NEWS: Serving up 25% discounts for NHS workers at Walter Smith Fine Foods

Words by Keat Moore / Pics by Keat Moore and Ed King

Walter Smith Fine Foods has always been a familiar sight on Erdington High Street and has been serving generations of families from the community for the last 80 years.

It’s also one of the few butcher shops in the area to remain open during the COVID-19 lockdown, continuing its commitment to its customers by offering a free delivery service and a 25% discount for all NHS staff.

Erdington Local caught up with Mark Healy, the store manager, to find out more about the butcher’s life during the lockdown.

The first week was chaos,” says Mark, “we had loads of panic buying and fighting, we had to put limits in place, in the end, to stop customers trying to buy 50lbs of mince!”

Things have, thankfully, calmed down since then. But Mark says they’re still busy and they’ve even seen a 40% increase in sales, “we’ve actually won a lot of friends in this climate and we’re serving customers we’ve never seen before.

The uptick has primarily come from the delivery service that Walter Smith have been offering since the lockdown began; customers can call the shop, place an order, pay over the phone, and have fresh produce delivered to their door the following Friday.

It’s been really popular” Mark explains, “I think it took off really well due to the 2-3 week wait for online orders through the big supermarkets,” which has been a real issue for many vulnerable people across Erdington, as well as staff feeding residents of local care homes.

Walter Smith is also offering a 25% discount to all NHS staff, as a way of showing support and appreciation for the work they’re doing in the fight against COVID-19 – a gesture which has been especially popular in Erdington, as many of the Walter Smith regular customers are NHS workers.

Walter Smith Fine Foods is currently open Monday – Saturday, 8.30 am until 4.30 pm. For more information, visit www.waltersmith.co.uk or call 0121 373 0457

To find Walter Smith Fne Foods on Facebook, visit www.facebook.com/waltersmithff

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NEWS: India Garden Restaurant gifts food parcels to over 60’s across Erdington

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Ed King

India Garden is a restaurant that prides itself on serving classic Indian dishes, specialties, and desserts.

Located at 992 Tyburn Road, India Garden Restaurant has been involved in catering for over 35 years – suppling large Council venues and supermarket chains, as well as operating their popular Erdington based restaurant.

But as the scare of COVID-19 was first hitting the country, the family run business began helping neighbours who were struggling to buy goods from supermarkets – using their own stock, alongside established links with their suppliers.

Now India Garden are delivering free food parcels to over 60’s in Erdington – packed with essential goods including hand sanitizer and loo rolls, as well as a hot meal from their own kitchens.

We’ve been here (in Erdington) for a long time and it’s the locals that have supported the business,” tells Shaan Deen, India Garden’s Operations Manager, “and we thought we’ve got to do something.

So, we thought, 60 plus, anybody, free of charge… we’re just going to give them food parcels with essential items – a hot meal, curry, rice, bread, and then all the hand sanitizers, loo rolls, baked beans… and whatever else we can. So that’s what we did.”

India Garden began telling existing customers about their ‘coronavirus campaign’ over the phone, but news of their good will soon gained a lot of attention on social media.

We threw it onto Facebook and it just blew up from there,” continues Shaan, “people started tagging, and we started getting lots of enquires. Genuinely they wanted to donate; I can give ₤100, I can give ₤50. And we said we don’t want your money, but we need the manpower – if you can come and help us deliver, then give us a shout.”

India Garden now have 72 volunteers helping them deliver care packages to around 211 people, with teams going out five days a week.

It wouldn’t be possible without the volunteers, from the local area,” continues Shaan. “People were saying ‘we only live up the road – we live in Castle Vale; we live on Paget Road…. And before we knew it, we’d gathered a lot of volunteers. I want to highlight that; the volunteers play a big part. They’re good people.”

The restaurant have also launched their ‘Tag a Hero’ campaign, encouraging social media followers to tag NHS workers – winning frontline staff a free, sumptuous, Indian meal, delivered to their door.

To find out more about India Garden Restaurant, who are still open for takeaway orders, visit www.indiagardenrestaurant.co.uk

Or visit the India Garden Facebook page, where you can ‘tag a hero’ and help NHS frontline workers win a free meal www.facebook.com/IndiaGardenBirmingham

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FEATURE: Witton Lodge Community Association connects an isolated community via popular social media platforms

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

As part of their ongoing outreach activity during the coronavirus crisis, Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) are using social media platforms to reach out to people across their community.

