NEWS: Save Short Heath Playing Fields campaigners call for ‘common sense’ collaboration with Conservatives and Labour

Words & pics by Ed King

In a rare show of solidarity, the campaign to ‘Save Short Heath Playing Fields’ has grabbed the attention of top local politicians from both Labour and Conservatives – Erdington Local can reveal.

In exclusive quotes about the campaign to Erdington Local, both Jack Dromey MP (Labour) and Erdington Councillor Robert Alden (Conservative) came out swinging – with each elected official challenging Birmingham City Council for their disastrous first attempt at a public consultation.

Jack Dromey MP stated: “It is clear the Council have not done a good enough job of consulting with concerned residents, and local people understandably feel that they have been ignored and the sense of anger is palpable.”

Whilst Councillor Robert Alden said: “Short Heath Playing Fields are vital to the local area. They are a green lung in the middle of our community and it is disgraceful that the Labour Council wishes to rip out that green lung that helps clean our air, helps provide residents with an area to go to help exercise and improve their physical and mental health and wellbeing.”

But the two local residents spearheading the campaign, Steve Hughes and Estelle Murphy, want a commitment that Labour and Conservatives will work together on the issue.

In an email to Jack Dromey MP and Councillor Robert Alden, sent earlier this week, the campaigners asked both politicians ‘to write jointly to Councillor Ian Ward’ – expressing their concerns directly to the leader of Birmingham City Council.

Speaking to Erdington Local, Estelle Murphy and Stephen Hughes said in a joint statement: “We have said it before, and we will keep saying it because it is the simple truth, this isn’t political, this is about our community.

We have simply asked two of our communities most influential people, who are in a position, and have both offered their support and help, to join together and work for our local community. Surely that’s just common sense.”

Councillor Robert Alden has previously raised concerns to the Council about the proposed developments on Short Heath Playing Fields – including the lack of a robust public consultation.

The top Birmingham Tory has also met with campaigners, joining them for a day of litter picking and talking directly to local residents.

Jack Dromey MP met with Steve Hughes and Estelle Murphy on Saturday 5th September – the first time the MP’s constituency office has been opened during the coronavirus crisis.

Following the meeting, the MP told Erdington Local: “Steve (Hughes) and Estelle (Murphy) agreed to draw up a proposal on behalf of the community that would then be presented to the Council for consideration.

I will ensure that they are alongside me. Their views, along with those of the local community, will be central to these discussions at every stage.”

As of yet, Erdington Local is unaware of any meeting with the ‘Save Short Heath Playing Fields’ campaigners where both political parties have been present.

The next campaign community meeting, held under COVID-19 safety restrictions, will be held on Short Heath Playing Fields on Saturday 12th September.

To sign the petition to ‘Save Short Heath Playing Fields’, visit: www.change.org/p/birmingham-city-council-birmingham-education-department-bob-beauchamp-jack-dormey-save-short-heath-playing-fields

To further support the Save Short Heath Playing Fields campaign, you can donate through the official GoFundMe fundraising platform: www.gofundme.com/f/save-short-heath-playing-fields

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FEATURE: Promised land – a community unites to save Short Heath Playing Fields and fights to be heard

Words & pics by Ed King

All we’re asking for is the Council to be honest with people, we’re not asking for the Earth. We’re asking for them to be honest with the community and tell them what’s happening.”

Three weeks ago, Steve Hughes and Estelle Murphy had never met – despite living round the corner from each other, one on Short Heath Road and one on Court Farm Road. A familiar tale of neighbours yet strangers.

Now it Is difficult not to see them together, clearing up the green space between their houses – championing the cause that brought them and the wider community together.

Save Short Heath Playing Fields began as a campaign to do just that.

But the signs, slogans, banners, and banter that now surround this urban oasis have already achieved something else, something powerful – galvanising a community into action. Real action. The kind of action that changes things.

And what started with a simple question – namely, did you know about the proposed development on Short Heath Playing Fields? – is now a clarion call for an increasingly empowered and united neighbourhood.

Community is what this is all about,” tells Steve. “It’s a community thing, and it’s massive now. And it’s not just here – I’ve just been talking to a lady who lives over there (Streetly Road, Edgware Road, Marsh Lane) and people are talking about it over that side of the park as well.”

People are stopping us in the street and asking how it’s going, what we’re doing, where we’ve been, who we’re speaking to. Throwing ideas at us,” adds Estelle – after a long weekend with a community cleaning up the park on their own time.

We’d got kids over here litter picking, old age pensioners litter picking… it didn’t matter if you were 7, 17, 27, or 77, everybody was out – all pulling together.”

It’s spotless if you walk around it now,” continues Steve, “it’s amazing. We’ve had the Erdington Litter Busters here, and the Short Heath Wombles. Then we’ve joined in and done our bit… people are talking to each other again.”

Since Steve and Estelle joined forces, after both spending several months independently challenging the proposed development of 84 houses on Short Heath Playing Fields, hundreds more local residents have banded together – bringing a unified fight to Birmingham City Council’s plans to ‘dispose’ of the public land, previously earmarked for local schools.

Over recent weekends, and following the correct COVID-19 safety precautions, scores of residents have routinely descended upon the open green parkland – initially to hear about the campaign, and the proposed development, but then turning their hands to maintaining the ground themselves.

From litter picking to landscaping, people power has been filling the void left by over a decade of Council neglect.

We’ve done everything by the book,” explains Steve, “everyone had safely equipment, everyone had masks. We socially distanced. We’ve done everything to COVID rules. All the people down here were spread across the park – they worked in their family bubbles. We’re being responsible.”

I’m going to keep coming down to stay in the mix,” add Jamie Stanley – who saw Steve and Estelle back on the parkland earlier in the day and jumped in to help the with more litter picking.

It’s nice to be able to bring my son down, and he can look around and there’s no litter anywhere. He loves coming here. I told him about it last weekend, that they wanted to build on here, and he was upset. We was like, ‘aw, but I like playing football with you here dad.’ But it benefits all the kids, you know.”

Steve Hughes began with a petition, hosted on the popular Change.org website. At the time of writing, this has amassed 1422 signatures – with a private Facebook group attracting further support.

