NEWS: Erdington’s city councillors announced as local election results declared

Words by Ed King

Voters across Erdington have decided their next council representatives, as the results of the local elections were announced today.

Winning the Castle Vale Ward, Labour’s Ray Goodwin was “blown away” by the support he received from local voters – beating The Green Party’s John Macefield by a narrow 44 votes, but with a confident 233 lead over the Local Conservative candidate Tyrese Romain.

He told Erdington Local: “I’m absolutely blown away; this is absolutely amazing. I did wonder if I should stand, but as many people know it was Jack’s (Dromey, Erdington’s recently deceased MP) last wishes was that I stand, and it was really important that I did. So, in my mind I did it for Jack. And Jack, I won it for you as well.”

The Green Party also picked up many new votes in the Gravelly Hill Ward, where newly standing candidate Siobhan Harper-Nunes achieved 363 votes – beating the Local Conservative candidate into second place by 35 votes.

Although not enough to take the ward from Labour’s Mick Brown, who has traditionally held a strong lead in Gravelly Hill, The Green Party’s endorsement from local voters shows a significant move away from previous local election – with Labour losing over 400 votes from the 2018 results.

Green party candidate Siobhan Harper-Nunes told: “Of course, I am disappointed but really not surprised.

“I have loved every minute of the Gravelly Hill campaign, meeting people, getting to grips with local issues and of course solving problems.

“We have gained a lot of support and the Green Party has made a footprint across the city. At local elections people must vote for the candidate they believe in and it’s clear, their belief is still unanimously with the sitting councillor.

“My work as a Green Party advocate has only just begun and I will still be around pushing forward on green issues.”

Labour continued to clean up across the constituency, with both candidates in Stockland Green – Jane Jones and Amar Khan – successfully retaining the ward for the party, although losing hundreds of votes from the 2018 elections.

Local Conservatives’ new Stockland Green candidate, Estelle Murphy – who moved into politics after successfully campaigning to save Short Heath Playing Fields – was voted in third, and the only front runner candidate to improve on her counterpart’s performance in the 2018 elections.

She told: “This has been a brilliant learning curve as a first innings and I’m looking forward to what I can achieve in the next four years.”

Elsewhere across the constituency, Perry Common was won by Labour’s Jilly Bermingham, who beat the Conservative candidate Rachael Okello with a 204 vote lead.

Whilst Pype Hayes was won by Labour’s Basharat Mahmood, beating Local Conservative Clifton Welch by 91 votes – mirroring the closely fought contest in the 2018 local elections.

Cllr Robert Alden and Cllr Gareth Moore retained the Erdington Ward with a confident majority, the largest in the constituency, collectively beating Labour’s Suriyah Bi and Basharat Mahmood by 1189 votes.

Speaking to Erdington Local after the announcement, Cllr Alden said: “It’s a huge honour to represent the people of Erdington, something I’ve been delighted to do for almost 20 years.

“Erdington’s an incredible place and we’ll keep doing all we can to represent the people of Erdington.”

Cllr Gareth Moore added: “The responses, over the last few weeks on the campaign trail, have been really positive and people are grateful for the work Robert (Alden) and I have been doing in Erdington and it’s great to see that reflected in the result today.”

But the shock of the day came in Kingstanding, as Labour and Local Conservatives split the ward with one candidate winning for each party – Rick Payne taking 1286 votes for the Local Conservatives, and Des Hughes receiving 1350 for Labour.

Whilst both candidates were saddened their running mates would not be join them in local office, each were firm that they would work together for the good of Kingstanding.

Local Conservative Rick Payne told: “I just want to thank all the people of Kingstanding who have put their trust in me to represent them as a councillor.

“And I will work with who I have to work with to get the best for Kingstanding.”

Labour’s Des Hughes, who was elected Kingstanding councillor in 2015 but lost the ward the following year, added: “I’m delighted that the electors in Kingstanding have given me the opportunity to represent them again, which I look forward to doing with enthusiasm and vigour.

“I do regret that my college, Naz Rasheed, isn’t able to join me. But ultimately, we’ve (Rick Payne, Local Conservatives) got our political differences, but the objective is to serve the residents of Kingstanding and that’s what counts.”

EXCLUSIVE: Lyndhurst residents pay hundreds for decommissioned sheltered housing

Words & pics by Ed King

Residents in Standleys Tower on the Lyndhurst Estate are being charged hundreds of pounds a year for sheltered housing that was decommissioned around seven years ago – Erdington Local can reveal.

Once only accessible to people over 50, as part of a Birmingham City Council run sheltered housing scheme, the old block was once a well loved home to many of Erdington’s older residents – who paid a standard weekly service charge for onsite care and support.

But since the flats were ‘open aged’ nearly a decade ago, all the Standleys Tower residents – regardless of age or when they started living there – are still being billed for a weekly ‘Sheltered Housing Charge’ by Birmingham City Council, amounting to over £460 extra on their annual rent for 2021/2.

“We used to have a warden who would come out every day and look after the elderly people who were in the block, to sort their problems out and everything,” told Derek Walton, 62, who has lived in Standleys Tower for over a decade.

“They decommissioned him seven years ago and they’re still charging us for it. The service charges used to pay their wages.

“I’ve been here 11 years now, and I’ve always had to pay the service charge. I first raised this about four or five years ago, but it was just like water under the bridge.

