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: 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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