NEWS: West Midlands mayoral candidate Andy Street will “do everything I can” to save Short Heath Playing Fields

Words & video by Adam Smith / Pics by Gary Phelps

Conservative West Midlands Mayoral candidate Andy Street has promised “to do everything I can” to save Short Heath Playing Fields.

Mr Street met campaigners and volunteers from Short Heath Wombles at the playing fields yesterday afternoon – capping off a busy week on the campaign trail ahead of the poll on Thursday, May 6.

Saving green belt land and preserving green spaces has been a central plank of Mr Street’s re-election campaign and he called on Birmingham City Council to scrap controversial plans to build more than 80 houses cherish Erdington playing fields.

He told Erdington Local: “The first time I heard about the plan to build houses on this site, I thought ‘this can’t be right’. To me, it’s not even a debate whether houses should or should not be built – I cannot understand why they would be built here. It cannot happen.

“Across the region we are campaigning to save green belt but also green spaces, they are our green lungs.

“Housing in Erdington is quite dense and we’ve learnt in Covid how important green spaces are for our mental and physical health.”

He added: “Long before the election I supported the campaign to save Short Heath Playing Fields. I have visited the site before and I am in regular contact with Stephen Hughes from the campaign.”

The decision to build homes on the former school playing fields will be made by Birmingham City Council’s planning committee – but the West Midlands Combined Authority can prepare and recommend alternative brownfield sites for development.

Mr Street said: “I can make sure we prepare the brownfield sites we’ve got for development and there are funds from the combined authority available for this. So, I can make the alternatives happen because there is no denying we need more homes in the city.”

He added: “Ultimately it is a Birmingham City Council decision which I cannot directly influence but I can give voluble support to the campaigners – so those who will decide its future will know what the community want.

“Everyone in the community must shout to make their voice heard over this issue and they can make a difference.”

Stephen Hughes, from Short Heath Fields Trust, thanked Mr Street for his support and described how the campaign, which began last summer, had galvanised the community.

He said: “I know how passionate Mr Street is about saving green spaces and knowing he is backing our campaign, and willing to come and see what we are doing down here, is really important for us.

“We have a lot of exciting plans and the community is right behind us.”

Short Heath ‘Womble’ Sheila Appleby, aged 79, picks up litter seven days a week from the playing fields – along with other local residents as the ‘Short Heath Wombles’.

Upset over the Council’s plans for the beloved local green space, which Shelia and the other ‘Wombles’ rely on for exercise, she gave Mr Street a hand written letter explaining why losing the playing fields would break her heart.

Shelia wrote: “Our children need this place so they will not play in the roads or sit in all day on their X-boxes. So, hands off our green space – even the late Prince Philip saw the need for playing fields, so does Prince William.

“Once green spaces are gone they are gone forever.”

Andy Street visits Short Heath Playing Fields

For more on Andy Street visit: www.andystreet.org.uk

For more on the campaign to Save Short Heath Playing Fields, visit: www.facebook.com/groups/1007069176404521

VOTING FOR BOTH THE WEST MIDLANDS MAYOR AND POLICE & CRIMES COMMISIONER TAKES PLACE ON 6 MAY 2021 – to register to vote visit: www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

For more on elections and voting from Birmingham City Council visit: www.birmingham.gov.uk/info/20097/elections_and_voting  

OPINION: Let’s make the ‘new normal’ OK

Words by Ed King – NOT NORMAL NOT OK / Pics by Callum Lees and Phil Drury

NOT NORMAL NOT OK is a campaign that challenges sexual violence – at live music events, clubs, pubs, and bars across country. As venues start to reopen, with gigs being booked and drinks being poured once again, campaign director Ed King calls for an end to ‘rape culture’ in the entertainment industry and beyond.

No one is ever ‘asking to get raped’.

It seems like an absurd sentence to say, but some still need reminding of this fact – no matter if someone is drunk or sober, quiet or laughing. If its late at night or if they’re wearing short fitting clothes. No one invites this monster in.

But sexual violence is such a systemic problem that we have coined an expression and granted it a place in the hallowed halls of society’s self-description. There is now ‘rape culture’. Like ‘gang culture’ or ‘knife culture’, although no one is ever accused of ‘asking to get stabbed’.

It’s prevalent too, dark stains across our social fabric. It’s all around us: at schools and universities, within the workplace, screamed at a stranger from the passenger side of a moving car. And as for the 45th President of the United States of America…

Rape culture trickles into nearly every facet of our society, influencing and excusing the sexual aggressors that hide behind its ubiquity.

It is destroying us; it is abhorrent. It won’t silently go away either, we need to first push it into the light and then out of the room altogether. And we need to do it now.

But how? Well, the vast majority of sexual violence is against women (and the vast majority of sexual aggressors are men) so let’s start there – to achieve any significant change the gender with the most blood on their hands needs to take some responsibility.

And if you want to jump in at this point and tell me that not all men are rapists, I know this. We all know this. It is a point that only distracts us from the ones that really need making. But yes, not all men are rapists. I hear your stamping feet. Now let’s get on with challenging those that are.

