FEATURE: Erdington renters facing millions in extra energy costs as the government scraps efficiency plans

Words by Ed King and Josh Neicho

People renting private accommodation in Erdington could have paid out over £1.1million in extra energy costs this winter, after the Government scrapped plans to force landlords to up their energy efficiency standards – according to research by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU).

The legislative U-turn was announced in a press release issued by Downing Street before Christmas, outlining several points where the Prime Minister has “revised plans” previously set for the UK to challenge climate change and to reach net zero by 2050.

According to the United Nations, whose member states made collective promises on environmental issues in the 2015 Paris Agreement, net zero means “cutting greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible” – and to a level where any remaining emissions can be naturally “re-absorbed from the atmosphere”.

Amongst these commitments, the UK pledged to introduce new legislation that would force all privately rented tenancies to carry an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of C or above by 2028 – bringing their properties in line with the most energy efficient systems and reducing bills for renters.

However, under new plans announced by the Prime Minister in late 2023, the Government has now stated it will: “Scrap policies to force landlords to upgrade the energy efficiency of their properties” but would “instead continue to encourage households to do so where they can.”

In new analysis, published by the ECIU, it was found that 73% of private rented homes in Erdington currently carry an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of D or lower – meaning the new laws would have forced an upgrade in thousands of homes across the constituency and made their energy consumption cost less.

With improved energy systems, and based on figures from energy ombudsman Ofgem and net zero consultants Cornwall Insight, the ECIU estimate Erdington renters could save up to £26million in energy costs by 2050 if all homes carried an EPC rating between A-C.

The ECIU further calculated private renters across the constituency missed out on £1.1million in potential savings over the 2023/24 winter months alone.

Other policy shifts made in the Government’s statement include pulling back on their proposed ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, and extending the deadline for homeowners to install more energy efficient boilers.

The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak calls the new plans a “fairer” approach to the UK’s commitment to becoming net zero by 2050, insisting the UK will still meet its targets for 2030 and 2035 and the revised agenda is “a pragmatic, proportionate and realistic path”.

Organisations representing private landlords have also welcomed the changes, with Ben Thompson, Deputy CEO at Mortgage Advice Bureau, highlighting the “pressing timelines” many were under to retrofit new energy systems. 

Environmental and social activists, however, have challenged the Government’s revised plans – arguing they renege on the UK’s previous promises to effectively challenge climate change, and leave individual households paying hundreds more in their annual energy bills.

Paul Barnes, regional organiser for community union ACORN West Midlands, believes private households will bear the brunt of the Government’s shift in policy.

He said: “Tenants in the UK are facing an impossible challenge of rising costs and stagnant wages. The government’s decision to row back on its commitments for landlords to increase the energy efficiency of homes will push renters and our members further into poverty.

“With growing issues of rent increase linked with increasing energy costs, many of our members are already having to make impossible choices. We demand that the UK Government brings back its commitments to increased energy efficiency.”

Jess Ralston, Energy Analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, added: “Private renters include some of the most vulnerable people in society, such as those with a long-term illness or disability and low-income families. There’s no two ways about it, they will be made colder and poorer by scrapping these standards.

“The Prime Minister has essentially picked the landlord over the renter with his U-turn, in a move that makes no sense to fuel poverty charities or to energy companies alike.”

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, or want more information about your rights and responsibilities over domestic energy use, contact Ofgem via www.ofgem.gov.uk

for more from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit visit www.eciu.net

FEATURE: No laughing matter, now nitrous oxide is illegal what changes will criminalising happy gas make to our streets?

Words & pics by Ed King (except lead image – Adobe)

On Wednesday 8 November, the British Government made nitrous oxide an illegal substance as per the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1971, effectively banning the recreational use of the ‘happy’ or ‘laughing’ gas which has seen a significant rise over recent years. Now registered as a Class C controlled substance, ‘serious users’ of nitrous oxide could face up to two years in prison.

Erdington Local looks at the ambitions of the legislation and the effects of both the ban and the drug on the wider community.

We’ve all seen them, small silver bottles that look like they belong in a SodaStream or balloon pump, lying scattered around park benches or bus stops. Nitrous oxide. Or the more colloquially known ‘laughing gas’ or ‘happy’ gas.

What was originally used to numb the pain of root canal surgery has been taken by recreational drug users since the 70s. But in recent years, the increasingly overt use of nitrous oxide has become a flashpoint for community concerns over anti-social behaviour and aggressive youth culture.

