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   

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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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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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LOCAL PROFILE: Dave Travers – Castle Vale Stadium

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Ed King

Castle Vale Stadium boasts three football pitches, a function room, bar, a maximum total capacity of 1500, and an enviable amount of parking. It is now owned by The Pioneer Group, who recently hired Dave Travers as the new stadium manager – coming into post just before lockdown.

An engineer for 30 years, “designing press tools and making components for aerospace companies, 50 year old Dave Travers leapt into stadia management some five years ago – as a keen volunteer at Boldmere St Michael’s Football Club. His aptitude swiftly led him to become full time as the commercial director for that club.

When I first joined [Boldmere] they had one adult team, one junior team. It became my job, and then when I left Boldmere St Michael’s they had over 60 teams playing under the St Michael’s banner.”

Now firmly on the Vale, Dave has encouraged two prominent local teams – Castle Vale Town and Romulus F.C. – to run their football training on the same evening, helping the sport to help itself.

To me, if you’re a club – this is what we did at Boldmere – you can have peer coaching. There’s nothing better than under 10s joining an under 8s session, and them trying to be a leader as such. It’s great experience for them.”

At its centre, Castle Vale Stadium houses a four year old ‘3G Artificial Turf’ pitch – allowing matches to be played “52 weeks of the year – the only thing that stops us from playing football on this is snow. If it’s windy, rainy, sunny, you can still play on this. It is a fabulous football pitch.” There are two further grass pitches that require regular maintenance, which can also be used for other field sports and events.

Looking to further drive the site’s revenue, Dave is yearning for the bar to be more accessible and recognised on the Vale: “I wouldn’t say the bar had any regulars at the moment, it’d be nice to encourage them.”

He wants the function room to be utilised and has already accepted an “over 50s men’s group,” for regular bookings.

On top of this, the newly appointed manager aims “to open the little hatch as a café for match days, although that might take a month or two to get off the ground.”

But football is at the heart of Castle Vale Stadium, on the pitch and off. As the centre becomes more popular post-lockdown, diving full throttle diving into the F.A. Cup, Dave anticipates larger crowds and the need for more helping hands.

Now we’re getting busy, the stadium actually needs more staff. Bar staff we’re looking for, and someone young and dynamic who wants to work under me and see the inner workings of a football stadium.”

Football is a sport with a passionate spectatorship, so it has been a challenge for Dave to keep people abiding to the two meter rule necessary to ensure safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. The stadium ensures that no more than six people sit next to each other in the same bubble.

But the stadium manager is pragmatic and he is resolute about safety: “you’ve just got to use your noggin,” says Dave, having to cope with ever changing guidelines, “we can only fit 25 people in the bar due to current regulations.”

Dave’s concentration is also set on preparation for the F.A. cup season. “The beginning of the season is very stressful. Now is the busy time as you have to get all schedules in,” he tells, sounding jubilant about the match between Romulus F.C. and Coventry Sphinx later that night.

Tonight’s the first round of the FA cup. To get to the final – most boys dream about playing in the F.A. cup sometimes – as daft as it seems, they’re only 13 games from being away from the F.A. cup final.”

Whilst the weekly fixtures and management at Castle Vale Stadium will take up a lot of Dave’s time, his soul is still with the community.

He wants to plan a fun day in “July next year… Fields sports, general sports, family facilities where you can play rounders.” He fondly reminisces about times he dressed up as a clown and as Santa Claus for various family fun days in his previous role at Boldmere St Michael’s.

Whilst Dave quips with a wry smile that he’d “rather just be watching football”, his passion for organisation for the ‘The Beautiful Game’ is palpable.

Asking him what it takes to do his role, he responds: “It’s everything, isn’t it? There’s the financial planning, pitch planning, customer liaison – it takes in a hell of a lot of spheres. You have to have a thick skin as well.”

To find out more about Castle Vale Stadium, visit www.castlevalestadium.co.uk 

For more from The Pioneer Group, visit www.pioneergroup.org.uk

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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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OPINION: The Economic Impact of COVID-19 – A Birmingham View

Words by Ifor Jones – Head of Partnerships, The Pioneer Group / Picture of Birmingham skyline by Luke Matthews, profile pic courtesy of The Pioneer Group

As the economic impact of the COVID-19 lockdown has become clear with the threat of a tsunami of redundancies across the West Midlands I couldn’t help but reflect on what I experienced first-hand with the closure of MG rover first hand back in 2005 with 6,300 redundancies being made.

This had a profound economic and social impact on local communities which was mitigated by the action of the MG Rover Taskforce. I led the community support strand of the Taskforce which started with mobilising advice services to work in tandem with JC plus and the Learning Skills Council and progressed with a community regeneration programme supporting grass roots organisations and focusing on providing support for workers and the MG Rover community.

The following sets out the learning and the lessons which arose from this tragic time which I feel are very relevant to the potential impact of COVID-19 across the City.

In the lead up to COVID-19, statistics for the first quarter of 2020 confirmed Birmingham’s comparatively high unemployment claimant rate (9.3%) compared to other major English cities.