Running support sessions via WhatsApp, Zoom, and Facebook Live, a team of trained support specialists are offering online advice on a range of social concerns – including health and wellbeing, employment, financial advice, and mental health, during self-isolation.

As part of the rolling programme, running weekly from Monday to Thursday, a ‘Health & Wellbeing support group’ meet via Zoom every Tuesday between 3-4pm. Whilst a special ‘Furlough Scheme Information session’ meet every Wednesday, also via Zoom, from 11am to 12noon – offering advice to people who can no longer leave the house to work.

Further sessions offering ‘Employment Support’ and ‘Social Interaction’ meet every Thursday, via Zoom between 10-11m and via WhatsApp between 11am and 12noon respectively. There is also a special session called ‘Coronavirus Myth Busters’ run every Tuesday, accessible between 10-11am – again, via Zoom.

All interactive online support services being offered by WLCA can be found on their website, under the ‘COVID19’ tab on the main menu.

With the country on lockdown, the Internet has given community support centres such as WLCA an immediate tool to reach those in need – whilst staying self-isolated and following the social distancing guidelines issued by Public Health England.

About three weeks ago we established our digital World of Work and Wellbeing platform,” explains Iram Fardus – WLCA’s Business Development & Performance Manager, “and through that we are currently supporting our Erdington residents with their health and wellbeing, employment, and housing enquiries.

As an organisation we also understand that people might need help with benefits and financial enquires – so we encourage anyone and everyone to get in touch with us; as an organisation, if we (WLCA) can’t support them then will be able to put them in touch with someone who can.”

Using social media already established in people’s day to day life, the hope is that the familiarity with these platforms will encourage more members of the community to get in touch.

We thought most of the residents would already be connected with platforms like Facebook, Skype, and WhatsApp,” continues Fardus, “on top of that, residents don’t need to pay anything for it… they are free to use and most of the residents already have access to them or they already have accounts.”

But the doors of social engagement swing both ways, and once a week Witton Lodge Community Association’s Employment & Engagement Officer, Dellano Lewis, runs a specially tailored ‘Topical Information Session’, or ‘Live Social’, though the Facebook Live platform. The aims of the interactive online sessions are to both listen to, and direct, the concerns from people across the area.

During these times it’s about thinking of different ways we can communication with the community,” explains Lewis, “with these Facebook Live sessions it’s all about connecting virtually. Now everyone’s at home, we have to tap into a different energy, a different frequency. Live Social is all about sharing positivity, sharing information that people can get through Witton Lodge Community Association.

We’re also connected with a lot of other partners who are working in the Perry Common community, within the Erdington area – so any form of information an individual may require, or want access to, they can get that through Witton Lodge.”

But during these times of social fracture, where tight knit communities such as the one in Perry Common are being forced apart, there are many dangers facing an increasingly isolated community. Finance and employment are certainly pressing concerns, but the mental wellbeing of local residents is also being addressed during the Witton Lodge ‘Live Social’ sessions.

It’s vital (to be connected), it’s something that’s really needed in these times,” tells Lewis, “to have communities and organisations that can offer that kind support – that can reach out to someone who’s self-isolating, to reach out to someone who’s lonely…

It doesn’t matter about background or age, or anything like that; to know that there’s people out there, organisations out there, that can support you during these times – even virtually, over the phone, via Skype, Zoom, any kind of digital platform, is very important.”

Interactive support sessions via social media at Witton Lodge Community Association

Full details of all online support sessions being delivered by Witton Lodge Community Association – and how to access them though the various social media platforms used – can be found via the organisation’s COVID-19 web page at www.wittonlodge.org.uk/covid19-news-information-and-resources/

 

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OPINION: Why the NHS should be awarded the George Cross

Words by Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands / Photography courtesy of Andy Street 

As we continue the fight against coronavirus, May 8th has taken on a new significance – as the next date on which the lockdown will be reviewed.  Yet there is other celebration connected to that date – VE Day – which resonates with so much that is going on now.

The 75th anniversary of VE Day may have been disrupted by a new enemy, but it links us to a past generation who faced another great national test.

It was during World War Two that the George Cross was created, to reflect the courage of civilians who showed extraordinary bravery. I believe we are seeing that courage again today. That’s why awarding our NHS staff the George Cross provides appropriate recognition for their incredible efforts.

