LOCAL PROFILE: Ben Jeffery – Oikos Café & Church

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Yellow Mustard photography

Oikos Café (part of Oikos Church) on Erdington High Street has brought an alternative vibe to the local area – one of high quality coffee, work meetings, and evening events which one might see in ‘swanky’ areas of London. Ben Jeffery is Oikos‘s centre manager, as well as a founding member of the Oikos Church.

Prior to managing the café full time, Ben was a technical sales manager for a chemical company: “I travelled all over the country, in a nice company car, selling specialist chemicals to companies.” After what he described as a religious ‘calling’, he started to manage the café one year after it was founded.

Ben explains that Oikosstarted as a house church over in Short Heath road.”

The pastor of the church, Jez Dearing, would host Christian gatherings in his house until they started renting a YMCA hall on Sundays on Turftpits Lane. They finally settled with the building they have now: “We felt God call us to have a presence on the high street – to have a bigger presence in the community.” Previously a furniture store, the building was eight years “totally derelict. This was just a shell. Front staircase, toilets, telephone, internet, central heating, office – literally it had nothing.”

If you visit the church-come-café, you would be forgiven for not thinking of it as a religious building. The lack of crosses, biblical quotes, ‘smells and bells’ is no accident – nor a mere symptom of the Oikos Church‘s ‘low church’ style, but rather a conscious effort. As Ben explains: “We wanted to make the barrier to entry (into the church) as low as possible”, believing that “in a post-Christian culture, one of the hardest challenges a church faces is people stepping through the doors.”

Although now a staple feature of the high street, the café had to fight its corner to exist, as Ben explains: “there was a lot of opposition from councillors who wrote to residents to try to oppose us opening a café.” Although forgivingly he states that “it probably came out of not understanding what we were about or what we wanted to do.”

A café in the day, Oikos is also available for hire by organisations who want to use the space. Ben lists the “Evening of Creativity, Nikki Tapper’s ‘Tapper Talks’, organisations like Urban Devotion, the GAP from Sutton, and wedding receptions” as those that they welcome and support. There was a local couple that wanted their reception in the café because of its central location, “because they love Erdington so much” as Ben earnestly tells.

Ben enjoys strong relationships with the organisations and partners who use the space: “It’s really important to get to know people – that process takes time.”

With the café very much at the heart of Ben’s day to day operations, he explains that he is “Constantly walking the tightrope between running the business of the café and wanting to do the missional work of the church”, referring to all of the jobs and trials he has to undertake as a business manager on a busy high street.

He tells: “the thing that drew me to the café was interaction with people. I’m naturally an extrovert by nature… There are a lot of people who come in here with interesting backgrounds and current things they want to talk about and share.”

Oikos had to transform itself as a church during lockdown. Their regular Sunday morning service, called “a gathering”, was closed for five months to the public from March until August. “We livestreamed a full service every Sunday,” tells Ben, “it wasn’t just like a quick Zoom call or a 20 minute sermon. We were very blessed to have somebody who does this as a job (livestreaming) and has the equipment.”

Ben explains that lockdown has really taken its toll on the emotional strength of the Oikos community: “Oikos means family – family is a big thing for us as a church. It’s very weird when you can’t physically meet or be together. That’s not what families do, right?

We ‘feel’ that distance between people growing because they’re not able to be with each other in quite the same way.”

Despite five months of relative hardship, Ben’s eyes are set on making Oikosa real part of making and helping things that go on in this community,” and remarks that “it’s something we still need to ‘grow in’.”

With a Costa now opened in Erdington, as well as new plans for the high street regeneration fund, Ben can still rely on Oikos‘s strong, reliable customer base moving forward – with people of all faiths enjoying the café and all the events it has to offer.

To find out more about Oikos Café, visit www.oikoscafe.co.uk

For more on Oikos Church, visit www.oikoschurch.co.uk

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LOCAL PROFILE: Saba Malik

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Ed King & Saba Malik

Saba Malik moved to Erdington some two years ago with her husband Adeel Bajwa and three children. In normal circumstances she would be working as a secondary school science teacher. During lockdown, she took to volunteering to help the vulnerable in our community.

