COMMUNITY ANCHORS: A 2024 wish list for Castle Vale Community Housing

Words by Simon Wilson, Chief Executive Officer – Castle Vale Community Housing


 
I didn’t write to Santa as I am sure he had enough on his plate but if he had any influence on the state of social housing my wish list would probably look something like this:

First and foremost, whatever the outcome of this year’s General Election (and I think it will be this year) whoever is elected the need for a ‘long term plan for social housing’ as advocated by the National Housing Federation would be top of my list.

We don’t need more arbitrary targets (that never get hit) on building of more homes but actual delivery. We need to see social housing as a bedrock of lifting people out of poverty and improving life chances, reducing the strain on health and social services. I’d like to see this as a national mission and one we can play our part in.


 
For those who live in social housing times are not set to get any easier in 2024. While inflation looks to be reducing, let’s remember that simply means the rate of price increases is slowing not coming down.

For those in low paid work and on fixed incomes the price of their ‘basket of goods’ will continue to be challenging and The Pioneer Group is committed to playing our part through our cost-of-living taskforce in 2024. Some economic relief would be on my list!

Last but by no means least I want us to deliver on our own list of actions in the year ahead – we don’t need a man with a white beard to deliver on our promises – we will build more homes, we will invest in our existing homes and we will continue to provide a top class repairs service and charitable services through Compass Support.


 
I know people will be worried about the plight of the City Council – I am too – but we will do our bit in making sure we fight for and work in partnership to protest and deliver housing and estate services into our core communities that our tenants, residents and service users need.

I wish all you a very happy and prosperous 2024 and look forward to sharing more about our work in these columns in the year ahead.

For more on Castle Vale Community Housing visit www.cvch.org.uk

For more on The Pioneer Group visit www.pioneergroup.org.uk and for more on Compass Support visit www.compass-support.org.uk

Castle Vale Community Housing, The Pioneer Group, and Compass Support are key partners in the Erdington Local COMMUNITY ANCHORS programme – supporting independent local and community journalism.

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: Looking forward into 2024 with Witton Lodge Community Association

Words by Afzal Hussain – Chief Officer of Witton Lodge Community Association


 
I suspect many of us will be looking ahead to 2024 with mixed emotions. Community workers, volunteers and organisers tend to be optimistic by nature, who combine deep purpose with fairness and justice to affect change in their neighbourhoods.

We know that there are many positive things to look forward to, however, we also know that it remains a very difficult time for many local residents. For organisations like Witton Lodge Community Association, this means providing a safety net to support some of our most vulnerable, as well as acting as a springboard to nurture local talent and support people to fulfil their potential.

We are also redoubling our efforts to demonstrate that when public agencies like the Council, NHS or the West Midlands Combined Authority work with the grain of communities – when they reach into neighbourhoods, and listen… genuinely listen and engage, then not only do they achieve better results, but they also get better value for money, reduce frustration and improve trust and satisfaction.

It’s in this spirit of collaboration that we will be further strengthening our own relationships with local groups and public bodies to help improve lives and livelihoods in Erdington.

Now given the time of year, many of you will have made or in my case ‘recycled’ previous New Year’s resolutions. Do pop into one of our hubs, take a look at our website, or call us to see how we can support you.

And remember, if you’re looking to develop new skills, make friends or give back to your community then volunteering may be perfect for you.

For more on Witton Lodge Community Association, visit www.wittonlodge.org.uk

Witton Lodge Community Association is a key partner in the Erdington Local COMMUNITY ANCHORS programme, supporting independent local and community journalism.

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: Key housing milestone for pioneering partnership

Words & pics supplied by Hema Chumber, The Pioneer Group


 
The Pioneer Group is a key partner of the Matrix Housing Partnership (MHP) which is celebrating a key milestone with the start of the GreenSquareAccord development at Swan Lane, West Bromwich – it’s 2,000th home.

In 2018 MHP was awarded an initial £84.5 million from Homes England to support delivery of 2,124 social and affordable homes across the West Midlands. A further £185 million has since been secured from the Government’s Affordable Homes Programme to support development of an additional 2,167 affordable homes.

MHP also comprises GSA, Black Country Housing Group, Citizen Housing Group, Rooftop Housing Association and Trident Housing Association.


 
Dave Livesey, Director of Development and Asset Management at Pioneer said: “Pioneer is proud to work with Matrix Partners on the delivery of affordable housing in the region.

“There is a chronic shortage in of good quality affordable housing across the country and marking the delivery of the 2,000th home with Matrix is important in recognising the role we have played in this.