Recently I was honoured to join HRH Prince William to help officially open the NHS Nightingale Hospital at the NEC. Just a few weeks ago, this was an empty space. Now it is a fully-operational hospital with 500 beds ready to join the fight with COVID-19. It stands as a testament to what we can achieve if we pull together as one. It also represents the respect and gratitude we all feel towards our NHS staff.

The ‘Nightingale’ name above the door also perfectly embodies the driving principles of those who are on the frontline on this crisis – they are saving lives whilst demonstrating care and compassion.

The NHS, from the doctors and nurses on the wards, to the ambulance crews and paramedics, and all support staff, represents the very best of our society.

This crisis has shown, more than ever, the vital importance of a health service that is free at the point of use. Look around the world, at the disjointed approach produced by countries where private healthcare is prevalent, and you can see the true value of our single, united health service.

The nation’s weekly doorstep appreciation of the NHS – where millions of people applaud in support – is proof of the debt of gratitude we all feel.

The NHS reflects so much of the best of British society. The NHS is truly democratic, treating everyone the same. The personal gratitude expressed by the Prime Minister to the nurses and staff who oversaw his recovery from COVID-19 illustrates how the NHS is there for all of us.

The NHS also reflects of the diversity of our modern society. In the crisis, we see the young caring for the old, and we also see retired doctors and nurses returning to join the fight. We see NHS staff from all backgrounds and from across the globe helping the people of the UK.

Right now, the NHS is also hugely important to the health of our economy. As we try to protect business through the duration of the crisis, the NHS is a huge employer that simply keeps going.

Of course, as an institution, the NHS needs care and investment. Prior to the outbreak, the Government unveiled a huge programme of future investment, but now, as we fight this virus, our focus is rightly being placed on the here and now. Some areas are clearly not as good as we want – such as the continuing issue of PPE.

We see now, more than ever, how the NHS is the embodiment of British society. And it is the NHS staff, putting themselves at risk daily, who have become our modern heroes and heroines. That is why I believe the George Cross is an appropriate acknowledgment of the bravery we are seeing.

This is not a gimmick. These awards exist to allow us, as a society, to recognise those who have stepped forward in a time of need.

These are unprecedented times, but awarding this medal collectively, to thousands of people for their joint bravery, has been done before.

In 1942 The George Cross was awarded to the island of Malta by King George, so as to “bear witness to the heroism and devotion of its people” during the great siege they underwent in the early part of the Second World War.

Six years after Malta was awarded the George Cross, the NHS was born. Now, after seven decades of devoted service to the British people, our NHS staff now find themselves under siege too, from coronavirus. There is no doubt in my mind that this is their finest hour.

It is time to reflect the unique contribution to our society of the NHS, and the gallantry shown by its staff. The National Health Service has earned the George Cross.

Andy Street is the Mayor of the West Midlands. For more on Andy Street, visit www.wmca.org.uk/who-we-are/meet-the-mayor/

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FEATURE: Big John’s big heart – Erdington born ‘neighbourhood takeaway’ donates 100 food parcels to local food bank, as part of a citywide charity drive

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

Helping to feed vulnerable people across the city, Big John’s have pitched in to support Erdington residents during the coronavirus crisis – donating 100 parcels to the food bank being run from George Street Baptist Church in Stockland Green.

Organised in conjunction with the international Human Appeal charity and the Anzal Begum Foundation – the latter set up to ‘continue the visionary charity work of Anzal Begum’, the mother of Big John’s founders Jongir and Bob Siddiq – the food parcels were prepared by volunteers at Big John’s warehouse in Newtown, then taken directly to George Street Baptist Church.

Packed with essential provisions and staples for home cooking – including pasta, milk, sugar, cereals, biscuits, juice, tinned tomatoes and tinned soup – the 100 parcels taken to the Stockland Green based food bank were the last in 1000 that the ‘neighbourhood takeaway’ have donated throughout Birmingham.

I remember the struggle, when we’re trying to source the items,” Ambreen Khan – Head of Fundraising for the Anzal Begum Foundation.

“A lot of the suppliers were rationing as they had to meet their own demands, as well. But the relationship that Big John’s have with some of their suppliers, and then the Anzal Begum Foundation working with Big John’s on behalf of their late mother, that really helped source the items – it’s a really big thank you to all those suppliers who helped us source these items to go out to families and individuals.”