Saba is part of the Ahmadiyya Muslim faith – a movement founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, formed officially in Punjab in 1889 – and does community work through the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association (AMWA) in Erdington. Ahmadiyya Muslims are a unique and worldwide religious movement outside of the more well-known Sunni or Shia faiths, with 144 ‘branches’ across the UK alone.

Initially, the AMWA didn’t cope well with the monotony of lockdown: “they are used to having about 20 people over every weekend,” says Saba. Better at cooking potatoes rather than being couch potatoes, Saba galvanized the team of about 25 women into cooking up hot meals for vulnerable people around Birmingham, but especially in the Erdington Community. “Why not?”, explains Saba, “this is using skills, resources, something they can do, so we got in contact with those ladies and they’re more than happy – we got a bit of a rota going now.”

The AMWA joined up with Birmingham Community Solidarity group, which was set up very quickly in response to the announcement of lockdown on March 23rd – the group acts as sign posting for people with free time wanting to help those in need, with Saba becoming a key part in their delivery work in North Birmingham.

Always humble, she notes that “there’s amazing charities out there and organisations. We have a really good COVID-19 response as well in Erdington with the food deliveries.”

Helping those in need is a family affair for the Malik-Bajwas. Saba has created more than 50 protective masks at home using her sewing machine, and explains how her son, Yousuf, “wanted to learn to sow after he saw me on the machine for two days – and I thought, ‘good these are the things you learn!… I’m grateful we can share this with our children.”

But the Malik-Bajwa’s family approach didn’t stop there. “The littlest one has got a fan base of her own,” explains Saba – referring to Ayla, her youngest daughter, who has been writing letters and creating artwork for those people receiving regular food packages.

She can’t write completely! When I give deliveries, she comes with me. She just makes cards. She’ll write ‘I love you’ to whoever it is, and draw a picture, she puts it in an envelope, goes into the study, finds an envelope herself and decorates it.”

These simple acts of kindness can go a long way. As a proud mother, Saba recounts that “there are some who are completely on their own and they’re isolating, and it really makes their day. It breaks my heart when they tell me that they stare at her cards all day and it makes them feel happy, or they’ve got them on their fridge. If it makes them feel happy it’s good. I tell her ‘it’s so nice that you’re sharing your talent. It’s the cycle of wellbeing.”

But whilst volunteering efforts can be noble, they aren’t always appreciated. Not at first, anyway, as Saba recalls a situation where one of the women she met became suspicious of her appearance – noticeably the headscarf she was wearing at the time.

You know you are right,” explains Saba, “because one of the women I met first…. she spoke to me after and said ‘when you turned up… I don’t wanna be offensive, I don’t wanna get anything wrong. But you had this a scarf on your head, you had this mask on your face… and I just thought, who is this person who’s come to me’?”

Headscarf,” Saba laughed, politely correcting the mistake. And after talking some more, the woman admitted: “I never felt like I’ve ever discriminated, but without realising that’s what I felt when I saw you… she felt bad about it after, and we’re really good friends now. But that’s how you break down barriers sometimes, and it works both ways.”

But it’s not all about the hearts and minds when it comes to community action, someone has to do the paperwork – and admin queen Saba Malik keeps a keen record of all that the ladies group do. To date the Birmingham North branch of Ahmadiyya Muslims have distributed 200 meals, delivered 340 PPE masks, and are in constant contact with families across the constituency: “who have been 100% supported through donations and cooked food.”  

Now the lockdown pressures easing, Saba reflects on her time over the past couple of months. “It’s been long weeks of lockdown. I don’t want to open my diary,” she jokes. Always comparing her family to those less fortunate, Saba continues, “we’re just incredibly grateful it’s not been as challenging for us.”

Volunteer efforts, like Saba’s and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association, have been integral to helping people cope during the coronavirus pandemic – with faith and community groups working together to help their friends and neighbours. This phenomenal show of strength and community action has alleviated the anguish of lockdown for thousands across Erdington, much of which is unseen and unreported.

But the message that runs though many of the groups who are out there serving the community, is inclusivity – regardless of faith, age, status, or standing, now is the time to help. And as the web address and strap line for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association declares, ‘Love for all, hatred for none.’

Words Saba Malik underlines, clearly and confidently, when asked about the people her group want to reach out to and help: “…any religion, it’s irrelevant.”