Nitrous oxide had already been recognised by the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, which addressed non-legitimate supply of the substance and issues such as direct sales to consumers and cannister sizes. But the Government further criminalised it as part of their Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan, making it a ‘criminal offence to be found in possession of (nitrous oxide) where its intended use is to be wrongfully inhaled’, or ‘to get high’.

As per the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, non-authorised possession of nitrous oxide is now as illegal the synthetic sedatives Diazepam and Temazepam.

The Home Office explains: “Associated antisocial behaviour causes wider harm felt by communities and to the environment. This includes group gatherings to abuse the drug in public spaces, such as children’s parks or high streets, and subsequent littering of the discarded canisters. There have also been deaths connected to drug driving incidents.”

Over on Castle Vale, many have welcomed the new law. One resident, Barabra, who lives neighbouring Centre Park, tells Erdington Local: “(Castle Vale) is going back to the eighties, to how it was with drugs, fighting all the while, kids out on the street.

“I’m a member of Families for Peace, I have been for 20 years, I don’t believe in guns, I don’t believe in knives, and I certainly don’t believe in drugs. I pay £10 a month for children to be kept off the street so that they’re kept safe.

“I’ll walk through here (Centre Park) at 5:30pm and they’ll all be high as a kite. You feel intimidated, you have to walk out of the park and walk all the way round. Why should we? I’ve got grandchildren.”

But many of the young people that live on Castle Vale don’t use nitrous oxide and feel they are being blamed for the actions of a few or are just “getting grief” from using local parks and public spaces when “there’s nowhere else to go”.

Likewise, in a review of nitrous oxide in 2021, requested by the then Home Secretary Priti Patel, the Independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) found the drug was already adequately covered by existing laws, officially stating: “the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 remains the appropriate drug legislation to tackle supply of nitrous oxide for non-legitimate use.”

The counterpoint to further criminalising nitrous oxide is that you would turn a legally available substance, one used predominately by young people, into a criminal offence overnight.

Over on Gravelly Hill North, Birmingham’s Youth Offending Team have traditionally operated from the Kingsmere Unit. Run by Birmingham Children’s Trust the future of the site is uncertain, but it has been a widely recognised starting point for many young people entering the criminal justice system

One ex-employee explains: “I think it’s a good idea the Government have now criminalised it along with other widely used recreational drugs, such as cannabis and amphetamine, as it is a dangerous substance and young people need to be educated about the potential harm. I think a lot of young people are just ignorant to the side effects of drugs and don’t really understand how damaging they can be.”

However, mirroring the findings recommendations from the ACMD report other professional bodies and individuals feel the move could cause more damage to young people than good.

One experienced services manager with over 25 years experience in the criminal justice system, supporting people suffering with significant drug and alcohol abuse issues, explains: “Legislation in itself will not make it safer for young people who use nitrous oxide, but it will push them into the criminal justice system and the long term effect of this could harm them more.”

Over their tenure they worked closely with the police, probation service, and a variety of partners and support agencies in the West Midlands and the Northeast.

They add: “As yet we do not know all the long term effects of this substance on individuals but it can cause both physical and mental health problems if abused. This is a Public Health problem and should be treated as such. The Criminal Justice approach will not make young people safer.”

Back on Castle Vale, local resident Barbara is concerned about the sizes of cannisters found in Centre Park. And as she works with the estate’s groundskeeper to clean up the mess left by a weekend of late summer sun, the immediate impact drug misuse has had on her family comes out in conversation.

“My son was a drug addict… I’ve just lost him. It would have been his fiftieth birthday tomorrow, and I’m in bits. He was off drugs at the finish, my grandson got him off them. He was off them for nearly two years, but he died from kidney failure.

“But this is all you see,” Barbara adds, picking an empty Sealy Bag up from the park grass.

“I told my son to get help, I took him to get help… but addicts don’t accept help. I spoke to the kids (in the park) last night, I asked where are your parents? They just told me it was none of my f’ing business. I’m worried they might hurt themselves… too damn right I am.”

But with extended or relaxed legislation, the answer to many social ills lies in the community itself. And when it comes to the little silver bottles, at least on Castle Vale, there is also a silver lining.

