NEWS: A rather ‘Nice’ Friday evening – Erdington’s Evening of Creativity hosted by celebrity guest, Mrs Barbara Nice 20.11.20

Words by Jobe Baker Sullivan / Pics courtesy of Sami Saunders, Janice Connolly, and Anne-Marie Allen

Erdington’s long running Evening of Creativity has never missed a month, even during COVID-19 pandemic.

Thriving on art, creativity, and giving creatives a chance to experiment, it is now being broadcast using a mix of high quality camera-work and editing along with locals being asked to submit their art from home.

Tonight’s Evening of Creativity broadcast will be hosted by actress and comedian Janice Connolly BEM, under the guise of her lovable alter-ego Mrs Barbara Nice. Janice is a comedienne who hosted the 2019 Erdington Lights switch on.

“Up the arts!” she says, with a wry smile, in support of the event. 

November’s Evening of Creativity will commence with a traditional Indian dance from Sahana Shrikaanth in celebration of Diwali, an annual ‘festival of lights’, celebrated by Sikhs, Hindus and Jains.

It will include performances from classical guitarist Mike Bethel – alongside original musical songs by Anne-Marie Allen, promoting her album on Spotify.

Centrala Art Gallery will feature as part of the EoC with their lockdown-special online exhibition – hosting an art collective from Finland called Valmed Ry, exploring ecology and nature through photography, projection and 3d printing.

The Evening of Creativity was founded and hosted by the Erdington Arts Forum, whose primary goal is to improve the status of artistic activity in the Erdington constituency.

The Arts Forum engages people with workshops, exhibitions, training programmes, exhibitions and music performances.

It acts as a conduit for people to explore all range of artistic activities, hosting regular ‘forum meetings’ and running a Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook group, and mailing list to keep Erdingtonians and interested parties in the loop.

Ordinarily held at Oikos Café on Erdington High Street on the third Friday of each month, the Evening of Creativity had to adapt to an online format very quickly  due to the coronavirus lockdowns – embracing the chance to invest in new camera and sound recording equipment.

During the summer of 2020, as COVID-19 measures eased, the Evening of Creativity continued at Oikos Café with a small, live audience – using a table booking service to ensure social distancing and safety measures.

The regular showcase, however, continued to broadcast all their events – going out live using a multi-camera system.

Despite a new national lockdown coming into force 5th November, the Arts Forum once again continue to host their Evening of Creativity – following government guidelines – by using pre-recorded clips and editing them into a full length show.

You can watch this months’ Evening of Creativity online from the Erdington Arts Forum Facebook page, from 6:30pm on Friday 20th November.

For a live stream of the event, and for more on the Erdington Arts Forum, visit www.facebook.com/groups/cafeartsforum

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NEWS: Community comes together to celebrate the completion of the Maplin site mural

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Ed King

Ed’s note… this is a community story; the Erdington mural is a community endeavour – many local groups and individuals played a part in this beautiful project. We are focusing on the community.

For this article, Erdington Local was invited to a group photo opportunity – as organised by the project’s steering group. Our aim was to follow up from our original story and document the spirit of unity that the project reflects – understanding the individuals featured in article (or group photo) are not the only people involved.

We appreciate there will have been those who were unable to attend, but we thank and recognise everyone who helped make Erdington that little bit brighter. 

The Erdington Mural project is complete. Having turned an “eyesore” of hoardings into a community-involved, professional art display, many of the artists and organisers gathered together for a celebratory (and socially distanced) photo for Erdington Local.

I think this is fantastic – it’s great!” praises Rob Gunnell, founder of Erdington Litter Busters [ELB], “it doesn’t just add colour, it supports a connection to the community – and it’s also saying, Erdington’s a good place.” Along with many other organisations, ELB assisted in ‘priming’ the site before the four commissioned artists set to work on painting on the boards.

Our contribution was to apply the white paint – the base,” explains Dawn Edwards, another ELB member, “then we cut down the overgrown branches and Birmingham City Council took away all the bags of greenery.”

The project was funded by Mercia Real Estate, the owners of the site, as well as Active Arts – via the Erdington Arts Forum.