An Erdington born business, Big John’s have grown to be a prominent food outlet throughout the Midlands – bringing an ‘American food dining experience to traditional British and world favourites.’

Opening its doors in 1995, with the first of the franchise launched at the Six Ways Island in Erdington, Big John’s now have 12 branches located throughout Birmingham – alongside one in West Bromwich and one in Leicester.

But during the coronavirus crisis, when many businesses have been forced to close and all restaurants asked to shut their doors, Big John’s have been able to continue serving customers through deliveries and takeaways – as well as helping to feed people in the local community, especially those having trouble accessing food or basic provisions.

We just want to continue some of the great work that our late mother was doing in her lifetime,” tells Bob Siddiq, founder of both Big John’s and the Anzal Begum Foundation, “supporting local communities, supporting local causes – whenever someone’s in trouble, to be there for them. So, we decided we’d set up this (Anzal Begum) foundation in memory of what she was doing in her lifetime and continue that work.”

Big John’s used their contacts in the UK food supply chain to help others, organising for 1000 parcels to find their way to the city’s food banks and support services – an act of community that reflects the month of Ramadan, currently being celebrated by Muslims across the country.

But true kindness is secular, with the Siddiq brothers and their partners at Human Appeal and the Anzal Begum Foundation working alongside charities from all faiths and backgrounds to help feed the city’s most vulnerable.

One of the most important things we’ve seen here (Erdington/Birmingham), in Britain, and in the UK,” tells Zahir Khan – Director of Fundraising for Human Appeal, “is how people have let any sort of divide… that had previously divided us – in terms of colour, creed, religion, culture… I’ve seen everyone drop all the differences and really come together. For us, as Human Appeal, a faith based charity, it’s been a real honour to come together and support people regardless.”

This is another fine example of the community spirit we have here in Erdington,” continues Jack Dromey MP, who first told Erdington Local about the food parcels being delivered by Big John’s.

Our local food banks have seen a surge in demand since the start of the Coronavirus outbreak, so these donations are very welcome and will provide much-needed support to some of the most vulnerable in our community.

I’d like to thank Bob Saddiq and the rest of the team at Big John’s for this extremely kind gesture. It is wonderful to see a business that was started here in Erdington, and has gone on to be a great success, giving back to their community.

I’d also like to thank every member of our local community who is supporting others through this incredibly tough time. These acts of kindness and solidarity will help us all come through this unprecedented crisis together.”

Big John’s deliver 100 food parcels to George Road Baptist Church

To find out more about George Street Baptist Church, including the food bank they are currently operating, visit www.georgeroad.com/

To find out more about Big Johns, including all their online menus and delivery services, visit www.mybigjohns.com/

To find out more about the Anzal Begum Foundation, visit www.facebook.com/pg/anzalbegumfoundation/

To find out more on the Human Appeal charity, visit www.humanappeal.org.uk/

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NEWS: Funding of up to £10000 now available for projects to support Erdington’s older residents during the coronavirus crisis

Words by Steve Sharma

Grants are now available to Erdington organisations delivering COVID-19 support services for older residents.

As the pandemic continues to impact life across the constituency, the Erdington Neighbourhood Network Scheme (NNS) is calling out to groups who could provide vital services for the over-50s.

To apply for funding, which can range from micro grants of up to £2000 and up to £10000 for larger projects, organisations are being asked to contact one of two local community service organisations – acting as gatekeepers for the wider Erdington NNS.

If based in Perry Common, Kingstanding, Erdington or Stockland Green, groups should contact Witton Lodge Community Association – based at Perry Common Community Hall.

Whilst groups working in Castle Vale, Pype Hayes, Gravelly Hill or again Stockland Green, should contact Compass Support – the charitable arm of The Pioneer Group, based in Castle Vale.

Since the launch of Erdington NNS in September 2019, more than a dozen groups have received funding to deliver activities and provision – helping reduce isolation and boost wellbeing among the district’s older generation.

But with the social distancing regulations imposed around coronavirus, as many venues that house social engagement and group activities close their doors due to the pandemic, there is concern that residents who are vulnerable and in need of help are not being reached.