“But every year we’ve asked the same question because we’re being told ‘no you’re not being charged for it’. We don’t know what we’re being charged for until they send the breakdown in a letter that comes out once a year, just before April.”

According to a series of letters given to Erdington Local, the Lyndhurst residents are also charged a further yearly cost of over £590 for ‘Night Security’ – despite no safety personnel being stationed on the estate and all the internal cameras at Standleys Tower having been removed around four years ago.

Standing nine stories high with a total of 36 flats, residents of Standleys Tower are paying Birmingham City Council a potential total of over £37800 each year for services and security that do not exist or they get no benefit from. And despite repeated attempts to have the Local Authority drop the levies, which are added automatically onto resident’s yearly rental, those living in the old Lyndhurst tower block have been repeatedly ignored.

“To my knowledge there’s about five or six other residents who have rung up (Birmingham City Council) and asked about it,” added Derek, “but they’re just getting run round in circles.

“It’s been impossible, you get to the front desk then they put you on to somebody else, who then puts you on to somebody else… you just give up trying.

Born and bred in Kingstanding, Derek moved to the Lyndhurst Estate after having to care for an aunt with Alzheimer’s.

Following a massive heart attack, he was forced to quit his job as a heavy goods driver and now has a defibrillator installed in his chest, constantly linked to a monitor. Derek’s heart can miss several beats a day and it is imperative he avoid stress and unnecessary physical exertion.

The rising cost of living is also a concern for Derek and many across the UK, with the money being paid for defunct services by residents in Standleys Tower better spent on household bills and everyday essentials.

“It would pay half of my bedroom tax for a start off,” told Derek. “The cost of living has gone sky high, it’s ridiculous. The money would help go towards my gas and electric, to cut down my bills and the rest of it.

“It does stress you out because you can’t get anywhere… you get nowhere at all. It never used to be like this. When we started a (residents) forum the Council used to back you up left, right, and centre – now it’s like the don’t want to do anything.

“I’m off work because of my heart and I get help with my rent; it’s the people who are out there working and still have to pay this that I’m really worried for.”

Whilst the Standleys Tower residents are drawing blanks with Birmingham City Council’s housing department, Erdington ward Councillors Gareth Moore and Robert Alden have been trying to get the Local Authority to address their concerns and issue a refund.

Cllr Gareth Moore said: “Despite raising on several occasions, the Council have continued to charge tenants wrongly and have failed to act to address this unfairness.

“It’s made worse as it was the Council who decided to decommission Standleys Tower as a sheltered housing scheme, against the objections of tenants, and then have the cheek to keep charging them.”

Cllr Robert Alden added: “the Council need to refund residents every penny they have falsely charged them – with interest. They should stop trying to get out of refunding it and just give residents their money back. Any further delay is totally unacceptable.”

In a full Council Cabinet meeting on 15 March, Cllr Alden further challenged Birmingham City Council leader, Ian Ward, to stop the charges for a scheme that no longer existed and reimburse the Standley Tower residents in full.

When offered a copy of the resident’s yearly bill, which states ‘Sheltered Housing Charge £8.86’ in the weekly breakdown, Cllr Ian Ward responded if the “asserted” complaints were true then the Council “would indeed look into it.”

Erdington Local has approached Birmingham City Council for comment.

If you are a resident of Standleys Tower, or a Council tenant being charged for costs and services you are not receiving, please email: edking@erdingtonlocal.com

ELECTION NEWS: Erdington MP hopeful Paulette Hamilton and Labour Deputy Angela Rayner visit Spitfire Services on Castle Vale

Words by Jasmine Khan / Pics by Claire Taylor

On Thursday, 3 February, Cllr Paulette Hamilton was joined by Labour Deputy Leader, Angela Rayner, at Spitfire Services on Castle Vale High Street – to find out about the issues facing people on the ground who support their community on a daily basis.

Spitfire Services is a Castle Vale based charity providing ‘a range of welfare information, support and advice services’ – as well as operating local facilities including Castle Pool, Castle Vale Library, The Meeting Place Café, and the Upcycle shop and showroom.

Cllr Hamilton has been recently confirmed as the Labour candidate for the upcoming Birmingham Erdington by-election and remarked on how volunteers and staff at Spitfire Services are “like a big family.”

She told Erdington Local: “What we’ve seen on the (Castle Vale) estate, and in wider Erdington, are the aftereffects of the pandemic. Inequalities have been exacerbated.

“On certain parts of Castle Vale, you live nine years less than you would in Sutton Coldfield. I have got to fight for people locally and what their needs are.”

“The Castle Vale area has felt neglected over the last three years. The issues they (Castle Vale residents) have talked to me about on the door are HMOs and Exempt Housing. Not so much anti-social behaviour, but also waste and fly tipping in the area.

“They’ve seen their shopping bills get bigger and are also talking about gas and electricity and the rise that’s happening there.

“They’re working class and they’re worried about how they’re going to cope.”

Labour’s Deputy Leader, Angela Rayner, who joined Cllr Hamilton on Castle Vale, added: “It’s amazing to see the work of Spitfire Services.

“It’s bittersweet. I’m still grieving the loss of Jack (Dromey), as I’m sure many of the people of Erdington are as well. But to see the community come together in the way that they have, and the legacy of supporting each other, it’s humbling.