Erdington Local covered the story of those involved with the project at its inception – and whilst the original impetus is somewhat contested, the final project is as vibrant a representation of community spirit as the artwork itself.

Erdington Local caught up with the four artists who were tasked with bringing the boards to life – each one taking a separate side for their original design. Whilst each artist is unique, each of them noted the positive feedback they received for their work.

I’ve seen a few pictures put up [on the internet] of kids standing in front of it,” notes Steve Allen, pleased with the social media pick up. Steve painted the ‘Welcome to Erdington’ side of the mural, which includes a big ‘thank you’ to the NHS and what is purported to be the coat of arms of Erdington.

I got a lot of positive feedback from when I was doing my painting,” echoes Abian Richards, responsible for the rather psychedelic take on Erdington’s Witton Lakes – featured on the small segment by York Road.

This was to celebrate Erdington’s many ‘green spaces’, with an interesting interpretation: “I chose to use blues, pinks and purples to get some vibrancy into the piece.”

The project proved to be an excellent incubator for local talent, with Keely Iqbal admitting “it was quite challenging because it was my biggest mural to date.”

She painted the striking ‘historical Erdington’ on Sutton New Road – complete with an image of a spitfire, a horse and carriage, Rookery House, and the esteemed Mothers nightclub.

Such a large undertaking was not without its challenges, as Keely continues: “I was painting and then it started pouring down with rain! All of the paint started running everywhere. It was so bad. I did all of this lettering – there was a delay, but I managed to catch up with it.”

It was even a learning curve for experienced artist Edward Thrush: “Fly posters are hellish – I hate them! I won’t use those again. There’s been a lot of maintenance!”

Edward created the eye-catching ‘It’s all Go, Go, Go in Erdington!’ piece on Summer Road, celebrating the various community groups in the local area. Edward especially praised how “the volunteers were amazing – they were really good help.”

Councillor Gareth Moore, who had been helping whitewash the boards – along with fellow Erdington Councillor Robert Alden – explains how the piece is “visually appealing and significantly improved the site in question given its prominent location.”

Likewise, Robert Alden tells how “it’s been a really great community project, pulling together people across Erdington. It’s celebrating our heritage, our history and the culture of Erdington.”

Erdington Local overheard Dawn Edwards from ELB prodding Sam Clark, a founder and current CEO of Mercia Real Estate, about some potential future projects on the land. Especially advocating for the intended retail space to have greenery.

This project is just an example of what the community can do in terms of improving the area,” Dawn reflects, “there was nothing on the boards and now there is that reflects Erdington. Watch out! More to come.”

Mercia Real Estate acquired the Maplin site following the closure, a spokesperson from the Birmingham based real estate and asset management company said:

Mercia Real Estate acquired the site in 2018 with a view to redeveloping the buildings into a terrace of convenience retail units.

Whilst this has been in planning we were approached by community leaders earlier this year who had expressed an interest in creating various murals on the site hoarding.

Wherever we invest we are always keen to engage with the community and in this case were happy to extend a donation to support the creativity of the various groups involved.”

For more on Steve Allen, visit www.nozzleandbrush.co.uk
For more on Abian Richards, visit www.facebook.com/faffabout
For more on Keely Iqbal, visit www.keelyiqbal.com
For more on Edward Thrush, visit www.elthrush.com

For more on Mercia Real Estate, visit www.merciarealestate.com
For more on Active Arts, visit www.activearts.wordpress.com

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LOCAL PROFILE: Paulette Francis-Green – Empress P

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Jobe Baker-Sullivan and Paulette Francis-Green

Erdington Local is proud to support Black History Month (BHM). The newspaper will be releasing a LOCAL PROFILE each week of BHM on black members of the community, amplifying these voices and celebrating the richness of multi-cultural Erdington.

Paulette Francis-Green (creative alias: Empress P) is a “proud Erdingtonian of Jamaican heritage.”

Born in Saltley, she moved to Erdington aged 6 – attending Fentham Secondary School for Girls in the 1970s. Through her company, PFG Consultancy, Paulette has been key in gathering information for Birmingham’s official Black History Month brochure since 2012. The purpose of the City Council funded brochure is “giving out information about events across the city” as well as celebrating various milestones of black history.