Estelle Murphy was one of the handful of local residents who heard about, and attended, the public consultation – which took place last year. Although what unfurled at the meeting left her so disillusioned, she began fighting for the clarity and transparency that any local community deserves.

But awareness of the proposed plans has been the sticking point for both, as the due diligence and legally required public consultation that is needed for such a drastic change to a community has been arguably clandestine. And whilst the fight may not be a new one, it is still a fight.

We’re not political in this,” tells Steve, “we’re doing it from a community perspective, but we’re being forced into a political arena.

And when you speak to the community, the residents, the people who live right by the park, the problem we all have is that the Council keep calling it ‘consultation’ and they DO NOT consult the people who live by the park – or use the park.”

The meeting was shocking,” adds Estelle, “they shut (Erdington Councillor) Robert Alden down at every option and just said ‘no, planning will sort that out.’ No… you sort planning out, not the other way around. And when it went to a scrutiny committee, who said no, it’s not up to the Council to tell scrutiny to basically shut up – which is pretty much what they did. It’s shocking, absolutely shocking.”

Whenever Erdington Local goes to meet Steve and Estelle, as they continue tidying up the field the Council states has been ‘unused for 10 years’, a constant stream of dog walkers snake round into the playing fields – taking four legged friends for a healthy ramble across the open green space.

Children come and play in the areas where the grass has been cut back, chasing footballs not dragons – on what has been referred to as ‘a drug den’ for heroin users. (It is worth noting that on a recent litter picking sweep, not a single needle or spoon were found – despite trained healthcare staff rifling through the undergrowth with metal gloves and a spike box.)

Countless local residents also come out and ask about the campaign, commenting on the signs or the work then have seen volunteers undertake – all are curious and supportive, not just of the campaign but of the sense of community it has ignited.

On Erdington Local’s last visit to the site, a man from the neighbouring HMO came out to thank the campaigners and volunteers for their work – asking Steve and Estelle to sign small wooden hearts so he could put them into his new-born babies birth book. You rarely see something that beautiful between strangers.

The notion that this Short Heath Playing Fields are ‘unused’, as declared on official Council documentation, is laughable.

But the backbone of the issue is ultimately political, regardless of how bipartisan the approach of the Save Short Heath Playing Fields campaigners has been.

Erdington Councillor Robert Alden, who has been on site meeting residents and helping with the litter picking, alongside Councillor Gareth Moore, told Erdintgon Local: “Short Heath Playing Fields are vital to the local area.They are a green lung in the middle of our community and it is disgraceful that the Labour Council wishes to rip out that green lung that helps clean our air, helps provide residents with an area to go to help exercise and improve their physical and mental health and wellbeing. 

In the post Covid-19 world even the Council admits that it is vital to provide green space yet despite us making it clear to them at numerous Council meetings and in petitions presented to Council that Erdington and Perry Common have a shortage the Council refuse to scrap their crazy plans to build on this valuable green space.

It has been great to see residents come together to fight the Labour administrations plans to build on the fields and I have of course been happy to work and support them and will continue to do so in our fight to save Short Heath Playing Fields.”

And moving down the field with this political football, Erdington MP Jack Dromey told Erdington Local: “I have been in dialogue for some time with local residents who have expressed profound concerns about the proposed housing development on Short Heath Playing Fields. I have made it clear to Birmingham City Council that local voices must first be heard.

It is essential that the views of local people are always considered before any development takes place.

It is clear the Council have not done a good enough job of consulting with concerned residents, and local people understandably feel that they have been ignored and the sense of anger is palpable. 

I want residents to know their concerns are being listened to and taken seriously. I will be meeting once again with key campaigners and local residents this Saturday (5th September) to hear their views on the proposals for the playing fields. 

Going forward, I will continue to argue that it would be wrong to go ahead with these proposals without proper consultation that involves local voices at every stage.” 

But for Steve Hughes, Estelle Murphy, and the many hundreds of local residents that have now put their hands clearly in the air to be counted – this is still firmly about community. The strength in their increasing number is only the beginning too. Doors that were once shut are creaking open and conversations that may be nearly a year overdue are finally starting to happen.

There is hope in Short Heath.

There is conversation, houses that were alien to each other are now borrowing cups of sugar and exchanging titbits about boundaries and planning regulations. There is a sense of community and connection, one that many of the people who live in this pocket of Erdington haven’t felt in decades.

The whole thing is crazy,” admits Steve – as he and Estelle pack up after a long day cutting back the thorn bushes and overgrown grass at the top end of the playing fields. “All they (Birmingham City Council) do is try and undermine the community and not actually give us the chance to have a say in it. And you know what, that’s all the people really want. What we don’t want is for them not to listen – and that’s the problem.

Why is it that a politician will promise you the Earth when they’re after you’re vote – but when we’re asking them for something, they don’t want to know unless it suits their agenda. Why should that be the case?

Why are they not even prepared to do the right thing and talk to the community – to give the community the chance to have their say and say what they would like to happen. But also, to listen and act and what people say.

Why can Birmingham City Council just run roughshod over people?”

It’s difficult to know.

But what’s certain, is that the residents around Short Heath Playing Fields are not going to be silenced without an answer – and with an ignited sense of community and pride, they’ll want to hear it together.

To sign the petition to Save Short Heath Playing Fields, visit: www.change.org/p/birmingham-city-council-birmingham-education-department-bob-beauchamp-jack-dormey-save-short-heath-playing-fields

To further support the Save Short Heath Playing Fields campaign, you can donate through the official GoFundMe fundraising platform: www.gofundme.com/f/save-short-heath-playing-fields

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EXPLOITED: HMOs – when greed meets vulnerability, carving up communities for a profit

Words by Adam Smith / Pics by Ed King

Erdington Local launches a series of articles investigating the devastation caused by the mushrooming number of HMOs (homes of multiple occupancy) in Erdington and Kingstanding.

Chief reporter Adam Smith spent the last year living in HMOs and has seen first-hand how housing associations and rogue landlords are ripping off taxpayers – whilst exploiting the most vulnerable people in society.

