FREE SANTA’S GROTTO at Erdington Library, Erdington High Street – Saturday 2 December

Words by Ed King / Pics by Connor Pope

On Saturday 2 December, the big man in red and white will be setting up a FREE SANTA’S GROTTO at Erdington Library at the end of Erdington High Street – inviting local children and families to meet him and his elves as they prepare all the presents for Christmas Day.

Open from 10am until 3pm, no booking is required for the FREE SANTA’S GROTTO – families and children are invited to just come down to Erdington Library and join the fun.

A queue system will be in place, getting people in to meet Santa first come first served, with Santa’s elves on hand to help keep the younger ones occupied with special Christmas crafts and fun.

Plus, the main library will be open with all it’s fantastic books and resources. And if the FREE SANATA’S GROTTO is especially busy there are a host of cafes and shops near to the library where you can grab a quick drink or bite to eat, or make a last dash for those special gifts ahead of the big day.

Organised by the Erdington Business Improvement District (EBID) and supported by local businesses and retailers, the FREE SANTA’S GROTTO will help take the financial sting out of the festive season – offering Erdington families a free way to meet Santa and join in on the winter celebrations.

Erdington Town Centre Mangere, John Hodgkiss, told: “With the challenging year which we have all had, it’s that time again when we focus on Christmas and maximising on footfall in Erdington Town Centre throughout late November and December.”

He added: “Everything is totally free to attend, paid for by the BID and supported by the local shops and businesses. In these difficult times we still want people to be able to together and celebrate our wonderful Erdington community.

“Winter brings the longer nights and colder weather, but we look forward to welcoming local families, residents (and even the occasional reindeer who might fly by) for a bit a festive fun to brighten up the darker days. See you all on the High Street.”

On Saturday 25 November, Erdington High Street celebrated the official Christmas Lights Switch On event – where local Councillor Robert Alden (Erdington Ward, Conservative) and BBC WM Breakfast presenter Rakeem Omar kicked off the festive season and High Street illuminations, joined by a host of other familiar faces and family fun.

All EBID Christmas activities in Erdington Town Centre are supported by local retailers and businesses, who pay a yearly levy for bring services and activities to encourage people to use Erdington Town Centre.

Erdington Business Improvement District (EBID), for example, pay for the Street Wardens who patrol the High Street and act as an immediate line of defence against shoplifters – often in the absence of any effective police presence, and with community police resources having been significantly stripped back over recent years.

Erdington once had one of the busiest High Street’s in Birmingham, with a thriving market community and a bustling variety of independent traders and shops.

But the Covid pandemic, rising cost of living, rising energy prices, and increase in online retail hass seen shops across the country pull down their shutters and the culture of High Street shopping and community diminish.

Crime and anti-social behaviour have also affected Erdington High Street, with some local residents and shoppers becoming increasingly concerned about aggression and criminality in the Town Centre.

Organised activities such as the FREE SANTA’S GROTTO and Christmas Light Switch On event hope to encourage more people to visit Erdington High Street and support the local shops and businesses there.

Erdington Town Centre Manager, John Hodgkiss, added: “The festive period is a crucial time for retail in general, so once again, we want to focus on showing Erdington in its best light and provide family entertainment to increase footfall from the end of November through until New Year.”

For more from the Erdington Business Improvement District visit www.erdingtonhighstreet.co.uk or follow the on Facebook at www.facebook.com/erdingtonBID

CHRISTMAS LIGHTS & SANTA’S GROTTO: Celebrate the festive season on Erdington High Street – free Christmas Lights Switch On (Sat 25 Nov) and Santa’s Grotto (Sat 2 Dec)

Words by Ed King / Pics by Connor Pope

The festive season kicks off on Erdington High Street from Saturday 25 November, with an afternoon of free and family fun to celebrate the official Christmas Lights Switch On and welcome winter to the Town Centre.

Come and enjoy an afternoon of music, dance, markets, food, drinks, and all the winter warming shopping you can squeeze into a Saturday – hosted by BBC WM Breakfast presenter Rakeem Omar.

Plus, there will be some very special guests arriving from the world of Pokemon to have their pictures taken with anyone, big or small, who wants to take home a special Christmas memory.

Starting at 12noon and running until the sun and shop shutters go down at 6pm, all activities are completely free of charge and open to children and adults of all ages – even the ‘big kids’ who still get excited when they know Christmas is in the air and a special someone is coming to town.

Then on the following weekend, on Saturday 2 December, Santa will be flying back into Erdington Town Centre coming back to Erdington High Street – inviting children and families to visit his free Santa’s Grotto at Erdington Library between 10am and 3pm.

