OPINION: Black Lives Matter protest in Birmingham

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Chris Neophytou & Jobe Baker-Sullivan

As far as I’m concerned, the police in America might as well be a terrorist organisation.”

I was spellbound by the thousands of people who gathered in Birmingham for the Black Lives Matter protest. There were people of all ages and races. There were children, and even a few pet dogs. It was in response to George Floyd’s death – which has caused shockwaves in cities around the world. I was proud to be there for Birmingham’s show of solidarity.

Initially, it was a scary experience. On my way to Birmingham Library, where the speeches took place, I was handed a slip of paper from an organiser with ‘advice on arrest’. I became anxious as the crowds gathered momentum – lest we forget, there is also the possibility of being infected with coronavirus.

But the intention of this protest was noble.

People chanted in full voice: “George Floyd, remember his name!” organically, along with other slogans. There were signs containing anti-establishment messages, messages of hope – some tongue-in-cheek, some with wise quotations. The one that resonated with me was the powerful, ‘They want our rhythm not our blues.’ As a musician, I believe that a vast amount of popular music owes a lot to talented, pioneering yet anonymous, often intentionally uncredited, black musicians. And as a white musician, I believe we stole their music but we didn’t alleviate their sorrow.

By chance, I spotted some people I know from Erdington. Pastor Rasaq Ibrahim from the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) joyfully handed me a free face mask, before disappearing into the crowd to give more to strangers.

Feeling fully equipped, having brought my vinyl gloves and voice recorder, I joined the crowd outside the library to hear passionate speakers selected by the Black Lives Matter group using a portable PA, often doubled with a megaphone. It was only audible if you were very close to the action, but people were happy to start chants in their own pockets of activity. I caught most of the speeches, with various speakers commending the multi-ethnicity of the crowd, the fact that this protest cannot be the last, and getting the crowd to kneel as a gesture of solidarity.

The fight is not black verses white; the fight is not black verses Asian. The fight is not black verses any race. The fight is against racists,” one speaker sermonised, followed by rapturous applause.

A couple of hours later, we marched, from Centenary Square, along New Street, to protest symbolically in front of the Lloyd House Police Headquarters.

An acquaintance of mine spotted me in the crowd. Like all the following speakers, she is black and wishes to remain anonymous. She is from Castle Vale: “Everyone’s out here. Black, white, Indian. Fighting for the same cause. It’s like the most peaceful protest I’ve ever been to. The message is clear. All anybody wants to have is an enjoyable life, and some people are robbing them of that.

Me personally, I feel like Black Lives Matter is inclusive to everyone as well. As far as I’m concerned, the police in America might as well be a terrorist organisation. The George Floyd incident was filmed, but it’s like, this has been going on for decades. This protest is saying, stop it. Just stop.”

I too had fear that this day would not remain peaceful, having seen the news of tear gas and looting in America. Trump’s response was to threaten to send in the army to cease the unrest, yet here in Birmingham I see an army of well-meaning citizens mobilizing to bring positive change.

One man, from Moseley, tells me: “As you can see, everybody’s behaving and respecting. Not many police officers. In general, I’m quite blown away because also, nobody with grey hairs like us! The majority of people are under 30. It’s mixed like hell mate! Proper mixed… It’s been an excellent day, a great day.”

We stopped our conversation to admire the marching crowd as it circled around Colmore Circus. Buses had come to a stand-still, and cars sounded their horns as they drove by in solidarity.

This is different from every other one [protest] because it’s worldwide. And it’s unfortunate that the people who commit the crime are telling other people to be peaceful!”

Another male I knew from Erdington was a little more sceptical of the speakers present at the protest: “to be honest, I think it’s just a façade. There was no direction on the mic in what they were saying. There were people on the mic saying: ‘if you’re not down with XYZ then you’re not XYZ’.”

Black Lives Matter itself as an organisation is not without its criticisms. It has been accused of being militaristic, police-hating, and has had a history of confrontation in the public domain – a prominent Black Lives Matter activist and writer, Shaun King, was banned from Facebook in 2016. Although King’s censorship was later redacted by the social media giant and labelled ‘a mistake’.

But whilst agitation can be seen as an important part in evolving debate, it can also lead to messages getting blown out of proportion in a media frenzy – a difficult balance no doubt Black Lives Matter, and many activist groups, will be all too familiar with. And if you need an example of how this can go wrong, just Google ‘Katie Hopkins’.

But the response to the George Floyd murder, for that’s what it is, has been the most recent flashpoint of a whole history of anti-human abuse. Black lives do matter, and as offensive as it is to even need an organisation to clarify that the conversation about race needs to be kept alive, by everyone.