“What Jack stood for is looking out for each other…its lovely to see that the community are there for each other when they need it. That, to me, is what the working class are all about.”

A practising nurse for 25 years, Cllr Hamilton was made Mental Health Champion for Birmingham City Council in 2013 and Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care in 2015.

During earlier stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, she returned to nursing to help deliver vaccines to local people.

She added: “I felt it was so important for us to not just talk about it, but do it. That’s why I’m really upset and annoyed with the government.

“In the mist of Covid we saw an enormous amount of people’s mental health effected. (If elected Erdington MP) I would start to challenge and look at (mental health) legislation, and work with other politicians to ensure mental ill-health goes down.”

But some local voters are concerned that another Labour MP might not be able to hold their ground and fight for Erdington’s interests with the wider City Council.

When Cllr. Hamilton was asked whether she would be able to effect genuine change in Erdington, as a Labour MP in conjunction with a Labour Council, she said:

“I’ve lived in Erdington for the past 35 years. I’ve raised my five children here. I’ve worked as a nurse in the local area, in Warren Farm. I’ve been a governor in the local school; I’ve worked with voluntary organisations.

“Because I’m so local and I absolutely understand the needs of the community, I’m best placed, at this moment in time, to represent the community at a national level in Parliament.

“I’ve been a local counsellor for 17 years. With the current council, you have just got to talk and negotiate with them. I believe I’m best placed because I know the services well; I know what the community wants, but I also know how the council provide it.

“So, I am best placed to go in, challenge and work with them (Birmingham City Council) to get change for Erdington.”

Deputy Labour Leader, Angela Rayner, further commented: “I think Paulette will be a massive asset to us (Labour Party), because she has a long history of helping her community. She has worked in the NHS. HMO’s, housing and inequality – those things are her bread and butter, and she comes with a wealth of experience.”

“The Parliamentary Labour Party would learn a lot from Paulette. Not only will she raise things for the people of Edrington. But I’m sure my constituents in Greater Manchester will do well from Paulette being in Parliament.

“I hope the people in Edrington give her a resounding victory.”

Maggie Whitehouse, who volunteers at Upcycle, told Erdington Local: “I’m thrilled with Paulette (running for Erdington MP) because she’s on our wave length and she’ll keep traditions alive.”

Whilst Castle Vale Library Manager, Ian Bingham, added: “Paulette (Hamilton) will be a massive asset to the Erdington constituency and the Labour Party hopefully. She’ll carry on the good work that Jack started.

“Meeting Angela (Rayner), she’s so down to earth. It was humbling to meet a politician that’s in touch with grass roots.”

Erdington will vote for its next Member of Parliament on Thursday, 3 March.

At the time of writing, the current candidates who have declared their intention to contest the seat are Cllr Paulette Hamilton (Labour), Cllr Robert Alden (Conservative), Dave Nellist (Trade Union and Socialist Coalition), and Michael Lutwyche (Independent).

For more on Paulette Hamilton visit www.birmingham.gov.uk/councillors/49/paulette_hamilton

For more on Spitfire Services visit www.spitfireservices.org.uk

ELECTION NEWS: Paulette Hamilton launches campaign as Labour candidate for upcoming Erdington by-election

By Erdington Local election news team

On Saturday, 29 January, Councillor Paulette Hamilton (Lab, Holyhead) launched her campaign to be the next Erdington MP – meeting local Labour Party members during a special address at Highcroft Community Centre in Stockland Green.

Having been nominated to stand in the upcoming Erdington by-election via an online vote earlier in the week, winning a significant majority over her Labour Party opponent Ashley Bertie, Cllr Hamilton used her first public address as an MP hopeful to tell her supporters:

“Can I thank you all for your support. I cannot believe it, the overwhelming support I have had from people throughout the constituency.

“We have got a lot of work to do. We are going to run a clean campaign; we are going to fight at the doorsteps to take the Labour message to the people.”

In an email sent out to Labour Party members earlier in the week, Cllr Hamilton previously stated: ‘This is an election none of us wanted to be fighting but it is one we have to win. We owe it to the memory of our dear friend Jack Dromey MP and we owe it to the people of Erdington.’

At the time of writing, only Dave Nellist has also thrown his hat in the ring – with the erstwhile Labour MP for Coventry South East and Coventry City councillor declaring his intention to stand for the Erdington seat on behalf of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC).

Joined by Shabana Mahmood MP (Lab, Ladywood), who is also the National Campaign Coordinator in Kier Starmer’s Shadow Cabinet, Cllr Hamilton launched her by-election campaign with around a hundred local Labour Party members – all giving up their Saturday to help her canvass across the constituency.

The atmosphere was a positive one; Cllr Hamilton and her team were met with raucous applause upon entering and beginning their speeches – with local Labour Party members and staff filled with optimism and excitement ahead of the campaign.

The event began with some opening words from Shabana Mahmood MP, who paid tribute to the late Jack Dromey: “I could not be more proud that we have got a local woman who is going to stand up and fight for the people of Erdington, and do Jack proud.”

The Ladywood MP was keen to kick the Labour campaign off with a “flying start”, building up excitement for the beginning of Paulette Hamilton campaign – which, if successful, would make her the first black Member of Parliament.