Completely free, with no advance booking required, Santa hopes you can come and say hello before he flies off around the world delivering presents for Christmas Day.

There will also be free festive craft workshops at Santa’s Grotto, making sure everyone is entertained whilst waiting to see Santa – with his elves on hand to help people of all ages.

Organised by the Erdington Business Improvement District (EBID) and supported by local shops and businesses, the annual Christmas Lights Switch On not only illuminates the High Street as the nights draw in but helps celebrate all the fantastic shops and destination venues in Erdington Town Centre.

Need to catch up on some Christmas shopping? Why not check out all the bargains at Wilton Market, dazzle a loved one with a special something from Goldbar Jewellers, or get the kids excited with toys and games from Griffins Gaming.

Or if you just want to catch up with friends and family you can grab something delicious to eat and drink up and down the High Street – from pancakes and smoothies at Oikos Café, to the main meals and fully stocked bar at The Charlie Hall (children welcome if accompanied).

Erdington BID and Town Centre Manager, John Hodgkiss, tells: “Erdington High Street invites everyone to come and celebrate the festive season with a fantastic, and free, afternoon of music, dance, markets, food, and drink, on Saturday 25 November – building up to the official Christmas Light Switch on that evening.

“Everything is totally free to attend, paid for by the BID and supported by the local shops and businesses. In these difficult times we still want people to be able to together and celebrate our wonderful Erdington community.

“Winter brings the longer nights and colder weather, but we look forward to welcoming local families, residents (and even the occasional reindeer who might fly by) for a bit a festive fun to brighten up the darker days. See you all on the High Street.”

A quick guide to the Christmas Lights Switch On – Saturday 25 November:

  • Completely free and open to all ages
  • Live music and dance on the High Street from midday – hosted by BBC WM Breakfast presenter Rakeem Omar
  • Salvation Army Band – playing your favourite Christmas carols and traditional winter songs
  • The Nitecrawlers playing live rhythm and blues – following on from the success of the Birmingham Jazz and Blues Festival
  • Bangra dance for children and adults – from award winning performer and CBeebies presenter, Sohan Kailey
  • Come and meet larger than life Pokemon characters – have your picture taken with Pikachu and Alakazam
  • A special winter market by the Village Green – outside Oikos Café and The Swan

Check out some of the pictures from last year’s Christmas Lights Switch On and Santa’s Grotto in our special PICTURE GALLERY below.

25 NOVEMBER: Christmas Lights Switch On – 12noon to 6pm, Erdington High Street (free)
2 DECEMBER: Santa’s Grotto – 10 am to 3pm, Erdington Library (free)

Watch out for more about the festive fun on Erdington High Street on the Erdington Business Improvement District Facebook page: www.facebook.com/erdingtonBID

 

OPINION: Festive fun comes to Erdington High Street on 25 November and 2 December

Words by John Hodgkiss, Erdington BID & Town Centre Manager

With the challenging year which we have all had, it’s that time again when we focus on Christmas and maximising on footfall in Erdington Town Centre throughout late November and December.

The festive period is a crucial time for retail in general, so once again, we want to focus on showing Erdington in its best light and provide family entertainment to increase footfall from the end of November through until New Year.

Erdington’s Christmas Lights will be officially turned on 25 November, on what will be a packed day of entertainment and fun and maybe even a brief visit from Father Christmas himself! From The Salvation Army Band to Bhangra Dancing, there will definitely be something for everyone to enjoy as the festive season kicks off!

Then he will be back on 2 December at his HQ in Erdington Library, with a FREE Santa’s Grotto for Erdington Children, so it’s best to stay on his good list!

Further details of Christmas events through until the day itself will be advertised and posted online throughout the next month.

(Ed’s note… Erdington Local will be publishing a full CHRISTMAS SPECIAL feature on Sunday 12 November, giving you more info on what’s coming to Erdington High Street over the festive season.)