And personally, from my corner of the crowd and community, it was important for me to be part of this historic event in my own city. And as a musician, and a human being, I can only pray that finally a change is going to come.

For more on Black Lives Matter, visit www.blacklivesmatter.com

Jobe Baker-Sullivan is an Erdington based musician and arts ambassador, leading the Erdington Arts Forum and the Active Arts Evenings of Creativity. For more on Jobe Baker Sullivan, visit www.facebook.com/JobeSullivanMusic

For more on the Erdington Arts Forum, visit www.facebook.com/groups/cafeartsforum/

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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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FEATURE: Death and social distancing – the grief of funerals during lockdown

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Ed King

The UK’s funeral industry is estimated to be worth around £2billion annually, with an estimated 4,000 directors conducting 600,000 funerals each year at an average of £3-5000 per service. Britain’s death economy is big business.

But honouring the dead is also paramount for people’s mental health and society’s social fabric – a respectable funeral is a helpful step in the grieving process, allowing people to say goodbye to loved ones whilst offering the emotional sanctuary of a traditional service.

During the COVID-19 crisis, however, funerals have taken on an even more sombre tone, as death tolls rise whilst places of worship across the country have been closed to stem the spread of the virus – building a backlog that has seen some funerals held weeks, even months, later than normal.

Along with the Government restrictions being imposed on funerals of all faiths, whatever your beliefs the COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed the way this vital part of human society is carried out.

As someone who would play the church organ at funerals pre-coronavirus, sometimes three times a week, I was interested in exploring the drastic changes people now face during this important part of the grieving process.

It feels like their bereavement is suspended,” says Father Simon Ellis, the parish priest at St Margaret Mary’s Church on Perry Common Road, who has officiated over six funerals since the start of lockdown – unable to make two, as he was recovering from coronavirus himself.

It’s been agonising… It feels like people have said, you go, I’ll stay at home. The overwhelming thing I’ve heard is that ‘they deserve more’… Normally there would be 50, 60, 150 people at the church or the crematorium. Now we can only have six,” the maximum number of mourners allowed, at that time, according to Birmingham City Council.

And if someone has died of COVID-19,” continues Father Ellis, “people are not permitted to see their loved ones in the funeral parlour. They’re not permitted to touch the coffin. It’s something that will have people struggling with their mental health.”

The Government guidelines have been put in place so that ‘mourners and workers involved in the management of funerals are protected from infection,’ according to the .Gov website. But this has caused anguish for many families, with some having to make tough decisions about who attends the funeral of a loved one and who does not.

But despite the hardships during lockdown Father Ellis has noted, “generally families seem to be sticking to the rules… All the families have been saying there will be something at a later date – whether that’s a memorial mass, a memorial service, or something followed by a proper reception. There are plans for the future.

I feel genuine sorrow for people. Whether they’ve lost a person through COVID-19 or some other reason, they’ve been hurled into this new world…

It is very hard to experience this extra burden people are carrying. But it’s also remarkable how resilient and high-spirited people are being.”

The coronavirus crisis has also seen ingenuity, as people embrace digital platforms to combat the widespread physical restrictions. “Perry Barr Crematorium did have a system where they could relay the service outside,” tells Father Ellis – explaining a shift in how the funeral is conducted which allows more people to gather outside of the chapel area.

Some funerals are also being livestreamed for the benefit of those who can’t be attend in person, and Father Ellis has taken on the challenge: “[livestreaming] has always happened, but now there are more people are involved. What you’re trying to do in the service, which I’ve never done before is start at the beginning of the service is saying ‘if you’re following remotely, you are most welcome, we are thinking of you’. It’s just something to say, ‘we know you’re there.’”

But for all those who are grieving during the coronavirus crisis, it has been a whirlwind experience; as if losing a loved one wasn’t difficult already, not being able to have a conventional funeral has been a great shock to many mourners.

Steve Lafferty, who lives on Lambeth Road in Kingstanding, lost his brother, Charles, on the 4th April after a seven year battle to cancer. Under normal circumstances, there would have been a ‘receiving in’ ceremony the evening before the funeral, wherein the coffin of the deceased remains in church, St Margaret Mary’s, overnight.

We’d have liked him (Charles) to go to church first, to St Margaret Mary’s,” explains Steve, “for the overnight, and then the service… then the funeral mass, in the church, then up to the crematorium for a little service there.

We’d have had the hymns in church… he wanted certain songs, his kids wanted certain songs, so we’d kept them for the crematorium. But because we couldn’t get to church we give them the songs that they wanted, that my brother wanted, to go out there.”