The figure had been relatively stable but began to increase during 2018 in the wake of benefit changes connected to the roll out of Universal Credit.

It is my assertion that, when considering the potential impact of COVID-19, we will see two distinct cohorts within the unemployment claimant count for Birmingham.

  • Longer term cases clustered in geographical hotspots or demographic characteristics such as youth unemployment, BAME groups and people with disabilities.
  • Those who have lost their jobs as an economic consequence of COVID-19, across a range of sectors and impacting on an even wider cross section of the working population.

A Precedent for What’s Next

In 2005, MG Rover at Longbridge closed with the overnight loss of 6,300 jobs. Further job losses in the supply chain pushed this figure to over 8,000.

However, a significant number of workers were able to retrain to change their careers; undertaking academic vocational training. A report indicated around 4,000 (63%) of former MG Rover workers found new, mostly full-time, work. Approximately 25% of these workers were earning more with over 50% of them earning less.

Strong partnerships were key to the management and mitigation process, especially in relation to the social and economic impact of such a significant plant closure.

In a two-year period, I witnessed a shift from crisis management to sustained economic and social strategies for recovery. At the heart of this was a collaborative approach coordinated at different levels, from the very local in Longbridge and Northfield to across the city, region and nation as a whole.

My engagement through a localised team in the City Council was to co-ordinate the initial crisis response regarding advice and community support delivered in partnership with agencies such as JobCentre Plus and The Learning Skills Council. This was complemented with the support of organisations across the voluntary and community sector and, most critically, the MG Rover communities themselves.

Mobilising a response to administer change at pace was critical, as was building relationships with the workers and MG Rover to ensure engagement with and wider community buy-in.

The lessons that were learned, that can help us deal with the anticipated fallout of COVID-19 include:

  • mobilise interventions at pace working with both cohorts – existing and new claimants
  • get new cohort of unemployed into training and work as soon as possible
  • quickly intervene with training agencies and providers for re-skilling
  • ensure personal contact with individuals whether through advice and support or training
  • recognise importance of welfare advice and wellbeing services and administering benefits quickly
  • use opportunities for public service employers to take on and train former MG Rover workers, for example the city council created opportunities in youth, leisure and community development services
  • work in partnership – at regional, city and local levels – with public services, employers, community and third sector agencies
  • provide community support in the moment of crisis – e.g. helplines, social events, funding for holiday breaks
  • create a strategy for inclusive growth e.g. local area regeneration – Longbridge transitioned from a centre of economic activity of regional and national significance to an important local centre with a mix of new housing, retail, public services and some retained manufacturing.

Ifor Jones is Head of Partnerships at The Pioneer Group – for more on The Pioneer Group, visit: www.pioneergroup.org.uk

The Pioneer Group is a member of the Erdington COVID19 Taskforce, facilitated by Witton Lodge Community Association.

Established in April 2020, the Taskforce is a network of local organisations from a wide variety of sectors, working together to support people who have been adversely affected by the pandemic.

To access the online address book and database of local support services compile by the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce, visit: www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19/local/support

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FEATURE: Erdington Community Volunteers, the silver lining of the coronavirus crisis – helping thousands across the constituency

Words & pics by Ed King / Video by Paul Withers – Erdington Local Broadcast Unit

There has not been much to celebrate over the past few weeks, as the world has been put on pause to stem the spread of COVID-19.

But the silver lining of the coronavirus crisis can be found in the volunteer groups that have sprung up all across the country – grassroots organisations who have mobilised friends, families, and neighbours to support the most vulnerable in their communities.

And as national campaigns such as Volunteers’ Week have been highlighting across the UK, this community spirit and endeavour is playing an increasingly vital role in our country’s social care network.

The Erdington Community Volunteers began as a Facebook group, an online act of goodwill set up by local resident Jo Bull – launching via social media on the day lockdown began.

Two months later and they now have over 800 online members, with an active team of over 70 local people helping the official Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce deliver important outreach campaigns. What started as a simple gesture has become a fundamental support network for thousands of Erdington residents.

There was a nationwide group of mutual aid groups at the time,” explains David Owen, who came onboard to help co-ordinate the Erdington Community Volunteers as their membership grew, “and a centralised group were asking for each community to create their own, in essence.

We had 500 members (online) in our first 24 hours and it’s grown consistently since then, so we’ve got just over 800 members now. We wanted a platform for people who wanted to help, to meet up with those that needed help.”

Working with the Erdinton COVID-19 Taskforce, the Erdington Community Volunteers have become the hands and feet of a significant outreach programme with organisations such as The Active Wellbeing Society, Witton Lodge Community AssociationCompass Support and The Pioneer Group 

There has been an immediate and constant programme distributing food and essential household items across the constituency, with around 20 Erdington Community Volunteers delivering daily care packages to those who have needed to self-isolate.

The coronavirus put people into lockdown who normally live completely independent lives,” explains David, “they weren’t used to dealing with established organisations.

“So, we filled that gap, if you like, between what are the statutory requirements and what are the requirements during COVID-19.

