NEWS: Erdington residents ‘not as positive’ about police support following burglaries – compared to neighbours in Sutton Coldfield

Words & pics by Ed King

Erdington residents are ‘not as positive’ about the support they received from their local police Neighbourhood Team (NHT) following up burglaries, as compared to those in neighbouring Sutton Coldfield.

After a survey of over 200 victims of residential burglaries was conducted by officers from Erdington and Sutton Coldfield Neighbourhood Teams, responses show a chasm of concern between victims of break ins across the two districts.

In Sutton Coldfield, the survey found ‘the majority of residents received a visit from a NHT representative… (finding) these visits helpful and reassuring, with most feeling safer in their home following the visit.’

Whist for residents in Erdington, which suffers from around 1-3% more residential burglaries per month, the police’s survey found ‘their experiences were not as positive, particularly about the visits or contact they received from the NHTs.’

Despite rates of residential burglaries falling across both districts, with home break ins dropping by 76% in Sutton Coldfield and 16% in Erdington – as compared to the same time in 2019, investigation into police support following the crime has shown alarmingly mixed results.

Local resident, Sue Bicknell, has experienced two burglaries in the past few years. “The first time, I came home and there was a man standing in my hallway,” explains Sue. “I immediately slammed the door shut and called the police, who arrived in a couple of mins. Their response was excellent – they sent about five officers to my home and had cars scouring the streets.

“Then last year I was burgled again – I came home to find every draw and every cupboard had been turned over. The forensic team arrived a few hours later, with the Neighbourhood Team coming the next day – offering advice and links to Victim Support. No suggestions were made about improving my home security, but again I felt their response was good.”

Another Erdington resident, who wants to remain anonymous, called the police after she disturbed a violent gang trying to break into her home.

The nine masked men were messing with the key hole in the door,” explains the local mum, “I thought it was my brother in law, but it wasn’t.

As I opened the door they kicked it into my belly, I was seven months pregnant at the time, then went to hit me with a bat. I ran off into the bathroom shouting to my partner, as he came down they ran off.

I phoned the police and it took them 45 minutes to get to my home. They knocked on my neighbour’s doors, checked if the men had dropped anything, asked me questions and then left.

I didn’t hear anything from the police for about a month, so I went to Jack Dromey MP who wrote and asked the police why they hadn’t come back and checked up. Or even just rung us. The police replied that they were dealing with better investigations.”

But according to the recent survey, the police are taking steps to improve their response to burglaries in Erdington and to address the imbalance between the districts – examining how the Neighbourhood Teams can ‘be as effective in Erdington as it is in Sutton Coldfield.’

After contacting the police directly, Inspector Haroon Chughtai – who oversees the police teams in both Erdington and Sutton Coldfield – told Erdington Local:

I am convinced that while we play a part in investigating, patrolling , managing persistent offenders around burglaries the biggest contribution to reducing burglaries will come from focused work around prevention – whether that is target hardening individual homes through security measures such as alarms, CCTV, to simple things like making sure windows are not left open, being part of an active Neighbourhood Watch Team.

This survey was done to try and see what changes victims of burglary made post the offence and whether our visits helped them make positive changes.

We are trying to understand if the officers in Sutton and doing anything different to those in Erdington and if they are, how we can replicate it.”

To find out more about the police teams in your area, click here and enter the name of your location. Or for direct updates from West Midlands Police, visit www.wmnow.co.uk

To find out more about the police team in Erdington, visit www.west-midlands.police.uk/node/2710

For more on the Neighbourhood Watch schemes in your area, visit www.ourwatch.org.uk

For help and advice as a victim of crime, to contact Victim Support visit www.victimsupport.org.uk

NEWS: Erdington MP Jack Dromey saves local art spaces from immediate eviction

Words by Jobe Baker Sullivan / Original photography by Ed King & Sylvia Chan

Erdington MP, Jack Dromey, has prevented the immediate eviction of two charity art groups from the old Central Square shopping centre on Erdington High Street.

The Cube and Active Arts Castle Vale are both known for dynamic engagement through the arts in the community – including painting, crafts, music, exhibition spaces, drama, and facilitating workshops and performances for well-being.

Both organisations were renting units at Central Square through East Street Arts, a Leeds born charity that works with landlords ‘to change the lack of infrastructure available for artists living and working’ in major cities across the UK – turning longstanding, empty commercial properties into vibrant art studios and spaces with more affordable rent.