To find out more about the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community UK, visit www.loveforallhatredfornone.org/

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LOCAL PROFILE: Reverend Gerard Goshawk

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Ed King

Reverend Gerard Goshawk has been a Baptist minister for “probably about 18 years.” Working first as a lay pastor, he became a full time pastor 13 years ago – finding his way to Six Ways Baptist Church after coming “from Nottingham, and it’s been brilliant. I love Erdington.”

But the ‘new normal’ created by the coronavirus crisis has established new ways of working, socialising, and even worshipping – as everywhere from classrooms to congregations have been subject to physical and social distancing restrictions.

Reverend Goshawk’s working week before lockdown “was a different rhythm. It was more based with things happening up at Six Ways Baptist Church. The different groups, activities we had there, being around for those, and visiting people – and lots of meetings, meetings, meetings! Lots of worship based at the church, and (the Erdington) foodbank based at the church.”

An important part of the community, the Erdington Foodbank is based at Six Ways Baptist Church – providing ‘three days nutritionally balanced emergency food and support to local people who are referred to us in crisis.’

But during the COVID-19 pandemic, The Trussell Trust – who support the Erdington Foodbank – have seen usage across their UK network increase by 89% from April 2019 to April 2020. For Reverend Goshawk, his active role helping the people who need access to food has become even more pertinent.

Although reaching his congregation was also a concern, as places of worship across the country were completely closed during the coronavirus lockdown. “It’s been a big learning process,” explains Reverend Goshawk, as social media became the most viable method of communication with people in self-isolation.

We have a service on YouTube that we pre-record for each Sunday, that goes out… I do some Daily devotions on Facebook live each day and I send them out on a WhatsApp list as well. That’s Monday to Friday.

Then, we also have a zoom fellowship – a service on a Sunday where most people that can do that get together. That’s been really great and we’ve kinda adapted to how we do that.”

Excited by the prospect of this new normal, Reverend Goshawk notes that “there’s statistics out there about people who have not done church before but are watching church services online. There’s a whole new field of people out there who are being reached, and in our small way, Erdington is part of that.”

But while he can’t yet meet his congregation at church, Reverend Goshawk still goes out to members where they live – spending a lot of his time “cycling round Erdington, delivering news sheets, written information for people as well… because we have… 25 people in our church not connected on the Internet.”

There’s even a chance for prayer, as Reverend Goshawk finds himself “sometimes praying with people on their doorstep… 2 meters away.”

Places of worship are now set to open for private prayer in England from the 15th June, and Reverend Goshawk is preparing for “coming out of lockdown, as of next week. We’ll be able to open up for people to come in just for quiet prayer, socially distanced and everything.”

But like many businesses and social groups in the UK, Six Ways Baptist Church has seen how some engagements are actually better off being at least partly conducted online.

We wouldn’t want to be losing all the new things that we’ve done,” tells Reverend Goshawk, “because we are reaching different people in different ways, you know.

Sometimes I used to do a bible study for a very small number of people who would turn up on a Sunday evening at the church – on a cold winter’s evening, about four faithful people perhaps sometimes just turning up. And now we’re in double figures every time and growing with the number of people that will come to bible study [via zoom].

I believe we’re made by God to connect with each other and to be alongside each other. I think we will still do lots of things online. It would be a shame to lose that experience and that benefit that we had. It just means a bit more work!”

Outside of the coronavirus crisis, and the changes Reverend Goshawk has made to stay in touch with his immediate community, Six Ways Baptist Church has received recognition for its hard work helping migrants and asylum seekers.

Reverend Goshawk is also the chair of the group Everyone Erdington, which celebrates diversity, and in the past has organised “get togethers”, lunches, and festivals specifically inviting people from different backgrounds. And whilst institutionalised racism is a constant concern, affecting communities worldwide, following the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota people and protest have risen up across the globe in solidarity.

Our church at six ways is a black majority church,” explains Reverend Goshawk. “I don’t really feel equipped to speak on behalf of people that would identify themselves as black. But the response has been deep… actually looking at the practical ways that we as a church can make a difference for ourselves and for this community to actually be part of that transformation.

