FEATURE: Erdington Foodbank, an increasingly essential local lifeline

As the numbers of local families in need of support double due to the coronavirus crisis, with thousands facing a “bleak winter”, MP for Erdington, Jack Dromey, visits the longstanding food distribution service at Six Ways Baptist Church.

Words & pics by Ed King – some images taken from Erdington Local archives

Erdington Foodbank has been feeding double the numbers of local families this year – due to the effects of the coronavirus crisis, including continued lockdowns and spiralling unemployment.

Operating two days a week, at 6 Ways and George Road Baptist churches, the long standing local food bank has seen ‘a significant increase’ – including twice the number of children, as compared to last year.

This year, so far… this financial year, we’ve provided food for 10,000 people and more than 3,000 of are children,” explains Reverend Gerrard Goshawk – minster at Six Ways Baptist Church, “that’s been a significant increase, doubling the number of children. Overall, we’re looking at being twice as busy as we were the last financial year.

We have new people coming all the time, where there circumstances have suddenly changed, and we have people who are coming to us week in week out because they’re stuck in a situation that’s hard for them. 

So, we open twice a week – and within a short space of time, when we open, we get very, very busy. As you can see there’s a big queue here today.”

Launched in 2013, supported by the Trussell Trust, Erdington Foodbank has been operating within the community for nearly a decade – offering free to access ‘three day emergency food supplies’ via a referral system.

Last year the local food bank distributed nearly 4,000 care packages, feeding people of all faiths. But with mass unemployment due to COVID-19 lockdowns the numbers of those in need have increased dramatically this year.

Stretching from the church hall doors out onto Wood End Road, long lines of people have become a regular sight at Six Ways Baptist Church – sometimes waiting hours in bitter weather to receive bags of food and essentials. And the same can be seen at food banks across the city. 

As we sink into what will be a bleak winter,” tells MP for Erdington Jack Dromey – whilst visiting the Six Ways centre, “for thousands of people locally in Erdington the demand for food banks is growing and growing.

We’re here today (Six Ways Baptist Church) talking to guys who were at work, who have lost their jobs, and who are now desperate – and they turn to the food bank This is a long standing food bank… but what they’re seeing is a sharp increase in families using it. The number of those using this particular food bank have doubled.”

It’s down to the Government,” tells Kenneth Ball – a qualified mechanic who now relies on extra support from Erdington Foodbank.

The way they’ve cut back benefits… bang. From ESA to Universal Credit, they’ve taken half of our money away – so, we have to rely on places like this (Erdington Foodbank).”

Universal Credit are monthly payments, but most people have deductions,” mirrors Michael Blake – a professional baker who lost his job due to the coronavirus crisis. “The money they’ve got left over can only support them for one or two weeks, but what about the other two weeks?

In this environment, the Government should cancel the deductions – I’m not saying they’re not doing a good job, but they should wait until everything’s settled down then put the deductions back into force. We know we owe the money… but give us a break.”

Echoing the call for compassion, Jack Dromey reiterates the growing number of local voices who have been left vulnerable – with thousands across the constituency seeking a range of support as the country begins a second lockdown.

In terms of the effects on people personally, and I say this with immense sadness, the scars that are being inflicted – unless we’re careful – will last for years,” continues Dromey.

The scars mental ill health, the scars of children not being able to go to school for months on end, the scars sometimes endured by women in this constituency as victims of domestic violence.

We need to act, to save lives and to save livelihoods, but then to have a strong community supporting the community. That’s why we have the Erdington Taskforce, of which I was proud to be part of establishing, which has been doing so well supporting people locally.

I would urge the people of Erdington to play their part with acts of kindness, good neighbourliness, and supporting one another. But as far as the foodbanks are concerned, they badly need food – the demand is soaring.”

To find out more about Erdington Foodbank, visit www.erdington.foodbank.org.uk
For more from Jack Dromey MP for Erdington, visit www.jackdromey.org

For a list of local support services operating during the coronavirus crisis, visit the COVID-19 Local Support database and address book, www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19-local-support

Please follow and like us:

NEWS: Erdington parents ‘threatened with fines’ for children not returning after half term

Words & pics by Ed King

Ed’s note… The images used in the article are archive pictures of schools in Erdington and ARE NOT RELATED to the people who have supplied quotes or their children.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, or have any updates or developments from a school in Erdington, please get in touch – you can send us a direct message via the Erdington Local Facebook page or email sue@erdingtonlocal.com

As schools reopen after the half term holidays, families across Erdington are being ‘threatened with fines’ if they still feel the classroom is not COVID-19 safe and keep their children at home.