Paulette’s first job was for Birmingham City Council, working as a clerical assistant from 1978, and she has been a passionate supporter of the city ever since. But another of her lifelong passions is netball: “I used to eat, drink, sleep netball.”

Paulette proudly tells how she was “chair of the Birmingham netball league for 13 years. I had aspirations of becoming an international netball umpire.” She fondly remembers 1995 Netball World Championship held at the NIA in Birmingham, working on a stall: “Having that here in Birmingham was ‘wow!’. And being part of netball was ‘wow!'”

Another passion for Paulette is poetry. She cites inspirations such as Shakespeare, as well as Birmingham born, nationally renowned poet, Benjamin Zephaniah: “reading his autobiography was powerful. His mum used to rhyme when she was talking to them” and that Benjamin was “Dyslexic”, although did not let this “disability” quell his ambition to write.

Paulette is an integral part of the Midlands dub poetry roots scene, performing and writing with creatives such as Panya the Poet, Sue Brown, and Miss Culture Jam. She has released an anthology called I’ve Landed as well as an accompanying album.

Paulette is also a breast cancer survivor. Diagnosed in 2012, she recalls her experience vividly: “I was scared – I didn’t want to die. My granddaughter wasn’t born yet, and I wanted to be able to live to see my grand-child.”

Her big dream was to “get to Ghana and to connect with Africa. Being in the motherland, feeling the African soil.” Making a full recovery, and now having visited Africa several times, she teaches that “what helped me dealing with the cancer was being positive. Being positive within yourself kicks out the negativity.” Paulette launched back into her work in the creative industry “straight after recovery.”

Paulette presented Erdington Local with a small, ongoing memoir of 25 “achievements” she had made since the year 2000. These included job titles such as Equality Diversity Champion, Black History Month Coordinator at The Drum (now known as Legacy Centre of Excellence), and Promotions Coordinator for the Simmerdown Festival.

One such job she had was at the Birmingham Museums Collection Centre, which is ‘a 1.5 hectare site that holds 80 per cent of Birmingham Museums’ stored collections under one roof.’ Paulette describes the Museums Collection Centre as “Indiana Jones meets Ikea”, referring to the warehouse scene at the end of the first film of the Spielberg series.

Her favourite objects include an unrealised civic plan of Birmingham city centre surrounding Baskerville House, a Giant Crab and a fold-up BSA bicycle from World War II: “Soldiers would parachute out the planes with these bikes strapped to their backs – so when they land, they can jump on their bike, and cycle to where they’re supposed to be!”

Paulette speaks about her role compiling the official brochure of Birmingham Black History Month: “One of the important things was how we wanted to spread the word about the black community, black history and letting people know about it.”

She showed Erdington Local a brochure from 2015 celebrating two important 50 years milestones: Malcolm X’s visit to Birmingham in 1965, and the 1965 UK Race Relations Act – which was the first piece of legislation in the UK to address the prohibition of racial discrimination.

The launch of Birmingham Black History Month at Birmingham Town Hall in 2018 “was powerful. It’s important for the black community that we’re in prominent places.” Paulette recalls with glee meeting American singer Dionne Warwick, who was giving a private concert for the organisers of the launch event. In her capacity of host, Paulette fondly remembers announcing, with a smile, “and now I hand over to Dionne Warwick.”

Paulette’s ebullient personality makes her a natural host. She is a co-presenter on the ‘Roots Rock and Reggae’ show on Newstyle Radio. “We do edutainment” explains Paulette, “we play music but we give out information as well – Caribbean news, black history, stuff about COVID.”

I’ve done a lot over 60 years.” Paulette exclaims. However, some of her favourite hosting moments were in Erdington. She hosted the Christmas Lights Switch On and the Erdington Community Festival in Rookery Park, both events facilitated by the Erdington Arts Forum.

Paulette is also a staple part of the Arts Forum’s monthly Evening of Creativity, saying she loves “introducing the locals – giving them a round of applause.”

For more on Black History Month in Birmingham, visit www.birminghamblackhistorymonth.co.uk

I’ve Landed, by Empress P, is out now – available to purchase from Waterstones or Amazon. The album will soon be available on Spotify.