Groups are invited to apply for funding to establish activities and support services which benefit the health and wellbeing of older people living in Erdington,” explains Debbie Bates, Health and Wellbeing Lead at Witton Lodge Community Association. “In addition to these services, gaps have been identified in activities and provision in a few specific areas where urgent support is needed. 

We are appealing for organisations who could deliver COVID-19 support services and invite organisations who are able to help, to get in contact and apply.”

Addressing a range of social and care concerns for older residents, the Erdington NNS funding wants to support groups who challenge issues including health, wellbeing, bereavement, and domestic violence – alongside anti-social behaviour and the effect it can have on the wider community.

People can become isolated in many ways,” explains Sarah Powers, Health & Wellbeing Team Leader at Compass Support, part of The Pioneer Group, “it could be through the loss of a spouse, declining health, illness, disability or caring responsibilities, discrimination, prejudice and cultural isolation. We understand that chronic loneliness is not only horrible to experience day in, day out, but left unaddressed it can have a devastating effect on a person’s health and wellbeing.

This grant is a fantastic opportunity to better connect people and deliver meaningful outcomes to older, local residents. Whether the project provides access to emotional support or community engagement, all bids are welcome to help people aged 50+ to lead independent, happy and healthy lives.”

To find out more about the Erdington Neighbourhood Network Scheme (NNS), visit https://wittonlodge.org.uk/new-network-scheme-boosts-erdington-residents/

If you run a group in Perry Common, Kingstanding, Erdington or Stockland Green, and want to apply for funding from the Erdington NNS, please email Debbie.bates@wittonlodge.org.uk

If you run a group in Castle Vale, Pype Hayes, Gravelly Hill or Stockland Green, please email: Donna.ebanks@compass-support.org.uk

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FEATURE: Coronavirus in Erdington’s care homes

Words & original photography by Ed King / Pic of Jean & Charles Beattie courtesy of Sarah Yates

As cases of coronavirus continue to skyrocket, the number of care home residents contracting COVID-19 heads towards an equally dark horizon.

At the time of writing, the latest government figures show 133,495 reported cases across the UK – resulting in over 18,000 deaths.

But with nearly 2,000 of those registered to residents of care homes, more than doubling over the Easter weekend, by the time you read this the number will be even higher.

In a recent survey conducted by Jack Dromey MP, there were ‘19 cases of Coronavirus in Erdington Care Homes, either confirmed or suspected’ – with six residents having died either in their facility or after being moved to hospital, with another 11 cases waiting for confirmation on cause of death.

Alongside the increasing strain on supply chains crucial to the healthcare sector, such as manufactures of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), it’s arguably a case of when and not if. The only question left, is how much worse will the impact of coronavirus be for care homes and their residents?

He went in a week ago today,” tells Jean Beattie, whose husband, Charles, is currently in Heartlands Hospital being treated for coronavirus. “First of all, he went onto the pre-COVID ward, where they asses them. Then, once the test came back positive, they moved him to the COVID ward, and he’s been there the rest of the time.”

A resident of The Ridings Care Home in Castle Vale, Charles Beattie has underlying dementia and was referred to Heartlands after suffering a fall whilst getting out of a reclining chair. “Because his oxygen saturation levels were so low, which makes him dizzy and wobbly on his legs, he over balanced,” explains Jean, “and hit his head on the chest of draws.”

I think the paramedics forwarded the information (to the hospital) that there was COVID on the unit, so he automatically went to the pre-COVID ward. But he wasn’t admitted because of his general health.”

But treating the physical symptoms is only half the battle for some patients, and Jean also has concerns around her husband’s dementia.  

He’s on a high dependency unit within the care home… they know him, and he knows them. They are his security blanket. In fact, he relates more to them now than he does to us, his family. Because he’s with them 24/7… It’s the people that are looking after him all the time that are his immediate family now.”

Home is where the heart is, or where the mind can find peace. But what protection do both staff and residents have if that happens to be a care home facility?

They’d got nothing,” tells Jean – who explains the required PPE only reached The Ridings over Easter, “just the ordinary paper masks. And they’ve got COVID positive patients in there at the time; and had lost some of them as well.”

All they’d got were their plastic aprons, the gloves that they always have, and the paper masks that everybody has in a care environment – be it a hospital or whatever.”

Quick to support the staff at The Ridings, who Jean believes “should be paid in gold bars not pence,” the adversity health practitioners face during the coronavirus crisis should also highlight their worth.