That exciting change that seems to be out there as a possibility at the moment. There’s a whole range of feelings about it. One of those, the more positive thing about it, there’s a move that’s happening. It does feel like there’s potential for real change.”

Reverend Gerard Goshawk is pastor at Six Ways Baptist Church. To find out more about the church, visit: www.sixwayserdington.org.uk

For more on the Everyone Erdington Facebook group, visit: www.facebook.com/EveryoneErdington

For more on the Erdington Foodbank, including information on how to access provision or to make a donation, visit: www.erdington.foodbank.org.uk

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NEWS: Joshua’s Convenience Store offers free deliveries to ‘elderly and vulnerable’ local residents

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Ed King

Joshua’s Convenience Store, on Boldmere Road, are offering free deliveries for ‘the elderly and the vulnerable’ – helping people access food and provisions during the coronavirus crisis.

A sign in the front window states: ‘At Joshua’s, we are willing to deliver to the elderly and the vulnerable. Please contact us on any of the numbers below. We have enough supplies to cater for those most in need. We won’t charge for delivery. Please don’t hesitate to contact us.’

People can contact Joshua’s through both the shop’s landline number and a mobile: (0121) 373 0113 or 07513 712 083

Simple acts of kindness can go a long way, and across Erdington and Sutton Coldfield local businesses have been adapting to best serve their community and customers in the face of COVID-19.

We help deliver to about 10 vulnerable and elderly people per day,” explains Tariq Mahmood, whose family have owned and run Joshua’s Convenience Store since 2007, “it’s heart-warming. It’s good to do a service for the community.”

Tariq explains that whilst most of his customers are local to the Erdington/Sutton Coldfield area, the sign has been posted by some of the shop’s regulars across their own social media – leading to calls for deliveries to people self-isolating outside of the immediate area.

But Joshua’s is still widely used by the people of Boldmere – alongside the stacked shelves of food, drinks, and household essentials, the shop can also take bill payments, has a cash machine, and runs paper deliveries to local residents.

And whilst smaller convenience stores have historically struggled to compete with large supermarkets, especially in terms of price and popularity, being a family owned business allows Joshua’s to be more flexible to their customer’s needs.

All we want now is a post office,” tells Tariq heartily, “I now have to work an extra three hours a day; I visit multiple warehouses to find the goods my customers need. Flour, pasta, and toilet roll are all in short supply still, but you just have to get on with it and do your best.”

Joshua’s Convenience Store is located at 392 Boldmere Rd, B73 5EZ. To contact Joshua’s, you can call (0121) 373 0113 or 07513 712 083

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LOCAL PROFILE: Jo Bull – founder of the ‘Erdington local community response to COVID-19’ Facebook group

Words by Terri-Anne Fell / Pic courtesy of Jo Bull

Jo Bull has been living in Erdington for 13 years. Since she was a teenager, she has been creating handmade cards which she sells to raise money for Erdington’s YMCA. Itching to be a part of her community, Jo volunteers as a peer lead for mental health service users in the area, encouraging vulnerable people to create friendships and gain creative skills they wouldn’t normally have.

When the COVID-19 lockdown began, Jo realised very quickly that services she and many others turned to in their hour of need would have to close – so she took to Facebook to look for an online community she could be a part of, to help in any way she could.

Noticing other areas in Birmingham had created response groups, Jo created the Erdington Community Response to COVID-19 Facebook group. Since its inception last month, the group has amassed over 600 members. Currently, the group has supported over 400 households and has 63 active volunteers.

Jo’s role in the group is to provide online support to people who need somebody to talk to, and she signposts to services she knows can help vulnerable people.

Erdington Local is proud to recognise and celebrate Jo Bull – a fantastic member of our community and a well-deserved Erdington Local Hero.

____________

EL: What’s your relationship with Erdington, how long have you lived/worked in the area?
Jo: I’ve lived in Erdington for 13 years; I live on Watt road and it’s the longest I’ve stayed in one place.  I moved here in 2007, just after theological college, where my first job was working in Erdington Job Centre for the Department of Work & Pensions. I remember noticing when I started working at the Job centre that almost all of my colleagues didn’t live locally. They all thought it was strange that I did!