Paulette/Empress P will be hosting the Evening of Creativity: Black History Month special in Erdington at Oikos Café on the 16th October. Tickets will be available through Eventbrite – for updates and information, visit www.facebook.com/ErdingtonArts

You can listen to Newstyle Radio’s ‘Roots, Rock and Reggae show’ with Tony Roots featuring Empress P on Wednesdays 8-10pm on 98.7FM – for more on Newstyle Radio, visit www.newstyleradio.co.uk 

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LOCAL PROFILE: Reuben Reynolds

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics supplied by Reuben Reynolds

Accomplished guitarist Reuben Reynolds, 29, has lived in Erdington for most of his life – one of many hidden talents in our local area.

Falling in love with the guitar around age 15, Reuben graduated from Coventry University with a ‘Professional Practice’ Music Degree. His earliest musical interests reflect his eclectic playing style: “Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, Green Day, Reggae music. These are like my early influences.”

Living in Erdington, but gigging all around the UK and abroad, Reuben has a hectic and varied life as a freelance musician. “My schedule is split between a few days teaching, performing, creative sessions, production, recording sessions dotted around.”

A travelling troubadour, Reuben teaches weekly outside of Birmingham – including at the Evelyn Grace Academy in Brixton and Uppingham School, a boarding school in East Midlands.

He also has private, one-to-one tuition with clients and is often booked for workshops, for a day or a few weeks, as a tutor. Teaching, for Reuben, is “rewarding” as it’s a chance “to connect with people who are less experienced, or people who are just coming up. It’s good for me because it keeps me connected with learning.”

A staple part of the music scene in Birmingham, Reuben has performed at many venues – big and small. He also works on a monthly event at Mama Roux’s in Digbeth called ‘The Unique Experience’, a regular showcase promoted by his longstanding musical partner Call Me Unique: “I would organise the band and lead the band, sometimes I wouldn’t even be playing! I tend to do a lot of house band events like that.”

In 2017 he performed at the world famous TED talks when the series came to Birmingham. He was the guitarist for Lumi HD – a Nigerian born, Birmingham-raised singer-songwriter, with a small ensemble. He’s no stranger to venues such as Town Hall or the Hippodrome, large music venues that can seat hundreds of spectators.

Reuben comments that his biggest audience was around 2000 people at the 02 Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London. Although he hasn’t been keeping score, giving a high quality performance no matter what the numbers on or off stage: “I try to play as if it doesn’t make a difference – It doesn’t matter if it’s 100 or 1000, I just play.”

Taking a piece of Erdington out into the world, Reuben has performed in France, The Netherlands, Poland, Bulgaria, Germany, and even North Carolina – playing as part of Soul or Gospel bands in various festival tours. He was due to tour in Germany this year, although this was cut due to COVID-19 – cancelled thanks to coronavirus, like a lot of his work.

Erdington Local previously spoke to Reuben about his thoughts on how musicians first responded to the coronavirus crisis – in our ‘Saturday night cabin fever’ feature, first published in April this year.

During the lockdown Reuben stayed positive, enjoying “more sleep”, a chance to reconnect with other creative projects, and to teach over Zoom. Now he notes a “significant loss of work” and especially bemoans the fact that he missed “summer – the most significant season for performing. He lost three weeks of work working with Punch Records too, where he was teaching up to ten students every day for three weeks.

But as lockdown eased and live music in the UK was able to resurface, albeit in a limited capacity, Reuben has been back gigging around Birmingham. Performing as part of a function band at Digbeth’s ‘Zumhof Biergarten’, Reuben laughs: “people aren’t allowed to dance – it’s a bit strange, when you’re playing song about dancing!”

Reuben also plays with a trio and was booked to play a series of quirky gigs in residential spaces in Handsworth this summer. Bringing music directly to the people, he performed in “open garden type areas outside people’s homes within earshot of their windows.” Residents were elated to be listening to live music from their balconies, performed in the open green space below. “I haven’t really done things like this before,” tells Reuben. “Lockdown has made people think of different ways to bring art to people.”

He was also booked to perform by the Erdington Arts Forum to support a family fun day in Erdington. With nothing but a gazebo, a battery powered amp, and vocalist Tavelah Robinson, Reuben’s makeshift duo were able to entertain kids with a two hour selection of upbeat music on Spring Lane Playing Fields – despite the unorthodox circumstances and unpredictable weather. Check out the video below.

