FEATURE: Concerns and mixed emotions across Erdington more children go back to their classrooms

Words by & pics by Ed King

From 15th June, more Erdington children will be brought back into their classrooms – as Government guidelines encourage ‘face to face time’ with Years 10 and 12, whilst giving primary schools ‘greater flexibility to invite back more pupils.’

But as the school doors are increasingly creaked open ahead of the summer holiday, parents and carers across Erdington are still voicing their concerns – according to a constituency wide survey conducted by Erdington MP, Jack Dromey.

When asked, nearly two thirds of Erdington’s parents and carers had doubts about their children returning to the classroom – with over 50% stating: ‘I do not think children should be going back and I will not be sending my children back.’

Over half of these fears were rooted in educators being unable to implement adequate physical distancing, with the ever present worry that there would be ‘an outbreak of the virus in school.’

Approximately a third of parents and carers were worried about a ‘lack of PPE and safeguarding’ – with a similar concern expressed over there being no ‘testing available’ for young people returning to traditional education.

But a significant number of parents and carers identified concerns over mental health and wellbeing, with 56% stating ‘Children finding the social distancing measures upsetting / unsettling’ as a pertinent concern.

In response to questions about what would build confidence, around a quarter of parents and carers wanted clearer ‘information’ and ‘understanding’ from both Government and educators – with 56% stating ‘Headteachers, teachers and teaching unions being confident it’s safe’ would help allay their fears and concerns.

However, as voiced by much of the country, a significant fall in new cases reported or the introduction of a vaccine would be the best way to build public confidence – with 73% stating these as the most inspiring sign posts on the road map through the coronavirus crisis.

In response to the findings of the survey, Jack Dromey MP – who has represented Erdington in the houses of Parliament since 2010 – issued a letter to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, addressing ‘the actions that are urgently needed to instil confidence in parents that schools are safe for their children.’

‘There can be no doubt about it,’ the letter continues, ‘we need to ensure a return to school as soon as possible. But crucially, this can only be done when it is safe. Children across the country are missing out on vital education, especially those who are due to take exams this year.’

Erdington Local also reached out to parents and carers across the constituency, asking what school life was like for the children who had returned to their classrooms.

My youngest son went back to nursery last Monday,” tells Sarah Hodgetts – whose son, Harry (4), attends Paget Primary School Nursery.

His school have put so many new procedures in place that I had originally said no but changed my mind and so glad I did. School is very safe and even at age four he understands and follows instruction. His mental health has been the best improvement; he’s a happy child again. 

We’ve gone from him worrying about everything to sleeping well again, wanting to play at home more and more settled in himself, definitely did the right thing allowing him to go back to school.”

Laura Crowley, whose child Jessica Rose (6) went back to Birches Green Junior School on Monday 15th June, tells “I have not long collected my daughter from school. She came out with a huge smile on her face and when asked if she’s has a good day she replied ‘yes’ –  she also said ‘social distancing was fun’ which reassured myself that teachers and staff are trying to make the whole situation a positive one for the children.”

Alongside a “staggered approach to children coming in and out of school using the one way system,” Jessica Rose is also “now in a class of seven rather than 32… called their ‘family bubble’.

All children have their own desks and packs containing any resources they will need for the day, to ensure they’re not touching/sharing equipment. They’re not allowed to take coats into school and are required to be in a clean uniform every day; PE will also be done in uniform to avoid PE bags been taken into school. 

The school communicated all changes very well, on the school website a video was uploaded showing these changes to allow us parents to show these to our children prior to sending them back to school.”

However, local mum Maria Rooney has been keeping her son Billy (5) at home since the lock down began – choosing to continue home schooling and not send him back to Abbey RC Primary Schoolas the medical advice seems to be at odds with Governmental direction. Press have warned there may be an imminent second wave of the virus so we chose to keep Billy at home for the moment.

We start ‘school” at 10am each morning,” continues Maria, “and try to do around 2.5 hours each day with snack breaks in between.

We also have a 4 year old who’s just left nursery so coordinating activities to suit both has been my biggest challenge. We’ve mostly created our own ideas for learning – bugs and habitats in the garden, outer space and our planet – along with the maths apps from school, craft making and art. 

The communications from the school have been adequate and they’d kept us updated as they’ve been updated. I believe the schools don’t know the government’s plans until the last minute – which has been much more frustrating for the school staffing community rather than the parents.”