EL: If you could shout about something in Erdington so loud the whole of Birmingham could hear, what would it be?               
Jo: Eden Café. It’s my favourite.  They are fab. They’ve been open for about three years and are attached to the YMCA. It’s just a really nice place to visit and to be a part of. I always have a latte, and any day they have good cake is my favourite day! They are friendly and have quite a few regulars who like me have various issues and disabilities. They are good at getting to know their people and catering to all of our little quirks.

EL: In your spare time, you’ve been creating handmade cards. How long have you been doing this for?
Jo: I’ve been making cards since I was a teenager. I’m 42, so I started nearly 30 years ago as I got really frustrated with finding the perfect card in the shop. I’d open them and find they’d say things inside that had nothing to do with the person I was sending it to! I thought because I can’t find what I want, I’d just do it myself. They sell my cards in Eden Café, and the profits from sales go to the YMCA.

EL: Whilst the UK is in lockdown, you’ve set up the Erdington Local Community Response to COVID-19 Facebook Group, what made you want to set up the group?
Jo: As the UK went in to lockdown I realised everything I was a part of in the community would be stopped, which made me feel absolutely devastated and lost. I thought to myself that people in Birmingham are going to need a way to talk to each other, people were setting up local COVID-19 groups and someone asked me if there was one in Erdington. There wasn’t, so I made one.

EL: Did you anticipate the group would gain the traction it has?
Jo: I wasn’t expecting people to join. To start off with I just added people I knew from the day centre and gave the link to a few people who were asking for it. For the first two days I was the only one posting anything; I was a little bit gutted so I went away for a few hours and when I came back to the group there were 30 people wanting to join, it was like the cavalry coming in. I didn’t know who they were, and they didn’t know me, we all just wanted to help.

EL: How have you managed to keep the support consistent as the group has grown?
Jo: As the group was growing, I realised I couldn’t be the only admin. I didn’t know if my mental health would hold out and if I got sick I didn’t want to leave people on their own in the group. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have all the other admins.

EL: In the group you’ve said you mostly provide online support for people who may be struggling with their mental health, why did you decide to take on this role?
Jo: At the day centre, I volunteer as a peer lead for mental health service users. So, I worked out with the other admins that it was OK for anyone to chat with me if they needed an emotional offload.  You never know who you are coming in to contact with when on deliveries and you may meet really vulnerable people and not know what to do.

I’ve spoken to people who have been really suffering whilst in lockdown, and people have come to the group saying they don’t know whether they’ll be able to get through this. I’ve found I’m able to signpost people to organisations that will be able to help them easily and I’m great at being able to motivate people.

EL: Speaking of motivating people, you’ve been using your handmade cards to spread joy to volunteers in the group. One of our writers received a card and it was so lovely!
Jo: I seem to be chief card maker for the group,  I’ve already given cards to people who have helped me personally during lockdown, but David (Owen) had the idea of sending every volunteer a thank you card and I did 23 cards – one for every active volunteer at the time.  I thought my hand was going to fall off, I wrote a proper message in all of them. They are all working hard and they deserved a handwritten personalised thank you.

EL: As the person who created the Erdington COVID-19 Community Response group, do you think other organisations in the area are doing enough to help the fight against coronavirus?
Jo: I think it is phenomenal that people are able to do anything; however much we do I think there will always be something that still needs to be done, we can’t fix everything. I would say, are we all going to bed having done what we can today?

If we focus on what we are doing and what we have done, rather than what can be done, then we are likely to help more people. We do what we can, and not what we can’t. As long as I know people are getting help, I’m happy.

To visit the Erdington local community response to COVID-19 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 get in touch with Erdington Local via phone or email and we will forward your details to the Erdington local community response to COVID-19 Facebook group.

For all our contact information, visit www.erdingtonlocal.com/contact-erdington-local

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FEATURE: Rugby dad tackles COVID-19 lockdown – Erdington Rugby Club player and patron, David Owen, is ready to ‘ruck’ n roll with community response to coronavirus

Words by Keat Moore / Pics courtesy of David Owen

Erdington local, David Owen, has been a star player when it comes to community response to the COVID-19 lockdown – which has left many residents housebound and anxious about how they’re going to access food and supplies.

David (37), who works as a Data Analyst for National Express, leapt into action after seeing a post on Facebook calling for volunteers – as part of the ‘Erdington local community response to COVID19’ group set up by another Erdington resident, Jo Bull.