_____________

A quick guide to the completely free Christmas Lights Switch On – Saturday 25 November

Check out what will be happening across the afternoon as we countdown to the official Erdington Christmas Lights Switch On. Five, four, three, two, one…

  • Completely free and open to all ages
  • Live music and dance on the High Street from midday – hosted by BBC WM Breakfast presenter Rakeem Omar
  • Salvation Army Band – playing your favourite Christmas carols and traditional winter songs
  • The Nitecrawlers playing live rhythm and blues – following on from the success of the Birmingham Jazz and Blues Festival
  • Bangra dance for children and adults – from award winning performer and CBeebies presenter, Sohan Kailey
  • Come and meet larger than life Pokemon characters – have your picture taken with Pikachu and Alakazam
  • A special winter market by the Village Green – outside Oikos Café and The Swan

Watch out for more about the festive fun on Erdington High Street on the Erdington Business Improvement District Facebook page: www.facebook.com/erdingtonBID

LOCAL Q&A: John Hodgkiss, Erdington Town Centre Manager

Pics by Connor Pope & Ed King

John Hodgkiss was appointed Erdington Town Centre Manager in August 2022, after his longstanding predecessor, Terry Guest, left the role. Responsible for delivering the Erdington Business Improvement District (EBID) agenda, and supporting the businesses that finance the EBID, the position stands between the retail community and local stakeholders and blue light services.

Now a year in post, Erdington Local caught up with John Hodgkiss to look back at the last 12 months and sneak a peek at the next.

___________

What have been the biggest challenges facing Erdington High Street?

Like every town centre in the county, the cost of living crisis has continued to cause uncertainty for retailers and shoppers on the High Street.

This all comes at a time when town centres are moving in a new direction in the Post Covid era, such as becoming a home for community projects and charities able to connect more widely with those who need help.

The biggest challenge facing Erdington High Street has proven to be the raising level of crime and anti-social behaviour. To really be able to continue growing footfall and attract inward investment, it is vital that we work hard to reduce crime which will in turn change people’s perception of Erdington High Street, enabling us to do so much more when marketing the town centre in the future.

 

And what have been the main highlights and achievements from your time as Town Centre Manager?

The main highlight has been working with some of Erdington’s great charity projects. I haven’t worked in a town before with such a strong community as in Erdington. There is so much great work going on out there. Erdington is most certainly a leader in this field, but more work needs to be done here in getting the word out about these organisations, not only to Erdington residents, but Birmingham-wide.

The Christmas, Easter, and Jazz & Blues Festival events were great fun, and they were opportunities to welcome visitors from outside Erdington and showcase the town.

Another highlight has been applying for and securing funds over and above what we receive via BID levy in order to pay for extra events this winter and to employ a second Street Warden to patrol the High Street.

 

We agree, especially the Jazz & Blues Festival gigs at Oikos – any more events like this planned?

We’re really pleased with how the Birmingham Jazz and Blues gigs turned out. Despite the awful weather, the town pulled together to make sure the show went on.

It was the first time that Erdington had taken part in the city-wide festival. The feedback was extremely positive with great attendance. We have already been asked to take part again next year, so let’s hope we can make it even bigger and better in 2024 and attract people from all over Birmingham to attend.

 

As we head out of summer and into autumn and winter, are there any seasonal events in the pipeline – over Halloween or Christmas for example?

Believe it or not, we have been working on Christmas for a few weeks now, recruiting community members and volunteers to help make Christmas in Erdington even bigger and better this year.

We were really pleased with the turnout for the switch-on last year, but we aim to improve in 2023 and put on a great switch-on as well as other events throughout December.

November and December are crucial times for retail, so we want to work alongside retailers to bring in as many shoppers possible, reminding local residents and shoppers further afield that they can get so much of their Christmas shopping in Erdington.

 

The EBID was reinstated for its next five year tenure a few months before you took over, do you feel it is making headway on its campaign promises – to tackle crime, encourage higher footfall, and promote Erdington to a wider audience?

These issues are still those that are the most important to deliver for Erdington during the lifetime of this EBID tenure and it’s very evident how these goals are ultimately linked, with a ‘knock-on’ effect on each other.

As mentioned, crime is still the biggest issue facing Erdington at the moment. By recently employing a new Street Warden, we hope to see a decrease in anti-social behaviour and crime, making full use of the Public Space Protection Order.

Through getting to grips with crime, we would expect greater footfall, bringing back those shoppers who have been concerned to visit the High Street more recently. At this time, it is vital that we continue communicating the positives about Erdington far and wide and encourage shoppers to revisit and enjoy Erdington Town Centre. Therefore, it’s essential that these three promises stay at the top of the list for delivery.

 

The EBID recently helped set up meetings between the retail community, local police teams, and elected officials, to draft a 10 point plan for the High Street – can you update our readers on this?

The formation of this 10 point plan dates back to February this year with a public meeting to discuss a way forward with the crime situation in Erdington. The latest meeting took place in May and the next I believe is to go ahead in October (later confirmed to be scheduled for 19 October).

The EBID has been involved by offering to take details of crime from retailers on the High Street due to the wide-spread observation that they are unable to get though the 101 non-emergency number to report crime.