Addressing the crowd, Cllr Hamilton also began with an immediate tribute to Jack Dromey: “Can I start by saying; I absolutely adored Jack. I am really saddened that Jack has passed away.

“He was a stood for social justice and he championed the people in Erdington and the constituency. He fought for people who needed jobs and saving jobs.”

Cllr Hamilton then went into detail on her background – having lived in Erdington for 35 years and working as a nurse – as well as her work fighting for local residents to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

After her speech, and another raucous applause, campaigners got to work organising group photographs and teams for door-to-door campaigning.

One Labour Party member told Erdington Local: “I’m certainly enthusiastic. Paulette has definitely made a good impression.”

Judith Park, a local resident, went on to say: “I haven’t normally been involved in the party meetings etc. but I thought she really inspired us on the Zoom meeting.”

There were previous concerns over the organisation of the online meetings and voting process, with the Wednesday night candidacy selection starting hours later than scheduled – with a Labour source citing “technical difficulties” and problems verifying the identity of those attending to vote.

Andy Cook, who was present at the selection meeting, told: “We were all very impressed. Paulette was impressive in the way she came across and responded well to the questions put to her. I am more than confident we have made the right choice.”

Speaking to Erdington Local directly, Shabana Mahmood MP added: “We have got a fantastic local woman standing for a seat we already hold. Jack Dromey worked very hard for the people of Erdington.

“I think we can go into this by-election fairly confident and I hope we can do Jack proud and do right by his legacy by holding the seat strong for him and for Labour.

“Jack was an immense figure of British politics and of the Labour movement across the whole country, so naturally he leaves behind a record that few can match. However, we have an amazing candidate who is going to get stuck right in.

“I think if Jack could have chosen for himself the successor for his seat, he would have chosen Paulette, and I believe that is the highest honour I can pay her.”

For more on Paulette Hamilton visit www.birmingham.gov.uk/councillors/49/paulette_hamilton

ELECTION NEWS: “As your MP I will demand the better deal that we deserve” – Cllr. Paulette Hamilton set to run for Erdington MP as official Labour Party candidate

By Erdington Local election news team

Cllr. Paulette Hamilton (Lab, Holyhead) has been confirmed as Labour’s official candidate for the upcoming Erdington constituency by-election.

Looking to take the seat left vacant after the sudden death of Jack Dromey MP, if successful Paulette Hamilton would be Birmingham’s first black Member of Parliament.

Selected by local Labour Party members during an online vote late on Wednesday, 26 January, Cllr. Hamilton won a landslide victory over her only rival Ashley Bertie – receiving nearly three times more votes than the one time West Midlands Deputy Police & Crime Commissioner.

Currently the Birmingham City Council Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care, Cllr. Hamilton was the first candidate to publicly declare their intention to stand for the Erdington seat – a place “where me and my family have lived for 35 years.”

During the session she spoke about the importance of mental health and social care, whilst also heralding the work of the once Prime Minister Gordon Brown, according to a Labour Party source.

Soon after the results late on Wednesday evening, the West Midlands Labour Party declared:

“Congratulations to Paulette Hamilton who has been selected as Labour’s candidate for the Birmingham Erdington by-election.”

Message of congratulations and support quickly followed, as the news quickly spread across social media. Soon after, Paulette Hamilton made the following statement:

“Thank you to the @ErdingtonLabour members for selecting me – I promise to work hard every day of this campaign and with your support look forward to representing Erdington in Parliament. I will do my best to continue the legacy of @JackDromeyMP’s outstanding work.”

In a subsequent email to Labour Party members, Paulette Hamilton established her strong ties to Erdington – where she moved to from Handsworth with her husband 35 years ago, and where they raised their five children.

“35 years is also how long I’ve been qualified as a registered nurse,” she went on to say, before reiterating her intentions to “keep fighting for more funding for mental health services while working with the police to combat anti-social behaviour and provide accessible support to those battling alcohol and drug dependency – which are blighting our area.

“As your MP I will demand the better deal that we deserve.”

Birmingham Labour’s BAME Officer, Naziah Rasheed, was also quick to celebrate the nomination – which could see Paulette Hamilton enter the house as Birmingham’s first black MP.

Following the result, Naziah told Erdington Local: “I believe Paulette Hamilton is the best choice for Erdington, she will serve this community well and I am looking forward to working with her – to ensure she gets elected and be the pride of Erdington.”

However, the evening was not all a cause for celebration as the online meeting ran into problems when officials tried to sign in dozens of members on Zoom whilst trying to prove their IDs.

The process took hours and there were complaints several members were unable log into the meeting – which was due to start at 6:30pm but due to the verification problems the winner was not announced until 9.55pm.

There were also concerns raised that by conducting the vote online it isolated local Labour Party members who did not have the right technology or digital know how.

One veteran Erdington Labour member, who did not want to be named, complained: “It was an organisational shambles.

“It was bad enough only those with computer access or smart phones could take part.

“What about a pensioner who is not online? And because it took so long online rows began breaking out.

“People understandably were fed up because of how it has been organised, families with young children disenfranchised and there were complaints that many BAME members have been excluded at verification.”

Several Labour members also complained the candidates were not grilled as they normally would at a selection meeting.

The Labour member added: “Questions also had to be submitted in advance but not all members knew.”

The Labour Party is yet to set an official date for the Erdington constituency by-election, although it is suspected polling day will land in early to mid March.

