NEWS: John Taylor Hospice helps make ‘special memories’ for Erdington bird of prey enthusiast

Words by Diane Parkes / Pics courtesy of John Taylor Hospice Erdington

John Taylor Hospice in Erdington gave a local family a precious day to remember thanks to a special visit from some feathery friends.

David Gilchrist and his family saw their Erdington garden turned into a bird show when Andy Plant of The Falconry Centre in Hagley brought along a few feathered friends.

It was a dream come true for 65-year-old David when he came face to face with a host of birds of prey including a bald eagle, two owls, an American kestrel, and a peregrine falcon.

David, who has the respiratory condition chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), has been supported by teams from John Taylor Hospice for two years.

As his condition has progressed, care has been stepped up to meet his needs – including creating special memories.

David’s family had organised a short holiday including a visit to a falconry centre for the life-long bird of prey enthusiast but faced disappointment when David became too poorly to make the trip.

But the team at John Taylor Hospice stepped in to arrange the visit from Andy along with a buffet so that other family members could share this special moment and enjoy the treat.

The event was made possible because David is part of the Personal Health Budget (PHB) project – a scheme in which patients are given control over how they choose to spend health and social care finance.

The scheme has been pioneered in Birmingham by John Taylor Hospice, Birmingham and Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group, and Birmingham Voluntary Service Council, working in partnership with Birmingham City Council (via the Better Care Fund). PHBs can be used to fund different services including home care, gardening or laundry and making special memories such as the Falconry event.

David’s daughter, 40-year-old Gemma Grantham, said the personalised care has made all the difference.

I can’t say enough about how much the hospice has helped Dad,” she says. “He was diagnosed nine years ago and we’ve been living with that ever since.

We were put in touch with the hospice two years ago and it has been such a help.

They explained the personal health budget to us and that has meant we’ve been able to access so much extra help. We have been able to have day sits and night visits which have really helped and the people who come can’t do enough for Dad. We’ve seen a real improvement in Dad’s mental health through getting this support.

The last few months have been really difficult as Dad had to go into hospital twice and both times we said goodbye to him – but both times he’s come back to us.

The first time he was having real breathing problems and the second time he had fallen and had to have a hip operation. With COVID-19 we were really worried about him going into hospital but he’s managed well both times.”

And the icing on the cake was the special visit from The Falconry Centre. Prior to the most recent Birmingham lockdown regulations, David was joined in the garden by his family including his three children, Gemma, Andrew and Rachel, and his nine grandchildren to see the birds.

We were all so disappointed when we realised Dad was too poorly to go on holiday,” said Gemma. “So this has been a real treat – not just for Dad but for everyone.

I still can’t believe the hospice has been able to do all of this for Dad. He’s really enjoyed it and I can see what a difference it’s made.”

John Taylor Hospice PHB Project Lead, Jan Hipkiss, said: “It was a real privilege to help David achieve his dream of seeing, once again, the birds of prey he so dearly loves and making this wonderful day come true for him and his family.

Through the personal health budget project we have been able to provide individual care, support and special memories for many patients and their families. This new way of delivering healthcare is ensuring it is the patient who is at the heart of their own decision-making.”

For more about John Taylor Hospice and Personal Health Budgets see www.johntaylorhospice.org.uk

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NEWS: Castle Vale school uniform clothing bank helps hundreds of families facing the new academic year

Words by Rachael Brazier / Pics by Laura Grigg & The Pioneer Group

A staggering 276 families have been spared the cost of school uniforms, thanks to an initiative set up by Compass Support‘s Parent Champions in Castle Vale.

The school uniform clothing bank was opened at The Sanctuary on Tangmere Drive in mid-July, collecting and distributing second-hand items before the start of the new academic year. All services and items are free of charge.

Molly Miles, Volunteer Coordinator from Compass Support – the charitable arm of The Pioneer Group, who works with Parent Champions in Castle Vale, says:

I am so proud of Jodi (Dunstan), Jayne (Herbert), Jess (Llewellyn) and Lisa (Pountney) who are helping children and families far and wide. Hopefully, we’ll be able to continue to support children and families with essential school uniforms in 2021.