Then on 25th June, The Cube and Active Arts Castle Vale were both given only three weeks to completely vacate their premises by Godwin Developers – in preparation for demolition of the whole of the Central Square, as part of Erdington High Street’s redevelopment plans. However, other businesses such as M S Fruits or the St Vincent’s charity shop were given extended leases of up to one year despite being on the same site.

After the art organisations got in contact with the Erdington MP’s office, Jack Dromey intervened directly in talks with Godwin Developments – who in turn agreed to extend the lease the same as the other businesses. Dromey announced on Twitter that: ‘This helps to protect the valuable arts community that thrives in Erdington.’

After contacting the constituency office, Jack Dromey MP told Erdington Local: “As soon as I heard The Cube and Active Arts Castle Vale were facing eviction at three weeks notice I knew I had to act immediately and contacted Godwin Developments, who recently acquired the site.

My discussion with the new owners of Central Square was a constructive one. I said that it was a sense of pride for Erdington that, in one of Britain’s poorest constituencies, local artists demonstrate how our community is rich in talent. I also brought home how those marvellous projects mean so much to the health and wellbeing of Erdington’s best.”

Active Arts Castle Vale work on art and community focused projects across the constituency, having converted the old Russell’s Furniture Store at Central Square into the Secret Arts Studio Space – ‘a place for artists to create their own work and have a safe space to test out ideas.’

Housing an ensemble of painters, illustrators, musicians, writers, and broadcasters, the Secret Arts Studio Space has been a growing success story for local artists – with new members lining up for affordable art studios in the heart of Erdington.

Leaving Central Square would have been a huge blow to the community of artists we have at the Secret Arts Studio Space,” explains Claire Marshall – Project Director at Active Arts, “it’s increasingly difficult for local artists to find affordable and accessible art space, and what we’d built up here – with help from East Street Arts – would have been totally turned on its head.

We know we’ll have to leave Central Square at some point to make way for the regeneration plan, which will be amazing for Erdington, and we’re getting support from people like Councillor Robert Alden and Terry Guest (Erdington Business Improvement District) to find an exciting new home.

But the eviction deadline from the developers was too hard and too fast – luckily as soon as we reached out to the MP’s office, Jack Dromey acted immediately and brokered us the time we needed. It’s a fantastic relief to all the artists here.”

As soon as the news came through regarding the eviction, The Cube were shaken too – desperately trying to sell the majority of their desks, computers, and pianos, in preparation for a drastic and fast move. They contacted every artist they knew to collect their work.

Heather Rowland, one of the co-founders of The Cube, said: “It was shocking when we were told we needed to move, but now we’re all so delighted. It would have been so much work to move out of there. I’ve been doing this for 12 years now. We’ve had a great time. I thought that was the end the Cube.”

But upon learning that The Cube can stay where they are, Heather also breathed a sigh of relief: “It’s lovely to think that we’ll still be here at Christmas. I know we’ve got to move out some time.”

Normally, The Cube is open Monday, Wednesday and Saturday 10am-3pm. Asking for a small donation, The Cube offers free or affordable space to a multitude of groups, allowing them to use their crafting facilities. It also hosts many accomplished local artists such as multi-media artists Cristelle Jones, Andy Spencer, and Ty Ford.

Central Square’s planned demolition contributes to the development of Erdington High Street – as part of the Future High Streets project – which, according to the .gov website should ‘encourage vibrant town centres where people live, shop, use services, and spend their leisure time.’

To find out more about The Cube, visit www.facebook.com/thecubeinthesquare

To find out more about Active Arts Castle Vale and the Secret Arts Space Studios, visit www.activearts.wordpress.com/secret-arts-studio-space

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

NEWS: Erdington Taskforce – ‘We’ll Be There for You’ music video reaches out to thousands across the constituency

Words by Steve Sharma, original photography by Ed King

A new music video promoting the work of the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce has reached out to thousands across the constituency – directing those in need to a database of vital support services.

Produced by Active Arts, the video is a reworking of the theme tune from the TV show Friends – tweaking the world famous title to ‘We’ll Be There for You’.

The Taskforce hope the ‘fun, catchy tune’ will encourage individuals and families who have remained ‘cut-off’ during the coronavirus pandemic to seek help and advice – promoting an address book of support services for finance, housing, access to food and essential items, employment, mental health, and more.