When asked about the wider arts scene in Erdington, Reuben says: “I know about Oikos Café and the Secret Art Space Studios, but I feel like that’s all there is to know.” He acknowledges that “there’s a lot of musicians” but grieves that “there aren’t the type of venues that have live music, it seems. If you go up to Sutton (Coldfield) there’s seems to be more activity.”

Nonetheless, Reuben loves Erdington’s location in the country so he can gig anywhere, and the convenience of the high street.

By the sounds of things, Erdington isn’t going to lose this home-grown talent any time soon.

Reuben Reynolds and Tavelah Robinson @ Spring Lane Playing Fields

To find out more about Reuben Reynolds, visit www.instagram.com/reubzmusic

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NEWS: Community art project transforms Maplin hoardings into a mural ‘to celebrate Erdington’

Words & pics by Ed King

On Saturday 15th August, volunteers from across Erdington kick started a new community art project – transforming the hoardings that have ring-fenced the old Maplin site into a vibrant mural ‘to celebrate Erdington.’

Over 20 local residents and representatives gave up the start of their weekend to help whitewash the 107 boards that surround the disused commercial site by Six Ways Island.

In huge display of community spirit, members from a wide range of local action groups worked across the morning and into the afternoon – preparing a blank canvas to be filled throughout the week by four Birmingham based artists.

Displaying the very unity that they want to celebrate, the mammoth task was completed by 1pm – aided by hard work and camaraderie from organisations including Erdington Litter Busters, Erdington Community Volunteers, Ahmadiyya Muslim Association, Witton Lodge Community Association, Urban Devotion, Good Gym, Erdington Arts Forum, and Active Arts.

Erdington Councillors Robert Alden and Gareth Moore, who helped the project get up and running, also rolled up their sleeves on Saturday – working alongside the collage of community groups to get the job done quickly and professionally.

The idea is to celebrate Erdington as a place to live,” tells Claire Westmacott – a member of the Erdington Community Volunteers group who were helping whitewash the hoardings.

When you drive through here, you are going to see this mural… it’s to celebrate the different areas of Erdington and what makes Erdington so good.

It’s the people, it’s the people getting together – you can see here the community spirit. It’s been brilliant… people have been asking what’s happening and saying that’s a brilliant idea.

“People passing by have taken notice of what we’ve been doing; it’s the community making improvements.”

Steve Allen – the first of the four artists commissioned – began his painting immediately, completing the front face of the mural by the evening on Sunday 16th August. Steve, aka Nozzle and Brush, is a local ‘mural and spray paint specialist’ who uses aerosol paints to create ‘one off artwork for bedrooms, walls, shop shutters, gym spaces and more.’

Further work will continue on the mural throughout the week, with local illustrator and designer Edward Thrush using the boards along Summer Road for a piece celebrating the volunteer groups that work in and around Erdington.

Keely Iqbal, an illustrator and fashion designer with a studio at The Custard Factory, is using the Sutton New Road side for an artistic exploration into the history of Erdington.

Whilst Abian Richards, a local artist who ‘works with an expressive mixed media style’ will be painting a special piece that celebrates the green spaces from across the constituency.

Organisers hope the full mural will be completed by Sunday 23rd August – hoping to see selfies and photos captured by members of the public across social media, tagging Erdington Arts Forum or one of the other groups.

Supporting this act of community spirit, Mercia Real Estate have financed the lion’s share of costs attached to the mural – fronting £2250 for the project, with an extra £750 added by Active Arts who have helped coordinate the artists commissions as part of their Erdington Arts Forum role.

Maplin Electronic Supplies went into administration in February 2018, closing all of its UK stores and putting it 2,500 strong work force into unemployment.

Since then, the site that looks out over Six Ways Island has been boarded up – sitting as both a public eyesore and an unpleasant reminder to the employees at the Erdington branch who lost their livelihoods.

Mercia Real Estate, the Birmingham based company who took over the land following the Maplin closure, said:

Mercia Real Estate acquired the site in 2018 with a view to redeveloping the buildings into a terrace of convenience retail units.

