BACK TO: …work, with Dellano Lewis – Employment & Engagement Officer at Witton Lodge Community Association

Words by Dellano Lewis / Pics by Ed King

As the country takes its first steps out of lockdown – with people returning to their places of work, education, and leisure – Erdington Local has been asking for some simple steps to help us get back to normal.

This article has been supported by the Erdington Coronavirus Taskforce – for a full list of local support services, visit www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19-local-support

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EL:  You are the Engagement and Employment Support Worker at Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) – tell us a bit more about your role and responsibilities?
DL: My role includes outreach activities, working alongside our partners such as DWP, handling paperwork related to registration, actively updating and monitoring client database, filing away documents, ensuring monthly reports are submitted to secure finances. Other duties include helping clients with CVs, job application forms, universal credit accounts, job searching, digital skills, helping to find suitable work, training and voluntary opportunities.

Prior to the lockdown I also conducted weekly employment related activities in groups, delivering weekly online sessions, operating the WLCA Instagram page, creating content using video software, supporting with other areas which increase the associations presence through live events such as (Track Friday). Building key relationships with local providers in and across Birmingham are also a part of my role. 

EL: How long have you been working in the community?
DL: This will now be just over four years working in the community. 

EL: How did you find your job?
DL: I had met Iram (Fardus – WLCA’s Business Development & Performance Manager) at the time and the opportunity came about to do some volunteering with the association around helping the youth. I was very interested in this, so I decided to take on the opportunity. Through volunteering I was then given a part time role leading to a full time position. 

EL: The coronavirus crisis has turned many people’s worlds upside down, how has it affected the people you work with through WLCA?
DL: Due to the situation a lot of people haven’t been able to cope with looking for work – another thing is the health and wellbeing of the client, if someone is not in the right frame of mind to look for work it will be difficult for them to move forward. Alongside that, clients have been struggling with I.T. – this has also been one of the major factors preventing people from accessing opportunities. 

EL: What are the most immediate concerns facing people over employment?
DL: Some of the immediate concerns from people are finances and health – a lot of people have lost jobs and a number of business’s have closed. 

EL: What are WLCA doing to address these concerns?
DL: The response from WLCA Team has been exceptional – this is including all the volunteers that stepped in to support. Our service had a slight change in delivery, making everything accessible online; clients who had an interest in accessing jobs during the lockdown were able to contact the employment team and receive this support.

Many families and individuals were feeling very worried, the prompt action and response from the team in delivering services related to food gave the residents and people in the community a sense of reassurance that someone is looking out for them.

Health & Wellbeing was also a major factor. With the lockdown, mental health was increasingly affecting a majority of people. Staying connected with those affected, especially the elderly, was very important as they were the ones who have gone months without seeing family, friends, or even outdoors. 

EL: For anybody looking for employment, especially during the coronavirus crisis, what simple first steps should they take?
DL: If you are currently looking for work one of the things to have ready is an active CV, this is like your plane ticket. The CV is the first thing an employer is going to see so make sure everything is correct and easy to read; ensure your work history, qualifications, and any type of work experience you have done is on the CV.

Alongside the CV, create a cover letter and indeed account once you have these begin to make a plan of action. Think about the type of job you want to be doing short term and the career long term. If you require some support with taking the next step or setting these things up give us a call for support (0121) 382 1930. 

EL: What about people who are having to self-isolate, are there any pathways to employment they could take?
DL: For those self-isolating, don’t feel discouraged – with online learning you can sure find something that interests you. Platforms such as alison.com, Future Learn, and Vision2Learn have a wide range of free courses you could do online to gain knowledge and even claim a certificate upon completing.

EL: How about people who are still in employment, but feel unsupported or uncertain about their workplace – what advice would you give them?
DL: If you are feeling unsupported or uncertain about your place of work, one of the first things would be to speak to your manager and let them know how you are feeling. Also check out the furlough scheme information on the Governement’s website in the event of becoming unemployed, you will be able to claim 80% of your wages through your employer.

Click the link for more information: www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wages-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme

EL: With lockdown restrictions being imposed again on certain pockets of the country, as speculation around a ‘second spike’ of COVID-19 grows, what preparation can people take – around employment?
DL: In relation to a potential second spike I think it would be a good Idea to develop some digital skills. Starting from the very basic, if you are more advance explore areas of work that require some computer device to carry out the role.