“Pioneer is committed to providing Great Safe Homes and using our grant allocation from Homes England with our own resources ensures that we are doing what we can to address housing across the city.”

The Swan Lane development will provide 147 affordable homes for affordable and social rent.

Ruth Cooke, Chair of Matrix Housing Partnership and Chief Executive of GSA, said: “It is an honour for the Matrix Housing Partnership to be recognised as a key strategic partner of Homes England. We have been collaborating for nearly 20 years and the construction start at Swan Lane demonstrates our continued success in delivering affordable homes.”

For more on The Pioneer Group visit www.pioneergroup.org.uk and for more on Compass Support visit www.compass-support.org.uk

The Pioneer Group and Compass Support are key partners in the Erdington Local COMMUNITY ANCHORS programme, supporting independent local and community journalism.

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: …and finally from 2023

Words by Afzal Hussain – Chief Officer of Witton Lodge Community Association


 
As we approach the festive season, many of us will celebrate, spend time with our loved ones and take a well-earned rest. In recent times, community spirit has been tested and emerged even stronger.

It is evident at this time of year, as so many people look out for each other, whether that is their neighbour or someone they know who may be on their own. Others volunteer and support so many good causes to make life better and a little more special. 

It is this sense of community that guides the work of the Association, gives us hope, and motivates us to do better. Reflecting on the past year, so many things stand out. First, it is important to acknowledge that cost-of-living pressures have and are still affecting many families.

Against this tough backdrop, the Erdington Wellbeing Hub continues to provide much-needed advice and support from the former walk-in-centre on the High Steet. I’m also pleased that we have been able to purchase and refurbish empty properties for local families in housing need.

The Witton Lakes Eco Hub celebrated its first anniversary and has exceeded all expectations – it is a great meeting place where you can also get advice on small changes that will save money on your energy costs and help to protect the planet; you can get healthier through numerous activities that cater for all abilities, or you can simply come along to enjoy the outdoors.


 
Perry Common Community Hall remains our ‘anchor’ where anybody can turn up – whether that be for support or to volunteer for a cause that they’re passionate about. On that note, I am delighted to welcome our new volunteers who will complement the existing team and make a huge difference to community life.

From the entire Witton Lodge team, we wish you a happy and peaceful Christmas and New Year.

(This column was written for initial publication in the Erdington Local newspaper – published on 8 December.)

For more on Witton Lodge Community Association, visit www.wittonlodge.org.uk

Witton Lodge Community Association is a key partner in the Erdington Local COMMUNITY ANCHORS programme, supporting independent local and community journalism.

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: Protecting our community spaces

Words by Afzal Hussain – Chief Officer of Witton Lodge Community Association


 
Following the decision by Birmingham City Council to file a Section 114 notice in September, attention has quickly turned to the possibility of the council selling off assets to generate vital funds during this financial crisis.

With a review of BCC owned assets to be undertaken by government commissioners, the probability of an “assets disposal programme” will be high on the agenda, and whilst the usual suspects of Birmingham Airport, BMAG and Library of Birmingham make the headlines, what about the much-loved spaces and assets within our communities?

A new campaign ‘Save Birmingham’ has been set up by Co-operatives West Midlands, in response to the Section 114 to help protect community places. The campaign gives Birmingham residents the important opportunity to have their say in protecting places and spaces that matter to them.


 
Residents can show support on the website for the list of places identified or nominate a community space that they want to protect. This will highlight the importance of these assets to local communities, hopefully leading them to be preserved or transferred into community ownership.

The foundations of Witton Lodge Community Association are rooted in people and places with our busy hubs providing vital community support services across the Erdington constituency.

Our main office Perry Common Community Hall was the city’s first asset transfer, and we transformed Witton Lakes Eco Hub from a derelict building and rubbish dump into a much loved and needed community facility, proving the power of community-focused decision making.

We are also progressing the multi-million-pound regeneration of the former swimming baths on Mason Road, Erdington to help breath life back into Erdington High Street and providing a vital space for the local community.

If there is a local asset that you feel should be saved and preserved for now and future generations then do, make your voice heard.

You can of course raise this with your local councillors and MP, and also add details to the website – www.savebirmingham.org/community-places

For more on Witton Lodge Community Association, visit www.wittonlodge.org.uk

Witton Lodge Community Association is a key partner in the Erdington Local COMMUNITY ANCHORS programme, supporting independent local and community journalism.

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: Castle Vale Stadium

Words by Simon Wilson, Chief Executive Officer – The Pioneer Group

It is great to see the opening of a second new 3G football pitch at Castle Vale Stadium. This will increase capacity for more users, help us to meet the growing demand for women and girls’ football and increase opportunities to expand provision for disabled users and walking football.