We were also very keen to help with the provision of a ‘pop-up’ police surgery, providing an essential point of contact for those affected by or concerned about crime on the High Street.

We are still waiting on updates on progression with these projects, which is why we felt it necessary to do what we could in the private sector, by seeking extra funding to employ another Street Warden to help alleviate the worsening situation right now.

We will continue to apply for extra funding where we can ‘step-up’ what the EBID is able to do in order to achieve lower crime rates in Erdington.

 

You have a strong history of working with BIDs in London and the West Midlands, do you feel they work well with other local stakeholders – such as the Council and police?

BIDs can certainly work well and closely with other stakeholders, but it is important to clarify that BIDs are here to provide services over and above what public sector organisations are funded to provide.

The EBID brings in just over 100k per year, so we’re working hard at the moment to apply for as much extra funding as possible to deal with the crime situation and make sure that we also deliver the projects outlined and voted for in the business plan. Unfortunately, we are unable to ‘pick up’ funding shortages of others.

 

You mentioned to Erdington Local before that you were keen to establish Erdington High Street as and LGBTQ+ ‘safe space’, can you tell us any more about this ambition?

This came up in response to the report that there was a lack of grass roots LGBTQ+ support in North Birmingham and the fact the team at the Recovery Foundation had launched an LGBTQ+ support programme, ‘Rainbow Minds Matter’.

Together, we want to highlight the fact that Erdington is safe and supportive of the LGBTQ+ community by highlighting the safe spaces throughout the High Street. This is a project we will be working on in the near future to get the message of diversity and inclusivity across.

 

Are there any other aims for the EBID in the next twelve months?

Looking at the next 12 months, tackling crime will continue as a priority, evaluating the improvement on the High Street over this time.

We will continue reporting on the many positives regarding Erdington Town Centre, enhance our events programme, and increase a higher percentage of shoppers from outside Birmingham.

Another important aim is to attract new retailers, both national and independent into Erdington Town Centre.

 

If you could wave a magic wand and change any aspect of Erdington High Street overnight, what would you want to see when you woke up in the morning?

I would love to see Erdington as leading the way in what a quickly evolving British town centre looks like. So many town centres are in a transition period at the moment due to many external and economic pressures not experienced to this extent before.

The exemplary community projects are here in Erdington already, so an ambition would be to have an Erdington Community Hub with a home on the High Street, to bring together as many opportunities and assistance together for the community together in one place and the perfect way to shout about everything Erdington!

For more on the Erdington Business Improvement District visit www.erdingtonhighstreet.co.uk or visit the EBID Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ErdingtonTownCentre

(Ed’s note: This LOCAL Q&A was first submitted to Erdington Local before the announcement of any Section 114 notice issued by Birmingham City Council.)

OPINION: Making Erdington High Street a safer and more exciting place to visit

Words by John Hodgkiss, Erdington BID & Town Centre Manager

Our focus this summer has been to tackle both retail crime and anti-social behaviour in Erdington Town Centre.

We are delighted to welcome a new Street Warden to Erdington. They will be working closely with the existing Warden, John, patrolling the BID area to improve the current crime situation in Erdington which in turn will allow us to attract future inward investment into the Town Centre.

By concentrating on safety and security in Erdington and tackling this problem now will enable us to welcome new visitors to the High Street, as well as welcome back those who have not visited for some time.

By putting the fundamentals such as crime reduction in place, we can actively try and attract both new independent and national retailers on to Erdington High Street. It will also mean that footfall will increase as a result, making Erdington a far more positive economic prospect for investment.

With £19,000 extra funding secured this month, we will use this effectively to promote and market Erdington over the winter and festive season, with events to attract regular and new visitors alike.

If you have any suggestions on what events you would like to see hosted by the BID this winter, then please contact the BID on erdingtonhighstreet@hotmail.co.uk

We look forward to hearing from you! 

For more on the Erdington Business Improvement District visit www.erdingtonhighstreet.co.uk or visit the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/erdingtonBID

(Ed’s note: This column was first submitted to the Erdington Local newspaper on 4 September, before the announcement of a Section 114 notice issued by Birmingham City Council.)

NEWS: Erdington BID enlists second Street Warden to tackle crime on High Street

Words & pics by Ed King

Erdington Business Improvement District (EBID) has enlisted a second Street Warden to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour on Erdington High Street.

Camran Montgomery-Ashiq is already getting on with the job, patrolling the retail district alongside existing Street Warden, John Lynch – with both men managed by longstanding local firm, Euro Guard Security.