Do you pay tax?

If so, then your hard-earned money is lining the pockets of ruthless housing associations and rogue landlords – whose greed is wrecking the lives of Erdington residents, tenants, and the most vulnerable people in society.

Nationally the taxpayer shells out billions of pounds for eye-wateringly inflated rents for benefits claimants’ rooms in HMOs – which get planning permission, despite Erdington residents and politicians bitterly complaining they are destroying the very fabric of the local community.

Hundreds of Erdington houses, including historic and beautiful Victorian properties, have been turned into HMOs – creating a living hell for both tenants and local residents who watch helplessly as the area they love becomes blighted.

Stockland Green is one of the worst examples in the country for the negative effect of HMOs and supported accommodation.

Those classed as ‘vulnerable’ and living in HMOs and/or supported accommodation are locked in a vicious circle; landlords charge the taxpayer £900 a month for a single room, leaving the tenant no motivation to get a job as the rent will be too high on a low wage. This investigation will explore examples of housing association staff actively discouraging tenants to work.

Tenants in ‘supported accommodation’ should get an hour of professional support a week, which qualifies their extortionate rent from benefits – but instead of proper psychiatric help, staff often only see tenants to demand a weekly ‘maintenance charge’, usually between £12 and £20, out of their benefits.

Instead of tenancy agreements which offer some protection to renters, those living in HMOs are forced to sign ‘licenses’ containing pages of draconian rules and potential infringements – which if broken can see the tenants made homeless with just a week’s notice.

Staff can enter rooms when they like and there have even been examples of male staff bursting unannounced into women’s rooms after 11pm.

HMOs radically changed the rental market in Erdington, with landlords now preferring benefits claimants and even advertising rooms for the price of the maintenance charge. Meanwhile, working people are trying to find somewhere to live from a dwindling amount of properties – which are increasing in price due to their scarcity.

This scandal crosses political lines too.

Legislation from the Conservative government has allowed ruthless companies, landlords, and housing associations to exploit the benefit system – whilst Birmingham’s Labour administration has allowed thousands of HMOs to be created in the city, without the ability to scrutinise the conduct of those organisations running them.

This investigation will unveil the close links between Birmingham City Council  and to the companies profiting from the system.

During the Government’s ban on evictions during the coronavirus crisis, housing associations in Birmingham have been quietly evicting people during the deadly pandemic.

Recently, Edgbaston MP Preet Gill called on the Government to extend the evictions ban. However, Gill is on the board of Spring Housing Association, which works extremely closely with Birmingham City Council – but which also evicted vulnerable tenants during COVID-19 lockdown.

One evicted Spring Housing tenant, Shamir Hussain, told Erdington Local: “I was evicted during lockdown by Spring Housing, just when I thought I was as low as I could they made it worse. They made me homeless during a pandemic where people were dying all around us, I will never forget that.

They (Spring Housing) were getting £900 a month for me to live in a room; I could have paid a mortgage on a nice house for that obscene amount of money for one room. And when I did put a claim in for a much cheaper rent amount, for a whole flat, I was refused. It seemed like they were happy to pay £900 to Spring Housing but not a fraction of that to sort my life out.”

The area’s two most powerful politicians, Labour’s Erdington MP Jack Dromey and Erdington Councillor and leader of Birmingham’s Conservatives Robert Alden, both recognise the damage being done to the area by the scourge of bad landlords.

Dromey said: “I know how angry residents are about this issue, I went to a meeting on Frances Road two years ago expecting six people to be there and 70 residents turned up. And the problem has worsened in that time not got better.

Stockland Green is where the problem is at its most acute, where the most prosecutions of landlords in Birmingham have been due to work with the police, and with the disproportionate dumping of vulnerable tenants into the area by landlords who do not give a damn about them and not give them any help.

Some of these landlords let their tenants live in squalor in Erdington whilst they live in the lap of luxury in Sutton Coldfield. However, there are some very good landlords out there, which is all the more the shame when the bad ones undercut them to cram an extra person in.”

In the 1980’s Dromey helped residents in London fight a bitter dispute with slum landlords and even created a ‘Hit Parade of Bad Landlords’ with help from Radio 1 DJ Alan Freeman – who would regularly do a run down on television of the worst offenders.

The MP said: “We have use imaginative ways to fight these type of people but in Erdington we also need proper joined up action with the police, council, probation and mental health services working together to solve the problems created in the last five years in the housing sector which coincides with the Tories being in power.”

Councillor Robert Alden laments the changing face of the area’s housing stock, which used to be the envy of the rest of the city in years gone by.

He said: “Erdington has been blighted by HMO’s run by bad landlords.

Erdington’s large stock of larger Victorian family homes have sadly often been taken over and turned into swathes of HMO’s – in many places seeing whole rows of housing turned from the purpose they were built for, to provide housing for families, into a collection of substandard and often below even minimum standard room size bedsits.”

He added: “Often quiet residential streets have suddenly found themselves besieged by bedsits acting under exempt housing placing drug addicts, alcoholics, and ex-offenders into our local community.

Sadly, those rogue landlords have used loopholes in the system to convert houses far and beyond the scope they were designed for, often seeing three bedroom homes turned into six or seven room bedsits.

Sometimes they also claim for alleged support provided to people while failing to provide anything like that – in the process taking huge amounts of tax payers money for services barely provided, failing their tenants, while also leaving communities like Erdington to suffer from the fallout.”

As well as the co-operation of all relevant agencies in Erdington, there also needs to be strong political leadership to stop the situation getting worse – but to also undo the systemic problems caused by five years of loopholes being exploited by those who had the most money to gain from flooding Erdington with high profit dangerous housing.

Throughout this series of stories, a light will be shone on some very murky corners and shocking practices – and this investigation will follow the money.

This investigation will explore how neighbouring HMOs crammed full of men have created ‘no-go roads’ for women and teenagers fed up of cat calling, sexual harassment, and threatening acts of misogyny.

There will also be stories from the female perspective, from suddenly having men moved into your safe space, as well as the unique HMO experiences of trans refugees.