In various areas of work the role may require you to complete an administrative task, so gaining those skills from now will be really good. Create a plan of action, think about two or three areas of work you would like explore – it may not be computer related – go online and learn the fundamentals for those roles, the information is free and accessible.

Remember to take time out for yourself as well don’t feel too pressured into doing everything all at once. Exercise, try to have something healthy to eat, looking for work is a challenge but keep going think positive and stay active.

Full more from Witton Lodge Community Association, visit www.wittonlodge.org.uk

For more on the government’s Job Retention Scheme, visit www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wages-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme

This article has been supported by the Erdington Coronavirus Taskforce – for a full list of local support services, visit www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19-local-support

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NEWS: Witton Lodge Community Association launch Digit-All, tackling ‘digital poverty’ with a new electronic lending library

Words by Steve Sharma / Pics supplied by Witton Lodge Community Association

From Monday 24th August, isolated and vulnerable Erdington residents will be able to access essential support services thanks to an innovative new project being rolled out by Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) – Erdington Local can reveal.

The Perry Common based organisation is launching Digit-All – its own IT lending Library – to provide older residents and others in need of digital literacy support with the tools, skills, and knowledge they need to engage online.

Paul Tse, Flourishing Community Development Officer at WLCA, explains how COVID-19 has heightened an already pressing concern around digital literacy.

As a result of the lockdown, a significant number of the services and activities which older residents are dependent on have moved online,” he said.

The levels of digital poverty in Erdington were already quite high but this situation has seen even more adults become marginalised, unable to access the support they need. This puts them at greater risk of isolation, poor mental health, and mobility difficulties. Our project seeks to redress this imbalance and prevent such suffering.”

Work being delivered by the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce and Witton Lodge’s employment and skills and health & wellbeing teams, has identified a number of people in urgent need of digital literacy support. Digit-All will address the three main areas of concern which have been identified – a lack of IT facilities, a lack of connectivity, alongside confidence and capability.

We have purchased a range of portable IT equipment including laptops and tablets that will be available to lend to isolated, vulnerable adults,” added Paul.

As part of the service offer, we will also be providing users with a free data plan (and/or wireless dongles) to enable individuals to connect to the Internet where they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to.

Digital skills training will also be available to help older adults learn how to use their devices and interact with others through platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook or Zoom.”

Funding for the project has been acquired through the Erdington Neighbourhood Network Scheme – one of Birmingham City Council’s constituency-based networks, established to enable engagement with and investment in community assets which support older people to lead independent and connected lives.

Councillor Paulette Hamilton, Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care, said: “Neighbourhood Network Schemes have been set up to reduce isolation and improve social connectivity and wellbeing at a local level and in particular to support our older and more vulnerable citizens, keeping them active and engaged within their own localities.

The evidence of work carried out by organisations like Witton Lodge during the COVID-19 lockdown reveals that many of our older adults either do not have access to information technology that could help them be more in control of their lives, or do not have the confidence and ability to navigate the Internet to search for information and services that can help them remain independent.

Digit-All is a proactive response to digital poverty that has become more apparent during COVID-19 across our communities.  I am excited and look forward to seeing the service develop and being rolled out across Birmingham’s neighbourhoods,”

The project, as a prototype, launches from Monday 24th August – with those already identified as being in urgent need of support the first to receive laptops and tablets.

Following this initial trial period, the scheme Witton Lodge Community Association are looking to roll out Digit-All to a wider audience across North Birmingham.

For more information and photo opportunities call Steve Sharma on 0121 382 1930 or email steve.sharma@wittonlodge.org.uk

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

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NEWS: Upcycle Birmingham launches new showroom in the heart of Castle Vale

Words & pics by Ed King

On Monday 3rd August, Upcycle Birmingham launches its new showroom – selling second hand furniture and household goods at ‘an affordable price’, whilst raising money for community projects and support services on the Castle Vale estate.

Taking over the old St Gerrards community hall, Upcycle Birmingham has moved its large furniture facility into centre of Castle Vale – relocating from its previous premises on the Castle Vale Enterprise Park, situated off Park Lane.

With a sister shop on the local High Street, which sells smaller household items and clothes, Upcycle Birmingham now has all of its public operations right in the heart of Castle Vale – within easy walking distance of each other, as well as the estate’s main shopping and social hub.

We set Upcycle up about six and half years ago,” explains Judy Tullett – Community Services Coordinator at Spitfire Services – who created and operate the social enterprise, “with funding from the end of the Endowment Trust – legacy funding from the Housing Action Trust.