It is somewhat unusual for a social housing provider to run a football facility but when we took on the long-term lease from Birmingham City Council we secured the future for an important community facility that was failing, starting to look unsightly and attracting vandalism.

The Stadium is located at the heart of Farnborough Fields, right next to Greenwood Academy. The school provides an enhanced sporting offer through a partnership with the Stadium.

In addition to the 3G pitches we have refurbished the venue’s bar and function room and created additional parking space. We continue to support grass roots football through the local Castle Vale Town club which has the vast majority of its young team members from the estate.

We also lead on the Farnborough Fields Masterplan group which brings together a range of local stakeholders. Alongside Greenwood Academy, we also work with organisations like the Community Environmental Trust who do so much hard work to sustain and create attractive green spaces in the area.

Partnership work with the city council is looking at creating an inline speed skating facility while work with the West Midlands Combined Authority aims to secure a passenger train station and service for Castle Vale.

We will shortly be looking to extend the lease on the site for another 25 years, so we can continue to protect, develop and invest in facilities for residents in the heart of our community.

For more on The Pioneer Group visit www.pioneergroup.org.uk and for more on Compass Support visit www.compass-support.org.uk

The Pioneer Group and Compass Support are key partners in the Erdington Local COMMUNITY ANCHORS programme, supporting independent local and community journalism.

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: Halloween Spotlights Loan Sharks

Words by Hema Chumber


 
To mark Stop Loan Sharks Week 2023, Spitfire Support Services is delivering three Halloween themed events across Castle Vale to raise awareness of this hidden crime in communities.

The activities, funded by the England Illegal Money Lending Team and supported in partnership by Castle Vale Community Housing, Starbucks and Switch Radio aim to engage people while providing insight into the dangers of unauthorised money lenders.

A Halloween Fashion Show takes place at Starbucks on 31 October for families to strut the catwalk in their outfits and win prizes. On the same day at Castle Vale Library there will be arts and crafts sessions, a special screening of A Sharks Tale and a Halloween haunted maze while a Stakeholder Presentation and Workshop at The Sanctuary on 1 November will give residents the chance to speak to learn more about the inherent dangers of borrowing from loan sharks.


 
The England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT), also known as Stop Loan Sharks, investigates and prosecutes illegal money lenders and also supports victims.

Figures show that 56 per cent of the people supported by the IMLT in the first half of 2023 said they borrowed from someone they thought was a friend. This year’s Stop Loan Sharks Week has the theme ‘Behind the Mask’ with the aim of raising awareness within communities like Castle Vale that illegal lenders can often be hard to spot.


 
Tony Quigley, head of the IMLT, said: “These illegal money lenders are experts at deception. They are friendly and approachable at first, but when the time comes to make the repayments they can show their true face – a ruthless criminal intent on exploiting the most vulnerable.

“We want people to be aware that not all illegal money lenders look like they do on TV. They can be another mum in the playground, a neighbour, a work colleague, even a longstanding family friend.

“But it is a mask and behind it they are not your friend; they are lining their own pockets at your expense and ruining lives. There are far safer ways of accessing affordable credit, like credit unions. If anyone thinks they have been targeted in this way, they should contact our specialist team of advisers in confidence for help and support.”

Ward Councillor, Raymond Goodwin, who is also the Director at Spitfire Support Services, said: “Many families over the last 12 months have struggled because of the cost of living crisis and have not been able to pay for basic essentials unfortunately we have seen an upturn in loan sharks being accessed.

“These events are all about the dangers of using loan sharks and also how there are alternative methods of safe finance that can be accessed.”

Anyone who thinks they have been targeted by an illegal money lender or has information about illegal lending is urged to contact the IMLT in confidence.

People can call the 24/7 confidential hotline on 0300 555 222 or visit the website www.stoploansharks.co.uk where there is a live chat facility from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday.

For further details on the three Halloween events please visit the Castle Vale Community Housing Facebook page. 

For more on The Pioneer Group visit www.pioneergroup.org.uk and for more on Compass Support visit www.compass-support.org.uk

The Pioneer Group and Compass Support are key partners in the Erdington Local COMMUNITY ANCHORS programme, supporting independent local and community journalism.

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: Birmingham City Council issues Section 114 notice. So, what’s next for Birmingham and its communities?

Words by Afzal Hussain – Chief Officer of Witton Lodge Community Association

Birmingham City Council is experiencing severe financial difficulties, and this is a worrying time for all of us that have a stake in this city, and even more so for vulnerable residents and groups that rely on council services, funding, or support.