Cllr Ray Goodwin (Castle Vale Ward, Labour), explains what he and his team are doing to tackle the issues highlighted on the North Birmingham estate: “I have been working closely with worried residents, The Pioneer Group and Castle Vale Community Housing, our local police teams, and local youth organisations, to come with robust plan of action – we need to engage with young people and ensure they are engaged with other activities.

“Young people need good facilities and places for them to be actively involved in things. They need youth centres, creative outlets, and sports clubs to join, so they are not just hanging around parks and public spaces where their presence and actions can infringe on other members of the community – even if they did not intend to cause concern or trouble to others.

“This collaborative and proactive approach, and ongoing relationship building with young people and local services, is the best way to protect our young people, prevent them from accessing these clearly dangerous cannisters, and make our communities a safer and happier place for everyone to live in.”

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article and want to tell Erdington Local about it please email: mystory@erdingtonlocal.com

For more on the recent Government legislation over Nitrous Oxide visit www.gov.uk/government/news/possession-of-nitrous-oxide-is-now-illegal

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

Pics by Connor Pope & Ed King

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

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

___________

What have been the biggest challenges facing Erdington High Street?

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

FEATURE: SEND education in Erdington – past, present, and “fiercely committed people” working hard for the future

Words by Erdington Local editorial team

As children return to classrooms across the country, many with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are forced to stay learning from home. Limited placements, underfunding, and cuts to travel support make it more difficult for SEND children to access to school-based education.

Erdington has a strong portfolio of SEND education, with children referred to special schools in the constituency from across the wider city. But it’s still not enough, and Erdington’s SEND educators continue to face challenges whilst delivering a nationally recognised high standard of education.

With local schools achieving impressive GCSE and A-level results this year, and more ‘Good’ and ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted rated academies than ever before, the educational future is looking brighter for pupils in Erdington, Kingstanding, and Castle Vale.

The upheaval of the pandemic is also becoming a distant memory for pupils and staff, with this year seeing the first post lockdown results to rely on exam results and coursework instead of predicted grades from teachers.

However, parents and carers of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) have a very different story to tell.

With a shortage of SEND places in Birmingham, families with children who live with a wide range of disabilities cannot find a suitable school for their child to attend. And those lucky enough to have found the right placement now face their free school transport being axed due to budget cuts at Birmingham City Council.

Teacher, parent of a child with autism, and founder of SEND National Crisis Birmingham, Kate Taylor, laid bare the crisis to Erdington Local. She told: “Right now there are hundreds of children in Birmingham, including Erdington and Kingstanding, who will be sitting at home as children return to school for the start of term. Parents of SEND children face a massive battle to get their child the proper education they need and deserve.

Kate believes a continual lack of investment for SEND children is the key to the problem. She continued: “My son is 21 and what our experience was compared to parents starting out in 2023 with a SEND child is totally different. I could go to my local Sure Start Centre, which were a great help in all different ways from early diagnosis to finding support from other parents; I knew I was not alone trying to bring up a child with very challenging needs.”

She added: “Whereas attitudes and awareness of disabilities and mental health has improved massively, the services on offer have disappeared or are now private.

“Sadly, due to their caring needs a lot of SEND children’s families are struggling financially – as one parent may have to give up work.

“So, withdrawing transport for them and offering a bus pass when these children would find it impossible to navigate their way to school on two different buses adds even more children sitting at home.

“There has been a massive increase in home schooling; but this is not a choice, this is enforced because there is not enough provision in North Birmingham through dedicated SEND schools and mainstream schools with the ability to accommodate SEND children.”

However, Erdington historically has some of the best SEND school provision in the country, and currently hosts the highest percentage of SEND schools of any constituency in Birmingham. There are four secondary special schools in Erdington: Oscott Manor School, Queensbury School, The Pines Special School, and Wilson Stuart School.

There is also the Dovedale Centre, which offers an 81 placement provision for pupils with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC), and Hive Collage, which has 110 places for students aged between 19-25.

And in 2024 a new free school will be opened in Kingstanding with provision for 120 students, aged between 14-19, with both ASC and social, emotional, and mental health (SEMH) issues.

Wilson Stuart School can trace its history back to 1902 when it opened as Dean Street Cripple School. In 1907 the school moved to George Street West, where it remained for the next 49 years, and it has been at its purpose-built Perry Common Road premises since 1956 – now catering for 270 pupils aged 2-19 years. Lauded as one of the best SEND schools in the country, Wilson Stuart has been rated ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted in its last six inspections.