This investigation will challenge those responsible on their behaviour – reporting them to the appropriate authorities if any laws were broken. Expect explosive revelations and, as readers, you have the right to demand resignations.

If you have been affected by HMOs or any of the issues mentioned in this article, we want to hear your side of the story – email Erdington Local on exploited@erdingtonlocal.com

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NEWS: Furious Erdington families join campaign to Save Short Heath Playing Fields

Words by Adam Smith / Pics by Ed King

An almighty row has erupted over the future of Short Heath Playing Fields, with more furious Erdington families joining campaigners to help dispel Birmingham City Council‘s claim the parkland is ‘unused’.

On Saturday 15th August, a 50 strong crowd of concerned residents gathered to listen to Save Short Heath Playing Fields campaigner Stephen Hughes – following a 12hr dash to drum up local support and spread the message.

Several huge banners were unveiled and leaflets distributed, declaring ‘SAVE OUR PARK’ and informing people about the proposed development on the public green space.

Teams of residents were allocated streets to canvas, looking to raise more awareness about the threat to the playing fields – amongst a community that has, for the large part, been left in the dark about the council’s plans.

Stephen, age 52, told the crowd: “We have to save these playing fields, we cannot let them disappear forever. Just seeing how many people are here today shows the council’s claim that it is unused is total rubbish, people care about this place.

I keep on getting told it is ‘a done deal’ but it is not – the Department of Education have not agreed to the sale yet. We all need to fight to keep our fields.”

He added: “The council have not told enough people about their plans to build, people do not even know about what they are planning, that is the biggest travesty.”

The day of action saw residents rallying together, sharing memories, and declaring they are up for the fight to keep the fields – which used to be used by Court Farm Primary School and Stockland Green Academy.

Stephen added: “To know there is this much community spirit here is an amazing feeling, to have so many people turn up to support us really makes me think we can win this campaign.”

Fellow campaigner Estelle Murphy is also determined to stop the council’s plan to build 84 houses behind her Short Heath Road home, she said: “We are going to fight this all the way. This campaign is not political, it is about keeping our green fields.

We are already under the quota in this area for green space and the council still want to build on it.”

Another Short Heath Road resident Jamie Stanley, aged 31, added: “This can’t be allowed to happen. Finsbury Grove is for the elderly and vulnerable and there is no way a lot of my friends there will be able to get to another park like Witton Lakes.”

Sheila Applebly, aged 78, has lived in the area since 1966 and remembers when fields were full of school children playing with regular sports days and other events.

She said: “We have got so many other places where houses can be built, there is land across the road. It is shocking this is going ahead, is this green space being sold off because of the debt of this council?

This has been left and neglected but it is a bonus that we have still have some green space and clean air to breathe, we live near to Spaghetti Junction so we need it.”

Another Short Heath Road resident Derek Loughead at the rally wants the campaign to hire a solicitor and start fundraising for the fight ahead.

He said: “We have to play the council at their own game, we need to get a license to get it back being a playing field, but it is all in the wording. So, we need a solicitor who understands the wording of documents, we need to raise money, hold a march and agree as a group how to fight the council. We need to tie-them-up in knots.”

However, Birmingham City Council have doubled down on their claim the fields are not used and should be sold off for housing.

In an exclusive statement to Erdington Local the council said: ‘The playing fields at Short Heath are under the ownership of education services but haven’t been used for over ten years by any of the local schools.

‘Following cabinet approval in 2019, Department for Education set processes have been followed, including consultation with local ward members and local schools, and the land will be transferred through appropriation to our housing development team.’

The confirmation statement added: ‘They will look to create a proposal whereby the land can be better used and will bring this to public consultation in around 12 months time. Residents will be notified and given the opportunity to respond, comment and ask any questions at this time.

‘The playing fields are adjacent to Bleak Hill Recreation Park which is a large open space and this will not be affected by any of these changes.’

To sign the petition to ‘Save Short Heath Playing Fields’, visit: www.change.org/p/birmingham-city-council-birmingham-education-department-bob-beauchamp-jack-dormey-save-short-heath-playing-fields

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NEWS: Residents rally to save Short Heath Playing Fields – protecting Erdington’s green spaces from developers

Words by Adam Smith / Pics by Ed King

Shocked Erdington residents are furious about plans to turn a local beauty spot into a housing estate.

Short Heath Playing Fields have been at the heart of Perry Common for more than a century, but Birmingham City Council wants the green space for housing through a private property developer – despite families regularly using the parkland.

So far over 800 residents have signed a petition demanding to save Short Heath Playing Fields, with many claiming they were left in the dark about the multi-million pound housing development.

The council are remaining tight lipped about the timetable for the ‘disposal’ of the 26, 912 square metre site, which has proved even more popular during COVID-19 lockdown despite the council claiming ‘the fields are not being used’.

The removal of Short Heath Playing Fields during a time of worrying childhood obesity is even more controversial – the beloved green space is just over a mile from Burford Playing Fields in Kingstanding, which is also about disappear to make way for houses.

Court Farm Road resident Stephen Hughes was so upset about the prospect of losing the playing fields he set up an online petition which clocked up nearly 800 signatures within weeks.

He said: “I live opposite these playing fields, I can see them from my window. But I was not included in the so-called consultation about selling them off for housing.

I played on these fields as a child, my children played on these fields, and now I am getting the joy of taking my two-year-old granddaughter over there… but now they could be gone forever in a few months.”

The 52-year-old automotive engineer said: “This is one of the few green spaces left in Erdington, the wildlife is amazing to see, and you always see people walking their dogs or enjoying a stroll. For the council to say no-one uses it is unbelievable.

A lot of people have messaged me saying they live in a flat and do not have a garden, they are really upset about losing their only bit of green space. Throughout the lockdown more and more people began using the park to exercise.”

He added: “We have got 800 signatures from people who live around here who did not know anything about these plans. The council put up two pieces of A4 paper up informing people about the plans to sell the land, that is why so few people know about it.”

A Short Heath Road resident, Estelle Murphy, whose house backs onto the playing fields, attended the consultation meeting at St Barnabas Church last August and branded the entire exercise as a “joke”.