The project was planned back in February and was on hold till early July when lockdown eased. It’s a brilliant initiative in terms of both saving money for struggling families, especially those with multiple children, and for sustainability reasons as much of the uniform is in perfectly good condition.”

To help raise awareness of the project and let people know where they can donate unwanted school uniforms, the Parent Champions have set up a Facebook page and are planning to distribute leaflets about their service.

Via the popular social media platform, local families can directly ask for specific uniform requests – which can then be collected by appointment from The Sanctuary community centre in Castle Vale.

Once uniforms and school items have been donated at The Sanctuary they are put into ‘quarantine’, washed, dried, and ironed ready for their new owner. When picking up items, parents and carers will be met by a volunteer – all socially distanced and abiding by government regulations.

Uniforms are available for local schools, including: Chivenor, St Gerards, Topcliffe, Pegasus, and Greenwood Academy. However, families affected by the coronavirus pandemic are donating and collecting from further afield – for example Smith’s Wood Academy in Solihull – as some uniforms come as standard issue.

Boys trousers have been the most donated item, as many teenagers grow out of clothes quickly. Another popular item on the wish list are PE kits – including t-shirts, pumps, and shorts.

And whilst the cost of school uniforms can run into hundreds of pounds per pupil, the Parent Champions initiative aims to reduce some of that financial burden for local residents. 

Jodi Dunstan, one of Compass Support‘s Parent Champions, helps local families with a range of information and advice about activities and services in the local area – alongside the school uniform initiative.

As a result of her hard work at the uniform clothing bank, especially with the added fears and pressures around COVID-19, Jodi Dunstan was nominated for and won a local Facebook competition celebrating community endeavours.

Jodi says: “We are receiving requests from people of all different backgrounds, and we’re so happy to give back to the community. We had one family that needed to kit out a family of seven children – can you imagine the cost?”

We’ll carry on as long as we can as we understand the hardships many families are currently facing. Between us volunteers we have 13 school-aged children of our own. We love being able to help, and just the relief on the parents/carers faces and the joy that uniform that fits brings is phenomenal.”

Any donated items that are not suitable for use are being sent for ‘ragging’ – with any funds generated ploughed back into running the uniform clothing bank initiative.

To find out more about Compass Support’s Parent Champions uniform clothing bank, including information on donating or collecting uniforms, please call (0121) 748 8111

You can also ask to join the private Facebook group, click here or on the hyperlinks in this article.

For more on Compass Support – the charitable arm of The Pioneer Group, visit www.compass-support.org.uk

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NEWS: Heartless thieves target Kingstanding charity stealing £20,000 of community equipment

Words by Adam Smith / Pics supplied by Kingstanding Regeneration Trust

A Kingstanding charity is reeling after thieves stole tools worth £20,000 which local youngsters use to clean up pensioners’ gardens.

Burglars used an angle grinder saw to break into Kingstanding Regeneration Trust’s (KRT) shipping container, Dulwich Road, and clear the shelves inside – steeling so much gardening gear they needed a large van to drive it away.

The charity, which is based at Kingstanding Leisure Centre, has now been burgled four times in two years.

Assistant manager Emily Dwyer told Erdington Local: “This is really upsetting. This is the fourth time we have been broken into in two years. We really try and do good work for the community at KRT so it is very sad this keeps happening.

These tools were used to help local young people get back into work and provide a gardening service for the pensioners.”

She added: “In December last year, thieves broke in and stole all our computers. We are waiting to find out what our insurers say about the tools but it will be so hard to get insurance after this latest break-in.

If anyone has any information about our tools or would like to donate to the charity then please contact us on 0121 439 6780.”

KRT was founded 12 years ago and provides training for young people to help them get into work.

The charity also provides a low cost gardening service for pensioners throughout North Birmingham and runs various community projects from the leisure centre.

As part of their ongoing community outreach activities, KRT also helps nurture and develop green spaces – creating eight community gardens in recent years and “greened up” Hawthorn Road by planting trees and shrubbery.

Kingstanding Police Team issued an appeal for information to the public about the theft at KRT.

PCSO Tracy Baker said: “KRT, a local charity based at Kingstanding Leisure Centre, has had their shipping container broken into over the weekend.

The container was full of gardening and power tools worth approximately £20,000. All the tools are used to train young people so they can access employment. The container had three locks on and needed an angle grinder or still saw and a large van to carry all the kit.”