It was always people’s vision that there would be a place where we would not only sell good quality second hand furniture, but where people could volunteer and come in and have a gossip as well. And that’s exactly what it’s turned out to be.”

By being in the centre of the estate, we can attract more people,” adds Ray Goodwin – CEO at Spitfire Services, “and we’ve done a lot of learning – we looked at selling more online, but unless you specialise in antiques and high end stuff it just doesn’t work. Do what you do and do it well.”

Opening in January 2014, Upcycle Birmingham is a ‘thriving furniture recycling business that helps people transform their homes with low cost, high quality goods.’

The Castle Vale based social enterprise, run diligently by a team of around 26 dedicated volunteers, sources unwanted stock – donated by local businesses and residents. The items are then cleaned, polished, and presented to the public at a significant saving.

But quality is key, with Upcycle Birmingham only accepting and reselling items that are still fit for purpose and in good condition. Erdington Local used the Castle Vale based social enterprise to furnish its newsroom – buying desks and office equipment that would have cost ten-fold from a branded retailer.

I went it to research a story and came out with a van load of desk and tables,” admits Ed King, Editor-in-Chief of Erdington Local. “I usually buy bits of office equipment from a reclamation yard in Digbeth, but the quality at Upcycle Birmingham was a different level.

Before I had finished talking to the staff and arranging our interviews, I’d bought a thick glass topped desk to replace the wooden one I’ve been working from.

It’s beautiful, in great condition, and cost me £20. To buy it new you’d be looking at around £300 minimum. Upcycle Birmingham saved me a small fortune.”  

Upcycle Birmingham have also ensured they are protected again coronavirus, sterilising all new items and placing them into a 72hr quarantine – ensuring no trace of COVID-19 could be passed on through a sale.

Both the showroom and High Street shop also operate under Government guidelines to combat the spread of coronavirus, implementing social distancing measures and hand sanitiser points for all customers.

Because of the lockdown we’ve had lots of new donations,”  tells Sue Spicer, a local resident and volunteer who has worked at Upcycle Birmingham since it opened.

But we have to isolate all items for three days before we can touch them. Everything is stored at Spitfire House before we can sterilise it and bring it over to the shop.”

Established and operated by Spitfire Services, with initial investment also coming from The Pioneer Group – though its Employment and Enterprise Trust Fund – Upcycle Birmingham first opened its doors in January 2014.

But as with many of the social enterprises supported or run by Spitfire Services, including Castle Vale Library and Castle Pool, Upcycle Birmingham is as much about community as it is about commerce – providing more than just a reasonable price for the people it serves.

It’s more of a community hub being here,” continues Sue Spicer, “if you didn’t have a car you had a long walk to get to the old place.

It’s good that were more local now. And it’s good for families, especially with things like children’s clothes… we call it the boutique on the high street. 

But the big thing is the sense of community – people come in and have a natter, they don’t’ always have to be buying something.

Before coronavirus and the lockdown, if someone came in and they looked like they needed a friendly face, we’d invite them to sit down and have a cup of tea and a chat.

And the kids love to come in and have a mooch after school too, with their parents or grandparents. We can’t do that as much at the moment because we’re only allowed limited numbers in the shop.”

In six and a half years, Upcycle Birmingham has become a firm fixture on the Castle Vale estate – now accepting 120 tonnes of stock each year and selling quality items to hundreds of households. Hopes are that the more central location of its new showroom will allow them to reach even more residents.

Celebrated and championed by the Erdington MP, Jack Dromey, the Castle Vale social enterprise also receives regular visits from its member of parliament.

There are homes throughout Erdington with residents who could not afford to furnish them,” tells Jack Dromey MP – after visiting the new showroom before they opened their doors to the public.

Thanks to Upcycle, these families can be proud of where they are bringing their children up. A remarkable organisation led by the inspirational Judy Tullett, Upcycle takes what local residents no longer want and gives it those who need.” 

To learn more about Upcycle Birmingham, visit www.upcyclebirmingham.org.uk

To learn more about Spitfire Services, visit www.spitfireservices.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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NEWS: “Hooligan masks” sold in Erdington pubs, ahead of mandatory face covering measures on 24th July

Words by Adam Smith / Pics of pubs by Ed King – pics of masks supplied by anonymous

Frightening hooligan masks” are being sold in the pubs of Erdington – ahead of next week’s Government deadline for everyone to cover their faces in shops and on public transport.