Part of a strong Scottish family, Charles Lafferty had many mourners wishing to pay their final respects. But with the numbers of attendees restricted, the family he left behind found themselves – like many across the country – having to make some difficult logistical decisions.

He had six grandchildren, so the eldest grandchildren were to go,” tells Steve, crunching the numbers usually reserved for a wedding planner – Sandwell Crematorium, where Charles was cremated, are allowing a maximum of 10 mourners at each service. “Then his three children, his three brothers – his son’s partner, she came. But then my wife came, my other’s brother’s wife came…”

They were quite good actually at Sandwell, they gave us a link,” continues Steve – explaining the digital streaming service Sandwell Crematorium were able to offer, “because I’ve got relations in Scotland and all that there, and they said the link was very good as well.

They give us a code to put in – they set it up straight away, then told us – in a few weeks time – to just click here and it will automatically go through. It was really good. Where the camera was you had the coffin, the priest, the people that were there… it was really, really good.”

For Charles Lafferty, his funeral was to be well and widely remembered – despite all the coronavirus roadblocks now in front of a regular procession. But fortitude deserves fanfare, and whilst working within the Government guidelines the family were still able to say goodbye in their own way.

I went down to the undertakers, Unwins on Rough Road,” explains Steve, “they said look Mr Lafferty, with the circumstances we’re in you can only have this, this, or this… no cars, only a hearse. And because we’re Scots we had a bagpiper performing.

So, what we did… where I live on Lamberth Road… I told all his friends to come, but they must keep social distancing all along the road. Don’t go to the crem, but do it along the road outside my house – and then the bagpiper played him up to my house.

The three bothers and his family there, we walked in front and others walked behind, all the way up. Then they stayed outside my house for about five minutes for anyone who wanted to come up to touch the coffin – it was the only time anyone was allowed to touch the coffin – then I went down in front… You had the bagpiper, me, the lady from Unwins, and the coffin then followed me down the road and we were off to Sandwell (Cremetorium).

I can’t knock Sandwell, and I can’t knock my undertakers down the road, especially under the circumstances. They were very, very good.”

For more information on how ‘births, deaths, and ceremonies’ are being conducted across Birmingham during the coronavirus crisis, visit www.birmingham.gov.uk/info/20016/births_deaths_and_ceremonies

For Government guidelines on ‘managing a funeral during the coronavirus pandemic’, visit www.gov.uk/covid-19-guidance-for-managing-a-funeral-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic

For more from Unwins Undertakers, visit www.urwinsundertakers.co.uk

For more on St Margaret Mary’s Church, visit www.birminghamdiocese.org.uk/st-margaret-mary-perry-common

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FEATURE: Erdington residents left without emergency dental care during lockdown

Words & pics by Ed King

**IF YOU ARE SUFFERING FROM DENTAL PAIN AND CANNOT REACH YOUR REGULAR PRACTICE/SURGERY, PLEASE GO STRAIGHT TO THE CONTACT INFORMATION AT THE END OF THIS ARTICLE**

During the widespread lockdown of shops and services, to combat the spread of COVID-19, Erdington residents have been left without any clear route to emergency dental services.

Following Government guidelines, and the preventative measures endorsed by Public Health England, dentals surgeries across both the constituency and country have been forced to close.

But whilst emergency services remain open for a wide range of illness and accidents, with people even encouraged to keep in contact with their GP surgeries, dental practitioners have been given no clear guidance on how to support their patients – leaving local residents suffering from dental pain walking through a complex minefield of referrals to find treatment.

When I rang my local GP surgery (Eaton Wood Medical Centre), they were absolutely no help whatsoever, explains Karen Baker-Sullivan – an Erdington resident who was suffering with a severe tooth infection.

I initially rang my dentist, and she told me to ring my local GP – tell them you’ve spoken to your dentist, who is not at her practice at the moment, and they will be able to refer you to some antibiotics. It was supposed to be that simple.

The receptionist took all these details and told me the GP would ring me back… I eventually got a phone call back about four hours later and was asked to go through all my symptoms again. Which I did. At the end of it I was told I couldn’t have any antibiotics because they don’t deal with dental pain. I was just told to get back in touch with my dentist… who isn’t practicing at the moment.”

Government is yet to lay out a medical response plan for dental care during the coronavirus crisis, with sterility and the safeguarding of surgery staff as their public facing concerns – the only clear message coming from Whitehall about dentistry. But as PPE shortages continue to affect the widespread NHS and healthcare services, dentistry is continually overlooked – leaving many dental practices in the dark and their patients suffering in silence.