She added: “Please may I ask you report any information you have, especially if you are approached by someone selling tool to us via 101 or our Live Web Chat quoting crime number 20BE/228247Q/20.”

To find out more about Kingstanding Regeneration Trust, visit www.krtbirmimingham.co.uk

For more on the Kingstanding Police team, including non-emergency contact information, visit www.west-midlands.police.uk/node/2711b

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NEWS: Shocking new police stats reveal 25% of all crime in Erdington is domestic abuse

Words by Adam Smith

Domestic abuse has increased by a massive 38% in Erdington and now accounts for a quarter of all crime in the area, the latest crime statistics have revealed.

As the latest COVID-19 restrictions take hold there are fears violence at home could rise further, as victims become trapped with their abuser in their home.

Erdington’s top cop, Inspector Haroon Chughtai, promised domestic abuse is now a priority due the huge year on year rise in the crime.

In his September message to Erdington residents Inspector Chughtai outlined the extent of the problem.

He said: ‘Erdington is unfortunately showing a near 8% increase in overall crime, and that is an extra 421 victims of crime. 

‘Domestic abuse sadly contributes a large part to this increase with roughly over one quarter of the overall crime being domestic abuse offences. Domestic abuse continues to show increases with a 38% rise, which is 345 extra victims.’

He added: ‘Domestic abuse remains a force priority and we are determined to bring these numbers down.’

The United Nations described domestic abuse as a ‘shadow pandemic’ after it emerged across the world there had been a 20% increase in the crime during various lockdowns – with victims physically trapped inside abusive households.

During lockdown the UK’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline revealed calls increased by 80%.

Inspector Chughtai described how combatting domestic abuse is a daily battle in Erdington.

He said: ‘Domestic abuse remains a critical force mission, and as such a significant amount of both local and force resources are invested daily into tackling it.

‘For us locally we focus on two key areas. Firstly prioritising pursuing and arresting offenders who are wanted for domestic abuse offences and secondly we identify repeat victim of domestic abuse each month and then take a problem solving approach to work with them and even at times the perpetrators to see what part we can play to break that cycle.

‘Whether that is seeking injunctions/prevention orders, supporting with house moves, signposting help and opportunities etc.’

Inspector Chughtai did also point to a reduction in robberies and burglaries in the latest crime statistics.

He said: ‘Robbery and burglary continue to show good reductions, with robbery showing a 19% reduction with 33 less victims of robbery, house burglaries show a 9% reduction with 28 less victims of burglary.

Under 25 violence shows a 15% reduction, with 23 less victims so far this year.’

Police resources are further being diverted to ensuring Erdington residents comply to the latest ‘rule of six’ COVID-19 restrictions are being obeyed. However, Inspector Chughtai explained fines will be given only as ‘a last resort’.

He said: ‘From the start of this pandemic, specifically around the policing of social distancing, our Chief Constable has been clear that enforcement will be a last resort, we will always look to engage, educate and encourage before we chose to enforce.’

For the latest COVID-19 guidelines visit www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-outbreak-faqs-what-you-can-and-cant-do/coronavirus-outbreak-faqs-what-you-can-and-cant-do

And for the local restrictions visit www.gov.uk/guidance/birmingham-sandwell-and-solihull-local-restrictions

For a database of local support services during the coronavirus crisis, provided by the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce, visit www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19-local-support 
__________________

If you believe you are a victim of domestic abuse, you can seek help and advice via the freephone 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline is 0808 2000 247

For more information visit www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk

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OPINION: Local news, for local people…

Words by Ed King

You’d be forgiven for immediately thinking of Royston Vasey, with all the menacing euphemisms and dusty shelves from the League of Gentlemen’s local shop. For local people. Of course.

Yet there’s a truth behind the dark humour, a wonder in civic pride – albeit one cruelly distorted, as Tubbs and Edward murder workmen and deliver the most macabre of toilet humour. But as the residents of the fictional and isolated town profess, and what is mirrored by many of us less sinister residents in less sinister suburbs, they are proud to be local.

And I am proud to be the editor of a local newspaper.

I am proud to be let into the lives, hopes, and ambitions of people who live and work on the same streets that I do.

I am proud to be local. The name of our newspaper is no accident.