The “Zulu masks” with the logo of the feared Birmingham City Football Club hooligan group The Zulus are being snapped up for £5 by Blues fans wanting to “look hard” on the street.

However, Aston Villa fans have complained the masks will worry young and old people as they are “inciting violence.”

Steven Lee, aged 53, said: “This is typical Blues. The Zulus are known for hooliganism. If my son, who is a teenager, is wearing his Villa mask, sees someone on the bus with this Zulu mask of course he is going to be afraid.

The fact that hooligans are cashing in on their violent past during COVID-19 pandemic is frankly sickening. They are being bought by idiots trying to look hard.”

He added: “It looks like the Villa are going to be relegated so next season we will be playing Blues, and I bet a lot of their hooligans will be wearing these masks on derby days, it will be chaos.”

Another Villa fan, who did not want to be named, added: “I give it a week before one of masks is used in an armed robbery or some street violence, celebrating criminals is just wrong.”

However, the mobile salesmen who has been hawking the masks around the pubs of Erdington, said: “It is just a bit of fun, I sell Villa, Blues, Liverpool, Manchester United masks and my supplier offered me these Zulu ones and they have been pretty popular.”

The salesman, who refused to be named for fear of recriminations, told Erdington Local: “I was a Zulu myself so I know most the people who are buying them are not remotely hooligans, I should be getting congratulated for helping stop the spread of the virus.

I’ve been in the Red Lion, The Charlie Hall, Church Tavern and the New Inn, amongst other pubs, and will continue selling these Zulu masks until they run out.”

The Zulus were formed in the early 1980s and quickly became notorious. standing out among other firms as they were multi-cultural whereas as others were mostly white – they featured heavily in the 1989 Gary Oldman film The Firm and various football violence documentaries since.

However, in recent years prominent members like Barrington Patterson have become celebrities in their own right – raising £100,000s for charity. Zulu members also organised a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Birmingham city centre earlier this month where the masks were seen in public en masse for the first time.

I was driving past the coach station, turning right onto Rea Street, and got caught in the middle of the Blues-Black Lives Matter march,” describes one eye witness, “everyone was wearing masks, but some of the bigger lads had the Zulu branded masks and t-shirts on.

There were mainly standing at the sides of the procession though, almost like security. I wouldn’t have argued with them, they looked pretty fierce, but they weren’t giving anyone any trouble. I think there was an EDL march happening in Birmingham on that day too.”

Downing Street confirmed everyone in England will have to wear a mask in shops from Friday, July 24 as well as public transport which came into affect in June.

After legislation is passed in Parliament people could get fined as much as £100 if they are found not wearing a mask in a shop or on public transport.

To find out more about the Government’s request for the public’s use of masks from 24thn July, visit https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/face-coverings-to-be-mandatory-in-shops-and-supermarkets-from-24-july

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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: James Brindley Academy’s Dovedale Centre – school life during lockdown

Words & pics by Ed King

There have been a lot of words used to describe the coronavirus crisis. But when it comes to education, one stands out. Uncertainty.

Out of all the public sectors, withstanding healthcare professionals fighting on the pandemic’s frontline, education has been one of the most affected by lockdown restrictions – with staff and students alike having to embrace dramatic changes.

But whilst ‘uncertainty’ is ever present across all year groups, thanks to COVID-19, those in transition are amongst both the most talked about – with Year 11 students preparing for further education under the biggest question mark of their young lives.

The thought of going to college is still ‘a big one’, for me personally,” explains Archie Walters – who has left his leavers BBQ to sit and talk to Erdington Local in a now physically distanced classroom. “But at the same time it isn’t massive, because I’ve got an older brother who is eighteen and in his second year of college – and seeing him do it has made me realise that I can do it as well.” 

I’ve had quite regular communication and emails from, and to, teachers,” tells Callum Kimberley – who is also leaving Dovedale this year to go into further education, “checking up on me and seeing if I’m alright.

Regarding how they prepare me for collage, one teacher did all that before lockdown… Miss Connor. She helped me a lot. When we went to Sutton (Collage) and we went into one of the classrooms for a lesson, she was more worried about that than me. She was like, ‘ah, you’ve really made me proud…”

Part of the James Brindley Academy, the Dovedale Centre is ‘a 81 placement provision for pupils with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC)’ – teaching Key Stages 2, 3 and 4, preparing the older children for the next stage in their educational journey.