Familiar with the problems facing Erdington’s retailers, Camran has family directly affected by the shoplifters and anti-social behaviour turning so many shoppers away.

“My brother is one of the managers on the High Street,” told Camran. “He introduced me to John (Lynch) who told me about the role and the company (Euro Guard Security) and I was interested.

“It’s life, people are going to shoplift and we’re here to stop them. But hopefully we’ll get the High Street back to how it used to be.”

Seeing two Street Wardens on Erdington High Street will be a welcome sight to many local retailers and residents. It also gives long needed support to John Lynch, who many regard as the only real defence against crime on the High Street.

“It makes me feel safer,” admits Lynch, “because I don’t get any support from the police. Now when it does get into a situation, I’ve got someone to back me up.”

Fulfilling part of the mandate that got the EBID re-elected in November 2021, the extra Street Warden is one step both the Erdington BID and Euro Guard Security are taking to turn the tide of criminality in the area.

Euro Guard Security Operations Manager, William Byrne, told Erdington Local: “First and foremost it was important to get another Street Warden along with John, due to the high risk in Erdington with things that are going on.

“The whole point of brining the wardens onto the (High) street is to make everybody’s environment a safer place to work, and a safer place to be in. Hopefully, if we can bring some of that to the High Street we may then increase the footfall which will in turn benefit the shops.”

And with many of retailers relying on them in the absence of more police presence, Byrne recognises “having the Street Wardens is an integral part of keeping Erdington safe.”

John Hodgkiss, Erdington BID and Town Centre Manager, added: “From the beginning of this year the (EBID) board recognised that crime and anti-social behaviour was one of the biggest – if the not biggest – issues facing Erdington Town Centre. So, back in February we started consulting with BID levy payers and the public, and we realised that we really needed to do something to tackle these major issues.

“It’s great to now have Cam on board to enhance all the great work that John (Lynch – original Street Warden) does, and to have support and help for him.”

“It’s (crime on the High Street) basically one of our biggest problems; we want to improve inward investment into Erdington Town Centre, we want to increase footfall, we want to bring new retailers in, and one of the only ways that we’re actually going to do this is if we tackle the crime issue and start getting the positives in.

“The BID essentially a private sector organisation, and our levy payers are paying over and above on their business rates to pay for these enhanced services (Street Wardens).

“But it would be nice to have some extra help from the public sector.”

For more on the Erdington Business Improvement District visit www.facebook.com/erdingtonBID

VOX POP: Remembering Jack – “He was a Birmingham man; he was a local man. And he cared.”

VOX POP quotes & pics taken by Claire Taylor / Intro words & pics by Ed King

Soon after the announcement of Jack Dromey’s death on Friday 7 January, flowers and messages of remembrance started to appear outside his constituency office on Mason Road. – with further tributes flooding social media.

Many were in shock at the sudden and unexpected news, sharing their stories and grief both online and off.

Erdington Local took to the High Street he fiercely championed and asked for comment from some of his constituents – for our weekly VOX POP.

(Ed’s note… we used the headline quote to show how Jack Dromey was perceived, by many, as a ‘local man’ – despite being born in Middlesex. The full quote is the last in the VOX POP, which we felt was a testament to the fervour with which Jack represented his Birmingham constituency.)

Holding a position where concerns and complaints were part of the day to day, Jack Dromey heard first hand about the issues affecting people across Erdington – with many looking to his office for answers.

From large scale employment strategies to supporting school fundraisers and independent retailers, the ‘to-do-list’ in the local MPs office was often as varied as it was unending. But as Erdington’s elected voice in Parliament, it was down to Jack Dromey and his colleagues to work through it with tireless dedication.

When Erdington Local asked for comments on Jack Dromey’s death, and life, many people had many things to say – but not all were comfortable having their condolences captured on camera.

Thank you to everyone who stopped to share thier thoughts and stories with us, and to all who agreed to be featured in the article.

Remembering Jack memorial service on Sunday 16 January

A wider public memorial service is being organised by the Erdington Covid-19 Taskforce on Sunday 16 January, to be held outside the Co-op supermarket on Erdington High Street from 1:30/2pm.

Speakers will include colleagues from Jack’s constituency office, alongside figureheads from local organisations and community support groups such as Witton Lodge Community Association, Urban Devotion, Erdington Street Pastors, and Spitfire Advice and Support Services.

Jack Dromey’s political peers will also be attending, with further public condolences and remembrance coming from Liam Byrne MP (Hodge Hill), Jess Phillips MP (Yardley), Cllr Paulette Hamilton (Lab, Hollyhead, Birmingham Conservatives Leader Cllr Robert Alden (Con, Erdington), and Birmingham City Council Leader Cllr Ian Ward (Lab, Shard End).

The memorial for Jack Dromey is open to all members of the public – with the Erdington Covid-19 Taskforce inviting people to gather by the Co-op from 1:30pm, with the service scheduled to begin at 2pm.

A spokesperson for the Erdington Covid-19 Taskforce told Erdington Local:

“On behalf of the people of Erdington, partners of the Erdington Covid-19 Task Force have come together to organise this tribute event for Jack.

“His legacy went beyond politics. His tireless campaigning on behalf of constituents touched so many lives so we wanted to create a fitting tribute to a man who was progressive and impactful in positively changing lives and communities.

“It’s a chance for the people of Erdington to pay their respects to Jack, to reflect on his work and to share memories of him.

“It should be a great occasion, celebrating the life of a man whose commitment to improving lives made him a hero for the community he served with such passion and honesty.”

Here are a few more memories and messages of condolences from people on Erdington High Street.

Harriet Spencer, Oikos Café, Erdington High Street

“He used to come relatively frequently into Oikos and he would always order a strawberry milkshake, which we used to love.

“He was such a champion of the café and enjoyed that we were hear and all the things we did, especially the music event. It’s really a shock to the area and all of us.”

___________________

Christine Scarl, Pype Hayes

“I heard that he had died… its such a shame. He was really good at letting us know what was going on in the area, we would always be getting the leaflets through the door and everything. It’s such a shame.”

___________________

Pat Wandby, Stockland Green

“I’m sad that Jack Dromey died… it was a shock, he was a nice chap and he always seemed to be fighting for the workers – to help them keep their jobs.

“Like with the HP Sauce factory, which should never have been closed. And he was always fighting for the Jag (Jaguar Land Rover, Castle Bromwich) and other industries.

“He came to our house once over an issue with some garages at the back… I did have a moan at him about Stockland Green and the potholes on the road, by the chip shop. But since then it’s been done.”

___________________

Vera, Holly Lane, Erdington

“He passed away, bless him. He did a lot for Erdington, as out local MP. He did a lot for Jaguar and everything else.

“He was a Birmingham man; he was a local man. And he cared.”

If you have something to say about any of the issues raised in this VOX POP (or anything else you want to tell us about) please email: mystory@erdingotnlocal.com

For more on Jack Dromey visit www.jackdromey.co.uk

VOX POP: Would you like more art, music, and events on Erdington High Street?

Pics & quotes taken by Claire Taylor / Intro by Ed King

Erdington High Street was once one of the busiest in Birmingham. But even before Covid closed shops and businesses across the country, Erdington’s central vein of commerce was already getting clogged – with many local shoppers put off by an increase in antisocial behaviour and street crime.

Recently, there have been more hopes dashed as Erdington missed out on two multi million pound pots of Government funding that would have kickstarted major regeneration of the High Street – being rejected for the Future High Street Fund on Boxing Day 2020, then the Levelling Up Fund in October last year.

And whilst more banks move out and budget shops move in, those responsible for promoting Erdington’s business community continue to try and turn an increasingly troubling tide – with the recently reinstated Erdington Business Improvement District (Erdington BID) allotting ‘£20000 towards marketing, events and promotion’ from their annual budget.

But whilst Westminster side steps Erdington’s ambitions and recognised national chains hover on the side lines, the local arts community has been making an impact – with creative events and community projects bringing crowds and attention to the waning High Street.

In October 2021, the global phenomenal and ‘living puppet’ Little Amal visited Erdington High Street, as she came through selected places in the UK at the end of her 8,000m walk across the world – raising awareness for the plight of child refugees and displaced people.

Hundreds of people gathered on Erdington High Street in celebration and solidarity, joining Little Amal as she walked from the Co-op supermarket to Central Square Shopping Centre.

To read/see more about Little Amal’s visit to Erdington click here.

So, can art and creative activity help breath life back into Erdington High Street? Are the creative industries picking up the slack from a distant Government and nervous national brands?

Or do these events bring more problems to an already strained shopping hub, distracting people’s attention from the shelves and taking footfall out of the shops and onto the pavement?

Erdington Local’s VOX POP reporter, Claire Taylor, went onto the High Street to ask local shops and shoppers alike… would you like more art, music, and events on Erdington High Street?

Pete and Pat Ferrans, Erdington

“We came to the puppet one (Little Amal), the big walking puppet one, and thought that was great. Anything that would bring people to the High Street. If its that, or a food fair, or a farmer’s market.”

___________________

Raven Dixon, Erdington

“I’m a creative person; I’d love to see more arts and events on the High Street.

“I can’t think off hand of any specific events, but what was really great is when the big puppet (Little Amal) came – everybody was talking about it, including people who don’t normally come to Erdington. More high-profile stuff like that.”

___________________

Daniel Byrne, Erdington

“I think they’re a good idea. You know when there was the big doll (Little Amal) here, I saw that. I was up there (car park above Wilton Market) watching it, I’d love to see more things like that.

“But anything that livens it (High Street) up is good, like music – I love seeing people playing, I give them a bit of money every now and again. I love to see it.”

___________________

Nancy Singh, clothing stall – Wilton Market

“I would like to see more events; it encourages people to come here when they see things happening on the High Street. Music, or whatever people like and will bring them here.”

___________________

Kevin Boustead, The Wilton Cobbler – Wilton Market

“I like having the events, but it just takes everyone out of the (Wilton) market. I’ve been here for 30 years next month; we want to bring people into the market.

“What you’ve got to do is to get the people, the general public, not to be frightened to come into Erdington. They can still be scare stiff of the High Street.”

___________________

Sohrab Hesari, Aster Alterations

“I like the events on the High Street. I think music events would be better, and food events, for the High Street. Better for the public.

“Better for me too, when she came (Little Amal) it brought more people into the shop.”

___________________

Aparna Binoop, New Oscott

“More events would benefit the High Street, for sure. I would like to see some areas made specially for people, so they can gather around and play.”

___________________

Caitlin Wood, Erdington

“Definitely. It would be really nice if there were more live music events, I always thought that would be good. But it would be good if there was a venue for 18-30 year olds.”

If you have something to say about any of the issues raised in this VOX POP (or anything else you want to tell us about) please email: mystory@erdingtonlocal.com

NEWS: Hundreds welcome Little Amal to Erdington as a ‘community of sanctuary’

Words, images & video by Ed King

Erdington High Street saw hundreds of people welcome the world famous ‘living puppet’ Little Amal on Thursday 28 October – as part of the Kaleidoscope events, organised by the Erdington based charity Active Arts.

Gathering outside Oikos Café from 1pm, people started the day’s celebration by playing traditional street games from countries around the world and dancing to live music – building the carnival atmosphere before Little Amal arrived at 3pm.

Members of Birmingham’s refugee community were joined by hundreds of local families, support agencies, churches, and schools.

After saying hello to several children and meeting the crowds, Little Amal then walked up the High Street, accompanied by children and dancers – to a welcome ceremony held in the Central Square Shopping Centre.

Central Square had been specially decorated and transformed into a one day festival venue, with stages and a canvas roof over the main concourse.

At the welcome ceremony Little Amal continued to meet the hundreds of people who had come out in support of her journey, and her message of sanctuary and community, before being greeted by the Birmingham Lord Mayor.

A special poem celebrating Birmingham as a city of sanctuary was then read to Little Amal by two sisters, Sheema and Logeen Aroob, who had themselves fled from Syria to the UK with their family five years ago.

Writer Stephanie Neville joined Sheema and Logeen in delivering the poem, which had been selected from Stories of Home Hope and Home – ‘a story-telling project offering Asylum Seekers and Refugees a space to share their stories and others a space to hear them.’

Sheema and Logeen also presented Little Amal with a friendship bracelet specially crafted for the giant puppet, as event organisers handed out further bracelets to the audience.

In the weeks running up to Little Amal’s Erdington visit, a series of Kaleidoscope arts and craft workshops had been held at the Secret Arts Studio Space in Central Square – where local children and families had been making the friendship bracelets out of colourful twine and materials, working with Celebrating Sanctuary Birmingham.

Little Amal is a 12ft high ‘living puppet’ who has been walking across the world since July, to raise awareness about the plight of refugee children.

Starting on the Turkey/Syrian border, Little Amal has travelled over 8000km through Greece, Italy, Switzerland, and France, before coming across the Channel to the UK – even meeting with Pope Francis in early September 2021.

Visiting only a handful of locations in the UK, Little Amal had been in Coventry the day before her visit to Erdington, before ending her global walk in Manchester on 3 November.

Attending the event and joining the team escorting Little Amal to the Central Square welcoming ceremony, Erdington MP Jack Dromey told Erdington Local: “I am deeply proud that Erdington is the Birmingham home that Little Amal will come to.

“All throughout the last 10, 20, 30 years we’ve had war after war and famine after famine – people have therefore fled for their lives, wanting a new start for them and their families and looking for sanctuary and safety. We have a moral duty to say those who come to our shores desperate for refuge, you’re welcome here.

“I’m proud that Amal is coming to Erdington because it sends the message that we are a constituency and community of sanctuary – that we are there to give home and support to those who desperately need it.”

Also attending the Little Amal event were Erdington ward councillors Robert Alden and Gareth Moore.

“It’s absolutely brilliant to see so many people here in Erdington, on our High Street – it really emphasises the possibilities of how we can regenerate Erdington High Street and what the long term attraction to the area can be.

“I think this exactly the thing that people have been talking about – we need to ensure that actually all countries are safe for people, so that people don’t have to go through the horrific things that you hear refugees have had to go through.”

Local arts charity Active Arts was leading Erdington’s Little Amal visit and the Kaleidoscope events on behalf of Birmingham City Council and Birmingham 2022 Festival.

Further partners include Celebrating Sanctuary Birmingham, Centrala, Open Theatre Company, Mama Dojo, Surge Forward Music & Arts, Vortex Creates, Autin Dance Theatre, Everyone Erdington, Oikos Café, Six Ways Baptist Church & Food Bank, Erdington BID and Godwin Development.

Active Arts Project Director Claire Marshall told Erdington Local: “Little Amal’s message is one of sanctuary, about showing refugees and displaced people that they can find a place to call home if they have been forced to leave theirs.

“Erdington is a welcoming and diverse community, one with a history of embracing people from many different countries and cultures – and a place that continues to do so.

“This event is about celebrating that sanctuary, it’s about showing people they can find a new home here if they have had to leave theirs.

“The atmosphere here, today, as we welcome Little Amal, has been something wonderful – it’s been a truly special day and I couldn’t be prouder of the people around us.

“Little Amal’s message, highlighting the plight of refugee children, is one born from desperation and sorrow.

“But the kindness and compassion you can feel from people in Erdington here today, the simple sense of love and community in the air, gives us all a feeling of hope to hold on to.”

Watch Little Amal as she walks down Erdington High Street and into Central Square Shopping Centre

For more on Little Amal and ‘The Walk’ visit www.walkwithamal.org

For more on Active Arts visit www.activearts.wordpress.com

ON THURSDAY: A sneak peek – check out the celebrations at Central Square ahead of Little Amal visit

Words & images by Ed King

**LITTLE AMAL CELEBRATIONS FROM 12:30PM/1PM OUTSIDE CO-OP ON ERDINTGON HIGH STREET ON THURS 28 OCTOBER – FREE**

Central Square Shopping Centre has been bursting with colour, music, and dance as people get ready for Little Amal’s’ visit to Erdington on Thursday 28 October.

Little Amal is a 12ft high ‘living puppet’ that has been travelling the world to raise awareness about the plight of refugee children – travelling over 8,000km before arriving in Erdington for a special one day celebration of sanctuary.

The festivities will begin outside the Co-op supermarket on Erdington High Street at 12:30/1pm – with live music, dance, and street games – before Little Amal will walk up the High Street to a special welcoming ceremony at Central Square.

The entire day is free to attend and open to children and adults of all ages – led by local arts charity Active Arts on behalf of Birmingham City Council and Birmingham 2022 Festival.

Transforming the old Central Square Shopping Centre, Active Arts and the creative team behind the Little Amal Erdington event have been busy decorating the High Street retail hub.

A team of dancers, local children, and families spent the week practicing a special routine to welcome Little Amal – whilst a creative team transformed the High Street retail hub into a festival venue with bright colours and decorations.

A special stage has been constructed at Central Square for the event, which will see everyone from Birmingham’s Lord Mayor to local school children welcome Little Amal to Erdington.

A large canvas roof has also been installed over the Central Square concourse – ensuring the day will be a truly special occasion that all ages can enjoy, come rain or shine.

The event is Covid safe and stewarded by official security and event safety staff.

Have a sneak peek below of what’s happening when Little Amal visits Erdington on Thursday 28 October.

Central Square gets ready for Little Amal Erdington visit

Little Amal will visit Erdington on Thursday 28 October, with a one day carnival starting at 1pm outside the Co-op and Oikos Café on the High Street – before heading up to the Central Square Shopping Centre.

For more on the Kaleidoscope event and Little Amal’s visit to Erdington visit www.activearts.wordpress.com/little-amal or email activeartscv@gmail.com

For more on Little Amal and ‘The Walk’ visit www.walkwithamal.org