And I’m not the only one. In our midst we have national journalists who have come back to Birmingham to report on the areas they’ve grew up in and around – and won awards whilst doing so.

We have internationally touring creatives on our team, who return to the postcode of their birth to rest their head after every Polish folk festival or Salzburg concert hall.

We have writers who live abroad but pen content about our small corner of the world, and who do it with love – if even from afar.

We have people who have dedicated their professional lives to promoting local services and endeavours. We have local partners, local contributors, and local volunteers. We have people who care about their area. Because they’re local.

There is an argument that such focused loyalty could turn into hyper-local jingoism, in the wrong hands. Pride can dangerous too. But whilst the roots of our efforts are embedded in celebrating and challenging what is on our immediate doorstep, everyone is welcome to the conversation. We never exclude. Local is not only a birth right, it can be delivered through open arms and a morning “hello” to your neighbour. All you have to do is care.

But in journalism there has been a growing gap between the people who read a publication and the people who reside in the areas the publication’s masthead declares they cover.

I’ve seen other Birmingham media feature stories from across the pond, for example – and how relevant is North American clickbait to the people of this city? Or clickbait from London, for that matter. Or Manchester.

It is also worth noting that the ‘largest’ newspaper in our city sells around 15,000 copies of each issue. As of 2020, the population of Birmingham was recorded as being over two and half million. Now how does that work…?

This is where we come in. Since the pre-sedition days of the Grub Street press to the advent of Facebook groups with a place name in the title, local news matters. And the wider the gap left by our peers, then the more reason and necessity there is for us to do what we do. Which is a job, challenge, and opportunity we relish. And one we’d do regardless.

So… wavy dream sequence… back to the dark stone, moors, and pursed pipped repression of the TV show that started this article. And don’t get me wrong, that’s the riskiest piece of Kendal Mint Cake you’re ever likely to buy.

But to be local is a good thing.

To love your area is a great thing.

And to be part of the collective voice – one that rises from the community you live in and one that celebrates and challenges the issues that affect the streets you live on – is a precious thing. It is something to cherish and something to be proud of.

This is a local newspaper, for local people. I’m a local editor. And, as I stated nearer the start of this article, I’m proud of that too.

To follow Ed King on Twitter, visit www.twitter.com/edking2210

For more on Review Publishing, visit www.reviewpublishing.net

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NEWS: North Birmingham Academy headteacher alleys parents’ fears after COVID-19 scare

North Birmingham Academy has been hit by a COVID-19 scare after members of staff tested positive for the virus.

Two teachers were found to be positive and are self-isolating, along with several pupils.

The headteacher of the College Road secondary school, Laura McLauire, wrote to parents to allay fears about a more widespread closures.

Mrs McLaurie wrote: ‘We have been made aware that two members of staff at the academy have unfortunately tested positive for COVID-19 and therefore are self-isolating for a period of 10 days.

‘We have since been working closely with Public Health England who advised that individuals who have been in close contact with these members of staff should isolate for 14 days as a precaution.

She added: ‘As one of the affected members of staff has confirmed that they have had no close contact with students and the other colleague had not yet started teaching at the academy, Public Health England confirmed that only members of staff who have had close contact will be required to self-isolate as a precaution.

‘Public Health England are otherwise satisfied as robust safety measures are in place at the academy, including social distancing and the arrangement of students and staff in bubbles to limit contact between individuals, the academy can remain open to all others.

‘Furthermore, please rest assured that we here at the academy are taking every precaution to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all our students and staff, including regular and focused cleaning of our academy, social distancing and ensuring good hand and respiratory hygiene.

She added: ‘I appreciate that upon hearing such news that some parents and carers might naturally feel concerned. However, I would like to reiterate that the health and wellbeing of your child is our number one priority and we will do everything in our power to ensure their safety.’

On Monday, the school informed parents it would be unable to provide face masks to pupils from Tuesday.

The school tweeted: “From tomorrow we will be unable to provide face masks to students. As Birmingham is in local lockdown it is a legal requirement for students to wear a mask unless they have a medical exception. Please ensure all children arrive with a mask for the safety of the whole #NBAFamily”

Parent Kelly Stone angrily replied on Twitter: “Three time’s now my daughter has told you about her asthma and how she struggles with her face mask that isn’t actually a legal requirement in school. Three times she’s been dismissed and is teachers raise their voices, nice one, great role modelling!”