The school became part of the Education Impact Academy Trust (EIAT) academy group, established in March 2012, alongside Hive Collage and Handsworth’s Mayfield School. EIAT now includes the Wood End Road based Queensbury School, adopting the Gravelly Hill secondary from the Local Authority in 2020 after it received an ‘Inadequate’ Ofsted rating and faced closure.

But maintaining a high standard of education for children with SEND requires “a really high bar”, and higher costs – as the cohort need more staff and facilities to thrive.

Wilson Stuart Executive Head Teacher, Simon Harris, explains: “Erdington is an incredibly successful place for providing high quality education for children with SEND, but the reality is that we’re doing that despite the funding we receive – and that becomes increasingly difficult because all the time you’re trying to squeeze everything out of those last pennies.”

“At Wilson Stuart our challenges are ramped up by a disproportionate amount because we’re dealing with pretty much the most complex children, physically and medically, in the city. And to provide a high-quality education we’ve had to set a really high bar.

“Our staff work incredibly hard and are incredibly passionate about what they do, and that passion and enthusiasm exudes through everyone who works here. And we support people to take risks, educationally, to try things and push the boundaries”

He added: “If you ask me why Wilson Stuart is so successful it’s because we try things, and if they work then great and we continue doing them – but if they don’t work, there’s not a blame culture and we just move on. And that creates a culture where you’re constantly getting fresh ideas and new ways of doing things, and really enthused staff who can see the great results we get for our students.”

Since being part of EIAT, and through the work of its current senior leadership team and staff, standards have also improved at Queensbury School, which also can trace its history back over 120 years. Furthermore, Queensbury is walking into the new academic year with a brand new £5 million sixth form facility on Station Road, Erdington, call New Horizons.

Bushra Adnan, Head of Post 16 at Queensbury, told Erdington Local: “We are excited to be opening the doors to New Horizons, our new sixth form provision for students aged 16-19 which is located on Station Road.

“Students will benefit from a building which has been taken back to first fix, and adapted with extensions and redesigning to offer a provision with all the facilities young people need to prepare for adulthood. There are 11 classrooms, which includes a dual-purpose common room, it has a calm room, mentors room, hall, dual purpose cooking room, and canteen.”

She added: “Students will also benefit from a prime location, being a stone’s throw from Erdington High Street, Erdington Railway Station, and many other local businesses and amenities. This is an exciting time for all stakeholders at Queensbury School and Sixth Form.”

However, parents and carers of SEND children are now dealing with a transport bombshell which could add to the numbers being home schooled.

Birmingham City Council (BCC) has informed families of SEND children the free minibus and taxi rides previously provided by the Local Authority are coming to an end, after an overspend of £18 million in last year’s school transport budget. Children will now be given a personal travel budget, which will mean many parents will have to choose between work and taking their children to school.

Then On Tuesday 5 September, Birmingham City Council issued a Section 114 notice, stopping any ‘new spending’ as they face a projected deficit of £87m and potentially up to £760m in new claims over unequal pay. And despite soft reassurances being made that education in the city won’t suffer, concerns are mounting.

Wilson Stuart Head teacher, Simon Harris, continued: “Wilson Stuart is bigger than it’s ever been now, with 270 places this year, but we are still turning away referrals because we don’t have the space. It’s important to recognise the Local Authority have supported us by funding an additional building, but there needs to be some intervention from Government in terms of pay increases, and that those are funded properly in the SEND sector with its higher staffing ratios.

“What we don’t want, and where some special schools go wrong, is it becoming just about keeping the children safe and being present. Being present isn’t being included and being included is about high-quality education, and you’ve got to make sure you’ve got the resources – both human and facilities.

“I think we (SEND educators) are always the afterthought, we’re the bottom of the pile in the thought process… and normally it takes someone having to bang a drum to show that with the running costs for special schools the money being put on the table isn’t going to cover the things we need to do to keep offering an outstanding education.

“It’s going to be tough. But in a way that’s the rallying cry – education, be it in Erdington or Birmingham, needs fiercely committed people who don’t back down, work incredibly hard, are passionate about the children. It’s always needed that, people who won’t just shout it but will actually do it.”