Afzal Hussain, Chief Officer at Witton Lodge Community Association, which facilitates Taskforce operations, said:

We are aware, from conversations that take place during our weekly Taskforce meetings, that there are people out there – isolated individuals – who are unable to access mainstream support.

There can be a number of reasons for this, such as a chronic long term health conditions, disability or poor mental health.

Throughout the pandemic, such people have remained cut-off from support services, have gone under the radar. But we are determined to not only reach these individuals but to give them the critical help and support they need.

We hope the video will stir people to help us identify anyone in their community who may be vulnerable and isolated.”

Comprised of several prominent and active community organisations, voluntary groups, public agencies, councillors, and volunteers – the Erdington Taskforce has so far raised over £450,000 to help local residents affected by the COVID-19 lockdown, alongside delivering almost 10,000 food parcels and over 7,000 wellbeing activities.

The online address book of support services has reached over 27,325 people, since first published by Erdington Local on 7th May – seeing over 2972 people engage directly through the newspaper, looking for essentials services and help throughout the coronavirus crisis and lock down.

The ‘We’ll Be There for You’ music video, performed by local artists as sourced by Active Arts, hopes to keep the message of community support alive – even whilst some lockdown restrictions are redacted.

We wanted to find an effective and fun way to communicate how people can get support locally,” tells Claire Marshall, Project Director at Active Arts and a member of the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce, “it has been inspiring to see how the different local agencies have pulled together to make a difference for people in need.

At Active Arts we have a pool of talented artists through the Erdington Arts Forum that we can draw on and the idea for ‘We’ll Be There For You’ flowed very quickly with these artists, supported by members of the Taskforce, getting behind the idea. As you can see it is a fun, catchy tune that gives a snapshot of what support there is.”

Singing lead vocals in the video is Sandra Daniels – alongside a backing track performed by local musicians Reuben Reynolds, Jobe Baker-Sullivan, and Paul Withers.

The ‘We’ll Be There For You’ music video also includes personal appearances from Erdington MP Jack Dromey and Birmingham City Councillor Robert Alden – alongside members from organisations like The Pioneer Group, The Active Wellbeing Society, Urban Devotion Birmingham, Erdington Community Volunteers, and Erdintgon Local.

The Erdington Taskforce is a fantastic initiative,” tells Sandra Daniels, “helping so many people in so many ways during what has been a very difficult time for many.

I was thrilled to get the chance to support them (with this project) and the work that’s being done.”

‘We’ll Be There for You’ – Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce

For contact information and details on the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce, and to visit the COVID-19 Local Support database and address book, visit www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19-local-support

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

Words & pics by Ed King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confidence.

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

LOCAL PROFILE: Saba Malik

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEWS: Outstanding – the impact of the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce

Words by Steve Sharma, photography by Ed King

The Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce, established in April, has raised almost £400,000 to support the district’s vulnerable residents.

As of the 18th of June, fundraising in support of individuals and families in critical need of help reached £382,963.

The Taskforce has also mobilised an army of 244 volunteers to ensure the level of support, care and provision people have required during these unprecedented times is delivered via a co-ordinated, targeted and strategic response.

A total of 9,575 food parcels have been distributed to the elderly and needy across the constituency while online and bespoke support services have also been rolled out to safeguard people’s mental health and wellbeing.

Erdington Local, which houses the online address book of local support compiled by the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce, has reached over 27,325 people since the database was first published on 7th May – seeing over 2972 people engage directly with the newspaper, looking for essentials services and help throughout the coronavirus crisis and lock down.

Established to create a united community-based response against coronavirus, the Taskforce has connected numerous local groups, networks and organisations in order to assist those in need. A total of 1,437 residents have been supported.

As well as distributing food and household supplies, volunteers have been submitting and collecting medical prescriptions for people and providing befriending support, advice and guidance – delivering 7,154 wellbeing activities such as telephone calls and online support sessions.

Witton Lodge Community Association is a member of the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce and facilitates delivery of its services.

Chief Officer, Afzal Hussain, said the success of the Taskforce is an example of what can be achieved through collaborative and partnership working.

From the beginning the Taskforce has been focused on delivering proactive and responsive services where the need is greatest,” he said.

Every member organisation has demonstrated commitment and resilience to collaborating and co-ordinating the kind of support and activities which people have needed to be safe and healthy. 