She further told Erdington Local: “We were told about the staff testing positive but there are four children in my daughter’s Year 7 who are off self-isolating which we have not been told about.

As parents we should be kept informed at all times.”

NBA headteacher Mrs McLauire is holding a Q&A today at 4pm on YouTube about all COVID-19 related issues since the school reopened.

To find out more about North Birmingham Academy, visit www.northbirminghamacademy.e-act.org.uk

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NEWS: Kingstanding Police offer free bike security kits following knife point robbery

Words by Adam Smith

Kingstanding Police are offering free cycle security marking after a spate of robberies of mountain bikes from youngsters in the area.

Bike owners are being invited to Kingstanding Police Station this Saturday to get their property marked and be added to a national register which will reunite them with their bike if recovered after being stolen.

Last week, Rebecca Hurley’s child was robbed at knife point for his bike in Dovedale Road.

Appealing for information on Facebook the mother, who shared pictures of the bike and CCTV footage of the robbery, said: “The damage these people have done to my son’s confidence is unbelievable, it’s heart breaking.

They robbed him at knife point just off Dovedale Road. They ragged him around but he’s not hurt just really shook up. They tried to steal his phone as well but he managed to get away on the back of the bike.”

She added: “I have since found out these people had robbed two other boys at knife point in the area.”

The Facebook appeal was successful and the bike was returned to the boy after a woman who had bought it for £35 this weekend got in touch with the family.

Mrs Hurley said: “I can’t thank people enough for sharing my post as he has his bike back. These lads robbed my son for £35! They need to be stopped.”

Throughout the summer there have several other bike thefts from children in Kingstanding and Erdington.

The police have teamed up with national cycle database BikeRegister to help bike owners get their cycles marked with permanent security markings.

In a message to residents, Kingstanding Police team said: “We have obtained a limited number of bike security kits from BikeRegister and you like to offer you the opportunity to pop into Kingstanding Police Station on Saturday, September 19th, whereby, we will apply the kits to your pedal cycle.

We will then register you FREE of charge to our approved provider BikeRegister.”

Anyone interested should email their name, telephone number, address, bike make, model and frame number to kingstanding@west-midlands.pnn.police.uk

Local cyclists will then be given a time slot on Saturday 19th September to visit the station.

How to mark you bike with a BikeRegister kit

To find out more about BikeRegister, visit www.bikeregister.com

For more on the Kingstanding Police team, including non-emergency contact information, visit www.west-midlands.police.uk/node/2711b

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LOCAL PROFILE: Reuben Reynolds

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics supplied by Reuben Reynolds

Accomplished guitarist Reuben Reynolds, 29, has lived in Erdington for most of his life – one of many hidden talents in our local area.

Falling in love with the guitar around age 15, Reuben graduated from Coventry University with a ‘Professional Practice’ Music Degree. His earliest musical interests reflect his eclectic playing style: “Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, Green Day, Reggae music. These are like my early influences.”

Living in Erdington, but gigging all around the UK and abroad, Reuben has a hectic and varied life as a freelance musician. “My schedule is split between a few days teaching, performing, creative sessions, production, recording sessions dotted around.”

A travelling troubadour, Reuben teaches weekly outside of Birmingham – including at the Evelyn Grace Academy in Brixton and Uppingham School, a boarding school in East Midlands.

He also has private, one-to-one tuition with clients and is often booked for workshops, for a day or a few weeks, as a tutor. Teaching, for Reuben, is “rewarding” as it’s a chance “to connect with people who are less experienced, or people who are just coming up. It’s good for me because it keeps me connected with learning.”

A staple part of the music scene in Birmingham, Reuben has performed at many venues – big and small. He also works on a monthly event at Mama Roux’s in Digbeth called ‘The Unique Experience’, a regular showcase promoted by his longstanding musical partner Call Me Unique: “I would organise the band and lead the band, sometimes I wouldn’t even be playing! I tend to do a lot of house band events like that.”