Despite another national lockdown closing the country from 5th November, parents and carers are being told that all young people must go back to school this week – or literally pay the price for any absences.

Birmingham City Council had previously taken the stance to not impose the fixed penalty notices, which had been set by the Department of Education in July, electing to wave the fines for the first half term.

But as school gates open for the last few weeks of the Autumn term, families keeping their children at home could be charged up to £120 for every empty chair they now leave in the classroom.

With increased concerns over the rising cases of coronavirus, many Erdington parents and carers feel they should be allowed to choose what is best for their children – without facing even more debt due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Natasha Court has two children at primary school in Erdington, she says: “I believe it is completely wrong that the City Council are threatening parents with fines for actively carrying out their duty of care to protect their children whilst still ensuring they are being educating them at home.

All children need an education, 100%, but a ‘one size fits all’ approach is not appropriate, particularly in the midst of a worsening health pandemic.”

She adds: “I have two children with health conditions who would both be at heightened risks of serious complications should they catch COVID-19. I have my own health conditions too. No matter what schools do, they cannot protect our children in a class of 30.

Fines will hit the financial and mental wellbeing of the families who are already struggling. So the ‘alternatives’ they are left with are to send them to school and be put at risk, or de-register and be let down by the system that is supposed to help ALL children get a strong start to life through education. This is not right nor fair.”

Another Erdington parent, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “I have been threatened with fines from the Council if I now don’t send my child into school.

This is completely unfair. How can they tell me school is safe for my child when they have already had cases in the school?

With cases and deaths rising sharply now all I want to do is protect my whole family, yet I am unable to do that due to potentially being fined.

Attending school during a pandemic should be the parents’ choice to make.”

Schools across Birmingham open for the final weeks of the Autumn term from Monday 2nd November.

As set by the Department of Education in July this year, fixed penalties of £60 can be imposed for any absentee child – increasing to £120 if not paid within 21 days.

Minister for Education, Gavin Williams, announcing fines on LBC Radio (first broadcast on July 29th)

For the latest information on coronavirus restrictions in Birmingham, issued by Birmingham City Council, visit www.birmingham.gov.uk/coronavirus_advice

For the latest information on the lockdown starting from 5th November, issued by Government, visit www.gov.uk/guidance/new-national-restrictions-from-5-november

Please follow and like us:

NEWS: North Birmingham Academy headteacher alleys parents’ fears after COVID-19 scare

North Birmingham Academy has been hit by a COVID-19 scare after members of staff tested positive for the virus.

Two teachers were found to be positive and are self-isolating, along with several pupils.

The headteacher of the College Road secondary school, Laura McLauire, wrote to parents to allay fears about a more widespread closures.

Mrs McLaurie wrote: ‘We have been made aware that two members of staff at the academy have unfortunately tested positive for COVID-19 and therefore are self-isolating for a period of 10 days.

‘We have since been working closely with Public Health England who advised that individuals who have been in close contact with these members of staff should isolate for 14 days as a precaution.

She added: ‘As one of the affected members of staff has confirmed that they have had no close contact with students and the other colleague had not yet started teaching at the academy, Public Health England confirmed that only members of staff who have had close contact will be required to self-isolate as a precaution.

‘Public Health England are otherwise satisfied as robust safety measures are in place at the academy, including social distancing and the arrangement of students and staff in bubbles to limit contact between individuals, the academy can remain open to all others.

‘Furthermore, please rest assured that we here at the academy are taking every precaution to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all our students and staff, including regular and focused cleaning of our academy, social distancing and ensuring good hand and respiratory hygiene.

She added: ‘I appreciate that upon hearing such news that some parents and carers might naturally feel concerned. However, I would like to reiterate that the health and wellbeing of your child is our number one priority and we will do everything in our power to ensure their safety.’