Candidates from across the political spectrum are expected to contest the Erdington seat, although at the time of writing no official announcements have been made by other parties or independents.

However, fierce campaigning for the 5 May local elections has already begun by the local Conservative Party – who currently have several councillors in the constituency, including the leader of the Birmingham Conservatives and Erdington Ward Councillor Robert Alden.

Cllr Alden lives in Erdington and is a prominent figure across the constituency, which could make him a viable candidate if the “go local” messaging from Labour continues to drive their campaign.

ELECTION NEWS: Labour set to “go local” in Erdington by-election as initial candidates announce their place on the party shortlist

By Erdington Elections news team

Labour look set to follow a “go local” strategy in the upcoming Erdington by-election according to a party source, the same approach which helped them win the Batley and Spen by-election last July.

Pollsters from the Labour’s London headquarters have been in Erdington asking voters who they would prefer to stand in the by-election, with many reportedly rooting for a local candidate – which rules out several big names who lost their seats in the 2019 Tory landslide.

But as candidates are still being considered, Holyhead Councillor Paulette Hamilton has already announced her place on the Labour Party shortlist. A post made on Cllr Hamilton’s social media on Sunday, January 24 stated:

“I have put myself forward to become the next @UKLabour MP for my home constituency of Birmingham Erdington. @JackDromeyMP will be a tough act to follow – I’m honoured that my party have shortlisted me and hope the party members endorse me.”

Currently the Birmingham City Council Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care, Cllr Hamilton was the first candidate to publicly declare their intention to stand for the Erdington seat, a place “where me and my family have lived for 35 years.”

However, another announcement came only an hour later with Ashley Bertie also declaring his candidacy saying:

“I’m honoured to have been shortlisted to become the next @UKLabour MP for the constituency I grew up and live in – Birmingham, Erdington. @JackDromeyMP will always have a special place in my heart and those of Erdingtonian’s and I hope that party members will support me.”

Currently the Chief Executive Officer for the Independent Custody Visiting Association, Mr Bertie served as the West Midlands Deputy Police & Crime Commissioner for over three years.

Big hitters from Labour HQ are also heading to Erdington, joining local party members as they conduct ‘doorstep conversations’ with registered voters across all the constituency wards.

On Sunday 24 January, Labour Party Chair Anneliese Dodds MP was canvassing across Erdington, with Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Wes Streeting MP hitting the streets the following Monday.

The Erdington by-election campaign, which could be seen as a referendum on Boris Johnson’s record as Prime Minister, will be six weeks long. It is expected the Labour Party chief whip will submit a motion for a by-election after Monday, 31 January, the day of Jack Dromey’s funeral, resulting in polling day landing on Thursday, 3 March or 10 March.

With Labour more than ten points ahead in the polls and fighting a safe seat, Sir Keir Starmer will be under pressure to deliver a big victory.

However, the Conservative Party have several councillors in the Erdington constituency – including the leader of the Birmingham Conservatives Cllr Robert Alden, who is the elected representative for the Erdington Ward alongside Cllr Gareth Moore.

Cllr Alden lives locally and has strong name recognition in the area, which will favour the Conservative campaign if Labour indeed fight for the seat from a local angle.

The Conservative campaign will further benefit from dissatisfaction from local residents about the Labour council administration over HMOs, green spaces, and crime – issues Cllr Alden has repeated raised in Cabinet meetings.

In the coming weeks, the political eyes of the UK will leave Westminster for Erdington, as the fiercely fought by-election is expected to attract more candidates than a normal General Election. Last month’s North Shropshire’s by-election had 14 candidates including one from the Monster Raving Loony Party.

Labour still has time to announce more candidates for the Erdington seat, with the final candidate being voted on by local party members later this week.

An email to Labour Party members from West Midlands regional director Charlie Walker said: “Following the sudden death of friend and colleague, Jack Dromey MP, there will be a Parliamentary by-election for the seat of Birmingham Erdington.

“Please be aware if you are successfully included on the longlist you will be required to attend a shortlisting interview via Zoom on Saturday, January 23 or Sunday 24.

“Successfully shortlisted candidates will be invited to a selection hustings meeting on Wednesday, January 26 where all members of the Constituency Labour Party will vote as to who will be the candidate.”

NEWS: High Street Health and Wellbeing Hub sees ‘huge response and demand’ from local residents

Words & pics by Ed King

Launched at the beginning of December, the new Health and Wellbeing Hub on Erdington High Street has already seen a “huge response and demand” from local residents.

Operated by Witton Lodge Community Centre (WLCA), in partnership with NHS Property Services, the Health and Wellbeing Hub offers social support over issues from employment and finance to healthy eating and general wellbeing.

Opening its doors on 1 December, the Health and Wellbeing Hub took over 196 Erdington High St – a building left empty after the Walk-In Centre moved to Northcroft Hospital early this year.

With services running from Monday to Friday, the Erdington Health and Wellbeing Hub offers a range of free to access support – through both drop in and pre-booked sessions with trained advisors.

Debbie Bates, Health & Wellbeing Development Manager at WLCA, told Erdington Local:

“This opportunity; in partnership with NHS Property Services has enabled us to reach and support more local members of our community.

“Since we opened the doors we’ve seen a huge response and demand for non-clinical Social Prescribing services, with a constant stream of people coming in for advice and support.