On a plus point, within the entertainment industry at least, there has never been a better time than right now – as lockdown restrictions are lifted and music venues, clubs, festivals, and licensed premises start open up and events creep back onto the calendar. Now is a golden chance for change.

We need it too. NOT NORMAL NOT OK launched in 2018, naming itself after a conversation I had with a local singer who had been groped by the man who booked her to perform – behaviour so familiar in the music scene around her that she felt it was almost ‘normal’, that people thought it was ‘OK’ to behave that way towards women.

(By the way, ‘groped’ in a legal lexicon is ‘sexual assault’ – here’s the official definition from the Crown Prosecution Service in case you think you’re too clever to end up in court:‘Sexual assault is when a person is coerced or physically forced to engage against their will, or when a person, male or female, touches another person sexually without their consent.’)

The point that spurned our campaign was that this kind of sexual aggression is not normal and not OK, all we needed after that was a logo.

But the roots of this violence come from an indoctrinated belief that it is simply part of human nature, that sex sells and lust compels. And whilst the most heinous of sexual violence crimes and carry a custodial sentence the rest are merely out-takes from someone’s own personal Carry On film.

So, let’s jump back to those terrible two words and clarify the clarion call that follows them: no one is ever ‘asking’ to get ‘raped’. And no matter how funny you think your actions are, or how ‘harmless’ the ‘bit of fun’ is in your head, it’s not. So, stop.

Find another way to impress your mates and a better way to talk to women. Because with enough clandestine endorsement this behaviour segues neatly into national news alongside words like ‘tragedy’ and ‘victim’.

Mercifully though, the answer is quite simple. Respect others. Be certain about consent. Remember that intimacy is a privilege, not a right or expectation.

And just because you think you are unthreatening, or funny, your actions – to a stranger or someone within your own peer group – can be interpreted as aggressive.

Then remember that each of us is an example to the world around us. So, be a good one.

Let us put an end to the quickfire terms so readily describe the darkness – there should never be a ‘culture’ of ‘rape’, something so inexcusable should not have something so convenient to hide behind. And if you’re still stuck then repeat the name of our campaign: sexual violence is NOT NORMAL and it is NOT OK.

Ever.

For more on the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign, or for advice and support if you have been affected by sexual violence, visit www.notnormlnotok.com

NEWS: Dying Castle Vale schoolgirl’s EuroDisney wish sparks massive community fundraising effort

Words by Adam Smith / Pics supplied by Keena Cespedes

A dying Castle Vale schoolgirl’s wish to see EuroDisney is a step closer after £4,600 was raised in a month by big-hearted friends, family, and the community.

Six-year-old Kionne Holding, who has an incurable rare form of epilepsy, wants to go meet the Little Mermaid with the rest of her family – but due the specialist disability travel arrangements the holiday could cost £10,000.

However, when her mother Keena Cespedes, who has been at her daughter’s side for the last 93 days at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, launched a GoFundMe page (Kionne’s Fund) in August there was an overwhelming response.

Click here or on the hyperlink above to visit the GoFundMe page – Kionne’s Fund

Kionne’s Fund has inspired online music festival fundraisers, reggae brunches, and raffles. Family friend Lee Crofts is also undertaking a sponsored ‘Castle Vale to Paris Triathlon’ which has so far raised £1,600.

Keena, aged 37, told Erdington Local: “I can’t even begin to say how amazing people have been since I told people about Kionne, friends, family, and strangers have sent me messages of support and my daughter presents.

I put up the GoFundMe page without thinking anything would happen, I would have been happy with £50 but it feels like the whole of Castle Vale has got involved, as well as people across Birmingham.

We have now raised more than £4,600. I know times are hard for people, so it really means a lot people are donating.”

Keena remembers Kionne as a bubbly, funny, lovable child before last November when she suddenly began having seizures and headaches. Two months later she was diagnosed with small tumor on her brain and a rare form of epilepsy called Lennox Gasture Syndrome.

Her condition deteriorated and she in the last nine months she’s lost the ability to walk, talk and eat. Doctors have given her various drugs, treatments, and alternative remedies but all to no avail.

Keena said: “Due to all the drugs she is on she does not understand what is being done for her and all the love people have for her, but we still are hoping to take her to EuroDisney with her sisters.”

Tragically Keena has already had to have a conversation with specialists about Kionne’s end of life care.

She said: “This syndrome has taken everything away from her and is slowly killing my baby. She is unable to walk, eat for herself, and now her speech is going. She now speaks like a three-year-old not a six-year-old. She cannot be treated and there is no cure. I’m coming to terms with my baby dying and the little time we have left with her.

All I want to do now is make her life as amazing as possible and one way is to get her on holiday with her sisters who she loves so much.”

And due to the coronavirus pandemic, Kionne has been unable to get visits and cuddles from her three sisters.

Keena added: “Only I can go and visit her because of COVID-19, Kionne misses her sisters and they miss her but there is nothing that can be done about that – that is why it would be wonderful if we could all go away together. We would need specialist care when we are there and have to stay in adapted hotels, but it can be done and we are hoping to go early next year now.”