For more on Wilson Stuart School visit www.wilsonstuart.co.uk
For more on Queensbury School visit www.queensburysch.com

For more on Education Impact Academy Trust (EIAT) visit www.educationimpact.org.uk

For more on SEND National Crisis visit www.facebook.com/SENDNationalCrisis

LA FEATURE: Compassionate Communities – living through bereavement with Compass Support

Words by Estelle Murphy / Project pics supplied by Compass Support

Few things in life are definite. But we will be born, we will face changes, and at the end we will pass away. Before birth parents have had nine months to prepare, and as we grow life teaches us how to live with change, but what prepares us for death?

Whilst death is a subject many still find hard to talk about, Birmingham has been recognised as the UK’s first ‘Compassionate City’ – awarded the accolade by Compassionate Communities UK in acknowledgement of how organisations across the city work collaboratively ‘to provide support, space, togetherness and understanding for those undergoing the experiences of death, dying, loss and caregiving.’

Building on those friendships and foundations, Castle Vale based Compass Support are launching their Compassionate Communities project this May – teaching people practical and emotional skills to help them support those facing bereavement in their own community.

Compassionate Communities will be delivered through a series of free workshops and awareness sessions, helping to educate people about dealing with bereavement and to ensure more in our community know where to go for help, advice, and support when someone is passing away.

The project will work with local groups and individuals to help break down the walls surrounding death, so people can talk more openly and constructively about dying.

LOCAL AMBASSADORS spoke to Isobel Hayward, Health and Wellbeing Project Organiser from Compass Support.

She explained: “The (Compassionate Communities) scheme was bought to us through Birmingham City Council, as facilitators of compassion, to bring it to anyone in the community that works with people.

“We run workshops on how to approach death and end of life, and going forward people will know who to call for help with bereavement, end of life, and financial support.

“Our awareness sessions on end of life are completely free and open to community groups and individuals.”

LOCAL AMBASSADORS further asked Isobel why she thought this scheme is so needed: “I think it’s because when you are dealing with loss and death, you are consumed by what’s going to happen and your grief.

“Easing that with the knowledge of who to call and what to do, or who can offer support for families is important. It’s about tailoring the process for individual needs.”

As the those who work in palliative and end of life care know all too well, there is no handbook for the general public on what to do and where to go when someone is dying, and often these families are left isolated, grieving and alone.

Any scheme giving people more help, support, and knowledge around dealing with bereavement will ultimately help people spend their last few days or weeks with their loved ones, instead of chasing information and adding more worry to an already stressful and heart-breaking time.

The more people who can offer support the better, and it’s never too early to have the knowledge you need to support yourself, loved ones, or friends. Who will be there with compassion, when you need them, at the end?

To find out more about the Compassionate Communities project being delivered through Compass  Support please email: contactus@compass-support.org.uk 

**For free community journalism and creative writing workshops, come and join our LOCAL AMBASSADORS team – click on the link below and email us for more information**

FEATURE: “Our very own field of dreams,” FC Elite Academy to deliver football sessions on Short Heath Playing Fields

Words by Ed King & Estelle Murphy / Pics by Ed King & FC Elite Academy

Sport is set to return to Short Heath Playing Fields, as Kingstanding based FC Elite Academy have teamed up with Short Heath Fields Trust (SHFT) to deliver a programme of youth football coaching on the beloved green space.

Having secured planning permission to develop their existing home at Twickenham Park into a permanent sports facility and community hub, FC Elite Academy are now looking at Short Heath Playing Fields to train up some of their younger squad members.

The ambitious Kingstanding club are looking to develop their current College Road ground and are currently fundraising for the £70-80k they expect the project to cost – including building a 3G pitch, clubhouse, changing areas, café, on site office, and parking facilities.

Plans for Short Heath Playing Fields, revealed to Erdington Local, show the establishment of four football pitches, five training ‘grids’, a ‘runner’s route’ around the parkland, and an ‘event zone’ at the top end near Short Heath Road.

FC Elite Club Chairman, Mario Gerroni, told: “Football sessions will be taking place on Short Heath Playing Fields in May. FC Elite Academy and Short Heath Fields Trust are forming a new partnership.

“It’s a positive move for everyone involved and I am excited to see the growth of sports from Short Heath Playing Fields, bringing something back to the community.”

Short Heath Road resident, Ifan Stretkesia, added: “This is a good thing, it’s good that we are finally listened to and our children have something they can now do.

“We go to all the events at the (playing) field and my daughter wants to play football. There is nothing for children now, just Xbox. They need to grow strong.”