It’s clear that some professions are more likely to be close to people for long periods and you may get some sort of aerosolisation of the sputum and so on,” says Sir Patrick Vallance – the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, “so there are risks in certain professions and dentistry is clearly one of those where that might be the case.

This is being looked at, I know, by the Chief Medical Officer (Professor Chris Whitty) in terms of what could be done to reduce that – and, of course, dentists are healthcare professionals who are used to working in environments where there are infections risks.”

The advice given by the British Dental Association (BDA) is that ‘assuming you have not got COVID-19 related symptoms, you should call your (dental) practice.’ But with many surgeries closed, or oversubscribed with emergency enquiries, many people are finding it difficult to contact their regular dentist.

Further advice from the BDA refers patients in pain to the national NHS 111 hotline, which Erdington Local called seeking advice for a ‘constant and throbbing pain in one of my bottom left molars.’ After a significantly protracted question and answer session, using a generic address on Erdington High Street, we were referred to either the 6 Ways Dental Practice on Gravelly Hill North or Bupa (Oasis) Dental Care on Summer Rd.

There was no answer at 6 Ways Dental Practice, only a pre-recorded answering machine message stating ‘due to the coronavirus pandemic and Government recommendations 6 Ways Dental Practice will remain closed until further notice…’ – with a mobile number for patients needing ‘an emergency telephone consultation.’

Bupa (Oasis) Dental Care did pick up the phone but were unable to “see any face to face appointments.” Although, as with 6 Ways Dental Practice, the surgery could “get the dentist to give you a call back if it’s an emergency.”

Both 6 Ways Dental Practice and Bupa (Oasis) Dental Care referred us back to the NHS 111 hotline.

After phoning several more dentists across Erdington, with most surgeries relying on a pre-recorded message akin to the one from 6 Ways Dental Practice, Erdington Local was finally directed to the Scott Arms Dental Practice on the Walsall Rd in Great Barr – an off the record referral from a helpful member of staff at another dental practice.

Seemingly the only surgery taking face to face appointments, Erdington Local went through a robust over-the-phone examination to ascertain the severity of our complaint and to recommend treatment. There was also a helpful PDF document on the surgery’s website, titled ‘Managing Toothache at Home – Tips to help manage dental problems until you can see a dentist.’

On visiting the Scott Arms Dental Practice there was a constant stream of patients coming in and out of the surgery – being managed by staff, in accordance with the physical distancing guidelines issued by Government. And although many people were being asked to wait patiently in the car park, the sense of relief was palpable.

As one couple explained whilst waiting on the front steps, with the woman clutching a handkerchief to her jaw and clearly in considerable pain, “it wasn’t easy finding anywhere in Birmingham that would see us… but at least this place is open.”

For more from the Scott Arms Dental Practice, visit www.scottarmsdentalpractice.com

For further information, advice, and guidelines from the British Dental Association, visit www.bda.org

To visit the NHS 111 online support service, for all health concerns, visit www.111.nhs.uk

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NEWS: ‘Nubsters’ play Russian Roulette picking up cigarette butts on Erdington High Street

Words by Adam Smith / Pics by Ed King

Desperate nicotine addicts have been warned they are playing Russian Roulette with their lives on Erdington High Street, by picking up and smoking cigarette butts from the pavement.

The “filthy habit” normally has a tranche of health consequences, but the COVID-19 pandemic could see more deadly results for the so called ‘Nubsters’. And the threat of catching coronavirus is not just confined to those picking cigarettes from the floor but extends to people who share ‘twos’ with their friends.

The warning has come from Erdington nurse, Leonie Smith (37), who has swapped working at her own clinic to be on the front line fighting COVID-19 in a mental health ward.

Leonie said: “I grew up in Erdington and we used to laugh at the old guys who picked up cigarettes from the floor, but now as a nurse it terrifies me the consequences of this filthy habit during this pandemic.

If I walk down Erdington High Street I can’t go ten yards before seeing someone picking up a fag end from the floor, I thought because of the pandemic people would have the sense to stop.

Normally it would be the germs and bacteria on the floor which would cause the health scares to these addicts, but now it is also who smoked the fag before which is the danger. It is a sure fire way of catching the virus.

Every pull on that cigarette is ingesting the previous persons saliva and germs; I still see young people passing one another cigarettes or spliffs of cannabis.”

Government has not released any statistics about how the coronavirus virus has hit drug addicts, but they often have underlying health conditions and low immune systems – a demographic described as ‘vulnerable’ by Public Health England.