It’s really important that they are pulled into the equation,” tells Jean, “they’re really have been forgotten. I understand why all the concentration, in the first instance, was on getting care and service into the frontline of the NHS. But they (Government) should have realised that this was a bombshell waiting to explode.”

I’m full of admiration and I’m very, very grateful for everything they’ve done in Heartlands (Hospital). But he needs to be with his family. Which is the home. Once he’s there, no matter what the outcome, I will feel happier.”

Away from the fierce debate over PPE, there is another supply chain crucial to the health care industry – a cookie jar the general public have their fingers stuck in too. Food.

The most difficult thing we’ve had to deal with is the food chain,” explains Anglea – an administrator at Cedar Lodge Nursing Home on Kingsbury Road.

We’ve used online shopping for many years, because as it gives the residents more variety. I’ve got Asda’s website in front on me now; the slots only go up to 7th May and every single one is sold out. Every one from 6am to 11pm is sold out.”

Going direct to the supermarket shelves can be tricky too, as care homes are currently not exempt from the store by store rationing. “We take a letter to prove that we were purchasing for a care home,” explains Angela, “but one local supermarket wouldn’t let me buy three bags of porridge – even though I was buying for a care home.”

The day before I’d been at Spar in Wylde Green, they were wonderful. Sainsbury’s at Castle Vale, they didn’t restrict us either – I said to the person going shopping, make sure you’ve got your letter with you. But he went in and nobody stopped him. So, we were able to get what we needed.”

For most of us, bare shelves and item restrictions are a frustration. But when you’re cooking over 100 meals a day, it threatens lives. Not to mention the mental stress put on already vulnerable residents.

They can’t have any family come and visit,” tells Angela, “the regular entertainers and exercise classes… we’re not able to have those people come in anymore.”

If they were to have restrictions on their food or diet… to be honest I can’t imagine what sort of impact that would have on them.”

Sadly, concerns over both PPE and food in care homes are not uncommon. The recent survey conducted by Jack Dromey MP, contacting all 47 care homes across the Erdington constituency, identified ‘9 care homes (that) have indicated that food supply is an issue,’ raising concerns about ‘both item limits and lack of availability for online deliveries’.

Then there’s the issue of PPE, which most people at the end of an Internet connection will know is a widespread concern across the country.

In Erdington, 48% of the 47 care homes still have worries over accessing the right protective equipment – whilst ‘one care home has only received 600 masks since the start of the crisis, with staff now having to re-use masks due to a shortage.’

But, in Erdington at least, there is a plan to help care homes ‘secure adequate amounts of food needed to feed their residents.’ In a letter to Tesco’s CEO, David Lewis, Jack Dromey has asked for two clear changes in operational policy:

  • Exempt care homes from the item restriction limit that is in place for regular shoppers
  • Create special online delivery slots to enable care homes to access online deliveries – preventing their staff from making unnecessary trips to the supermarket where they risk contracting COVID-19

The Government must urgently reassure care homes that they will not be forgotten during this crisis,” says Jack Dromey MP. “They deserve with the NHS full access to PPE. Care home workers, as well as NHS staff, are delivering vital care in extremely dangerous situations. They are both working in close proximity to the virus and therefore both deserve proper protection.”

That, and the ability to feed their residents; regular meals shouldn’t be too much to ask. Now is a time for community and kindness. And someone keeps telling us ‘every little helps.’

To find out more about the spread of coronavirus, from the Office for National Statistics, visit www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/conditionsanddiseases

For the latest information from Public Heath England, visit www.gov.uk/government/organisations/public-health-england

To find out more about the work being done for Erdington by Jack Dromey MP, visit www.jackdromey.org

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FEATURE: Staying home for Easter – how Eastern Europeans in Erdington celebrate Easter during the coronavirus crisis

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics courtesy of individuals featured

We were not guaranteed a future in this country,” Laszlo Molnars tells Erdington Local, via an international a phone call.

It has been several weeks since Laszlo left the UK, making the decision to take his family back to Hungary as countries across mainland Europe were taking themselves into lockdown – with Britain being one of the last on the list. “It was a big decision for us to leave the UK so soon…” sighs Lazlo, “but we are happy to be somewhere we feel safe.”