The Facebook group currently has over 600 members and has become a de facto hub for those seeking or offering support to the Erdington community during the coronavirus crisis. And thanks to the efforts of David and Jo, as well as their team of nearly 60 active volunteers, they’ve already helped over 200 people.

Erdington Local contacted David to find out more about the man nicknamed ‘Mr. Erdington’, and how he’s getting on.

“I feel like a kid with his finger in the dam, to be honest,” admits David, “but we’re doing well, and our volunteers are doing an amazing job”. Given the uncertainty around how long the coronavirus lockdown could last, let alone the pandemic, it’s not surprising he feels apprehensive.

At the time of writing, the Erdington local community response to COVID19 Facebook group has 57 volunteers – all members of the community who just want to help. Each evening, David posts an update to the group and gives special thanks to his ‘Angels of the Day’; whether it’s collecting hundreds of sandwiches or delivering a single bottle of Calpol, these volunteers are going that extra mile to perform small miracles of community-spirit when people need each other the most.

David also has fronted £200 of his own money to ensure everyone, even those who can’t afford much, don’t go without. “I’m not too concerned about the money at the moment,” tells David, “we can sort that out after, but right now people need food and that’s more important” – although he wishes he had more money to cover all of the volunteer’s expenses, even though they haven’t asked for any compensation.

All of the volunteers pay for the groceries out of their own pockets and give the receipts to David so he can transfer the money back to their bank accounts, a system that also works as a deterrent for those who would try to take advantage.

“We’ve had a few chancers, but not many. And once they know I’ll be checking their details and that everything we do is cashless, they don’t respond, ” David takes safeguarding seriously after reports from other parts of the city that vulnerable people have been defrauded by those pretending to be volunteers. “I know a lot of people in the area already, and you get a feel for who the dodgy ones are. But honestly, we haven’t had to deal with anything like that,” and whilst he doesn’t have the means to perform DBS checks, David does the best he can to ensure the group’s volunteers are who they say they are by verifying their addresses and identities via the electoral roll.

David and his volunteers are even happy to make shopping trips multiple times a week for the same individual, if needed. “I do have to tell people that we’re not going to do a weekly shop,” explains David, “they have to limit it to three days’ worth of supplies, and not £90 weekly shops, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to carry on.”

The Active Wellbeing Society, who have been appointed by Birmingham City Council to help coordinate and distribute food supplies across the city, are also supporting David and his efforts – which he says has helped manage the increasing demand and need from the community: “TAWS have been brilliant, they have loads of food from across the city and they’ve got people prepping and packing hot meals and we deliver them.”

“I’ve always been rubbish at being idle,” David responds when asked what inspired him to get involved, “and I’m a big believer in community spirit, especially in Erdington.” He’s no stranger to rallying for a cause either, having campaigned and fundraised for the Erdington Rugby Club. It was brought back from extinction through David’s efforts and the generosity of the local community, going from strength to strength, even replacing the changing rooms with a donated double-decker bus (nicknamed Rugger) kitted out with showers.

But the biggest surprise for David has been discovering how many organisations work in Erdington to support the community, “I’ve never really been exposed to these kinds of organisations because I’m all about the rugby club, but it’s really reassuring to know that they’re out there trying to make a difference.”

He’s also been touched by how quickly he and the other volunteers have built relationships with the people they support, “it’s lovely, we’ll call ahead to let them know we’re on the way with their shopping so they can pick it up from the doorstep, and when we get there they’ll be in the window with a big grin, giving us all a wave.”

David’s also got big plans for when the lockdown is over, “I’m going to throw a big party for all of the volunteers and for everyone we’ve supported. All of us have made friends that we didn’t have before, and I want to celebrate that and the community-spirt that I always knew Erdington had. I don’t want us to go back to being strangers.”

To visit the Erdington local community response to COVID19 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 get in touch with Erdington Local via phone or email and we will forward on your details to David Owen and the the Erdington local community response to COVID-19 Facebook group.

For all our contact information, visit www.erdingtonlocal.com/contact-erdington-local/

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FEATURE: Witton Lodge Community Association reaches out to local residents – as part of the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce

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

A special Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce has been set up in response to the coronavirus crisis, with Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) reaching out to local residents with food parcels and support services – outreach activity mirrored by community hubs and support groups across the constituency.