We need to educate everyone in society to follow the rules and drug addicts are no different,” continues Leonie. “Passing on a roll up, cigarette, spliff, or vape has to be seen as a dangerous and stupid thing to do – we all have a part to play, to call out friends, family and those who are blasé and do this like they always have.”

Leonie went to Perry Common School and has lived in Erdington and Kingstanding whilst working in the NHS – including the Children’s Hospital in Birmingham.

Before the COVID-19 crisis she had set up her own clinic as an expert in children’s mental health. However, as the call out for support came from Government she immediately volunteered to go back on the front line.

Leonie has now created her own signs, which include the slogan ‘No More Twos’ and ‘Picking up fag butts is like Russian Roulette’ – hoping to help deter the trend of picking up discarded cigarette ends and to further prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Birmingham City Council pinpointed Erdington as one of the busiest high streets outside the city centre and removed on-street parking, as well as widened pavements, to help tackle problems physical distancing.

For further help and guidance on health issues surrounding COVID-19 and the coronavirus crisis, visit www.gov.uk/coronavirus

For help and guidance giving up smoking, visit www.nhs.uk/live-well/quit-smoking/nhs-stop-smoking-services-help-you-quit/

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NEWS: Find help during the coronavirus crisis – an address book of local support for Erdington residents

Words by Ed King

The coronavirus crisis has changed the world as we know it. Loved ones are self-isolating, shops and businesses are shut, pubs and restaurants have been forced to close, and local schools are glued to a continuous seesaw of uncertainty.

But help is at hand. Erdington Local has been working with The Erdington Coronavirus Taskforce to present a list of COVID-19 Local Support – a ‘clear and accessible’ address book where people across Erdington can find the help, advice, and support they need during the pandemic.

The coronavirus virus is a global disaster; a moment in modern history that will shape the days and years to come. But it has sparked some truly inspiring community spirit – from grassroots volunteer groups providing essential shopping for vulnerable residents, to trained physical and emotional support services finding any way they can to still reach those in need.

These organisations can now be accessed through a central database of COVID-19 Local Support services on the Erdington Local website – with an administrative team working to keep the information up to date and accurate.

Covering issues including domestic violence, food & essentials, health & wellbeing, finance, employment, and mental health, people can visit the COVID-19 Local Support address book and database by clicking here – then simply scroll through the top menu to find the range of support services on offer.

There has been a fantastic show of solidarity and community spirit during the coronavirus crisis,” explains Claire Marshall, Project Director of Active Arts Castle Vale – who represents Erdington Local & Active Arts on The Erdington Coronavirus Taskforce. “Organisations across Erdington have been working together to provide, and present, the support services that some people so desperately need.

But finding out what’s available isn’t always that easy, so we’ve built an address book of all the help on hand to local residents – which will have its own page on the Erdington Local website and be regularly updated.

These are difficult times, and whilst the people of Erdington have shown just how strong, resilient, and caring they can be there are always some who slip between the cracks. But there is an army of amazing organisations across Erdington working tirelessly to provide much needed support.

Erdington Local wants all the help that’s available to be as clear and accessible as possible, including for those who may not be as confident using websites or online services. One of the reasons we jointly created Erdington Local with Review Publishing was to make sure that local residents could access the information they wanted and needed.”

To visit the COVID-19 Local Support database and address book, visit http://www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19-local-support/

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NEWS: Business is pawsitivley booming for Erdington Pet Centre

Words by Keat Moore / Pics by Keat Moore and Ed King

Erdington Pet Centre has been catering to the needs of Erdington’s pet lovers for the past 10 years and has continued to do so during the COVID-19 pandemic. Erdington Local went to find out more about the store and what affect the lockdown has had on their business.

Erdington Pet Centre / Ed King

We’ve actually got busier,” says owner Paul Beresford, “when it started, we had lots of people panic buying and we were really busy. But after a little while it quietened down, and we’ve managed to keep that busier pace.”  

On the list businesses exempt from lockdown restrictions, pet stores have been kept open across the UK – providing the food, medicine, and exercise essentials for thousands of furry friends. But at Erdington Pet Centre, the stay at home message has some seen some unexpected increases in sales.

We’ve sold an awful lot of fish tanks and we’ve seen an upturn in wild birdseed as well,” explains Mr Beresford, “which I think is due to people looking for new hobbies whilst at home and spending more time in their gardens.”

Paul Beresford - Erdington Pet Centre / Keat MooreCompared to most of the shops on the High Street, Erdington Pet Centre is one of the few without a queue – which Mr Beresford says has helped bring in new customers: “We’re seeing a lot of new faces, sometimes from out of the area, so we’ve got no complaints.”