But whilst parents and carers are making individual decisions about the safety and schooling of their children, one thing seemingly unites them – the need for clearer guidelines from Government and more support for educators, many of whom have been forced into making radical changes to their classrooms with little practical advice.

A clarion call for clarity reiterated by Jack Dromey MP, who states: “I am calling on the Education Secretary, and the Government, to work with the Labour Party to build a cross-party consensus around the return to school that would give parents the confidence that sending their children back is safe. 

We need to end the chaos and confusion and build a unity of approach around the return to school for the good of the nation.” 

For the latest news and developments from the Department for Education, visit www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-education

For more from Jack Dromey MP, visit www.jackdromey.org

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NEWS: Erdington family embark on 5K sponsored walk to help save Twycross Zoo

Words & pics by Ed King

As zoos and safari parks across the country reopen from 15th June, when the Government eases the lockdown restrictions for selected businesses and tourist attractions, one Erdington family is busy fundraising to help save Twycross Zoo.

A special place,” for the Campion Garden residents, Ollie (9) and Rosie (5) Kinsella are embarking on a 5k sponsored walk around Pype Hayes Park – hoping to raise £500, dressed head to toe as their favourite animals, by Saturday 27th June.

To know more about Ollie and Rosie’s sponsored walk to help save Twycross Zoo, or to make a donation, visit www.totalgiving.co.uk/mypage/ollieandrosietosavethezoo

I went there for my first ever birthday,” tells Ollie – as he practices hiding like a Zebra, in his black and white camouflage costume, behind the sofa.

My favourite animals are penguins, because… they swim. And I like swimming under water. But there are no penguins at Twycross Zoo, so I’m a zebra… they’re my favourite because they’re stripy and they run fast. I can already run fast.”

Rosie has opted to be a flamingo, because she is an expert at standing on one leg and “flamingos are my favourite because they are pink.”

But the Erdington family of four are worried that the prolonged lockdown could put the UK’s zoos and safari parks at serious risk, seeing them as important places for children’s experience and education about the wider world.

Obviously, you can’t just go to South Africa and see the animals in the wild,” says Chantal Kinsella – Ollie and Rosie’s mum.

Some people are against zoos because the animals are not in their natural habitat. But you get to see things that you wouldn’t normally get to see every day – you get to see how they’re looked after, they do talk shows, they feed the sea lions… it’s a place of learning for the children.”

As thousands of businesses across the UK were forced to shut their doors from 23rd March, helping to stem the spread of COVID-19, zoos and safari parks have been closed to the public since early spring. But following guidelines from Public Health England, places that operate outdoors have begun to reopen as they are seen as lower risk.

I am very grateful to the zoo industry for their cooperation and forbearance,” explained Boris Johnson during the Government’s daily briefing on Wednesday 10th June, “and am happy to confirm that they too can reopen from Monday (15th June), provided visitor numbers are managed and safeguards put in place.

That includes keeping indoor areas such as reptile houses closed and facilitating social distancing.”

But as the light at the end of the economic tunnel begins to shine, there are still concerns for the welfare of such beloved places of interest.

People take it for granted that the zoos are always going to be there,” explains Craig Strawfrord, Ollie and Rosie’s dad – who once had a closer than usual encounter with a giraffe when he was stationed in Kenya, training for Afghanistan.

People might think just because they’re opening, they’re magically going to get the money back. But businesses can still be trading by slowly going under, because of the debt and interest rates. So, every little bit we can give them helps.”

Originally the zoos weren’t opening so they weren’t getting any income whatsoever,” adds Chantal, “they are opening now – but there’s still a shortfall because the zoos are not going to be able to have as many guests as they normally would have.”

Twycross Zoo first opened in 1963 and welcomes over half a million visitors to see the 500 animals in their care – including the ‘the largest collection of monkeys and apes in the Western World.’

The reported costs of running the wildlife sanctuary are over £500,000 per month.

But to Ollie and Rosie Kinsella it is a place of magic and learning, where they can experience wonders of the world a short distance from home. And if it helps to keep Twycross Zoo open for birthdays to come, walking 5km around Pype Hayes Park is a small price to pay.

They tell you facts,” explains Ollie – who is now trying to stand like a flamingo alongside his sister Rosie, “like how cheetahs can run fast… Did you know there’s a neon fish, that glows in the dark? In the sea. But they live very deep, so you’d need to dig a really big hole to see them.

I’d like to see a giraffe, like the one that walked over Daddy when he was in the war… But If I saw a tiger I’d run… or I’d fight back.