This united approach has helped the Taskforce to achieve such an outstanding impact.”

Meanwhile, Erdington MP, Jack Dromey – also part of the Taskforce – and whose office has directly supported 480 COVID19 related cases since the outbreak of the pandemic, said his constituency is full of heroes.

The Erdington Task Force has been a vital lifeline for thousands of local residents in their hour of need,” he said.

COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the most vulnerable in our community and the work of the organisations and volunteers involved has provided crucial support. 

The commitment and dedication of all those involved has been outstanding, and the Task Force demonstrates the fantastic community spirit that is alive and well here in Erdington. 

I am proud to have been involved with the Taskforce throughout this crisis and I want to pay tribute to all those involved for their heroic efforts.”

‘We’ll be there for you’ – Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce

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

OPINION: …and you’re worried about a statue?

Words by Ed King / Pics by Paul Ward – all photography in this article has been taken from Snapshots of Mumbai

I used to live on Cecil Road. At the end of Cecil Road was Kitchener Road. Running parallel to Cecil Road, and perpendicular to Kitchener Road, were Fashoda Road and Manila Road.

Every one of these roads is named after a murderer, or where many murders took place.

And each terrace house that sits behind their names, be it full of second year students or people on remand, are an epitaph to evil. And Imperialism. And to Empire that stole a third of the world, then sold it back piecemeal at a charge.

How does this happen? What possible reasons could there be to celebrate such cruelty? Let’s backtrack… let’s look backwards to move forwards, to see the patterns. Let’s understand some history before we compartmentalise modernity.

In 1601 a group of London merchants set sale aboard a fleet of grand old ships called the Hector, Red Dragon, Ascension, Guest, and Susan – bound for the East Indies, a place we now recognise as India and South East Asia. White British men with their eyes on fortune and glory. White British men with privilege – a word you need to remember when talking about Britain’s colonial history.

Their mission was to trade, and their reason was that the Dutch, Portuguese, and French merchants were beating them to it – charging them a high price for goods a new society was beginning to enjoy. And to feel was their right to enjoy, be it gifted by God or the court. But it was trade that galvanised the request to take bullion abroad and exchange it for silks on the road. It was about competition, and greed – two more words to remember.

So, in one decree the East India Trading Company was born – and over the next 400 plus years would use their Amazon approach to the Elizabethan marketplace to end up controlling half the world’s trade.

What began as a royal charter to circumnavigate the prices of spices, silks, coffee, and cotton from mainland Europe, would turn into a centuries spanning race for control of international territories – one that would end in monopoly, slavery, a New World Order, and the backbone of what we purport as ‘democracy’ – after some savvy North American think tanks helped coin a new meaning. And wars. And bloodshed. And all the unspeakable horrors that occur when you believe God isn’t watching.

I know there’s a lot to research here, and I am not an academic man. But we all have a responsibility to ourselves, to learn. To keep learning. Then to pass on truth and knowledge. And as most of us walk around with the world’s largest library in our pockets that’s a pretty good place to start.

But there’s another point of understanding we need to address. Something I need to recognise too, as I become involved in conversations that are long overdue and fundamental to any future that can call itself equal.

There is a thing about being British. And white. And male.

And until the widespread media reports of recent weeks, it’s a word that that is not often acknowledged as it really needs to be. Just like the names of the roads where I used to live.

Privilege.

A hierarchy formed through history and hubris; a position stolen by my forefathers and endorsed by every silent generation that came afterwards, including my own.

I have it. My father has it, as did his father beforehand. It is impossible to be British, male, and white, and not have it. You can deny it all you like; all your heart wants to. But it’s there. We’re born into it. The world around us was built on it, by powerful people who can get away with murder. Who have roads named after them.

I’m not condoning acts of social disorder or violence, but crimes need to be challenged – whether they happened weeks or centuries ago – and their perpetrators need to be seen as the criminals they are.

Maybe some of us need to live in fear for a while too; maybe some of us need to know what that’s like. To be unsure of what the world could do to you without consequence. To walk down a road and not feel safe. To sit in a job interview and know it’s not your experience that’s the problem. To not get served in a bar, or a restaurant. To get heckled from the stands. To get spat on, to get to get punched. To have your last cries for help, for mercy, squeezed from your windpipe by a man with a badge.