She said: “The consultation was an absolute joke, this fella from the council stood and told us he was going to build on the playing fields no matter what. There are supposed to be 84 houses going up, we were told it was a done deal, how is that a consultation?”

The NHS worker added: “The wildlife is something special, I sit and watch the bats fly around at night and we have a world shortage of honey bees – but we have more honey bees in the playing fields than we ever have, and they want to build over it.

The bit of land at the back which they are saying will remain a green space is a floodplain and gets soggy immediately. I fear it is a done deal.”

The consultation was held between July and September last year – with Birmingham City Council promising to spend the proceeds of the land sale on sporting facilities across the city.

But as the Short Heath Playing Fields were originally allocated for use by two local schools, Stockland Green School and Court Farm Primary, the Department of Education will have to approve the sale.

The Secretary of State for Education will ‘take into consideration residents’ comments before making the decision – however, residents who did not know about the consultation want their opposition noted.

Birmingham City Council’s proposal said: “The playing fields have not been used by a school or any community group for 10 years.

Although the fields are not being used, Birmingham City Council continues to maintain them. There are ongoing costs for the maintenance and upkeep of these fields.

Should approval be given, Birmingham City Council is proposing to use the land to address the current housing shortage.

This will be subject to planning permission and all other relevant approvals. Any proceeds from the disposal of these playing fields will be used to provide alternative sporting facilities in the city.”

Birmingham City Council would not comment further on the matter.

To sign the petition to ‘Save Short Heath Playing Fields’, visit: www.change.org/save-short-heath-playing-fields

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NEWS: From fly tipping blackspot to community garden, clearing the alleyways with Stockland Green Action Group

Words by Adam Smith / Pics by Ed King

A Stockland Green fly tipping blackspot is being transformed into a community orchard and garden after a group of determined residents wanted their area to blossom.

Over the last two weeks, Erdington locals collected more than 60 tonnes of rubbish in the alleyways behind Frances, Anchorage, Kings, and Queen’s Roads – such as old furniture, mattresses, building materials, and dangerous drug paraphernalia including hundreds of hypodermic needles.

Volunteers from neighbouring streets, who are marshalled by a WhatsApp group, have spent hundreds of hours removing rubbish and laying the groundwork for the alleyways to be an inner city oasis.

Despite there being several Birmingham City Council signs warning: ‘NO DUMPING – PENALTY CAN BE UP TO £20,000,’ no-one has been prosecuted for the illegal fly tipping – which has plagued the area for years.

Following the impressive actions of the newly formed Stockland Green Action Group, launched on 20th June this year, Birmingham City Council have been sending compactor trucks to remove the piles rubbish – which have been constantly active in the area over the last few weeks.

The group have been working closely with Birmingham City Council and are hopeful about the ongoing partnership – citing the excellent work carried out by the Waste Management Team.

A member of the Stockland Green Action Group, Kamleish Parfect, told Erdington Local: “We were told nothing could be done about the piles of rubbish in the alleyways – but I love a challenge, so we did it ourselves.

I have counted nine settees and lots of mattresses which was a worry because it is such a fire risk, that’s one of the reasons why were got gates fitted by our house.

The crime rate here has gone up with burglaries happening and drug dealing on the street; we just wanted to do something to improve the area we lived in, there has been a real sense of community since it started.”

The Stockland Green Action Group believes they were kickstarted into action due to the COVID-19 lockdown – with more residents being at home than usual.

The 53-year-old mother of two said: “I have spoken to neighbours on my road since we started doing this that I had never spoken to before – and those neighbours who have been unable to do the manual labour needed have been providing us with food. I have not needed to use my own kitchen in two weeks.”

However, it was the drug needles found behind her home which caused Kamleish serious concern.

She said: “We found needles in the alleyway that runs  in between Frances Road, Ancourage Road and Mere Road, amounting to about a plant pot full. We collected them and hid them away safely, but by the next morning they had been taken. Since then we have collected another box full of needles, which I presented to the police.”

Stockland Green Action Group member Usman Aslam, from Queens Road, added: “Crime seems to have gotten worse, but COVID-19 seems to have brought the community together and made us want to do something together.”

Following the recent rubbish removal, the residents have a plan to turn the land into a community asset – an urban oasis which residents across Birmingham could emulate.

She said: “We want to have an orchard, a raised bed where vegetables can be grown, and a playground. Also some residents would like space to exercise, so we’d like to create an outdoor gym.

This piece of land will be unrecognisable in a few years and everyone’s children will be able to play safely.”

To follow the Stockland Green Action Group on Twitter, visit www.twitter.com/sg_actiongroup

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NEWS: “Furious local parents and residents” stand up against plans to turn Cross Key pub into ‘stepping stone’ hostel

Words by Adam Smith / Pics by Ed King

The campaign to stop the Cross Keys pub being turned into a hostel has been given a boost after top private school Highclare have formally objected to the controversial plan.

Furious local parents and residents” have complained about the Fairfield Fox Ltd application to create a 15 bedroom hostel for homeless people, despite the building bordering a senior school and overlooking two nurseries.

Birmingham City Council is currently considering the application and should either reject or approve the plan by the end of September.

Independent senior school and sixth form Highclare borders the Cross Keys and normally has more than 200 children, whose parents pay £4,410 a term, on site.

Headmaster Dr Richard Luker told Erdington Local his school did not want to have a hostel as its neighbour.

He said: “I can confirm the school has lodged an objection to the planning application and we await the outcome of the due process.”

Osbourne Nursery and Moonstone Children’s Day Centre are both overlooked by the proposed hostel, which could have a large turnover of guests as it will be a ‘stepping stone’ for homeless people before they get permanent accommodation.

Erdington Councillor Robert Alden is leading the campaign against the hostel.

He said: “This will be an absolute scandal if planning consent is given for this hostel which is surrounded by schools and nurseries.

The amount of children walking past the hostel every day alone should be enough of a reason for this to be refused. The prospect of drug paraphernalia and needles on the street is another major worry.

We have had hundreds of furious local parents and residents get in touch about this hostel application, they are rightly worried about the impact on the area and the dangers to local children.