With a cohort that require a more tailored approach to teaching than those in mainstream schools, Dovedale’s students could be suffering the most during lockdown. But for Archie and Callum, at least, the experience has been surprisingly straightforward.

One of the reasons for that, is because in this school…” begins Archie, “it makes you feel like you’re important because they (teaching staff) will take their time, to give you emotional support wherever you need. And that’s partly, in my opinion, what makes the relationships between pupils and teachers here as good as they are. Because they’re willing to make the time.”

Quick to mirror the feelings, Callum continues: “Yeah, we have very good relationships… we have different ‘go to’ teachers. It’s basically ones with similar interests and there’s just loads to talk about – to be honest, quite a lot of pupils and teachers get along really well here…” 

As robust as any 15-16 year old you might want to meet, Archie and Callum head back out into the schoolyard – soaking up the last few hours with the people who have been so important to them over the past few years. But the students are only one side of a school, and life under lockdown has also been a shift for the staff at Dovedale.

At the start is was quite challenging,” tells Mr Ellery, a Teaching Assistant and Pastoral Worker with the Year 11 cohort, “it was difficult imagining being away from them in such an important year… and ending it almost halfway though. 

Usually they come to us for the answers – you’ve been through this before sir, how did you cope with it? But no one’s been through this (COVID-19) in their lifetimes and we can’t predict how long this is going to go on.” Concerns that are peppering society, but more acutely when it comes to education.

But like the world of work now entrenched in Zoom meetings, digital technology has helped Dovedale function during lockdown – using interactive online platforms, staff have been able to maintain a semblance of the status quo with their students.

We were able to get a group of kids together in a weekly Skype call,” continues Mr Ellery, “getting them talking to each other – encouraging them that, in a time like this, the best support comes from your friends and family, as well as your teachers.”

But Year 11 has its own challenges, not least of which is the transition from secondary to further education – a difficult time for any student, let alone a young person living with autism.

A lot of what we would have done in physical face to face meetings, has just taken place over the phone or virtually – via Microsoft Teams,” explains Ms Lowe, a Special Educational Needs Coordinator and English Teacher who works with Year 11 at Dovedale.

A lot of colleges have been great in providing virtual support as well,” continues Ms Lowe. “We’ve got one young person whose college has given them six weeks – half a day every week, for the last six weeks – where they’ve had a virtual tour of the college. They’ve met their tutors already; they’ve already been introduced to the people in their class. So, that’s really great.”

But necessity is often the other of invention, and the digital platforms that began as an interim measure are now being looked at as an unexpected silver lining – especially when dealing with students who can find social situations more of a challenge.

In my role as SENCO, it’s given me food for thought for some of our young people who’ve got real anxiety about coming to school in the first place,” adds Ms Lowe. “We’ve now got the tools and the knowledge and the skills to be able to still give them the education they’ve got the right to.”

A lot of them present themselves quite confidently, but they’ve got these deep rooted anxieties,” explains Mr Ellery. “But today, when I asked about their thought process about college, each one of them have said ‘I’m actually looking forward to it. I’m anxious about it starting, but I’m looking forward to it.”

This experience,” continues Miss Lowe, “it’s forced them to transfer the skills they’ve learned in school into their own personal life. Coming back after the lockdown, they are so much more mature. Their resilience has been overwhelming. They’ve been amazing.”

The strength of the relationships between students and teaching staff at Dovedale is palpable, mirrored in the words and actions of both. It’s the first thing everyone mentions when asked about school life.

But at the top of the hill you get the broadest view, and Dovedale is a community of students, staff, but also the parents and carers of the children that attend.

We started looking at what do parents want? What’s the need?” explains Charmaine Parry, Centre Leader at Dovedale.

Surveys were then put out to all our parents,” continues Ms Parry, “to find out what do they want? And not only do they want us to be open, but with what sort of provisions. What can we do to support them as parents? And to get our young people transitioning slowly back into the school system.

So, we went through that process, gathered the data, and then as a team – with the attendance officer, Pastoral managers, SENCO – we spoke to every parent. We said, look, tell me what you want. We’ve done the survey. We’ve got an idea. But now as an individual, you tell me, what do you need?”

One of the widespread concerns, in the media at least, has been physical distancing – clouded by doubt over whether young people would stick to the guidelines in school. At Dovedale, however, this hasn’t seemed to be a problem.