Ollie and Rosie will be making their 5k sponsored walk round Pype Hayes Park on Saturday 27th June – aiming to raise £500 to help save Twycross Zoo. For more information, or to make a donation, visit www.totalgiving.co.uk/mypage/ollieandrosietosavethezoo

To find out more about Twycross Zoo, visit www.twycrosszoo.org

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FEATURE: Objections to hostel at old Cross Keys pub, amidst fears for neighbouring schools and public safety

Words by Adam Smith / Pics by Ed King & courtesy of Councillor Robert Alden

The battle to stop the old Cross Keys pub being turned into a hostel could be the turning point for the High Street’s future redevelopment, Erdington Local can report.

The developers have been challenged by Erdington councillor Robert Alden of trying “sneak” through the latest application whilst people are preoccupied by the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, instead of being a discreet process, the Fairfield Fox Ltd application has become a touchstone issue with concerned residents inundating the public consultation with objections. The prospect of a hostel being opened so close to three schools has stoked fears in the community that these new residents will spark a crimewave in the area including a rise in violence, theft, and sexual assaults.

Erdington councillor Robert Alden, who is spearheading the campaign to prevent the application, believes children could be at risk if the hostel is approved.

He said: “The area is already saturated with this kind of accommodation and so cannot sustain any more being built in the local area.

The site is close to Highclare School, Osborne School, Osborne Nursery, Abbey School and other nurseries which would mean children could be placed at risk from any ASB from the development. It is inappropriate for a hostel to overlook a school.”

He added: “We do not want to lose a pub and community amenity, this proposal would remove a much needed community asset that could easily be used as a pub or restaurant again.

They have had two different applications for variations of HMO and hostel refused. Sadly, the applicant has obviously hoped they could sneak this through without people noticing in the current climate.”

Erdington High Street is on the brink of attracting transformational investment which could bring back the glory days when it was one of Birmingham’s busiest thoroughfares. However, the loss of a landmark public building at one end of the High Street in favour of the hostel could turn off potential investors in the whole area.

Cllr Alden warned: “The proposal is not in keeping with the proposals from the Future High Street Fund application and the City Council Urban Centres framework, nor the Birmingham UDP, so should be rejected.”

Branded ‘notorious’ and ‘a trouble spot’, the last time a pint was pulled at the Cross Keys was in 2018. The pub was forced to close after a melee resulted in a drinker being slashed across the face with a Stanley knife.

Micky Carpenter, who ran the Cross Keys from 2012-2017, told Erdington Local the pub could be a landmark attraction again.

He said: “I believe 110% the Cross Keys could be a landmark pub again; I know personally the pub made good money.

The place had great community spirit with the amount of money we raised for charity in the five years I was there.”

He added: “Yes it had bits of trouble, like most pubs, but licensing will tell you that we handled the pub well.”

Micky, who now owns The Digby on Chester Road and is preparing to own his own gym, believes it would be a tragedy if the Cross Keys was lost to history due to its unique features.

He added: “It’s an amazing old building, still has the old stain glass M&B windows and the original brown and green tiles in the hallway.”

Tony O’Kereke, who now runs The Golden Hind in Kingstanding, joined the Cross Keys as assistant manager in 1999 – taking over as manager in 2003, he left in 2010. In 2004 the pub was awarded the Brewery trade magazine’s West Midlands Community Pub of the Year.

He believes the people of Erdington would back a new Cross Keys if given the chance.

He said: “There is a fantastic community in Erdington who are crying out for a community pub they can call their own and feel safe in.

Now, all you’ve got is the Charlie Hall, the Swan and the Acorn and all those customers who used to use the Cross Keys are still out there.

All you need is a gaffer who would be strict enough to keep the riffraff out and then people would flock back to the Cross Keys.”

Former patrons are determined to see the good times return at the Cross Keys  too – where Erdington folk have been meeting for a pint for more than two centuries.

Frank Hayes said: “There has been a pub on that site for over 200 years.” And Mark Shepherd added: “There is virtually nowhere to go to socialise in Erdington anymore. Keep the Cross Keys as a pub.”

Residents are also getting seriously annoyed about the number of Housing of Multiple Occupancies (HMO) in the area. Fairfield Fox reject any suggestion their hostel will lead to an increase crime or be full of undesirables.

They argued in planning documents: ‘This site will not be housing at any stage people that are alcoholics, drug addicts, paedophiles, ex-offenders with serious criminal records.