He has also found the Government’s support for small businesses to be especially useful during the lockdown, “the Government has helped us tremendously, especially the reduction in business rates and the small business grants – they’ve been a big help.” 

But Mr Beresford says he’s been surprised at just how many people are still out shopping: “I have another shop in Wolverhampton, which I’ve actually closed as it was the opposite to here – there’s no one around in Wolves town centre, it’s dead.” 

Erdington Pet Centre / Ed KingThe busyness of Erdington High Street has been an area of concern for both the police and the community; Birmingham City Council recently implemented new road markings and erected barriers to widen the footpaths and help enforce physical distancing guidelines.

But at Erdington Pet Centre, Mr Beresford doesn’t see it being too much of a problem, “I think there’s possibly more people about in Erdington than needs to be. But on the whole, I think they’re being sensible and respecting social distancing.”   

Erdington Pet Centre can be found at 117 High Street, Erdington. Its trading hours, including during lockdown, are between 9.00 am to 5.00 pm – Monday to Saturday. To contact Erdington Pet Centre, telephone: (0121) 373 1323

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NEWS: Serving up 25% discounts for NHS workers at Walter Smith Fine Foods

Words by Keat Moore / Pics by Keat Moore and Ed King

Walter Smith Fine Foods has always been a familiar sight on Erdington High Street and has been serving generations of families from the community for the last 80 years.

It’s also one of the few butcher shops in the area to remain open during the COVID-19 lockdown, continuing its commitment to its customers by offering a free delivery service and a 25% discount for all NHS staff.

Erdington Local caught up with Mark Healy, the store manager, to find out more about the butcher’s life during the lockdown.

The first week was chaos,” says Mark, “we had loads of panic buying and fighting, we had to put limits in place, in the end, to stop customers trying to buy 50lbs of mince!”

Things have, thankfully, calmed down since then. But Mark says they’re still busy and they’ve even seen a 40% increase in sales, “we’ve actually won a lot of friends in this climate and we’re serving customers we’ve never seen before.

The uptick has primarily come from the delivery service that Walter Smith have been offering since the lockdown began; customers can call the shop, place an order, pay over the phone, and have fresh produce delivered to their door the following Friday.

It’s been really popular” Mark explains, “I think it took off really well due to the 2-3 week wait for online orders through the big supermarkets,” which has been a real issue for many vulnerable people across Erdington, as well as staff feeding residents of local care homes.

Walter Smith is also offering a 25% discount to all NHS staff, as a way of showing support and appreciation for the work they’re doing in the fight against COVID-19 – a gesture which has been especially popular in Erdington, as many of the Walter Smith regular customers are NHS workers.

Walter Smith Fine Foods is currently open Monday – Saturday, 8.30 am until 4.30 pm. For more information, visit www.waltersmith.co.uk or call 0121 373 0457

To find Walter Smith Fne Foods on Facebook, visit www.facebook.com/waltersmithff

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FEATURE: Big John’s big heart – Erdington born ‘neighbourhood takeaway’ donates 100 food parcels to local food bank, as part of a citywide charity drive

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

Helping to feed vulnerable people across the city, Big John’s have pitched in to support Erdington residents during the coronavirus crisis – donating 100 parcels to the food bank being run from George Street Baptist Church in Stockland Green.

Organised in conjunction with the international Human Appeal charity and the Anzal Begum Foundation – the latter set up to ‘continue the visionary charity work of Anzal Begum’, the mother of Big John’s founders Jongir and Bob Siddiq – the food parcels were prepared by volunteers at Big John’s warehouse in Newtown, then taken directly to George Street Baptist Church.

Packed with essential provisions and staples for home cooking – including pasta, milk, sugar, cereals, biscuits, juice, tinned tomatoes and tinned soup – the 100 parcels taken to the Stockland Green based food bank were the last in 1000 that the ‘neighbourhood takeaway’ have donated throughout Birmingham.

I remember the struggle, when we’re trying to source the items,” Ambreen Khan – Head of Fundraising for the Anzal Begum Foundation.

“A lot of the suppliers were rationing as they had to meet their own demands, as well. But the relationship that Big John’s have with some of their suppliers, and then the Anzal Begum Foundation working with Big John’s on behalf of their late mother, that really helped source the items – it’s a really big thank you to all those suppliers who helped us source these items to go out to families and individuals.”

An Erdington born business, Big John’s have grown to be a prominent food outlet throughout the Midlands – bringing an ‘American food dining experience to traditional British and world favourites.’