Erdington is home to many Eastern Europeans, a vibrant Diaspora who have built families, businesses, and lives in the North East Birmingham constituency. Predominately Christian by faith, Easter would normally see with many returning to their countries of origin – celebrating the festive period with their wider families and communities.

But due to the coronavirus global pandemic, and the restrictions of travel – both domestic and international – that have been enforced across the world, this Spring’s festive repatriation has raised difficult questions for many families. Laszlo and his family are now back in Hungary, but what about those who stayed in the UK?

I planned to go to Poland for Easter with my daughter,” explains Anna Fijałkowska, 34, who was unable to see her family or do the things she would normally do at Easter, “I would go to Poland and spend Easter with my family, mother, sister and grandmother.” Like many of the over 800,00 Polish people living in the UK, Anna desired to return – preferring the quicker response by the Polish government to the original ‘herd immunity’ promulgated by the UK administration.

But it is still Easter. And Wielki Post (Holy Week) is still a big deal, especially in a predominantly Catholic country like Poland. “I could not go to church for Palm Sunday,” continues Anna, “I could not go to get my basket blessed.” With all the religious rituals on hold in the UK, this time of year would seem very alien for people like Anna.

But despite all these complications Anna remains positive, finding delight at spending so much quality time with her daughter – even in the shadow of something so nasty: “I think the time of this virus is a very special time for us which shows us that we should focus more on building family relationships. I still prepared all the foods that I would at Easter.” Biała kiełbasa [smoked meats], Mazurek [Easter cakes] and of course, pisanki [Easter eggs] all take centre stage in Polish households, although this year without being taken to church for a blessing.

With an established Polish community in Erdington and across Birmingham, St Michael’s Church and the Polish Millennium Centre serving as focal points, for some Eastern Europeans their whole life is here already. Atanas Slavchev or ‘Nasko’, 34, moved to Erdington from Bulgaria six years ago.

Happy Easter!” he exclaims over the phone. Most Bulgarians would celebrate Easter on 19th April – like with most other Orthodox countries, Eastern European Christianity follows the Julian calendar, meaning common religious festivals can be held at different times in different countries.

Every day is Easter,” explains Nasko, “as Christ is risen. But we celebrate it especially today, like the Orthodox.” Nasko’s family are not orthodox, but rather part of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) church in Erdington – home to a lively evangelical band, called El Shaddai. Somewhat unlike the Orthodox style a capella chants, it’s not your typical Bulgarian affair; this time of year would still have been a time of jubilation.

Similar themes of religious celebration, gathering of families and unique cuisine, rise from Nasko’s conversation: Kozunak [Easter bread], Lamb dishes [reflecting the ‘lamb of God’], and, eggs [which they paint] define the taste and style of Easter for Bulgarians.

But there is disappointment, “our kids were rehearsing hard for the Easter play, but they can’t do that now.” Another cancelled event for Nasko’s family.

He and his wife run Sofia, a Bulgarian food and convenience store on Tyburn Road. Their wider family in Erdington numbers around 70 – uncles, aunties and cousins included – and they’ve kept Sofia open, catering to the Bu;garian community but also for non-Bulgarians who have caught on that these shops still have pasta and flour during the coronavirus crisis – only the writing is in another language.

It’s still important to Nasko and his family to visit their home country, but he predicts they won’t get time this year due to complications from the global pandemic, “we wanted to go to Bulgaria but we may end up just going to Cornwall for our holiday.”

Ramona Petrescu, 26, is not with any family this Easter. She moved to the UK about five years ago to improve her English and meet new people – working in factory jobs, alongside some translation work, and selling her wares as an artist and crafter.

Lamb dishes, Pască [Romanian Easter bread] and ‘ouă incondeiate’ [decorated eggs] also define this time for Romanians, which, like Bulgaria, is a mostly orthodox country. But it has been hard for Ramona to get into the Easter spirit at all – even whist not being religious, this time is still a marked celebration in her year.

The usual excitement for the day has definitely gone”, explains Ramona, “I am definitely less upbeat and more into introspection and peace of heart and mind, while I find myself far away from what I ‘ve known to be comfortable in Romania”. Ramona wanted to paint eggs but didn’t finds she have the will or the time this year.

Although on Easter Sunday, Ramona treated herself to ‘ouă umplute’ (devilled eggs) which she assures was a “great Romanian invention.”