“Having an additional accessible Hub in the heart of the community; on the high street, will enable us to continue our work with NHS, GP’s, Adult Social Care and our partners to go some way in meeting demand.

“Money, housing and employment are still big concerns, with our benefits advice sessions and housing drop in services on Mondays, Job Club on Tuesdays, and Employment and Skills workshops on Thursdays seeing a lot of interest.

“But often people are looking for more emotional help and a room of friendly faces, which is where our Wellbeing Support, Domestic Violence Support Group and Carers Support sessions on Mondays come in, with additional services being offered around healthy lifestyles in the coming months.”

Primarily based in Perry Common, Witton Lodge Community Association has been delivering social and housing support since being established in 1994.

WLCA also have a proven track record of taking over Council assets the city could no longer run, such as Perry Common Library.

WLCA are also close to completing a new ‘Eco Hub’ at the former park-keepers cottage at Witton Lakes, turning the century old building into ‘a venue which supports, educates and promotes sustainable living… to enhance and encourage the potential for environmentally sustainable lifestyles.’

After successfully launching the Erdington Health and Wellbeing Hub, WLCA have further plans to convert the disused Erdington Swimming Baths into an Enterprise Hub.

Speaking to Erdington Local at the Health and Wellbeing Hub launch, WLCA Chief Officer, Afzal Hussain, told:

“We’re delighted to be in the building and working with the NHS Property Services team, they’ve been excellent.

“They’ve helped to refurbish the facility which means we can come in and start to provide the services – services that are needed now and will be needed in the coming months as people feel some of those pressures associated with the cost of living.

“We’re approaching winter, and the difficulties associated with the pandemic, but also helping people with advice and training, upskilling, and finding work. So, there’ll be a range of services we’ll be providing from here.

“We’re really pleased to bring this building back into use for the community and for local residents, having a Hub right on the High Street is really important. And also, I think it’s a sign of our commitment moving forward to Erdington Town Centre.”

Charlotte Jarvis, Senior Portfolio Optimisation Manager, NHS Property Services, added: “It has been a complete pleasure to work with Witton Lodge in delivering this space.

“Through our social prescribing programme here at NHSPS, we provided the space and then refurbished it to fit the needs of Witton Lodge.

“I was delighted to be invited to the opening today and see not only the space in real life, but also the colleagues and volunteers who deliver the services and most importantly the residents of Erdington who will benefit from this space. I look forward to coming back to see how it develops to continue to support local PCN’s and its patients.”

Also attending the opening were Erdington Ward councillors Robert Alden and Gareth Moore.

Councillor Alden said: “It’s great to be here at the Erdington Wellbeing Centre opening, and Witton Lodge have done a brilliant job at setting this up and running.

“I think we’ve all seen with Covid how important it is to be supporting people’s social and mental health, as well as their physical health.

“In terms of the future, going forward, with the building being empty this (Health & Wellbeing Hub) is the solution to getting it used.

“And it’s really good that once again Witton Lodge have stepped in to help support Erdington and the surrounding area when perhaps other public services have stepped back.”

Councillor Gareth Moore added: “This will be a valuable lifeline for the local community who, sadly, like many people, have suffered through the pandemic.

“So, hopefully the great work what Witton Lodge has been doing in the area will be amplified through this Hub.”

The Erdington Health and Wellbeing Hub is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm. For details on available support please call 0121 827 6295.

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

NEWS: Public Space Protect Order hopes to curb anti-social behaviour in Erdington

Words by Ed King

An application is underway for a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) in Erdington, giving local police the power to forcibly remove anyone from the ‘Restricted Area’ they suspect is intoxicated or causing anti-social behaviour.

Starting on the corner of Oakfield/Wood End Road, the ‘Restricted Area’ continues down to and up Orchard Road – cuts across Sutton New Road, embracing Abbey Catholic Primary School and Highclare School, then comes back up Summer Road to Six Ways Island.

If successful, the application would see a PSPO come into force on 20 December 2021 – just in time for Christmas and the New Year, when alcohol related and street crime is often known to soar. If enforced the PSBO would run for three years, staying in place until 19 December 2024.

Public consultation is currently being sought, with any ‘interested person’ invited to appeal against the order via the Birmingham Be Heard website by 19 December. An ‘interested person’ is defined as ‘someone who lives in, regularly works in, or visits the restricted area’.

Full details of the PSPO application for Erdington, alongside a place to comment or appeal, can be found here: www.birminghambeheard.org.uk/place/erdington-public-space-protection-order-consultati/

Led by the North Local Partnership Delivery Group (LPDG), the application for a PSPO in Erdington is seen by many constituency stakeholders as an essential step to help clean up the High Street and encourage public safety.

Policing across the West Midlands has suffered cuts of £175m since 2010, resulting in the loss of over 2200 police officers – including 50% of all allocated to community policing. The lack of uniformed officers on patrol has often been cited as the reason anti-social behaviour and street crimes started to spike.

Erdington previously held a PSPO which ran out in 2018, with many questioning why it was not immediately reinstated.

Terry Guest, Erdington Town Centre Manger, explained: “Now, there’s a few stories about why it hasn’t been renewed. One is that someone objected on the grounds that the PSPO included beggars, and there was an objection against the human rights of beggars – because initially the order included the removal of beggars off the High Street.