Opening its doors in 1995, with the first of the franchise launched at the Six Ways Island in Erdington, Big John’s now have 12 branches located throughout Birmingham – alongside one in West Bromwich and one in Leicester.

But during the coronavirus crisis, when many businesses have been forced to close and all restaurants asked to shut their doors, Big John’s have been able to continue serving customers through deliveries and takeaways – as well as helping to feed people in the local community, especially those having trouble accessing food or basic provisions.

We just want to continue some of the great work that our late mother was doing in her lifetime,” tells Bob Siddiq, founder of both Big John’s and the Anzal Begum Foundation, “supporting local communities, supporting local causes – whenever someone’s in trouble, to be there for them. So, we decided we’d set up this (Anzal Begum) foundation in memory of what she was doing in her lifetime and continue that work.”

Big John’s used their contacts in the UK food supply chain to help others, organising for 1000 parcels to find their way to the city’s food banks and support services – an act of community that reflects the month of Ramadan, currently being celebrated by Muslims across the country.

But true kindness is secular, with the Siddiq brothers and their partners at Human Appeal and the Anzal Begum Foundation working alongside charities from all faiths and backgrounds to help feed the city’s most vulnerable.

One of the most important things we’ve seen here (Erdington/Birmingham), in Britain, and in the UK,” tells Zahir Khan – Director of Fundraising for Human Appeal, “is how people have let any sort of divide… that had previously divided us – in terms of colour, creed, religion, culture… I’ve seen everyone drop all the differences and really come together. For us, as Human Appeal, a faith based charity, it’s been a real honour to come together and support people regardless.”

This is another fine example of the community spirit we have here in Erdington,” continues Jack Dromey MP, who first told Erdington Local about the food parcels being delivered by Big John’s.

Our local food banks have seen a surge in demand since the start of the Coronavirus outbreak, so these donations are very welcome and will provide much-needed support to some of the most vulnerable in our community.

I’d like to thank Bob Saddiq and the rest of the team at Big John’s for this extremely kind gesture. It is wonderful to see a business that was started here in Erdington, and has gone on to be a great success, giving back to their community.

I’d also like to thank every member of our local community who is supporting others through this incredibly tough time. These acts of kindness and solidarity will help us all come through this unprecedented crisis together.”

Big John’s deliver 100 food parcels to George Road Baptist Church

To find out more about George Street Baptist Church, including the food bank they are currently operating, visit www.georgeroad.com/

To find out more about Big Johns, including all their online menus and delivery services, visit www.mybigjohns.com/

To find out more about the Anzal Begum Foundation, visit www.facebook.com/pg/anzalbegumfoundation/

To find out more on the Human Appeal charity, visit www.humanappeal.org.uk/

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FEATURE: Coronavirus in Erdington’s care homes

Words & original photography by Ed King / Pic of Jean & Charles Beattie courtesy of Sarah Yates

As cases of coronavirus continue to skyrocket, the number of care home residents contracting COVID-19 heads towards an equally dark horizon.

At the time of writing, the latest government figures show 133,495 reported cases across the UK – resulting in over 18,000 deaths.

But with nearly 2,000 of those registered to residents of care homes, more than doubling over the Easter weekend, by the time you read this the number will be even higher.

In a recent survey conducted by Jack Dromey MP, there were ‘19 cases of Coronavirus in Erdington Care Homes, either confirmed or suspected’ – with six residents having died either in their facility or after being moved to hospital, with another 11 cases waiting for confirmation on cause of death.

Alongside the increasing strain on supply chains crucial to the healthcare sector, such as manufactures of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), it’s arguably a case of when and not if. The only question left, is how much worse will the impact of coronavirus be for care homes and their residents?

He went in a week ago today,” tells Jean Beattie, whose husband, Charles, is currently in Heartlands Hospital being treated for coronavirus. “First of all, he went onto the pre-COVID ward, where they asses them. Then, once the test came back positive, they moved him to the COVID ward, and he’s been there the rest of the time.”

A resident of The Ridings Care Home in Castle Vale, Charles Beattie has underlying dementia and was referred to Heartlands after suffering a fall whilst getting out of a reclining chair. “Because his oxygen saturation levels were so low, which makes him dizzy and wobbly on his legs, he over balanced,” explains Jean, “and hit his head on the chest of draws.”

I think the paramedics forwarded the information (to the hospital) that there was COVID on the unit, so he automatically went to the pre-COVID ward. But he wasn’t admitted because of his general health.”