The building overlooks a nursery’s playground, borders another school and is opposite a children’s day centre – the developer should withdraw the application immediately.”

Cllr Alden fears if a hostel is approved then plans for a reinvigoration of the High Street could also be in danger.

He added: “The Cross Keys is surrounded by listed buildings, including Highclare School and the Abbey, the shops opposite are a heritage asset and it sits in the heart of historic Erdington; a hostel is wholly inappropriate.

And the building is on the approach to Erdington Train Station, if it should become a blight then that effectively cuts off half of the town.”

Cllr Alden believes the application for a hostel is due to the loopholes in housing rules which creates massive profits for companies housing vulnerable people.

There is a lot of money to be made through hostels and HMOs and Erdington has enough of these properties. Our opposition is not about stopping the homeless getting homes, Birmingham City Council has accommodation for the homeless, this is just totally the wrong place.”

Fairfield Fox Ltd revealed its plans for a hostel in a document submitted to the council, despite their pleas for it ‘to remain confidential’ details have been made public.

The document reveals the hostel managers will seek regular meetings with local police concerning what happens in the property.

The document states: ‘There will be two full time and two part time staff. All occupants will be of low risk and requiring accommodation due to being homeless. This could be due to being evicted from previous accommodation or being unemployed.

‘The intention is to provide emergency housing and support to individuals and provides a stepping stone whilst more permanent accommodation is sought.’

Prospect Housing and Vanguard Direct will run the hostel on a rolling five year lease.

The Cross Keys’ public consultation closes on June 16 – to object email Faisal.Agha@birmingham.gov.uk quoting the application number: 2020/02902/PA

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FEATURE: Castle Pool – first to open, last to close. The national success story of Castle Vale’s local swimming centre

Words & pics by Ed King

From 6am on Monday 27th July, Castle Pool will be back in business – making it the first of Birmingham’s swimming centres to reopen since the coronavirus crisis and national lockdown. But the four lane, 25m long pool has a bigger story to tell – a fantasy to an increasing number of local sports facilities across the country. Staying open.

Inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth II in November 1981, Castle Pool has been a health and leisure haven for people across the Castle Vale estate for nearly 40 years – used regularly by residents, schools, and swimming clubs.

Now adorned with social distancing signage, public sanitation points, and staff specially trained to manage the pool in accordance with guidelines from Public Heath England, the Farnborough Road facility is hoping for a quick and safe return to the “50,000 swims a year” they hosted before lockdown.

But life in the lanes at Castle Pool has not always been as confident or as certain. Back in 2012, Birmingham City Council had earmarked the pool for permanent closure – following a citywide evaluation of council run services that would see a swarm of facilities shut down for good.

However, the people of Castle Vale fought fearlessly to save Castle Pool – in a campaign started by local resident Amanda Cutler, that became the Castle Vale Pool Users Group.

My son swam here for years, he swam here since he was four years of age,” tells Amanda, who now works at Castle Pool as the Pool Support Officer.

He was doing lessons at the time, then all of a sudden someone said the pool may be closing. So, I started a petition – I went all round Castle Vale and got over 20,000 signatures. I didn’t know where to go with it but the Labour councillor at the time, Lynda Clinton, helped from there on.

There were a lot of pools closing down and this is the only facility on the Castle Vale estate for children. We were teaching children how to swim, for free. And we didn’t want that to stop.

My son has now become a swimming teacher and a lifeguard here. So, it’s created jobs too. But swimming is a life skill; everybody needs to know how to swim.”

Enlisting the further support of the Castle Vale based support agency Spitfire Services, the Castle Pool Community Partnership charity was formed in 2014 – allowing campaigners to get the checks, balances, and bank account in place for Birmingham City Council to agree an asset transfer. On 16th January that year, the responsibility of running Castle Pool was put directly into the hands of people who live and work on the Castle Vale estate.

When previously run by Birmingham City Council, Castle Pool was operating at a phenomenal loss of £250,000. But following the asset transfer in January 2014, Castle Pool has turned a profit every year since – managed by a team of local residents and community workers.

If you were to ask me, why did they (Birmingham City Council) sustain a £250,000 loss and you didn’t,” explains Judy Tullett – Community Services Coordinator at Castle Pool – part of the
Spitfire Services charity family of services.

“The reason is… the model is, making use of the pool from 6am to 10pm seven days a week. Or as much of it as you can. Having a mixture of (paid) staff and volunteers, and actually using your staff in the best way you can.

Most of the time, it wipes its face,” continues Judy, “it makes a small surplus. Partly because it’s a charity and we can attract funding. So, that helps. But it’s more about the way you manage and deliver your swimming service.

if you take a typical day, because that’s the best way to look at it, early morning you’ve got club swimmers who swim at 6am – the swimming clubs are all accredited and they look after themselves. There’s an agreement in place but there’s sufficient trust for them to open up, look after themselves, lifeguard it themselves, leave it as they find it.

Then the staff will come in at 8am and prepare the building for the schools – in our case we have local schools start at 8:30am. We also have between 20-30 lane swimmers several lunch times a week, then by 3:30pn the schools have finished. This gives us a chance to clean up.

Then at 4pm we start the swimming lessons – there’s a baby learn to swim group, we’ve just water aerobics – and at 6pm the clubs come back in. Every evening, except for Saturdays, the pool is then occupied by clubs. We shut at 9pm or 10pm.”

With ergonomics and community at its heart, Castle Pool began to flourish – encouraging constant use from not only the residents of Castle Vale, but from clubs and schools across the city. And with regular swimming instructors and lifeguards, as well as offering exclusive use to schools and swimming clubs, the safeguarding of young and vulnerable users at Castle Pool was much firmer.

We now have 26 schools using Castle Pool,” explains Judy. “Many of them drive past other swimming pools to come to us. Firstly, because we’re affordable. Secondly, because we’ve had the same lifeguards and swimming instructors since we opened – and they’re all local people.

Thirdly, they have the pool to themselves – so they’re not sharing the pool with the general public. They have the changing room to themselves, so in terms of safeguarding it’s amazing. They know that when they walk though those doors they’re the only ones there apart from staff and volunteers.”