“It’s a bit of a contentious issue because one of the things I’ve been working with the police with is to help anyone begging if they’re homeless.

“No one should be homeless, and we’ve done quite a lot of work with the police and their partners in helping people who are homeless.

“There’s another aspect to this and that’s professional begging, where people aren’t homeless, aren’t poor, and are begging on the High Street as a crime basically.”

Jack Dromey MP for Erdington recently joined the Erdington Street Pastors and West Midlands Crime Commissioner, Simon Foster, on a tour of Erdington High Street.

When asked about the application for a PSPO in the area he told Erdington Local: “I strongly support the reintroduction of a PSPO, I strongly support it. There’s no question of it, one of the problems here on the High Street is street drinking and sometimes the bad behaviour that goes with that.

“Now there is an issue in relation to often vulnerable people who congregate here, therefore there needs to be support for those people to divert them from behaving badly in our community.

“Having said that I’ve just seen earlier today an incident with four people, one of who was clearly drunk – and this is 10am – who blocked the pavement and there was woman trying to get by with her buggy and they wouldn’t let her get by.

“Now that kind of behaviour is absolutely not acceptable, so clamping down on street drinking I think is an essential part in making people feel safe about coming to their High Street.”

As Erdington Ward Councillors, Robert Alden and Gareth Moore have been championing the fight to get a Public Space Protection Order restored in Erdington ever since the previous one expired without the Council renewing it.

Cllr Alden, who is also Director and Vice Chair of Erdington Business Improvement District, said:

“Sadly the Council had not been acting with the urgency required to get the PSPO back in place in Erdington, despite all the efforts of the local Police and BID in providing evidence.

“Therefore, we have been demanding the Council get this moving and recently brought the Chief Executive down to Erdington High Street to meet with the BID, local police team and ourselves to discuss the need for the Erdington PSPO and the need for the Council to work with the Erdington community to help make our High Street safer.

“Thankfully following this visit and meetings with senior officers from Community Safety in the Council we have managed to get the consultation launched for reintroducing the PSPO”.

Cllr Moore added: “We have worked with the Police to also get the area the new PSPO will cover enlarged so that it can help tackle areas of concern in wider Erdington as well, for example down Station Road and Church Road.

“It is vital that residents now take part in the consultation supporting the PSPO for Erdington so that it can be approved to commence before Christmas and help keep residents safe.

“Thank you to the efforts of local Police, Town Centre Manager and businesses for working with us to help force the Council to finally get the consultation launched”.

For more on the application for a PSBO in Erdington visit www.birminghambeheard.org.uk/place/erdington-public-space-protection-order-consultati/

NEWS: Hundreds welcome Little Amal to Erdington as a ‘community of sanctuary’

Words, images & video by Ed King

Erdington High Street saw hundreds of people welcome the world famous ‘living puppet’ Little Amal on Thursday 28 October – as part of the Kaleidoscope events, organised by the Erdington based charity Active Arts.

Gathering outside Oikos Café from 1pm, people started the day’s celebration by playing traditional street games from countries around the world and dancing to live music – building the carnival atmosphere before Little Amal arrived at 3pm.

Members of Birmingham’s refugee community were joined by hundreds of local families, support agencies, churches, and schools.

After saying hello to several children and meeting the crowds, Little Amal then walked up the High Street, accompanied by children and dancers – to a welcome ceremony held in the Central Square Shopping Centre.

Central Square had been specially decorated and transformed into a one day festival venue, with stages and a canvas roof over the main concourse.

At the welcome ceremony Little Amal continued to meet the hundreds of people who had come out in support of her journey, and her message of sanctuary and community, before being greeted by the Birmingham Lord Mayor.

A special poem celebrating Birmingham as a city of sanctuary was then read to Little Amal by two sisters, Sheema and Logeen Aroob, who had themselves fled from Syria to the UK with their family five years ago.

Writer Stephanie Neville joined Sheema and Logeen in delivering the poem, which had been selected from Stories of Home Hope and Home – ‘a story-telling project offering Asylum Seekers and Refugees a space to share their stories and others a space to hear them.’

Sheema and Logeen also presented Little Amal with a friendship bracelet specially crafted for the giant puppet, as event organisers handed out further bracelets to the audience.

In the weeks running up to Little Amal’s Erdington visit, a series of Kaleidoscope arts and craft workshops had been held at the Secret Arts Studio Space in Central Square – where local children and families had been making the friendship bracelets out of colourful twine and materials, working with Celebrating Sanctuary Birmingham.

Little Amal is a 12ft high ‘living puppet’ who has been walking across the world since July, to raise awareness about the plight of refugee children.

Starting on the Turkey/Syrian border, Little Amal has travelled over 8000km through Greece, Italy, Switzerland, and France, before coming across the Channel to the UK – even meeting with Pope Francis in early September 2021.

Visiting only a handful of locations in the UK, Little Amal had been in Coventry the day before her visit to Erdington, before ending her global walk in Manchester on 3 November.

Attending the event and joining the team escorting Little Amal to the Central Square welcoming ceremony, Erdington MP Jack Dromey told Erdington Local: “I am deeply proud that Erdington is the Birmingham home that Little Amal will come to.