On Monday, the school informed parents it would be unable to provide face masks to pupils from Tuesday.

The school tweeted: “From tomorrow we will be unable to provide face masks to students. As Birmingham is in local lockdown it is a legal requirement for students to wear a mask unless they have a medical exception. Please ensure all children arrive with a mask for the safety of the whole #NBAFamily”

Parent Kelly Stone angrily replied on Twitter: “Three time’s now my daughter has told you about her asthma and how she struggles with her face mask that isn’t actually a legal requirement in school. Three times she’s been dismissed and is teachers raise their voices, nice one, great role modelling!”

She further told Erdington Local: “We were told about the staff testing positive but there are four children in my daughter’s Year 7 who are off self-isolating which we have not been told about.

As parents we should be kept informed at all times.”

NBA headteacher Mrs McLauire is holding a Q&A today at 4pm on YouTube about all COVID-19 related issues since the school reopened.

To find out more about North Birmingham Academy, visit www.northbirminghamacademy.e-act.org.uk

Please follow and like us:

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

______________

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

Please follow and like us:

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

Please follow and like us:

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

Please follow and like us:

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

Please follow and like us:

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

Please follow and like us:

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

Please follow and like us:

FEATURE: “I don’t think I would have survived the lockdown without my volunteering,” – Erdington local woman’s cry for more community support

Words by Steve Sharma / Pics courtesy of Erdington Local Community Response

A local woman helping an Erdington community support group to deliver food and essential supplies, and safeguard elderly and vulnerable residents, says volunteering has saved her life.

Donna Tone said her experience working alongside Mutual Aid Group, Erdington Local Community Response, has helped her to survive the lockdown.

At the start of Volunteers Week (June 1-7) the primary school worker is now urging others to follow her example and reap the ‘amazing’ benefits it brings.

“Should people volunteer? Absolutely,” she said. “Because you are not only doing good for others but for yourself too. My self-esteem and confidence have increased massively since I started volunteering and I’ve made some amazing friends and met some lovely people.e 

“At the beginning of the lockdown I felt very isolated with my family living far away from me – but my volunteering has changed that. I now feel uplifted as a person. I don’t think I would have survived the lockdown without my volunteering – it saved me.” 

Donna, who has spent the last three months helping to pack and distribute food parcels from a base in Ladywood, points to the collective efforts and unity of those working to support those in need.

“It’s like your own little community,” she said.

“One minute you’ve got these strangers standing behind you, the next minute they’re becoming your friends. 

“You just start talking to people and form connections, everyone is there to help each other, they are invested in the collective effort. Everyone is united.” 

Erdington Local Community Response was founded by local woman Jo Bull. It has been delivering hundreds of food parcels every week to homes across the district and supporting people through befriending services and via social media with information and resources shared on its Facebook page.

David Owen, who co-ordinates activity for the group, said the support it has received has been ‘eye-watering’ but with certain lockdown measures now being eased and people returning to their day jobs, volunteers are needed to sustain the help that’s being delivered to people.

“The take up of volunteers in Erdington has been immense with over 70 people giving up their time to pack, shop and deliver for those in need,” he said.

“But as these people return to work, we need a new wave of volunteers to get us through the weeks and months ahead. 

“So, if anyone out there, who lives in the North Birmingham area, can spare some time to help our group over the coming weeks we’d really love to hear from them. Please email me at: erdingtoncv19@gmail.com” 

Erdington Local Community Response is a member of the Erdington COVID19 Taskforce – a network of local community organisations and individuals working together to support the district’s vulnerable, isolated and at risk during the Coronavirus pandemic.

The Taskforce is facilitated by Witton Lodge Community Association. Chief Officer, Afzal Hussain, commented: “Volunteers are the lifeblood of organisations like ours and their efforts across the constituency in support of organisations like Erdington Local Community Response has been truly inspiring. 

“We have also benefited from their incredible and selfless work in getting food parcels packed and delivered to the most vulnerable members of our community during the lockdown.

“Without their support a lot of the work that has been achieved would not have been possible. We are all very grateful to every single one of our amazing volunteers.”

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

A directory of all Erdington COVID19 Taskforce organisations 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

Please follow and like us: