OPINION: What can we learn from Finding Nemo? Andy Winmill – Urban Devotion Birmingham

Words & pics by Andy Winmill – Urban Devotion Birmingham

Outreach and support groups are an important way of shouldering the burdens of any community, at any time. But when does the helping hand hold too tight a grip?

Andy Winmill, Director of Urban Devotion Birmingham (UDB), talks about the precarious balance between ‘heroes’ and ‘victims’.

In the popular animated movie Finding Nemo, Marlin, the dad clownfish, copes with the grief of losing his wife by adopting the role of the over-protective parent, seeking to prevent Nemo from meeting the same fate.

This role of protector becomes Marlin’s primary identity and gives him something to live for, but he inadvertently restricts Nemo’s freedom and pushes Nemo away.

“What on earth does this have to do with Erdington?” I hear you ask. It’s a fair question but stay with me.

Every week I spend an hour on a call with a bunch of brilliant people that make up the Erdington COVID-19 Task Force. They represent so much of what is good about Erdington. They lead organisations that provide housing support, financial advice, food provision and cultural enrichment. They reflect all shades of the political spectrum yet come together for the good of all of us.

Over the past year each and every one of them has gone the extra mile, worked that bit harder and put the good of Erdington ahead of their own reputations or standing.

I have huge respect for them and – full disclaimer – I am one of them. I first came to Erdington in 2004 and began doing volunteer youthwork in Perry Common as part of Urban Devotion Birmingham (UDB). I have lived in Erdington since 2005 and now lead UDB and our staff team of 10 as we seek to serve children, young people, and families in five neighbourhoods across the district.

UDB, like every one of the organisations in the Task Force, exists for the good of the people of Erdington. Most of them – UDB included – are led by local people who serve the communities we live in. Over the past year we have collectively helped source and deliver nearly 18,000 food and essentials supplies packs and enabled almost 21,000 wellbeing activities. Sounds good right?

It sounds good because it is good, but what if we inadvertently become like Marlin? What if we end up finding our identity as the protectors? What if we accidentally contribute to restricting the very sense of community that we are seeking to serve?

Last year I read a fantastic article in this very newspaper that described the great work that one of the organisations was doing but I’ll be honest the headline troubled me. It described the organisation connecting an ‘isolated community’.

The headline focused on the strength of one party and the weakness of the other. I probably overthink these things, but it conjured up images of heroes and victims, co-dependent relationships, Marlin and Nemo.

The mistake Marlin made was to have a deficit perspective. He saw tiny Nemo’s weakness and sought to protect him from being exposed to the dangers of the ocean. When Nemo protested, he shut him down. What if he had instead listened to Nemo, looked at his strength – his bravery, his curiosity, his relational skills – and helped to prepare him to take on the ocean?

The coming months are, just like the ocean, uncharted territory. Just as Marlin didn’t know the depths of the ocean nor do any of us quite know what is around the corner. Perhaps the best response therefore is not to focus on the challenges that Erdington faces but the strengths.

As organisations we are participants in the story of Erdington but we are not heroes and the community of Erdington is not the victim. Most of the organisations that we work alongside will remain deeply committed to Erdington, but it is important that we don’t fall into the Marlin trap.

We do this by focusing on all that is great about Erdington. We focus on the story of Erdington Community Volunteers that exemplifies the community spirit that makes Erdington strong.

We look to Erdington Litter Busters that shows the community care that makes Erdington kind. And yes, we think about the Erdington COVID-19 Task Force that shows the collaboration and ingenuity that makes Erdington effective.

Whisper it quietly, but we seem to be leaving the worst of the pandemic behind. Restrictions are easing, businesses are reopening. Nobody quite knows what ‘normal’ will look and feel like, but change is definitely in the air.

People will still face crises. We need to combat food poverty, stand against the challenges of exempt accommodation, rail against the scourge of youth violence.

Organisations have important parts to play in this, but greater impact comes when we all rise up as one. This is not a time for Marlin and Nemo, for heroes and victims. This is a time for community. Let’s do this together.

For more on Urban Devotion Birmingham visit www.urbandevotion.org

NEWS: Join the Erdington Community Volunteers for a free ‘Erdy Cuppa’ on the Lyndhurst Estate

Words by Ed King / Pics supplied by Erdington Community Volunteers

On Wednesday 21st April, the Erdington Community Volunteers (ECV) are inviting everyone for an ‘Erdy Cuppa’ on the Lyndhurst Estate – hosted on the park behind the tower blocks in the middle of Abbey Way, Rowden Drive, and Gabriel Drive.

Click here for a Google Maps link to the ‘Erdy Cuppa’ location.

Totally free of charge, the volunteer group will be offering local residents the chance to meet up under Covid safe conditions for a cup of tea, coffee, and a natter with their neighbours.

Running from 2pm to 4:30pm, so families can join in after school, this week’s inaugural ‘cuppa’ will be the first of many events that organisers want to see pop-up around Erdington – encouraging people to get to know people in their community whilst utilising the area’s parks and green spaces.

ECV founder and Erdy Cuppa organiser, Jo Bull, told Erdintgon Local: “We want to give people a good way to get to know their neighbours, whilst celebrating all the beautiful parks and green spaces we have in the constituency.

“Even in a strong community such as Erdington, people can feel isolated and alone – especially during the coronavirus crisis and lockdowns. But now restrictions are being eased, the ‘Erdy Cuppa’ events will give people a chance to get back into the community and start sharing life again.

“The park at the back of the Lyndhust Estate is a beautiful green space with play areas for children and great places just to sit and connect – with enough room to do so under Covid safe conditions.

“We hope to hold more pop up ‘Erdy Cuppa’ events across the constituency and encourage people to get to know their neighbours with a friendly chat over a nice cup of tea.”

Founded as a response to the first coronavirus lockdown, the Erdington Community Volunteers has been a prominent community support group throughout the pandemic – sitting on the Erdington Covid-19 Task Force and supporting much of the food distribution across the area.

As lockdown restrictions ease, the group are now looking at ways to encourage community engagement and help people safety come out of the coronavirus crisis.

Other local groups are being invited to leave information for Erdington locals at the Erdy Cuppa events, highlighting further community activity in the area.

Also available at the Erdy Cuppa will be creative ways to encourage meditation and relaxation, such as free mindfulness pebbles made by Jo Bull.

To help raise funds to support the Erdington Community Volunteers there will also be original arts and crafts on sale.

For more on the Erdington Community Volunteers visit the Facebook group here: www.facebook.com/groups/625073991557017

For a Google Maps link to ‘Erdy Cuppa’ location on Wednesday 21st April visit: https://goo.gl/maps/xSES1yZZKFKjCL238

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

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