NEWS: Witton Lodge Community Association launch Digit-All, tackling ‘digital poverty’ with a new electronic lending library

Words by Steve Sharma / Pics supplied by Witton Lodge Community Association

From Monday 24th August, isolated and vulnerable Erdington residents will be able to access essential support services thanks to an innovative new project being rolled out by Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) – Erdington Local can reveal.

The Perry Common based organisation is launching Digit-All – its own IT lending Library – to provide older residents and others in need of digital literacy support with the tools, skills, and knowledge they need to engage online.

Paul Tse, Flourishing Community Development Officer at WLCA, explains how COVID-19 has heightened an already pressing concern around digital literacy.

As a result of the lockdown, a significant number of the services and activities which older residents are dependent on have moved online,” he said.

The levels of digital poverty in Erdington were already quite high but this situation has seen even more adults become marginalised, unable to access the support they need. This puts them at greater risk of isolation, poor mental health, and mobility difficulties. Our project seeks to redress this imbalance and prevent such suffering.”

Work being delivered by the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce and Witton Lodge’s employment and skills and health & wellbeing teams, has identified a number of people in urgent need of digital literacy support. Digit-All will address the three main areas of concern which have been identified – a lack of IT facilities, a lack of connectivity, alongside confidence and capability.

We have purchased a range of portable IT equipment including laptops and tablets that will be available to lend to isolated, vulnerable adults,” added Paul.

As part of the service offer, we will also be providing users with a free data plan (and/or wireless dongles) to enable individuals to connect to the Internet where they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to.

Digital skills training will also be available to help older adults learn how to use their devices and interact with others through platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook or Zoom.”

Funding for the project has been acquired through the Erdington Neighbourhood Network Scheme – one of Birmingham City Council’s constituency-based networks, established to enable engagement with and investment in community assets which support older people to lead independent and connected lives.

Councillor Paulette Hamilton, Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care, said: “Neighbourhood Network Schemes have been set up to reduce isolation and improve social connectivity and wellbeing at a local level and in particular to support our older and more vulnerable citizens, keeping them active and engaged within their own localities.

The evidence of work carried out by organisations like Witton Lodge during the COVID-19 lockdown reveals that many of our older adults either do not have access to information technology that could help them be more in control of their lives, or do not have the confidence and ability to navigate the Internet to search for information and services that can help them remain independent.

Digit-All is a proactive response to digital poverty that has become more apparent during COVID-19 across our communities.  I am excited and look forward to seeing the service develop and being rolled out across Birmingham’s neighbourhoods,”

The project, as a prototype, launches from Monday 24th August – with those already identified as being in urgent need of support the first to receive laptops and tablets.

Following this initial trial period, the scheme Witton Lodge Community Association are looking to roll out Digit-All to a wider audience across North Birmingham.

For more information and photo opportunities call Steve Sharma on 0121 382 1930 or email steve.sharma@wittonlodge.org.uk

For more on Witton Lodge Community Association, visit www.wittonlodge.org.uk

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

Words by Steve Sharma, original photography by Ed King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Words by Steve Sharma, photography by Ed King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FEATURE: Witton Lodge Community Association reaches out to local residents – as part of the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce

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

A special Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce has been set up in response to the coronavirus crisis, with Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) reaching out to local residents with food parcels and support services – outreach activity mirrored by community hubs and support groups across the constituency.

Established as the pandemic reached more critical levels for the UK during March, the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce is a ‘collaborative approach and co-ordinated effort’ involving many of the constituency’s community groups and care providers – alongside Jack Dromey MP, Councillor Robert Alden, representatives from Birmingham City Council, and further political and community figures known in the area.

Speaking directly to Erdington Local about the coronavirus crisis, Jack Dromey MP says: “The COVID-19 crisis is the most serious moment in our country’s history since World War II. The sheer scale of what is happening – and its social and economic impact – is frightening. But at a moment of crisis, it is crucial that community and country stand together.

As the crisis deepened four weeks ago, we moved to establish the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce to bring together those who can make a difference – to sustain our community and our citizens through these dreadful times.”

Chaired by Afzal Hussain, Chief Officer at Witton Lodge Community Association – who have been working in Perry Common since 1994, the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce has already begun a series of outreach activities focused on delivering vital public support and tackling the immediate issues effecting people across the area.

Following a call to arms to local residents and businesses, Witton Lodge Community Association have been receiving donations of food and essential goods which they are redistributing directly to households in their local community – adhering to the safety guidelines issued by Public Health England.

With a growing number of volunteers – working as parcel packers, drivers, administrators, and phoning locals residents to check directly on their wellbeing – the team at WLCA are delivering over 60 care packages those most vulnerable on Tuesdays and Fridays, alongside a daily schedule of further deliveries to the wider community.

“The absolute priority has to be welfare and safety… so people having those essential supplies,” explains Afzal Hussain.

“We already have residents, families, and individuals that we know need this support, so we’ve started with those. We are now having referrals; people are calling us, councillors and social workers and others are referring people to us, so we’ve mobilised our staff and volunteers to go and make sure those deliveries happen. We’ve scheduled those in so there are regular delivery slots a couple of times a week to do that.”

Responding to a health crisis such as coronavirus, a virulent disease that’s effecting countries and citizens around the world, takes a level of community action beyond that of WLCA’s usual support programme. But many in Erdington have already risen to the challenge, as the impact from coronavirus continues to dominate headlines, hearts and minds across the globe.

“We’re trying to reach out to those who can’t access basic provisions,” tells Marie Benjamin – Volunteer Co-ordinator at WLCA. “It’s vital right now, without support there could be people out there suffering a lot.”

Other issues highlighted by local residents are employment, financial support and advice, as well as the health and wellbeing concerns from being in prolonged self-isolation.

To effectively tackle these growing problems, the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce has been building a database of organisations called the Erdington Assets Register – with companies from Bromford Fish Bar to Birmingham Mind offering their time and resources to help deliver these important support services.

“The response has been amazing,” explains Debbie Bates – Health and Wellbeing Transformation Lead at Witton Lodge Community Association. “It’s been a collaborative approach and co-ordinated effort across Erdington, working to ensure people in the community get the help the need at this critical time.”

But as the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK continues to rise, alongside the death toll, there is still much more that needs to be done – by both Witton Lodge Community Association and the wider Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce.

Organisations are being encouraged to sign up to the Erdington Assets Register, strengthening the database of private and public sector groups that can provide support. Whilst individuals can make a significant difference by offering their time, energy, or donations of food and essential goods to the growing community outreach programme.

Volunteering is really important,” continues Afzal Hussain, “if there are supplies and food, we’ll happily take those. I think what I would say to groups and organisations who are there, who want to work together, is to come forward – we will add them to that emergency (Erdington) Asset Register.

We’re using that as the live platform; people can add their details, let everyone know what’s going on, what services they’re providing, and importantly they can collaborate with others in their neighbourhoods and communities.”

For anyone wanting to find out more about the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce, or to add their organisation to the Erdington Assets Register, please contact Witton Lodge Community Association on (0121) 382 1930 or email afzal.hussain@wittonlodge.org.uk

Organisations can also add their names directly onto the Erdington Assets Register, operated as a live platform and database, by clicking here.

People can also contact Witton Lodge Community Association though their website or social media, with full details found at www.wittonlodge.org.uk

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