To start off with, we looked at the size of the classrooms – so we could work out how many pupils we could have realistically in school,” tells Ms Parry. “Then we did all the markings. The one way flow system, that was all put in place as well – having to come in through reception, go down the corridor, up the back end ,up the stairs, to come down the front, we put all that in place.

Surrounded by black and yellow can create a sense of safety, but also of urgency – how did the children at Dovedale respond? “There’s been a huge change,” admits Ms Parry, “but the minute they came in, they saw that they could understand it. It was very clear. The signs are really clear.”

But how about the parents and carers? “I think the parents are probably being a little bit more anxious,” continues Ms Parry. “But I’ve had emails from parents saying that they are now happy to send their child to school after hearing from other parents – telling how well it’s planned, the structure that’s in place for them, the one way system, and the social distancing. And that means a lot. 

We’re doing our best to make sure that staff and children are kept safe in school. And everyone’s adhering to that. Everyone understands the guidelines.”

So, despite understandable concerns, it seems life under lockdown at Dovedale has not made a drama out of a crisis.

And whilst many questions remain, there is another word that would be appropriately applied to Dovedale. One that may not have been spoken in March, but as September approaches is growing in both suitability and strength.

Confidence.

To find out more about James Brindley’s Dovedale Centre, visit www.jamesbrindley.org.uk/dovedale

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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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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: Hope and Healing at John Taylor, Erdington based hospice launches fundraising appeal to support grieving youngsters

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

John Taylor Hospice in Erdington has launched the Hope and Healing Appeal – fundraising to support children across the West Midlands, who have lost loved ones during the coronavirus crisis.

The Hope and Healing Appeal aims to raise £10,000 to fund children’s counselling and art therapy groups at John Taylor Hospice – helping youngsters through one of the potentially toughest and loneliest times in their lives.

Donations to the Hope and Healing Appeal can be made online through a special Just Giving page, for more information visit www.justgiving.com/campaign/hopeandhealing

For those without access to the Internet, donations can also be made by texting the word ‘HEAL’ to 70331 for a £3 donation, or to 70191 for a £10 donation.

John Taylor Hospice is a charity, relying on public donations and fundraising to generate the £15,000 per day needed to run all its palliative and end of life care services. Founded in 1910, John Taylor Hospice is the oldest non-denominational hospice in the country – supporting over 600 individuals and families across the West Midlands.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact on so many families and they will need support to heal from the grief this crisis has caused,” says Katie Mitchell, Head of Fundraising at John Taylor Hospice. “Your donation will mean so much to families and will support children to find the strength and confidence to open up, express their feelings and realise they are not alone.”

Fronting the fundraising appeal is Vicki Brennan, 50, from Kingstanding whose eight-year-old grandson Cruz took part in a pilot support group for children at John Taylor Hospice.

My beautiful daughter Siobhan was only 25 when she died of cervical cancer in June last year,” explained Vicki, who is now Cruz’s guardian. “When his mommy died he was so brave but he found it very difficult to talk about his feelings.

“The hospice nurses that cared for Siobhan told us about a new bereavement support group at John Taylor. Cruz looked forward to going every week as he felt reassured talking to other children who’d lost parents and grandparents and realised he wasn’t alone.

In art therapy groups he drew pictures of his mommy – such lovely, happy memories of the two of them shopping and playing together. After a few weeks of counselling and art therapy with the other children, we noticed that Cruz started to open up more, being able to express his emotions and ask more questions.

“The group has also given us strength as a family, the opportunity to grieve in our own ways and to reminisce about precious moments together that keep Siobhan’s beautiful memory alive.”

The support sessions that Cruz attended were a pilot for the Birmingham-based hospice – and now the Hope and Healing Appeal aims to raise funds so this vital service can be continued and offer a lifeline for more families like Vicki’s.

Vicki added: “For children especially, the loss of someone close can be overwhelming. But with the right support, children can find the strength to cope with feelings of sadness, guilt, insecurity and fear. If you are able to support this appeal we’d be incredibly grateful and your kind donation will help more children like Cruz to heal from their grief and have hope for happier times.”

John Taylor Hospice’s Hope and Healing Appeal

To make a donation to the Hope and Healing Appeal visit www.justgiving.com/campaign/hopeandhealing or text HEAL to 70331 to donate £3, or HEAL to 70191 to make a £10 donation.

To read more about John Taylor Hospice visit www.johntaylorhospice.org.uk

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