Some of the national programme were slow to respond, in all fairness, and we able to very very quickly identify people who needed help and get that help to them.”

But whilst playing an important role in the community, especially during the coronavirus crisis, the Erdington Community Volunteers has become a community within itself – as many members discover unexpected positives from the time and effort they have given to the group.

I found out about the group through my cousin, who started delivering a few weeks before I did, explains Dillon Linford, a young resident who has been helping the Erdington Community Volunteers distribute food and essential items with The Active Wellbeing Society.

It’s good. It’s a good way to break up the day and it gives you something to do during lockdown. I’ll have to fit it in between everything I’m doing, that’s restarting after lockdown, but I can definitely see myself doing more of it. It’s good for me; it’s good for other people. It’s good to help.”

But as Volunteer’s Week draws to a close, with the #NeverMoreNeeded and #BrumTogether campaigns hoping to continue the momentum of support, the Erdington Community Volunteers are also making plans for the future.

For many of the volunteers it has been an extremely positive experience,” continues David, “it’s given them an opportunity to help when there was a sense of helplessness.

They wanted to help, they wanted to help the community, but they didn’t know how. They didn’t know the established organisations that existed. This platform, this group, has given them that opportunity.

You see more affluent areas, such as Sutton Coldfield or Moseley, with a charitable trust – I’m not saying the (Erdington) Community Volunteers will become that, but with the networking that’s happened I’d like to see something like that established within Erdington – and to see that as our legacy.

If anyone wants to help, and we are still desperately looking for volunteers, please get in touch with us via Facebook or by emailing erdingtoncv19@gmail.com

Erdington Community Volunteers

To visit the Erdington Community Volunteers Facebook group, where you ask for help and support during the coronavirus crisis – or offer your services as a volunteer, visit www.facebook.com/groups/625073991557017

Alternatively, you can email David Owen at the Erdington Community Volunteers group via erdingtoncv19@gmail.com

A directory of all Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce organisations, offering help from employment advice to mental health support, can be found by visiting: www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19-local-support

Volunteers’ Week runs across the UK from 1st to 7th June – for more information, visit www.volunteersweek.org

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NEWS: Funding of up to £10000 now available for projects to support Erdington’s older residents during the coronavirus crisis

Words by Steve Sharma

Grants are now available to Erdington organisations delivering COVID-19 support services for older residents.

As the pandemic continues to impact life across the constituency, the Erdington Neighbourhood Network Scheme (NNS) is calling out to groups who could provide vital services for the over-50s.

To apply for funding, which can range from micro grants of up to £2000 and up to £10000 for larger projects, organisations are being asked to contact one of two local community service organisations – acting as gatekeepers for the wider Erdington NNS.

If based in Perry Common, Kingstanding, Erdington or Stockland Green, groups should contact Witton Lodge Community Association – based at Perry Common Community Hall.

Whilst groups working in Castle Vale, Pype Hayes, Gravelly Hill or again Stockland Green, should contact Compass Support – the charitable arm of The Pioneer Group, based in Castle Vale.

Since the launch of Erdington NNS in September 2019, more than a dozen groups have received funding to deliver activities and provision – helping reduce isolation and boost wellbeing among the district’s older generation.

But with the social distancing regulations imposed around coronavirus, as many venues that house social engagement and group activities close their doors due to the pandemic, there is concern that residents who are vulnerable and in need of help are not being reached.

Groups are invited to apply for funding to establish activities and support services which benefit the health and wellbeing of older people living in Erdington,” explains Debbie Bates, Health and Wellbeing Lead at Witton Lodge Community Association. “In addition to these services, gaps have been identified in activities and provision in a few specific areas where urgent support is needed. 

We are appealing for organisations who could deliver COVID-19 support services and invite organisations who are able to help, to get in contact and apply.”

Addressing a range of social and care concerns for older residents, the Erdington NNS funding wants to support groups who challenge issues including health, wellbeing, bereavement, and domestic violence – alongside anti-social behaviour and the effect it can have on the wider community.

People can become isolated in many ways,” explains Sarah Powers, Health & Wellbeing Team Leader at Compass Support, part of The Pioneer Group, “it could be through the loss of a spouse, declining health, illness, disability or caring responsibilities, discrimination, prejudice and cultural isolation. We understand that chronic loneliness is not only horrible to experience day in, day out, but left unaddressed it can have a devastating effect on a person’s health and wellbeing.

This grant is a fantastic opportunity to better connect people and deliver meaningful outcomes to older, local residents. Whether the project provides access to emotional support or community engagement, all bids are welcome to help people aged 50+ to lead independent, happy and healthy lives.”

To find out more about the Erdington Neighbourhood Network Scheme (NNS), visit https://wittonlodge.org.uk/new-network-scheme-boosts-erdington-residents/

If you run a group in Perry Common, Kingstanding, Erdington or Stockland Green, and want to apply for funding from the Erdington NNS, please email Debbie.bates@wittonlodge.org.uk

If you run a group in Castle Vale, Pype Hayes, Gravelly Hill or Stockland Green, please email: Donna.ebanks@compass-support.org.uk

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