Castle Pool is reversal of fortune that could make parts of Birmingham City Council blush – not to mention other administrations across the UK that are selling land, bricks, and mortar to in an effort to raise funds. And whether you blame apathy or strategy, when the questions of heritage and health get raised the public conversation can be increasingly drowned out.

But the success of Castle Pool is also a welcomed inspiration – with the team from Spitfire Services travelling across the city to assist the asset transfer of Moseley Road Swimming Baths in Balsall Heath, that had been under serious treat of closure for over a decade.

I worked with them (Moseley Road Swimming Baths) for about 15 months in the end,” explains Judy. “They invited me over because I have a passion for swimming and water – and because I’d previously done an asset transfer so I understood the language and I knew the people from the council who would be passing the asset over.

They had a group called Friends of Moseley Road Baths and had campaigned tirelessly for about 10 years. But they (Birmingham City Council) brought me over and employed me as Development Manger to help with the asset transfer.

What we negotiated was a licence, initially, that would allow Moseley Road Baths trustees to build up more expertise and get to know the building more. So, that never shut either.”

Back on the Castle Vale estate, the staff at Castle Pool are busy getting ready for the early morning reopening – running through their standard checks, alongside the new COVID-19 criteria that are now essential.

And whilst there is still a lot to do, people are buzzing with enthusiasm – excited to reopen the swimming centre they fought so had to save six years ago. The mix of dedication and love is as palpable as the hot air rising off the water.

Everybody works hard here, everyone does more than what they are supposed to,” adds Debs Henry, or ‘the amazing Deb’ as she is known by her colleagues – as she cleans, opens, and closes the entire site on her own.

It’s because we love it. It’s not like a job really, it’s something you look forward to. It’s the best job I’ve ever had. I just keep everywhere clean and make sure everything is secure – but they’re all hard workers here.”

Although Castle Pool still has a few dark clouds looming on its horizon, requiring some much needed maintenance to the existing plant room – which encompasses the pool’s boiler and filter systems. Even with a firm pair of hands on the budget the work will take another £100,000, and that’s a lot of swimmers buying a lot of snacks from the vending machine.

But the locally run swimming centre, which has already fought its way back from the brink to become a national success story of community endeavour, is not backing down – with a fundraising strategy and programme of supportive events already in place.

If you were to ask me what is our No1 challenge is going forward,” tells Judy, “it’s not about recruiting volunteers or staff – it’s not about the use of the pool. It’s about making sure that our plant is fit for purpose.

“Our next big campaign, and we were part way through it before COVID-19, is developing a robust financial model to replace our boilers and filters

We’d got a plan in place; we’d had a boiler company come up and give us a very fair assessment of what we needed and what we needed to do… but it feels a bit like the Olympics, we’ve got to put that plan in place next year now – not this year.

And we want to do it all without closing, that’s important…. the actual fabric of the pool is good, but our main priority now is the plant room.”

Castle Pool is situated on Farnborough Road, Castle, Vale, Birmingham – and will be open from 6am on Monday 27th July. To find out more about Castle Pool, visit www.facebook.com/CastlePoolCommunityPartnership

To learn more about Spitfire Services, visit www.spitfireservices.org.uk

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NEWS: From Slade Road to Six Ways, Erdington Litter Busters organise a Community Clean Up on Saturday 25th July

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics supplied by Erdington Litter Busters – all taken before the coronavirus crisis and when social distancing was required

Donning high vis jackets, brandishing litter picks and black bin bags, Erdington Litter Busters are a group of volunteers that work as a team to clean up Erdington – meeting regularly at the YMCA’s Eden Café on Reservoir Road before launching into their designated areas.

On Saturday 25th July, Erdington Litter Busters will once again mobalise their members for a widespread Community Clean Up – clearing the rubbish and litter that clutter up the streets and green spaces across Erdington.

New recruits are also welcome, with Erdington Litter Busters issuing a call across the community for volunteers to pitch in and help with the Clean Up initiative. All the relevant tools of the litter picking trade will be provided, with organisers offering advice on what to wear and how to stay safe.

The group was founded in June 2018 by Erdington resident Rob Gunnell. “To be honest with you at the start of it was just me and my wife Jan,” tells Rob, “we unofficially adopted our street.”

Rob invited others to join in and go onto other streets that needed sanitary attention, although the help wasn’t always reciprocated: “When we first started it was really frustrating. It felt a bit like Groundhog Day. You’d clean a street and it would just get messy again.”

This lack of progress didn’t dampen the spirits, and Rob’s can-do attitude quickly attracted others to join in a fortnightly litter pick: “There is a core group of us of approximately 8-10 people. But on the 11th July, we had 27 people!”. Erdington Litter Busters also boasts about 300 members on their Facebook group, at the time of writing.

Outside of the fortnightly litter buster outing, individuals in the group have ‘adopted a street’, some adopting areas of a canal or park, vigilantly and regularly picking up litter in their designated places. Members post this, often along with ‘before-and-after’ photos on the Erdington Litter Busters Facebook group and are praised and encouraged by other members when they do.

Having grown immensely, Erdington Litter Busters were successful with a funding application though  Near Neighbours in September 2018. “It was fantastic. It gave us the impetus to get off the ground”. The group was even praised by a member of the House of Lords – Rob Gunnell gave a speech to the Viscount Younger of Leckie when he visited the YMCA in Erdington.

Rob also points towards the other social benefits of the group. “It’s not just about picking up litter. It’s about raising spirits,” he comments. “What I’ve found with the litter busters is the best thing is the coffee and cake!”

It’s a great advert for Erdington, to Birmingham and the rest of the country” praises Robert Alden, councillor for Erdington and a regular litter buster. When asked about other litter picking groups in the city, Councillor Alden says: “There are groups that go out all across the city, but nothing to the scale, with the longevity of the Erdington Litter Busters.”

The group are continuing in a post-COVID world with what Rob is calling, “guerrilla gardening.” Using their mutual community resources, Erdington Litter Butters are adopting public planters, untamed and uncared for in the community to bring more life, colour and greenery to Erdington.