But treating the physical symptoms is only half the battle for some patients, and Jean also has concerns around her husband’s dementia.  

He’s on a high dependency unit within the care home… they know him, and he knows them. They are his security blanket. In fact, he relates more to them now than he does to us, his family. Because he’s with them 24/7… It’s the people that are looking after him all the time that are his immediate family now.”

Home is where the heart is, or where the mind can find peace. But what protection do both staff and residents have if that happens to be a care home facility?

They’d got nothing,” tells Jean – who explains the required PPE only reached The Ridings over Easter, “just the ordinary paper masks. And they’ve got COVID positive patients in there at the time; and had lost some of them as well.”

All they’d got were their plastic aprons, the gloves that they always have, and the paper masks that everybody has in a care environment – be it a hospital or whatever.”

Quick to support the staff at The Ridings, who Jean believes “should be paid in gold bars not pence,” the adversity health practitioners face during the coronavirus crisis should also highlight their worth.

It’s really important that they are pulled into the equation,” tells Jean, “they’re really have been forgotten. I understand why all the concentration, in the first instance, was on getting care and service into the frontline of the NHS. But they (Government) should have realised that this was a bombshell waiting to explode.”

I’m full of admiration and I’m very, very grateful for everything they’ve done in Heartlands (Hospital). But he needs to be with his family. Which is the home. Once he’s there, no matter what the outcome, I will feel happier.”

Away from the fierce debate over PPE, there is another supply chain crucial to the health care industry – a cookie jar the general public have their fingers stuck in too. Food.

The most difficult thing we’ve had to deal with is the food chain,” explains Anglea – an administrator at Cedar Lodge Nursing Home on Kingsbury Road.

We’ve used online shopping for many years, because as it gives the residents more variety. I’ve got Asda’s website in front on me now; the slots only go up to 7th May and every single one is sold out. Every one from 6am to 11pm is sold out.”

Going direct to the supermarket shelves can be tricky too, as care homes are currently not exempt from the store by store rationing. “We take a letter to prove that we were purchasing for a care home,” explains Angela, “but one local supermarket wouldn’t let me buy three bags of porridge – even though I was buying for a care home.”

The day before I’d been at Spar in Wylde Green, they were wonderful. Sainsbury’s at Castle Vale, they didn’t restrict us either – I said to the person going shopping, make sure you’ve got your letter with you. But he went in and nobody stopped him. So, we were able to get what we needed.”

For most of us, bare shelves and item restrictions are a frustration. But when you’re cooking over 100 meals a day, it threatens lives. Not to mention the mental stress put on already vulnerable residents.

They can’t have any family come and visit,” tells Angela, “the regular entertainers and exercise classes… we’re not able to have those people come in anymore.”

If they were to have restrictions on their food or diet… to be honest I can’t imagine what sort of impact that would have on them.”

Sadly, concerns over both PPE and food in care homes are not uncommon. The recent survey conducted by Jack Dromey MP, contacting all 47 care homes across the Erdington constituency, identified ‘9 care homes (that) have indicated that food supply is an issue,’ raising concerns about ‘both item limits and lack of availability for online deliveries’.

Then there’s the issue of PPE, which most people at the end of an Internet connection will know is a widespread concern across the country.

In Erdington, 48% of the 47 care homes still have worries over accessing the right protective equipment – whilst ‘one care home has only received 600 masks since the start of the crisis, with staff now having to re-use masks due to a shortage.’

But, in Erdington at least, there is a plan to help care homes ‘secure adequate amounts of food needed to feed their residents.’ In a letter to Tesco’s CEO, David Lewis, Jack Dromey has asked for two clear changes in operational policy:

  • Exempt care homes from the item restriction limit that is in place for regular shoppers
  • Create special online delivery slots to enable care homes to access online deliveries – preventing their staff from making unnecessary trips to the supermarket where they risk contracting COVID-19

The Government must urgently reassure care homes that they will not be forgotten during this crisis,” says Jack Dromey MP. “They deserve with the NHS full access to PPE. Care home workers, as well as NHS staff, are delivering vital care in extremely dangerous situations. They are both working in close proximity to the virus and therefore both deserve proper protection.”

That, and the ability to feed their residents; regular meals shouldn’t be too much to ask. Now is a time for community and kindness. And someone keeps telling us ‘every little helps.’

To find out more about the spread of coronavirus, from the Office for National Statistics, visit www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/conditionsanddiseases

For the latest information from Public Heath England, visit www.gov.uk/government/organisations/public-health-england

To find out more about the work being done for Erdington by Jack Dromey MP, visit www.jackdromey.org

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