“All throughout the last 10, 20, 30 years we’ve had war after war and famine after famine – people have therefore fled for their lives, wanting a new start for them and their families and looking for sanctuary and safety. We have a moral duty to say those who come to our shores desperate for refuge, you’re welcome here.

“I’m proud that Amal is coming to Erdington because it sends the message that we are a constituency and community of sanctuary – that we are there to give home and support to those who desperately need it.”

Also attending the Little Amal event were Erdington ward councillors Robert Alden and Gareth Moore.

“It’s absolutely brilliant to see so many people here in Erdington, on our High Street – it really emphasises the possibilities of how we can regenerate Erdington High Street and what the long term attraction to the area can be.

“I think this exactly the thing that people have been talking about – we need to ensure that actually all countries are safe for people, so that people don’t have to go through the horrific things that you hear refugees have had to go through.”

Local arts charity Active Arts was leading Erdington’s Little Amal visit and the Kaleidoscope events on behalf of Birmingham City Council and Birmingham 2022 Festival.

Further partners include Celebrating Sanctuary Birmingham, Centrala, Open Theatre Company, Mama Dojo, Surge Forward Music & Arts, Vortex Creates, Autin Dance Theatre, Everyone Erdington, Oikos Café, Six Ways Baptist Church & Food Bank, Erdington BID and Godwin Development.

Active Arts Project Director Claire Marshall told Erdington Local: “Little Amal’s message is one of sanctuary, about showing refugees and displaced people that they can find a place to call home if they have been forced to leave theirs.

“Erdington is a welcoming and diverse community, one with a history of embracing people from many different countries and cultures – and a place that continues to do so.

“This event is about celebrating that sanctuary, it’s about showing people they can find a new home here if they have had to leave theirs.

“The atmosphere here, today, as we welcome Little Amal, has been something wonderful – it’s been a truly special day and I couldn’t be prouder of the people around us.

“Little Amal’s message, highlighting the plight of refugee children, is one born from desperation and sorrow.

“But the kindness and compassion you can feel from people in Erdington here today, the simple sense of love and community in the air, gives us all a feeling of hope to hold on to.”

Watch Little Amal as she walks down Erdington High Street and into Central Square Shopping Centre

For more on Little Amal and ‘The Walk’ visit www.walkwithamal.org

For more on Active Arts visit www.activearts.wordpress.com

NEWS: Erdington loses out on Levelling Up millions as the only Birmingham bid to fail at the first round

Words & pics by Ed King

Erdington High Street lost out on millions of pounds of investment today when its application for the Government’s Levelling Up Fund fell at the first round – as announced in the Chancellor’s Spending Review.

One of four applications made by Birmingham City Council, Erdington High Street’s bid was the only one to be denied at this stage – despite being for the lowest amount of money.

The Levelling Up Fund is a £4.8 billion national pot of money earmarked by Government for regional investment into local infrastructure.

The Levelling Up Fund application for Erdington High Street was at £12,700,000 – with further investment coming from the private sector, including the transformation of Central Square into a destination venue of shops, cafes, bars, and apartments.

Birmingham’s other bids, which have all made it through the first round, include £19,941,000 for the A457 Dudley Road Improvement Scheme, £17,145,000 for the Wheels site remediation, and £15,539,000 for Moseley Road Swimming Baths.

Erdington’s Levelling Up Fund bid was worked on by both Labour and Conservative politicians in the area – alongside key local stakeholders including Godwin Developments, Witton Lodge Community Association, and Erdington Business Improvement District.

Following the news, Erdington MP Jack Dromey (Lab) issued the following statement:

“Once again, the Government has failed to provide the investment Erdington High Street so desperately needs. This decision flies in the face of their ‘levelling up’ rhetoric and badly lets down one of the poorest communities in the country.

“This investment would have provided an invaluable economic, social and cultural boost to our community, as well as providing employment opportunities for Erdington, which has an unemployment rate that stands at twice the national average.

“But this is not the first time Government has let Erdington down. Following the rejection of the Future High Streets Fund bid on Boxing Day, we continued to seek investment in our High Street.

“Working together with Birmingham City Council, key local stakeholders, and the local community, we submitted this comprehensive and ambitious bid to the Levelling Up Fund complete with a solid business case and significant private investment.

“This makes the decision to deny Erdington of investment once again outrageous and inexplicable.”

Erdington ward Councillors Robert Alden and Gareth Moore (Con) made the following statements:

Cllr Robert Alden said: “This is a bitterly disappointing decision.

“When the Council took the four bids for Birmingham through cabinet, we warned that the Council providing £15m of match funding for the other three bids and nothing for Erdington would weaken the application and give the impression to civil servants that the Council clearly considered the bid to be less important than the other four.

“Sadly, that is exactly what seems to have happened”.

Cllr Gareth Moore added “The Council administration refusing to put match funding into the Erdington bid, was always a kick in the teeth for the hard work of local partners like the Erdington BID, Witton Lodge Community Association, regeneration officers who worked on the bid, businesses, developers and community and church groups.

“So, to now see that the three bids the Council did match fund were approved and that the Council refusal to match fund Erdington has potentially cost Erdington is disgraceful.

“However, a massive thank you to all the partners and officers involved who have been helping fight for Erdington”.

Erdington recently missed out the Future High Streets Fund, another cross party and local stakeholder application, which would have seen over £50m pumped into the town centre in a joint investment from Government and the private sector.