FC Elite Academy was set up in 2013 by Mr Gerroni, an experienced football coach who previously worked with Aston Villa and trained ‘soccer’ in North America. The club’s website describes its ambitions to ‘continue growing grass roots football in the North of Birmingham.’

SHFT was formed in 2020 to protect Short Heath Playing Fields from development, after Birmingham City Council tried to push through plans for an 84 strong housing estate on the urban parkland – amidst widespread local objections.

But following years of fiercely fought campaigning by concerned residents, a recent letter from the Leader of Birmingham City Council, Councillor Ian Ward, confirmed the site will now only be sold as a ‘sports field’. The letter also confirmed SHFT would be give a 12-month license to manage the site and ‘establish themselves’ as effective landlords.

A report conducted by Birmingham City Council into the viability of using the playing fields for residential development further identified acid grass on the green space, making it harder to continue with their plans for housing. Further environmental concerns were raised by about the wildlife and plant life that would be affected by building on the parkland.

SHFT began talking to FC Elite Academy back in August 2020 about providing football on Short Heath Playing Fields, who were busy working on their planning application for the Twickenham Park site.

Plans to bring sport back to Short Heath Playing Fields, a parkland once used by several local schools for Physical Education, are now moving forward – with the club offering to both set up and maintain the football pitches and start sessions this May.

As part of the deal, all community events organised by SHFT will continue on the playing fields – including the annual Halloween event and Easter Egg Hunt. A special dog walking circuit will also be established, allowing the many local pet owners who use the green space to continue unheeded.

A spokesperson for SHFT told Erdington Local: “Mario from FC Elite becoming SHFT’s sporting partner and bringing football for 4 to 12 years olds back to Short Heath Fields is a community dream true, you might say our very own field of dreams.

“And with a guaranteed one year license from Education (at Birmingham City Council) you know those dreams will become a reality.”

SHFT added: “It’s been a hard fight to save the playing fields. Now it’s the people of Erdington’s chance to get involved and use the playing fields as a sports field again, this is a great opportunity for boys and girls of all ages 4 and up to come and train and take part.

“FC Elite have a proven track record and we are all looking forward to working together in the future.”

For more on FC Elite Academy visit www.fcelite.co.uk and for more on Short Heath Fields Trust visit www.shortheathfieldstrust.godaddysites.com

NEWS: Watch world première of Taking Flight from The Festival of Flying on Castle Vale – ONLINE TODAY AT 7PM

Words by Ed King / Pics by Claire Taylor – with additional images of Taking Flight by Andrew Moore

On Saturday 17 September, The Festival of Flying came to a close on Castle Vale – following months of community engagement, creative workshops, and inspiring sessions encouraging people on the North Birmingham estate to realise their ambitions and reach for the skies.

The grand finale, a world première of a specially commissioned aerial theatre performance called Taking Flight, will be streamed online today at 7pm – simply click here to visit the Active Arts YouTube channel, or stream directly via the window.

Told through high energy dance, music, smoke, fire, and aerial movement, Taking Flight tells the tale of the evil ‘destroyers’, a wild bunch of greedy wrongdoers who are stealing all the natural resources from the planet. But just as a butterfly emerges from its cocoon, destruction never truly wins where hope lies…

For a sneak peak of the Taking Flight, check out the PICTURE GALLERY below for images from the spectacular show that closed The Festival of Flying on Saturday 17 September.

Led by Active Arts, The Festival of Flying was a continuous programme of community engagement on Castle Vale – encouraging people across the estate to explore exciting new ideas and creative adventures, combining arts and engineering.

The Festival of Flying followed the foundations stones laid by The Butterfly Effect project in 2015, where Active Arts Castle Vale explored how small actions on the estate can lead to big changes

Ending on a day of family fun and spectacle, The Festival of Flying closed with a one day event on the grounds on Greenwood Academy – starting with an afternoon Community Showcase with local talent performing on stage, including Castle Vale dance groups Centre Stage and Mini Movers.

Then at 7pm, hundreds of people gathered for the world première of Taking Flight – produced by critically acclaimed performance company Highly Sprung, in partnership with Active Arts Castle Vale and commissioned and written as part of The Festival of Flying project.

Taking Flight featured a cast of trained acrobatic performance theatre professionals from Highly Sprung, alongside local dancers and performers – including Castle Vales’s own Charlotte Dodds, who has travelled the world performing in theatre, film, and TV shows from the UK to New Zealand.

