturday 23 October workshop will be about making friendship brackets, in sessions run by Celebrating Sanctuary Birmingham.

Also on Saturday, and then from Monday to Wednesday next week, Autin Dance Theatre will be teaching street games from countries and communities across the world.

People are invited to simply drop into the Secret Art Studio Space, based at the Central Square Shopping Centre on Erdington High Street, or email activeartscv@gmail.com for more information.

Part of the Kaleidoscope events, getting people ready for when Little Amal visits Erdington on Thursday 28 October, the workshops are free to attend and open to adults/children of all ages.

With only six days to go under her Erdington arrival, Little Amal will be welcomed by a carnival of street games, arts, craft, and live music – starting at 1pm on the High Street, by the Co-op, before making its way to Central Square.

Little Amal

Little Amal is a 12ft ‘living puppet’ that has been travelling the world to raise awareness about the plight of refugee children – based on a young Syrian girl, separated from her mother as her family try to find food.

According to UNICEF, the United Nations’ child support agency, 33 million children had been ‘forcibly displaced’ at the end of 2019 – accounting for over 50% of the world’s refugees and displaced people.

Travelling over 8000km before arriving in Erdington, Little Amal started ‘The Walk’ on the Syria/Turkey boarder in July – visiting countries including Greece, Italy, Switzerland, and France, before crossing the Channel to the UK.

A globetrotting symbol of peace and compassion, Little Amal even had an audience with Pope Francis in early September 2021.

Little Amal and her worldwide walk have been organised by Good Chance Theatre, inspired by stories from the Calais refugee camp. The 12ft high ‘living puppet’ was built by the Handspring Puppet Company, the creative team behind War Horse.

Local arts charity Active Arts is leading Erdington’s Little Amal event 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 coming to Erdington is a once in a lifetime opportunity for local people to be part of a beautiful worldwide event.

“The Kaleidoscope workshops have been amazing so far, with lots of friendly faces coming together for an afternoon of art and conversation – it’s been a really joyful way to get involved in preparation for the Little Amal visit.

“As things get more and more exciting, with Little Amal’s visit only days away, we’d love to welcome even more local people to the Kaleidoscope workshops – running this Saturday, then again from Monday to Wednesday next week.

“Little Amal’s visit on the Thursday is going to be a fantastic event, with Central Square transformed for the occasion – a really special occasion that will show the world just how wonderful and welcoming Erdington can be.”

Adult volunteers are also being sought to help welcome Little Amal to Erdington and to support the build-up to the October 28 event.

Kaleidoscope arts, craft, and street games workshops will be held between 1-3pm at the Secret Art Studio Space on Saturday 23, Monday 25, Tuesday 26, and Wednesday 27 October – at the Central Shopping Centre on Erdington High Street.

Little Amal will visit Erdington on Thursday 28 October, with a one day event from 1pm.

For more on the Kaleidoscope event and Little Amal’s visit to Erdington visit www.activearts.wordpress.com/little-amal or email activeartscv@gmail.com

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