The Council leadership declared that it “will prioritise core services that our residents rely on, in line with our values of supporting the most vulnerable”. In all honesty it is difficult to imagine how this will be achieved, given the Councils’ parlous financial state and the inevitable cuts to services and further loss of staff.

Over recent years, we have lost many of the essential support services that communities rely on – youth work, neighbourhood advice services and Sure Start, to name but a few. The pandemic, followed by a cost-of-living crisis, is already putting unbearable pressure on many.

That said, I’m certain that even against this tough backdrop our local community, voluntary and faith groups will rally to do what they can. In Erdington, we have a good track record of doing this, and this will be needed now, more than ever.

Of course, Birmingham City Council is a vital institution, however, it is important to remember that there are also many other important stakeholders, and the collective leadership challenge, is to come together to protect and support our vulnerable and rebuild.

In the meantime, at Witton Lodge Community Association we have offered our support to the Council to help pull together a credible plan, making the case for protecting services in Erdington, and doing things differently.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us or pop along to one of our Advice Surgeries.

For more on Witton Lodge Community Association, visit www.wittonlodge.org.uk

Witton Lodge Community Association is a key partner in the Erdington Local COMMUNITY ANCHORS programme, supporting independent local and community journalism.

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: Partnership and collaboration in the face of adversity

Words by Simon Wilson, Chief Executive Officer – The Pioneer Group

There have been some scary headlines about the City Council’s need to serve what is known as a Section 114 notice and while I would not seek to downplay the seriousness of the financial challenges Birmingham now faces, there is a commitment to protect core services and work is underway to set out a recovery plan.

We will support this effort. We have looked at the areas of funding we receive from the local authority and have not identified an immediate impact to services our tenants and residents receive.

As an anchor organisation we have always sought and had a strong working relationship with the City Council and a range of partners in our core communities – working closely with tenant groups, charities like Spitfire Services, faith groups, community groups and schools.

We worked together to help people through the Covid-19 pandemic and are taking the same approach to helping those most vulnerable and in need of support through our Cost of Living Task Force.

Of course this latest news is a worry and the Council will face some tough decisions as it starts to balance its books but our services will continue through CVCH and Compass Support. We will continue to work in partnership supporting other organisations, working together and getting out of the way when others are best placed to deliver in our communities.

I know when things get tough our community responds, Spitfire Services rescued and now run Castle Vale Library and swimming pool and CVCH runs – and is investing in – the Castle Vale Stadium.

We will work with whoever we need to in order to protect the facilities and services our communities hold dear.

For more on The Pioneer Group visit www.pioneergroup.org.uk and for more on Compass Support visit www.compass-support.org.uk

The Pioneer Group and Compass Support are key partners in the Erdington Local COMMUNITY ANCHORS programme, supporting independent local and community journalism.

 

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: WLCA host Jobs Fair at Perry Common Hall on Friday 13 October

Words and promotional imagery by WLCA


 
Witton Lodge Community Association is hosting a Jobs Fair on Friday 13 October, inviting local jobseekers to meet with major employers from across the region.

The WLCA Jobs Fair will be held from 10am to 2pm at Perry Common Community Hall, 87 Witton Lodge Rd, Birmingham, B23 5JD. Click here for a Google Maps link to the address.

The Job Fair will be showcasing a range of training and employment opportunities from a variety of organisations including Amazon, who will be promoting their opportunities for local people from all backgrounds.

The Witton Lodge Community Association Employment and Skills Team will also be on hand to engage with those attending and provide advice to support their journey into work.

The upcoming Jobs Fair is an excellent opportunity for people to meet the team, employers, and training providers to find out more about the range of employment and training opportunities available across the city.

Marcia Lewis, Employer Engagement Officer at WLCA said “We are delighted to provide a welcoming space to help connect jobseekers from our local community to potential employers as well as a range of training providers to support attendees with any skills and training needs they may have.”

She added: “The Jobs Fair will be held in the heart of our community at Perry Common Community Hall and will be showcasing opportunities in warehousing, health & social care, hospitality/facilities, construction, office, customer service and more. We look forward to welcoming everyone on the 13 October.”

To find out more about the WLCA Jobs Fair, or to discuss your employment or training needs with the WLCA Employment and Skills Team, contact WLCA on (0121) 382 1930.

Or follow WLCA on social media and stay up-to-date with their our news, events, and activities.

For more on Witton Lodge Community Association and links to their social media, visit www.wittonlodge.org.uk

Witton Lodge Community Association is a key partner in the Erdington Local COMMUNITY ANCHORS programme, supporting independent local and community journalism.