Charlotte Dodd told Erdington Local: “I have lived on Castle Vale most of life, and when I worked with Highly Sprung I gained a lot of confidence in myself and my work as a performer.

“They showed me that it is possible to have a career in the arts, and at the time that was a big thing for me. They believed in me.

“Coming back to perform on Castle Vale (at The Festival of Flying) and give something back to the community with feels very rounded. It feels like a journey has been complete.”

Check out the PICTURE GALLERIES below for a look at The Festival of Flying Community Showcase, and the live debut performance of Taking Flight.

Watch Taking Flight online today at 7pm:

PICTURE GALLERY (1): The Festival of Flying – Community Showcase / Claire Taylor

 

PICTURE GALLERY (2): The Festival of Flying – Taking Flight / Claire Taylor and Andrew Moore

To know more about The Festival of Flying and other projects from Active Arts, email Active Arts Project Director Claire Marshall on www.activearts.wordpress.com

OPINION: A message from Paulette Hamilton, MP for Erdington

Pics supplied by Paulette Hamilton MP

It was sad to say farewell to our greatest and longest serving monarch last month. Queen Elizabeth II was loved by the people of our country and the Commonwealth, with her incredible reign lasting more than 70 years.

In my tribute speech in Parliament, I praised her devotion, integrity and service that should be an inspiration to us all. On behalf of the people of Erdington, Kingstanding and Castle Vale, I extended our deepest condolences to the King and the Royal Family. As the Elizabethan era ends, the dawn breaks on the reign of King Charles III. God save the King.

Now that the period of National mourning has ended, politics is back on the agenda. The rising cost of everyday household goods and energy bills is being felt across our community, and more increases are expected.

The impact is already being felt. I’ve been hearing some heart-breaking stories as local families struggle to cope with soaring costs. A father told me how he keeps his gas and electricity off so that he can save the money to keep his daughter and grandchildren warm.

Recently I delivered food parcels to someone who had been forced to choose between heating and eating. The challenges our community is facing are echoed across the country, and we desperately need real leadership to steer us through this crisis.

In early September, Conservative Party members chose Liz Truss to become our new Prime Minister. Hard working families across Erdington, Kingstanding and Castle Vale will be looking to her new Government for help.

But the Tories’ ‘trickle-down economics’ does nothing for our local community and it is scandalous that our new PM has chosen to prioritise tax cuts for the richest.

The Government’s recent mini budget completely fails struggling families who are trying to cope with the cost-of-living crisis.

The cost of their decision to cut taxes and borrow more, instead of raising money by taxing the huge profits that are being made by energy companies, will be felt for generations to come.

For more on Paulette Hamilton MP for Erdington visit www.paulettehamilton.org

NEWS: Campaign to give Leon Edwards ‘historic figure of Birmingham’ blue plaque in Erdington

Words by Erdington Local news team

A campaign is underway to give local MMA fighter Leon Edwards a ‘historic figure of Birmingham’ blue plaque and official key to the city – after the Erdington raised and trained athlete became UFC World Welterweight Champion earlier this year.

Since winning the world crowing fight in August ’22, a portrait of Edwards has been painted onto the old Maplin site mural by Six Ways Island – which identifies all the aspects of Erdington people can be proud of.

But now an online petition wants to further recognise the athlete’s local ties and global achievements and see the ‘real life Rocky’ and ‘inspiration to everyone’ honoured in his adopted hometown with a key to the city and a blue plaque installed in Erdington.

Leon Edwards was born in Kingston, Jamaica, but moved with his brother Fabian to Birmingham when he was a teenager – training at the now closed MMA gym on Erdington High Street.

In the early hours of Sunday 12 August, Leon ‘Rocky’ Edwards created sporting history by beating Kamaru Usman to win the coveted UFC world title in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA.

Previously Edwards had suffered set back on his was to become World Champion, with four key fights cancelled due to the athlete testing positive for Covid-19.

His last fight with Belal Muhammad in March 2021 was also halted after Edwards accidentally poked his opponent in the eye in the second round – with the injury causing the fight to be stopped and declared ‘no contest’.

But after beating Californian Nate Diaz in June 2021, the UFC announced Edwards would be in line for a title fight with Kamaru Usman. The pair had met in the Octagon before, with Edwards eventually being outwrestled by Usman – but after the August fight the Brummie brawler left with the coveted champion’s belt.