With thanks to Magdalena and Oksana from the Polish Expats Association for assistance with research. For more on the Polish Expats Association, visit www.facebook.com/polish.expats

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NEWS: Erdington’s John Taylor Hospice operates central support hub for regionwide palliative and end of life care

Words by Ed King / Pics courtesy of John Taylor Hospice Erdington

John Taylor Hospice, in Erdington, is housing a new centralised support hub for people across Birmingham and Solihull – helping deliver regionwide palliative and end of life care during the coronavirus crisis.

Comprised of approximately 40 specialists from John Taylor Hospice, Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice, and the Marie Curie Hospice, the central hub has a rotating team of support staff available by phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Named Hospices of Birmingham and Solihull (HoBS), the hub operates a live telephone bank and email service where people can reach a team of specialist nurses at any point, day or night – alongside palliative care consultants, healthcare assistants, social workers, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, and administrators.

Working with other healthcare providers across Birmingham and Solihull, the HoBS team are on hand for patients or family members who need advice, community support, or admittance to one of the three hospices’ Inpatient Units for round-the-clock care.

The HoBS team will then ensure, depending on individual needs, the required care can be provided – either at people’s homes or at the hospices themselves, providing a range of care options in line with guidelines from Public Heath England.

As huge demand is put on all NHS services due to the coronavirus pandemic, Hospices of Birmingham and Solihull is a collaborative approach to palliative and end of life care – with health care providers across the region pooling their resources to provide support for those facing life threatening and terminal illnesses.

With regular updates and specialist information coming directly from the Birmingham and Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group, staff at the HoBS hub are working from the most up to date medical advice and guidence – further supporting patients and families across the region, as hospitals and hospices are self-isolating to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Across Birmingham and Solihull we have hundreds of specialist hospice staff who will be on call for people, both day and night,” explains Rachel O’Connor, Assistant Chief Executive of Birmingham and Solihull Sustainability and Transformation Partnership. “Our three adult hospices have seen the current need and acted rapidly to meet that. Working together we can provide the very best of expert care for people at the end of their lives.

Our aim is to ensure that individuals, their families and professionals receive joined-up and easy to navigate advice, support and access to care across from our dedicated and compassionate hospice teams when they need it the most.”

To reach the Hospices of Birmingham and Solihull helpline, available 24hrs a day and seven days a week, you can telephone (0121) 809 1900 or email hobs.referral@nhs.net

St Giles Hospice’s existing advice and referral centre will continue to operate, including its referral pathway – accessible by calling 0330 330 9410

For more on John Taylor Hospice in Erdington, visit www.johntaylorhospice.org.uk

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NEWS: Witton Lodge Community Association delivers key support services online

Words by Steve Sharma / Pics by Ed King

To counter the impact of the lockdown imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) is now delivering its key support services online.

People who need help, advice, and guidance around employment and health & wellbeing can now access a range of WLCA’s services, tools, and resources via platforms like Facebook, Zoom, and WhatsApp.

Employment and Engagement Officer, Dellano Lewis, launched the new era with a Facebook Live session.

This has now been complemented by regular WhatsApp group employment support sessions, Employment Support workshops on Zoom, and Health & Wellbeing Zoom Support Group meetings.

Full details about the online resources and services Witton Lodge Community Association are delivering can be found via a dedicated COVID-19 page on the WLCA website, alongside details of the Erdington Emergency Assets Register – a wider list of businesses and volunteer groups offering support during the coronavirus crisis.

Iram Fardus, Business Development and Performance Manager for Witton Lodge Community Association, said it is vital people still have access to services and provisions.

“The circumstances we find ourselves in make it even more important that we reach and connect with people to give them the support and information they need,” explains Fardus.

“While these are unprecedented times people’s needs remain a priority for us and we know from the conversations we’re having with clients that having access to support services is absolutely critical right now.

“Knowing there is someone out there you can talk to, who can help you, is a massive boost for people who would otherwise be cut off from the support they are dependent on.

“And while the focus is on service delivery around employment and wellbeing, it’s just as important – in the current climate – to offer people the chance to connect and engage with others.”

For details of all online workshops, sessions and group meetings being delivered by Witton Lodge Community Association – and how to access them – please visit the organisation’s COVID-19 web page at www.wittonlodge.org.uk/covid19-news-information-and-resources

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