Castle Vale fundraiser Lee Crofts has now cycled the distance from “The Ressies to Dover” and also organised a reggae brunch at Minworth Social Club.

He said: “We’ve had amazing gestures of support with events, raffles set up, prize donations, and raised £500 in a day.

The little superhero is fighting the hardest fight of all, so let’s make the dark days a little brighter and give her. Her wish of a holiday with her sisters to make some priceless memories.”

To sponsor Lee as he continues his bid to cycle, run and walk the distance to Paris, click here to visit the Kionne’s Wish PayPal page.

The Chivenor Primary School pupil has touched the hearts of the nurses at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, where she has been for the last three months.

Nurse Victoria Mulligan posted on the GoFundMe page: ‘I have had the pleasure of looking after Kionne and every shift she brightened my day with a massive smile and huge hug.

‘She holds on to you so that you can’t leave her side, she sings to you, she makes you laugh, she is super brave and absolutely deserves to go on holiday which will never make up for all she has gone through but will give her and her family an experience of happiness to remember forever.’

For more information or to donate to Kionne’s Fund visit: www.gofundme.com/f/kionnes-fund

To sponsor Lee Crofts – as he cycles, runs and walks the distance to Paris – visit the Kionne’s Wish PayPal page here: www.tiny.cc/qpaysz   

NEWS: Snapshots of Mumbai – local writer explores historic relationship between India and Britain, marking 73 years of India’s independence from colonial rule

Pics by Paul Ward – all photography in this article has taken from Snapshots of Mumbai

On Saturday 15th August, local writer Ed King releases Snapshots of Mumbai – marking 73 years of India’s independence from British colonial rule.

Supporting the text are a series of original images from Birmingham based photographer Paul Ward, who recently won the ‘Fashion Photographer’ category at the British Photography Awards 2020.

Exploring the might and majesty of India, whilst following the roots of British imperialism, Snapshots of Mumbai is ‘a love letter’ to the modern day megacity – published in both hardback and paperback editions by Review Publishing, joint owners of Erdington Local.

The 204 page coffee table book is an anthology of essays and interviews from Mumbai – starting with ‘South City’, a walking tour through the history of this sprawling modern metropolis.

‘Places Behind’ goes deeper under the surface of prominent areas in Mumbai, such as Dhobi Ghats – the world’s largest outdoor laundromat, and Dharavi – Asia’s biggest slum where the film Slumdog Millionaire was set.

‘Modern Gods’ explores three major driving forces behind Mumbai, told through more extensive essays on religion, entertainment, and trade.

Whilst ‘Interviews’ sees Ed King talk directly to of people about their first-hand experiences of living and working in Mumbai.

Featured in the chapter are Saami – a street hawker who works and lives on the streets of Colaba, and Ashwin Merchant – Deputy Director of the Swiss Business Hub, who had to help Mumbai police identify bodies after the 2008 terror attacks, and Naresh Fernandes – a prominent Mumbai based journalist and writer, who was editor of Time Out Mumbai when interviewed.

‘The Gallery’, the final chapter in Snapshot of Mumbai, showcases a special series of twelve photographs from the project by Paul Ward – which have already been on display as standalone exhibitions at both Wolverhampton Art Gallery and Bilston Art Gallery.

Written for audiences who may or may not know the city, Snapshots of Mumbai is also ‘a reminder’ of Britain’s colonial legacy in South Asia – introducing today’s readers to the ‘forgotten history’ of the British Raj.

The first of five books that will follow Britain’s involvement with India – from the trade of the East India Company to the military occupation enforced by the British Crown – the Snapshots of… series will further cover Kochi, Chennai, Kolkata, and Kashmir.

Ed King was born in Britain and works in Erdington, but has a longstanding relationship with India – having covered music events across the country for a number of UK titles.

Although it was his own ignorance of the history between the two countries that spurred him to write Snapshots of Mumbai.

The term ‘Empire’ was never taught in my history lessons,” tells Ed King, “it was a left to fade behind tales of the League of Nations and other heroic feathers in caps.

But the legacy of British India has shaped both countries, tied them together – and it’s becoming part of the world’s conveniently forgotten history.

I wrote Snapshots of Mumbai because I wanted to learn about the relationship between Britain and India myself. Something I hoped to pass on in an engaging narrative surrounded by beautiful pictures – thank you Paul Ward.

This book is not an accusation of ignorance; I want the book to be enjoyed. It is, quite simply, a love letter to the city – an exploration of Mumbai.

But we should hold on to history and know how the world was formed by our grandparents, our great grandparent’s, and those that came before. It is a frightening and absurd chapter to forget. There’s still an audience for truth.”

Ed King interviewed about Snapshots of Mumbai – filmed at Oikos Café, as part of the Erdington Arts Forum ‘Evening of Creativity’

Snapshots of Mumbai is available in’ both hardback and paperback editions from Saturday 15th August, release by Review Publishing.  

For more on Snapshots of Mumbai, including links to online sales, visit www.reviewpublishing.net/snapshots-of-mumbai

For more on Paul Ward, visit www.paulward.net