There are 16 planters on Holy Lane/Woodacre Road,” explains Rob, “we planted wildflowers in there.” They even have a plan “to link it with local schools and local residents. We want them to ‘adopt a planter.”

Fly tipping and litter is a serious environmental hazard and a huge cost to the city, with Birmingham City Council spending £14.2 million on street cleaning in 2018/19. Yet, so many public streets, including many alleys and areas in Erdington go uncleaned. Unfazed, Rob says: “They haven’t got enough staff anyway the council, so we thought just get on with it”.

The next Community Clean Up is being organised for Saturday 25th July, beginning at 10am and finishing at 11:30am – when the group will stay and socialise. Erdington Litter Busters calling for more volunteers to help to deep clean parts of Slade Road and all its side streets, something welcomed by local residents.

We’re really privileged to have Erdington Litter Busters leading and coordinating this Saturday,” tells Kamleish Parfect from the Stockland Green Action Group – who have been campaigning against illegal fly tipping in the area.

Please come down and support. Paul and John (Erdington Litter Busters) have been amazing, we really need someone with a big van or digger to move some of these discarded sofas and mattresses.”

If you want to join the Erdington Litter Busters on their Community Clean Up this Saturday, you can meet the members at 10am on Saturday 25th July, at the Stockland Café on Slade Rd – or at the Eden Café on Reservoir Road.

High Vis jackets, litter picks, and bags will all be provided – organisers suggest to bring a safe pair of gloves and sensible shoes.

To find out more about Erdington Litter Busters, visit www.sites.google.com/view/erdington-litter-busters

Or to find Erdington Litter Busters on Facebook, visit www.facebook.com/groups/ErdingtonLitterBusters

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NEWS: Erdington MP Jack Dromey saves local art spaces from immediate eviction

Words by Jobe Baker Sullivan / Original photography by Ed King & Sylvia Chan

Erdington MP, Jack Dromey, has prevented the immediate eviction of two charity art groups from the old Central Square shopping centre on Erdington High Street.

The Cube and Active Arts Castle Vale are both known for dynamic engagement through the arts in the community – including painting, crafts, music, exhibition spaces, drama, and facilitating workshops and performances for well-being.

Both organisations were renting units at Central Square through East Street Arts, a Leeds born charity that works with landlords ‘to change the lack of infrastructure available for artists living and working’ in major cities across the UK – turning longstanding, empty commercial properties into vibrant art studios and spaces with more affordable rent.

Then on 25th June, The Cube and Active Arts Castle Vale were both given only three weeks to completely vacate their premises by Godwin Developers – in preparation for demolition of the whole of the Central Square, as part of Erdington High Street’s redevelopment plans. However, other businesses such as M S Fruits or the St Vincent’s charity shop were given extended leases of up to one year despite being on the same site.

After the art organisations got in contact with the Erdington MP’s office, Jack Dromey intervened directly in talks with Godwin Developments – who in turn agreed to extend the lease the same as the other businesses. Dromey announced on Twitter that: ‘This helps to protect the valuable arts community that thrives in Erdington.’

After contacting the constituency office, Jack Dromey MP told Erdington Local: “As soon as I heard The Cube and Active Arts Castle Vale were facing eviction at three weeks notice I knew I had to act immediately and contacted Godwin Developments, who recently acquired the site.

My discussion with the new owners of Central Square was a constructive one. I said that it was a sense of pride for Erdington that, in one of Britain’s poorest constituencies, local artists demonstrate how our community is rich in talent. I also brought home how those marvellous projects mean so much to the health and wellbeing of Erdington’s best.”

Active Arts Castle Vale work on art and community focused projects across the constituency, having converted the old Russell’s Furniture Store at Central Square into the Secret Arts Studio Space – ‘a place for artists to create their own work and have a safe space to test out ideas.’

Housing an ensemble of painters, illustrators, musicians, writers, and broadcasters, the Secret Arts Studio Space has been a growing success story for local artists – with new members lining up for affordable art studios in the heart of Erdington.

Leaving Central Square would have been a huge blow to the community of artists we have at the Secret Arts Studio Space,” explains Claire Marshall – Project Director at Active Arts, “it’s increasingly difficult for local artists to find affordable and accessible art space, and what we’d built up here – with help from East Street Arts – would have been totally turned on its head.

We know we’ll have to leave Central Square at some point to make way for the regeneration plan, which will be amazing for Erdington, and we’re getting support from people like Councillor Robert Alden and Terry Guest (Erdington Business Improvement District) to find an exciting new home.

But the eviction deadline from the developers was too hard and too fast – luckily as soon as we reached out to the MP’s office, Jack Dromey acted immediately and brokered us the time we needed. It’s a fantastic relief to all the artists here.”

As soon as the news came through regarding the eviction, The Cube were shaken too – desperately trying to sell the majority of their desks, computers, and pianos, in preparation for a drastic and fast move. They contacted every artist they knew to collect their work.

Heather Rowland, one of the co-founders of The Cube, said: “It was shocking when we were told we needed to move, but now we’re all so delighted. It would have been so much work to move out of there. I’ve been doing this for 12 years now. We’ve had a great time. I thought that was the end the Cube.”

But upon learning that The Cube can stay where they are, Heather also breathed a sigh of relief: “It’s lovely to think that we’ll still be here at Christmas. I know we’ve got to move out some time.”

Normally, The Cube is open Monday, Wednesday and Saturday 10am-3pm. Asking for a small donation, The Cube offers free or affordable space to a multitude of groups, allowing them to use their crafting facilities. It also hosts many accomplished local artists such as multi-media artists Cristelle Jones, Andy Spencer, and Ty Ford.

Central Square’s planned demolition contributes to the development of Erdington High Street – as part of the Future High Streets project – which, according to the .gov website should ‘encourage vibrant town centres where people live, shop, use services, and spend their leisure time.’

To find out more about The Cube, visit www.facebook.com/thecubeinthesquare

To find out more about Active Arts Castle Vale and the Secret Arts Space Studios, visit www.activearts.wordpress.com/secret-arts-studio-space

For more from Jack Dromey MP, visit www.jackdromey.org

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