Whilst this has been in planning we were approached by community leaders earlier this year who had expressed an interest in creating various murals on the site hoarding.

Wherever we invest we are always keen to engage with the community and in this case were happy to extend a donation to support the creativity of the various groups involved.”

For more on Steve Allen, visit www.nozzleandbrush.co.uk
For more on Edward Thrush, visit www.elthrush.com
For more on Keely Iqbal, visit www.keelyiqbal.com
For more on Abian Richards, visit www.facebook.com/faffabout

For more on Mercia Real Estate, visit www.merciarealestate.com
For more on Active Arts, visit www.activearts.wordpress.com

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NEWS: From Slade Road to Six Ways, Erdington Litter Busters organise a Community Clean Up on Saturday 25th July

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics supplied by Erdington Litter Busters – all taken before the coronavirus crisis and when social distancing was required

Donning high vis jackets, brandishing litter picks and black bin bags, Erdington Litter Busters are a group of volunteers that work as a team to clean up Erdington – meeting regularly at the YMCA’s Eden Café on Reservoir Road before launching into their designated areas.

On Saturday 25th July, Erdington Litter Busters will once again mobalise their members for a widespread Community Clean Up – clearing the rubbish and litter that clutter up the streets and green spaces across Erdington.

New recruits are also welcome, with Erdington Litter Busters issuing a call across the community for volunteers to pitch in and help with the Clean Up initiative. All the relevant tools of the litter picking trade will be provided, with organisers offering advice on what to wear and how to stay safe.

The group was founded in June 2018 by Erdington resident Rob Gunnell. “To be honest with you at the start of it was just me and my wife Jan,” tells Rob, “we unofficially adopted our street.”

Rob invited others to join in and go onto other streets that needed sanitary attention, although the help wasn’t always reciprocated: “When we first started it was really frustrating. It felt a bit like Groundhog Day. You’d clean a street and it would just get messy again.”

This lack of progress didn’t dampen the spirits, and Rob’s can-do attitude quickly attracted others to join in a fortnightly litter pick: “There is a core group of us of approximately 8-10 people. But on the 11th July, we had 27 people!”. Erdington Litter Busters also boasts about 300 members on their Facebook group, at the time of writing.

Outside of the fortnightly litter buster outing, individuals in the group have ‘adopted a street’, some adopting areas of a canal or park, vigilantly and regularly picking up litter in their designated places. Members post this, often along with ‘before-and-after’ photos on the Erdington Litter Busters Facebook group and are praised and encouraged by other members when they do.

Having grown immensely, Erdington Litter Busters were successful with a funding application though  Near Neighbours in September 2018. “It was fantastic. It gave us the impetus to get off the ground”. The group was even praised by a member of the House of Lords – Rob Gunnell gave a speech to the Viscount Younger of Leckie when he visited the YMCA in Erdington.

Rob also points towards the other social benefits of the group. “It’s not just about picking up litter. It’s about raising spirits,” he comments. “What I’ve found with the litter busters is the best thing is the coffee and cake!”

It’s a great advert for Erdington, to Birmingham and the rest of the country” praises Robert Alden, councillor for Erdington and a regular litter buster. When asked about other litter picking groups in the city, Councillor Alden says: “There are groups that go out all across the city, but nothing to the scale, with the longevity of the Erdington Litter Busters.”

The group are continuing in a post-COVID world with what Rob is calling, “guerrilla gardening.” Using their mutual community resources, Erdington Litter Butters are adopting public planters, untamed and uncared for in the community to bring more life, colour and greenery to Erdington.

There are 16 planters on Holy Lane/Woodacre Road,” explains Rob, “we planted wildflowers in there.” They even have a plan “to link it with local schools and local residents. We want them to ‘adopt a planter.”

Fly tipping and litter is a serious environmental hazard and a huge cost to the city, with Birmingham City Council spending £14.2 million on street cleaning in 2018/19. Yet, so many public streets, including many alleys and areas in Erdington go uncleaned. Unfazed, Rob says: “They haven’t got enough staff anyway the council, so we thought just get on with it”.

The next Community Clean Up is being organised for Saturday 25th July, beginning at 10am and finishing at 11:30am – when the group will stay and socialise. Erdington Litter Busters calling for more volunteers to help to deep clean parts of Slade Road and all its side streets, something welcomed by local residents.