Established as the pandemic reached more critical levels for the UK during March, the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce is a ‘collaborative approach and co-ordinated effort’ involving many of the constituency’s community groups and care providers – alongside Jack Dromey MP, Councillor Robert Alden, representatives from Birmingham City Council, and further political and community figures known in the area.

Speaking directly to Erdington Local about the coronavirus crisis, Jack Dromey MP says: “The COVID-19 crisis is the most serious moment in our country’s history since World War II. The sheer scale of what is happening – and its social and economic impact – is frightening. But at a moment of crisis, it is crucial that community and country stand together.

As the crisis deepened four weeks ago, we moved to establish the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce to bring together those who can make a difference – to sustain our community and our citizens through these dreadful times.”

Chaired by Afzal Hussain, Chief Officer at Witton Lodge Community Association – who have been working in Perry Common since 1994, the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce has already begun a series of outreach activities focused on delivering vital public support and tackling the immediate issues effecting people across the area.

Following a call to arms to local residents and businesses, Witton Lodge Community Association have been receiving donations of food and essential goods which they are redistributing directly to households in their local community – adhering to the safety guidelines issued by Public Health England.

With a growing number of volunteers – working as parcel packers, drivers, administrators, and phoning locals residents to check directly on their wellbeing – the team at WLCA are delivering over 60 care packages those most vulnerable on Tuesdays and Fridays, alongside a daily schedule of further deliveries to the wider community.

“The absolute priority has to be welfare and safety… so people having those essential supplies,” explains Afzal Hussain.

“We already have residents, families, and individuals that we know need this support, so we’ve started with those. We are now having referrals; people are calling us, councillors and social workers and others are referring people to us, so we’ve mobilised our staff and volunteers to go and make sure those deliveries happen. We’ve scheduled those in so there are regular delivery slots a couple of times a week to do that.”

Responding to a health crisis such as coronavirus, a virulent disease that’s effecting countries and citizens around the world, takes a level of community action beyond that of WLCA’s usual support programme. But many in Erdington have already risen to the challenge, as the impact from coronavirus continues to dominate headlines, hearts and minds across the globe.

“We’re trying to reach out to those who can’t access basic provisions,” tells Marie Benjamin – Volunteer Co-ordinator at WLCA. “It’s vital right now, without support there could be people out there suffering a lot.”

Other issues highlighted by local residents are employment, financial support and advice, as well as the health and wellbeing concerns from being in prolonged self-isolation.

To effectively tackle these growing problems, the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce has been building a database of organisations called the Erdington Assets Register – with companies from Bromford Fish Bar to Birmingham Mind offering their time and resources to help deliver these important support services.

“The response has been amazing,” explains Debbie Bates – Health and Wellbeing Transformation Lead at Witton Lodge Community Association. “It’s been a collaborative approach and co-ordinated effort across Erdington, working to ensure people in the community get the help the need at this critical time.”

But as the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK continues to rise, alongside the death toll, there is still much more that needs to be done – by both Witton Lodge Community Association and the wider Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce.

Organisations are being encouraged to sign up to the Erdington Assets Register, strengthening the database of private and public sector groups that can provide support. Whilst individuals can make a significant difference by offering their time, energy, or donations of food and essential goods to the growing community outreach programme.

Volunteering is really important,” continues Afzal Hussain, “if there are supplies and food, we’ll happily take those. I think what I would say to groups and organisations who are there, who want to work together, is to come forward – we will add them to that emergency (Erdington) Asset Register.

We’re using that as the live platform; people can add their details, let everyone know what’s going on, what services they’re providing, and importantly they can collaborate with others in their neighbourhoods and communities.”

For anyone wanting to find out more about the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce, or to add their organisation to the Erdington Assets Register, please contact Witton Lodge Community Association on (0121) 382 1930 or email afzal.hussain@wittonlodge.org.uk

Organisations can also add their names directly onto the Erdington Assets Register, operated as a live platform and database, by clicking here.

People can also contact Witton Lodge Community Association though their website or social media, with full details found at www.wittonlodge.org.uk

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