The UFC Welterweight Championship is one of the most keenly contested belts in combat sports, with Leon Edwards the only UK champion and the second UK fighter ever to win a UFC belt.

A campaign page on the change.org website, started by Tye Forde, states: ‘Leon Edwards local Erdington, Birmingham lad is an inspiration to everyone. A real life Rocky who should be recognised as a Birmingham Hero & legend.

‘Leon is a role model for the younger generation to show dedication, being respectful and hard work determination pays off.

‘I propose that Birmingham City Council install a historic figure of Birmingham blue plaque for Leon Edwards only the 2nd ever British World UFC Champion. Also Leon should be given a key to the City of Birmingham.’

Commenting on the petition page feed, Rachel Walker states: “I’m Erdington born and bred, this Gentleman is an inspiration”. Whilst John Howard adds: “Hats off to the world champion from Erdington.”

There are over 100 blue plaques dedicated to people and places across Birmingham, awarded by The Birmingham Civic Society. Other blue plaques in Erdington have been presented in recognition of GP and physician George Boddington, and the world renowned Mothers rock and live music venue.

The blue plaque scheme, which runs nationally, has also come under recent criticism in Birmingham for its significant of lack of people with Black or Asian heritage being recognised.

To see more about the campaign visit www.change.org/p/honourary-historic-blue-plaque-installed-key-to-city-birmingham-leon-edwards     

For more on Leon Edwards visit www.ufc.com/athlete/leon-edwards

NEWS: ‘I walked it… you share it’ – messages of hope hidden across Erdington on World Mental Health Day

Words by Ed King / Pics supplied by The Recovery Foundation

On Monday 10 October, people across Erdington will be finding special shoe shaped keyrings –attached to a postcard telling someone’s real life mental health story, with a message of hope from them to others.

Organised by The Recovery Foundation, an Erdington based mental health charity, the ‘I walked it… you share it’ campaign was launched on World Mental Health Day 2022 – marking the international awareness day with 50 colourful packages of hope hidden in accessible public places.

According to the World Health Organisation, ‘close to 1 billion people have a mental health disorder’ – with limited accessibility to resources, support, and ‘quality mental health services’.

Using first-hand stories, The Recovery Foundation’s ‘I walked it… you share it’ campaign aims to encourage an open discussion on mental health – and show people dealing with mental health issues there is always ‘hope’ and ‘living well’ with mental illness is a possibility.

The shoe shaped key rings are a nod to the journey people go on when facing mental health challenges, with the postcards containing personal and inspiring accounts of how they can be overcome.

Anyone who finds a keyring and postcard will be invited to take a picture of their discovery and share it online, tagging in the social media information for both The Recovery Foundation and Erdington Local – alongside the campaign hashtag #trfwalkedit

Janelle Smith, The Recovery Foundation Youth & Community Director, previously told Erdington Local: “I had this idea about six months ago, and now with World Mental Health Day around the corner it’s a great time to help people share their stories with the world.

“I’d love this to encourage people to share their stories and find hope.”

Registered with the charity commission in 2020, The Recovery Foundation was set up after founder Emma Sitole overcame her own mental health challenges following a diagnosis for Schizo-Affective Disorder in 2007.

With the charity’s key message being one of ‘hope’, Emma Sitole explains on The Recovery Foundation’s website: ‘…if I was able to find hope and use it to grow my recovery, maybe others could too?’

The Recovery Foundation recently ran a series of successful art workshops in both Sorrell Park and at the Secret Art Studio Space (SASS) – led by the charity’s Creative Arts Director, Angela Chapman.

With their art showcase still on display at SASS, located downstairs at the Central Square Shopping Centre on Erdington High Street and displaying over 100 pieces of original artwork, The Recovery Foundation are looking to continue their engagement and art programmes.

Speaking to Erdington Local at the launch of the exhibition, Emma Sitole told: “We trialled Art in Parks last year, which was really successful, and off the back of that people were saying they’d love something that explored different techniques and looked into different things.

“Angela (Chapman), our Creative Arts Director, put together a programme and we’ve seen about 50 people come through our doors with these workshops.

“It’s a privilege to walk alongside people and see them discover they’re really creative.”

For more on The Recovery Foundation visit www.therecoveryfoundation.org.uk

For more on World Mental Health Day 2022 visit www.who.int/campaigns/world-mental-health-day/2022