In 2017 he performed at the world famous TED talks when the series came to Birmingham. He was the guitarist for Lumi HD – a Nigerian born, Birmingham-raised singer-songwriter, with a small ensemble. He’s no stranger to venues such as Town Hall or the Hippodrome, large music venues that can seat hundreds of spectators.

Reuben comments that his biggest audience was around 2000 people at the 02 Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London. Although he hasn’t been keeping score, giving a high quality performance no matter what the numbers on or off stage: “I try to play as if it doesn’t make a difference – It doesn’t matter if it’s 100 or 1000, I just play.”

Taking a piece of Erdington out into the world, Reuben has performed in France, The Netherlands, Poland, Bulgaria, Germany, and even North Carolina – playing as part of Soul or Gospel bands in various festival tours. He was due to tour in Germany this year, although this was cut due to COVID-19 – cancelled thanks to coronavirus, like a lot of his work.

Erdington Local previously spoke to Reuben about his thoughts on how musicians first responded to the coronavirus crisis – in our ‘Saturday night cabin fever’ feature, first published in April this year.

During the lockdown Reuben stayed positive, enjoying “more sleep”, a chance to reconnect with other creative projects, and to teach over Zoom. Now he notes a “significant loss of work” and especially bemoans the fact that he missed “summer – the most significant season for performing. He lost three weeks of work working with Punch Records too, where he was teaching up to ten students every day for three weeks.

But as lockdown eased and live music in the UK was able to resurface, albeit in a limited capacity, Reuben has been back gigging around Birmingham. Performing as part of a function band at Digbeth’s ‘Zumhof Biergarten’, Reuben laughs: “people aren’t allowed to dance – it’s a bit strange, when you’re playing song about dancing!”

Reuben also plays with a trio and was booked to play a series of quirky gigs in residential spaces in Handsworth this summer. Bringing music directly to the people, he performed in “open garden type areas outside people’s homes within earshot of their windows.” Residents were elated to be listening to live music from their balconies, performed in the open green space below. “I haven’t really done things like this before,” tells Reuben. “Lockdown has made people think of different ways to bring art to people.”

He was also booked to perform by the Erdington Arts Forum to support a family fun day in Erdington. With nothing but a gazebo, a battery powered amp, and vocalist Tavelah Robinson, Reuben’s makeshift duo were able to entertain kids with a two hour selection of upbeat music on Spring Lane Playing Fields – despite the unorthodox circumstances and unpredictable weather. Check out the video below.

When asked about the wider arts scene in Erdington, Reuben says: “I know about Oikos Café and the Secret Art Space Studios, but I feel like that’s all there is to know.” He acknowledges that “there’s a lot of musicians” but grieves that “there aren’t the type of venues that have live music, it seems. If you go up to Sutton (Coldfield) there’s seems to be more activity.”

Nonetheless, Reuben loves Erdington’s location in the country so he can gig anywhere, and the convenience of the high street.

By the sounds of things, Erdington isn’t going to lose this home-grown talent any time soon.

Reuben Reynolds and Tavelah Robinson @ Spring Lane Playing Fields

To find out more about Reuben Reynolds, visit www.instagram.com/reubzmusic

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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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EXPLOITED: HMOs – the cruel rules that Humans Must Obey

Words by Adam Smith / Pics by Ed King

Erdington Local continues its investigation into the frightening world of HMOs (homes of multiple occupancy) shining a light on the cruel rules and regulations thousands of tenants are forced to live under.

Chief reporter Adam Smith talks directly to the tenants living in uncertainty and fear across Erdington and the UK, wading through the inhumane bureaucracy behind HMOs – in his next article for EXPLOITED.

It took centuries for tenants to get legal rights so ruthless landlords could not evict them on a whim.

After a string of slum landlord scandals in the 1960s and 1970s several acts of parliament safeguarded renters rights – preventing enforced evictions, rent hikes, intrusion and intimidation.

However, right now thousands of Erdington HMO tenants are living as if the 20th Century never happened, in fear of being made homeless at any time.

HMO companies force tenants to sign license agreements, which leave them at the mercy of a raft of rules – many of which are vague and subjective, but which if broken can lead to eviction.

Three HMO tenants have shown Erdington Local their license agreements – relating to properties from Three Conditions Housing Association (3CHA), Green Park Housing (GPH), and Spring Housing (SH).