‘It is clear that the supply of social rented property for our group range is insufficient to meet the requirements of homeless people and the site will help the right individuals after their assessments to successfully reintegrate back into the community and become successful in running their lives without the need to rely on government funds or criminal activity.’

The Cross Keys’ public consultation closes on June 16 – to object email Faisal.Agha@birmingham.gov.uk quoting the application number: 2020/02902/PA

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LOCAL PROFILE: Reverend Gerard Goshawk

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Ed King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FEATURE: Erdington Community Volunteers, the silver lining of the coronavirus crisis – helping thousands across the constituency

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

There has not been much to celebrate over the past few weeks, as the world has been put on pause to stem the spread of COVID-19.

But the silver lining of the coronavirus crisis can be found in the volunteer groups that have sprung up all across the country – grassroots organisations who have mobilised friends, families, and neighbours to support the most vulnerable in their communities.

And as national campaigns such as Volunteers’ Week have been highlighting across the UK, this community spirit and endeavour is playing an increasingly vital role in our country’s social care network.

The Erdington Community Volunteers began as a Facebook group, an online act of goodwill set up by local resident Jo Bull – launching via social media on the day lockdown began.

Two months later and they now have over 800 online members, with an active team of over 70 local people helping the official Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce deliver important outreach campaigns. What started as a simple gesture has become a fundamental support network for thousands of Erdington residents.

There was a nationwide group of mutual aid groups at the time,” explains David Owen, who came onboard to help co-ordinate the Erdington Community Volunteers as their membership grew, “and a centralised group were asking for each community to create their own, in essence.

We had 500 members (online) in our first 24 hours and it’s grown consistently since then, so we’ve got just over 800 members now. We wanted a platform for people who wanted to help, to meet up with those that needed help.”

Working with the Erdinton COVID-19 Taskforce, the Erdington Community Volunteers have become the hands and feet of a significant outreach programme with organisations such as The Active Wellbeing Society, Witton Lodge Community AssociationCompass Support and The Pioneer Group 

There has been an immediate and constant programme distributing food and essential household items across the constituency, with around 20 Erdington Community Volunteers delivering daily care packages to those who have needed to self-isolate.

The coronavirus put people into lockdown who normally live completely independent lives,” explains David, “they weren’t used to dealing with established organisations.

“So, we filled that gap, if you like, between what are the statutory requirements and what are the requirements during COVID-19.

Some of the national programme were slow to respond, in all fairness, and we able to very very quickly identify people who needed help and get that help to them.”

But whilst playing an important role in the community, especially during the coronavirus crisis, the Erdington Community Volunteers has become a community within itself – as many members discover unexpected positives from the time and effort they have given to the group.

I found out about the group through my cousin, who started delivering a few weeks before I did, explains Dillon Linford, a young resident who has been helping the Erdington Community Volunteers distribute food and essential items with The Active Wellbeing Society.

It’s good. It’s a good way to break up the day and it gives you something to do during lockdown. I’ll have to fit it in between everything I’m doing, that’s restarting after lockdown, but I can definitely see myself doing more of it. It’s good for me; it’s good for other people. It’s good to help.”

But as Volunteer’s Week draws to a close, with the #NeverMoreNeeded and #BrumTogether campaigns hoping to continue the momentum of support, the Erdington Community Volunteers are also making plans for the future.

For many of the volunteers it has been an extremely positive experience,” continues David, “it’s given them an opportunity to help when there was a sense of helplessness.

They wanted to help, they wanted to help the community, but they didn’t know how. They didn’t know the established organisations that existed. This platform, this group, has given them that opportunity.

You see more affluent areas, such as Sutton Coldfield or Moseley, with a charitable trust – I’m not saying the (Erdington) Community Volunteers will become that, but with the networking that’s happened I’d like to see something like that established within Erdington – and to see that as our legacy.

If anyone wants to help, and we are still desperately looking for volunteers, please get in touch with us via Facebook or by emailing erdingtoncv19@gmail.com

Erdington Community Volunteers

To visit the Erdington Community Volunteers Facebook group, where you ask for help and support during the coronavirus crisis – or offer your services as a volunteer, visit www.facebook.com/groups/625073991557017

Alternatively, you can email David Owen at the Erdington Community Volunteers group via erdingtoncv19@gmail.com

A directory of all Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce organisations, offering help from employment advice to mental health support, can be found by visiting: www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19-local-support

Volunteers’ Week runs across the UK from 1st to 7th June – for more information, visit www.volunteersweek.org

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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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