And if you don’t believe there’s a balance that needs to be reset, Google each of the names I mentioned at the start of this article – those proud men and moments of history that still pepper UK cities. Whose names are remembered but whose actions we choose to forget. Men with privilege, granted by a world that hid its horror behind their own.

Lord Robert Cecil. Lord Kitchener. The Fashoda ‘incident’. The Battle of Manila.

Murderers and murder, adorned on the roads where I used to live – on street corners near primary schools and pubs. In the edge of our blind eyes every single day.

…and you’re worried about a statue?

Ed King is a Birmingham born writer and author of Snapshots of Mumbai.

For more on Snapshots of Mumbai, published by Review publishing, visit www.reviewpublishing.net/snapshots-of-mumbai

NEWS: Erdington’s Evening of Creativity returns with its first ‘live show’ since lockdown

Words by Ed King / Pics courtesy of Erdington Arts Forum

On Friday 19th June, the Evening of Creativity will be returning to the OIKOS Café – presenting its first ‘live show’ since the lockdown began.

An eclectic programme of music and art, June’s Evening of Creativity will be a mix of pre-recorded performances from musicians across the city – alongside selected live performances on the OIKOS stage, being streamed through the Erdington Arts Forum Facebook page.

The special Friday night showcase will be the first time the event has been held, in part, at the OIKOS Café since the widespread closures of venues to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Organisers are keen to recreate the live gig experience, using the full venue set up at OIKOS Café – with all the sound, lighting, and staging in place that you would find at one of their regular concerts.

Running from 7:30pm, musicians appearing across the evening will include Clive ‘the slide’ Allsopp – who is taking a break from his role as conductor of the Walsall Symphony Orchestra to play some solo jazz trombone.

Robin Surgeoner will also be performing a live solo acoustic show, playing a set of original music – all penned by the nine time Gold medal winning Paralympian swimmer, who is also a prominent musician, poet, and artist under the pseudonym Angryfish.

There will also be a special cooking segment from the Polish Expats Association (PAE), showing the online audience how to prepare authentic Central and Eastern European dishes – as featured in the Central European Cookbook on the PAE Facebook page.

Performing and hosting the Friday 19th June event will be local poet, Empress P – returning to the Evening of Creativity after her set at the 17th April showcase, the first event held online after the widespread venue closures.

Empress P will also be interviewing local author Ed King – whose new book, Snapshots of Mumbai, is an exploration into the South Asian megacity and the historic relationship between India and Britain. Keen to shine a light on the fingerprints of Imperialism for a modern day audience, Ed King will be discussing his book amidst the recent clarion calls for clarity over Britain’s colonial past.

Having run every month since it was first established in 2017 by the Erdington Arts Forum, the Evening of Creativity events have become a regular fixture in Erdington – hosted at the OIKOS Café on Erdington High Street, until the coronavirus crisis forced it online.

Committed to supporting artists across the constituency, each Evening of Creativity is also a chance to introduce new performers to Erdington – establishing them in front of a vibrant North East Birmingham audience, and vice versa.

But as the lockdown saw music venues close and stages left empty, the Evening of Creativity embraced a new digital audience – one that allowed the local event to reach out even further than before through social media and live streaming.

Now, as the coronavirus crisis is brought more and more under control, with the physical and social distancing restrictions being eased week by week, organisers are keen to nurture this new-found fan base – alongside returning to the live environment that helped establish the event.

We’ve always been ‘standing room only’ at Oikos,” tells Jobe Baker Sullivan – Evening of Creativity founder and chair of the Erdington Arts Forum, “the live events were well supported and loved by a loyal crowd – every month, without fail, we saw a packed house enjoy music from across Erdington and the country.

But when the lockdown came and venues closed, we were forced online to keep the event alive – recording performances and posting them onto social media. Initially we didn’t think of this as anything more than a stopgap, but the ability to reach audiences well beyond Erdington has been an unexpected gift.

So, on Friday 19th June, we are going to bring back the live show – recording part of the event live, back at Oikos, and broadcasting it as it happens. But we’re also keen to nurture our new digital audience too and bring them more into the gig – recreating the live show experience as much as we can for everyone enjoying the Evening of Creativity online.”

To find out more about and Erdington Arts Forum and their regular Evening of Creativity events, and to watch this month’s event at 7:30pm on Friday 19th June, visit www.facebook.com/CAFEartsforum

For more on Oikos Café, visit www.oikoscafe.co.uk

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

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