All three agreements are remarkably similar in their authoritative tone and demands on the tenant; the multiplicity of rules needed to be adhered to might as well see Houses of Multiple Occupancy redefined to Humans Must Obey*.

Green Park Housing and 3CHA warn tenants they could be evicted in a ‘REASONABLE’ amount of time. Although ‘REASONABLE’ is spelled put in capital letters on the official documents, an actual unit of time is not mentioned.

In the first EXPLOITED, Erdington Local revealed how social housing giant Spring Housing could evict tenants within seven days.

However, a whistle blower from another housing association, which has homes in Kingstanding, contacted Erdington Local to say: “Our housing association could evict within three hours if they wanted, the rules  people sign up to are vague so the housing associations can use them to evict immediately – if they say the person is in danger or other tenants they can remove them in three hours. That is what reasonable means.”

A consistent feature with all the HMO licence agreements is the stress on the importance of tenants paying a weekly service charge. Despite housing benefit covering the rent, often in the region of £800 to £900 a month for one room, housing providers demand a further weekly fee – Spring Housing £12, 3CHA £15, and Green Park £13.

Which the tenant has to pay, meaning tenants on benefits have to stump up 20% of their monthly money.

Unscrupulous landlords have realised the money spinning benefits of turning their house into an HMO, so now rooms are advertised for ‘£15’ per week and can only be rented to benefit claimants. Tenants sign up for ‘supported living’ in their licence and then Birmingham City Council will pay in the region of £900 a month for a room.

All the licence agreements are explicitly clear, if the weekly service charge is not paid then the tenant will be evicted.

What’s more, HMO tenants are forced to live under rules which means their house can never feel a home. Rules include: ‘no pictures can be hung on the walls.’ They cannot drink alcohol, smoke, or even swear in their own home.

3CHA‘s licence agreement says in bold black letters: ‘You cannot have anyone stay with You at the House overnight’ which bans adults from having the comfort of sleeping with another human being.

Spring Housing‘s agreement states: ‘You will not allow any visitors on site’ – meaning tenants in their properties cannot invite friends, family members, partners, or anyone in for a cup of tea or chat.

Even prisoners are allowed visitors, a right that is seemingly not extended to you if you live in an HMO.

A female HMO tenant, who did not want to be named for safety reasons, said: “I’ve lived in several HMOs and it always feels like they are trying to isolate me. I can’t even have my friends round for a laugh; I can’t decorate my room. The only time I hear from the support worker is when they demand the service charge.

And the rules are vague and open to interpretation, if they come up with a scenario which they say I am in danger or a danger to others then I have three hours to vacate. I’m old enough to remember when tenants had rights, but HMOS are different, they are evil. HMO for me stands for Humans Must Obey.”

Shamir Hussain, who was evicted by Spring Housing during the COVID-19 lockdown, said: “I just signed what they wanted me to when I got the room, but Spring used the small print rules to evict me during the pandemic. 

They used the fact that the kitchen was messy to evict me because of some rule they said I was breaking.”

The lack of privacy is another feature of living in a HMO, staff can enter a room whenever they want. Erdington Local has obtained a recording of a ‘landlord’ and ‘support worker’ entering a house at 11.30pm – demanding residents names, despite having no identification and refusing to give their own names.

GPH‘s licence agreement explicitly says on the first page: ‘This licence does not confer exclusive possession. GPH and its staff have the absolute right to enter Your Room at any time without notice.’

And even more disorientating is the fact that tenants can return their rooms and find them altered, as Spring Housing states: ‘Spring may change Your Room from time to time without notice or Your agreement. This can be done for any reason.’

Housing charity Shelter gives advice to tenants and tells them what they should legally expect.

Shelter states: ‘Landlords must let you live in your home without unnecessary interference. Your landlord should not let themselves into your home without your permission. Your landlord should not harass you or make it difficult for you to live in your home.’

However, thanks to the introduction of the HMO into the housing market these basic rights that tenants should expect have been removed.

3CHA boasts on its website: ‘It is a 21st century social landlord for 21st century customers.’

Which, sadly, is true – in the 20th Century tenants had more rights than the 21st Century. Because of HMOs.

*Humans Must Obey is copyrighted by Napier Productions – pertaining to the name of a forthcoming documentary about HMOs.

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

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