We’re really privileged to have Erdington Litter Busters leading and coordinating this Saturday,” tells Kamleish Parfect from the Stockland Green Action Group – who have been campaigning against illegal fly tipping in the area.

Please come down and support. Paul and John (Erdington Litter Busters) have been amazing, we really need someone with a big van or digger to move some of these discarded sofas and mattresses.”

If you want to join the Erdington Litter Busters on their Community Clean Up this Saturday, you can meet the members at 10am on Saturday 25th July, at the Stockland Café on Slade Rd – or at the Eden Café on Reservoir Road.

High Vis jackets, litter picks, and bags will all be provided – organisers suggest to bring a safe pair of gloves and sensible shoes.

To find out more about Erdington Litter Busters, visit www.sites.google.com/view/erdington-litter-busters

Or to find Erdington Litter Busters on Facebook, visit www.facebook.com/groups/ErdingtonLitterBusters

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NEWS: Lights, Camera, Action: Erdington Arts Forum bring ‘BBC broadcast quality production’ to their Evening of Creativity events

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Ed King

The Evening of Creativity (EoC) is a fixture in Erdington’s cultural diary that brings artists from many different backgrounds to the fore, all in the name of encouraging local talent.

The event, organised by the Erdington Arts Forum, moved exclusively online during lockdown – with thousands of regular viewers tuning in each month.

One silver-lining about the shift was that the production quality of the filmed EoC events increased drastically, thanks to the input of technician Paul Withers.

Regular live streaming has further encouraged a new audience for EoC events, bringing even more positive attention to Erdington’s lively art scene.

On the 17th July, at 7:30pm, the Evening of Creativity will be broadcast from the Erdington Arts Forum Facebook page – to watch the event’s live stream, visit: www.facebook.com/ErdingtonArts

Acts will include live music performances from Tarju Le’Sano and Chris Tye, as presented by Birmingham Review, as well as music from EoC regular Ilias Lintzos. There will also be spoken word by Sami Saunders, artwork by Angela Chapman and Rob Gunnell, and animation from Andy Spencer.

Paul Withers has an impressive pedigree of working in television as a camera operator, sound recordist, editor, and broadcast engineer. His credits include BBC, ITV, Channel Four, Sky Sports, and the History Channel to name but a few: ”I love helping great ideas come to life. I’ve worked in theatre, television, radio, and corporate communications for all of my working life – in the UK, Europe, Africa and Australia.”

Paul joined the collective at SASS (Secret Arts Space Studios) earlier this year, using the Erdington based creative hub as his Midlands base of operations. However, his association with the area goes back further: “I have a strong affinity with Erdington, working on films and plays based around the prestigious Rookery House back in the early noughties. To work with the Erdington Arts Forum is a great joy.”

Paul was first involved with the Evening of Creativity by editing the April show, initially consisting of pre-recorded content including music, art, poetry, and interviews. At many regular gig nights around the country, musicians and artists have had to ‘make do’ with live streaming to social media via mobile phones as a way of keeping their content relevant during COVID-19’s lockdown.

The first ‘live’ broadcast EoC show was held at the Oikos Café in June, in the midst of the coronavirus lockdown – using the venue’s in house production unit to film live, alongside broadcasting pre-recorded material.

I’ve been incredibly impressed with the high standards of programming at the Evening of Creativity,” comments James Kennedy, a regular EoC viewer and co-ordinator for Selly Oak Arts Forum. “It brings a diverse range of communities together in a celebration of arts, music and performance.”

Paul now commands an impressive, portable broadcast unit consisting three professional cameras, monitors, vision mixers, and sound engineering equipment – allowing the Erdington Arts Forum to regularly add BBC broadcast quality production to their EoC events.

From selfie-mode using a Samsung to a multi-camera, high quality production studio – Paul has added significant value to the Evening of Creativity events,” says Jobe Sullivan, coordinator of the Erdington Arts Forum. “He brings everything you need, and, spares – allowing us to give the musicians and artists involved a fully professional showreel. It’s been a huge step forward for the events.”

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 1tth June, visit www.facebook.com/CAFEartsforum

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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

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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

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OPINION: The Economic Impact of COVID-19 – A Birmingham View

Words by Ifor Jones – Head of Partnerships, The Pioneer Group / Picture of Birmingham skyline by Luke Matthews, profile pic courtesy of The Pioneer Group

As the economic impact of the COVID-19 lockdown has become clear with the threat of a tsunami of redundancies across the West Midlands I couldn’t help but reflect on what I experienced first-hand with the closure of MG rover first hand back in 2005 with 6,300 redundancies being made.

This had a profound economic and social impact on local communities which was mitigated by the action of the MG Rover Taskforce. I led the community support strand of the Taskforce which started with mobilising advice services to work in tandem with JC plus and the Learning Skills Council and progressed with a community regeneration programme supporting grass roots organisations and focusing on providing support for workers and the MG Rover community.

The following sets out the learning and the lessons which arose from this tragic time which I feel are very relevant to the potential impact of COVID-19 across the City.

In the lead up to COVID-19, statistics for the first quarter of 2020 confirmed Birmingham’s comparatively high unemployment claimant rate (9.3%) compared to other major English cities.

The figure had been relatively stable but began to increase during 2018 in the wake of benefit changes connected to the roll out of Universal Credit.

It is my assertion that, when considering the potential impact of COVID-19, we will see two distinct cohorts within the unemployment claimant count for Birmingham.

  • Longer term cases clustered in geographical hotspots or demographic characteristics such as youth unemployment, BAME groups and people with disabilities.
  • Those who have lost their jobs as an economic consequence of COVID-19, across a range of sectors and impacting on an even wider cross section of the working population.

A Precedent for What’s Next

In 2005, MG Rover at Longbridge closed with the overnight loss of 6,300 jobs. Further job losses in the supply chain pushed this figure to over 8,000.

However, a significant number of workers were able to retrain to change their careers; undertaking academic vocational training. A report indicated around 4,000 (63%) of former MG Rover workers found new, mostly full-time, work. Approximately 25% of these workers were earning more with over 50% of them earning less.

Strong partnerships were key to the management and mitigation process, especially in relation to the social and economic impact of such a significant plant closure.

In a two-year period, I witnessed a shift from crisis management to sustained economic and social strategies for recovery. At the heart of this was a collaborative approach coordinated at different levels, from the very local in Longbridge and Northfield to across the city, region and nation as a whole.

My engagement through a localised team in the City Council was to co-ordinate the initial crisis response regarding advice and community support delivered in partnership with agencies such as JobCentre Plus and The Learning Skills Council. This was complemented with the support of organisations across the voluntary and community sector and, most critically, the MG Rover communities themselves.

Mobilising a response to administer change at pace was critical, as was building relationships with the workers and MG Rover to ensure engagement with and wider community buy-in.

The lessons that were learned, that can help us deal with the anticipated fallout of COVID-19 include:

  • mobilise interventions at pace working with both cohorts – existing and new claimants
  • get new cohort of unemployed into training and work as soon as possible
  • quickly intervene with training agencies and providers for re-skilling
  • ensure personal contact with individuals whether through advice and support or training
  • recognise importance of welfare advice and wellbeing services and administering benefits quickly
  • use opportunities for public service employers to take on and train former MG Rover workers, for example the city council created opportunities in youth, leisure and community development services
  • work in partnership – at regional, city and local levels – with public services, employers, community and third sector agencies
  • provide community support in the moment of crisis – e.g. helplines, social events, funding for holiday breaks
  • create a strategy for inclusive growth e.g. local area regeneration – Longbridge transitioned from a centre of economic activity of regional and national significance to an important local centre with a mix of new housing, retail, public services and some retained manufacturing.

Ifor Jones is Head of Partnerships at The Pioneer Group – for more on The Pioneer Group, visit: www.pioneergroup.org.uk

The Pioneer Group is a member of the Erdington COVID19 Taskforce, facilitated by Witton Lodge Community Association.

Established in April 2020, the Taskforce is a network of local organisations from a wide variety of sectors, working together to support people who have been adversely affected by the pandemic.

To access the online address book and database of local support services compile by the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce, visit: www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19/local/support

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