NEWS: New Town Centre Manager John Hodgkiss sees “massive potential” in Erdington

Words & pics by Ed King

Erdington’s new Town Centre Manager, John Hodgkiss, sees “massive potential” in the once busy North Birmingham High Street and shopping district.

Taking over from Terry Guest this August, Mr Hodgkiss will run the Erdington Business Improvement District for at least the next five year term.

Mr Guest is stepping down after successfully taking the BID to another ballot in November last year – returning nearly 74% in favour for renewing the Erdington business partnership, with 45 of the 61 votes cast by local businesses saying ‘yes’.

Mr Hodgkiss has a longstanding record as a Town Centre Manger, having launched business improvement districts in both the Midlands and London.

Having worked on the Victoria BID in London, his portfolio included many high profile businesses and entrepreneurs – including the Royal Family’s most recognised home, Buckingham Place.

Having launched one on the UK’s first industrial site BIDs in London, and successfully establishing and managing one of the Midlands largest BIDs in West Bromwich, Hodgkiss has a proven track record of building business communities and town centre partnerships.

Now focused on Erdington, with a clear vision to transform the High Street and promote local commerce, the experience Town Centre Manager has high hopes for the once bustling North Birmingham thoroughfare.

John Hodgkiss told Erdington Local: “My job is to make Erdington one of Birmingham’s most enjoyable and exciting satellite centres to be in. I want to make it a safer place, a greener place, and a place that crucially well marketed.

“So, one of my initial aspirations would be to go out and start doing some business visits ASAP – and that will be a good mix between national retailers, independents, as well as other major stakeholders such as the police, emergency services, market traders, and all kinds of people who have a vested interest in making Erdington even better.”

Despite the series of high profile shops and banks leaving Erdington High Street, including Boots – which closed its Erdington store the week he came into post, John Hodgkiss remains optimistic the area’s future.

When asked what attracted him the Erdington, which also has recently missed out two multi million pounds of Government investment to regenerate the High Street, Hodgkiss was keen to focus on the positives.

He added: “The key words for Erdington are ‘massive potential’, and the BID is going to be here for the next five years at least.

“In the past roles I’ve been successful at looking at things like match funding, so although it’s not a never-ending pot of money by any means there is leverage to look at getting money for small projects – but also to keep banging away with money that should still be available through the Conservative government’s Levelling Up agenda. And with a change in leadership might be bigger and more important than ever.

“I feel passionate about making a change in the current economic climate, and I don’t see anywhere with the potential that Erdington has.

“It’s a great place to be, the community is great, there is a retail offer here already – particularly in making day to day living a lot easier.

“And there is scope to bring in new blood to the town, new retailers to the town, new small businesses, and rally drive the local economy forward.”

Erdington Ward Councillor Robert Alden, who ultimately oversees the Edington BID, was positive about the fresh approach.

He told Erdington Local: “It is great to welcome John as our new town centre manager for Erdington. He comes with previous experience of working in town centres and delivering regeneration in urban areas.

“This is going to be key as we look to work with the Town Centre Manager, BID, and local partners to deliver our plans for transformation of Erdington High Street. We very much look forward to working with John in the years ahead.”

Cllr Gareth Moore was also quick to praise the work of Terry Guest, who has steered the Erdington BID since 2011 – including through the Covid pandemic.

Cllr Moore added: “We would also like to thank Terry Guest, the outgoing town centre manager, who has been a brilliant servant for our area.

“During his time as manager, he has helped support businesses through Covid and been the rock at the heart of Erdington High Street for a decade. We wish him all the best in his retirement.”

For more on the Erdington Business Improvement District visit https://erdingtonhighstreet.co.uk/

NEWS: The Recovery Foundation showcases over 100 pieces of local artwork at Secret Art Studio Space

Words by Ed King / Pics by Ellycia Gardner – with additional images from Ali Walker and Robert Alden

On Monday, 8 August, The Recovery Foundation launched their art showcase  exhibition at the Secret Arts Studio Space (SASS) in Erdington.

Over the past few months, more than 50 local residents picked up a pencil or paint brush, many without any previous art experience, to create over 100 pieces of original artwork – as part of a programme of workshops to support mental health, wellbeing, and social inclusion.

Still on display at SASS, situated downstairs at the Central Square Shopping Centre, The Recovery Foundation exhibition can be seen through the gallery windows and on selected open days – and will remain installed over the next few weeks.

Running six separate groups over six weeks, The Recovery Foundation art sessions were free to access workshops – supporting anyone with “lived experience of mental illness”, or those just looking for a social or creative outlet.

Formed in 2020 by Emma Sitole, after her own issues with mental health and subsequent recovery, The Recovery Foundation places ‘hope’ and the centre of its support programmes.

Also embracing creativity and art as helpful tools of recovery, the six week workshops followed a series of oversubscribed Art in Parks sessions, where people would come together in outdoor green spaces, such as Rookery Park,  to learn new art techniques.

As part of a post lockdown programme to help bring people out of isolation and come together again in community groups, the subsequent workshops allowed The Recovery Foundation to continue its work in Erdington – reaching out to more people and building a wider network of budding creatives.

Emma Sitole explained: “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.

“Angie (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 – and they’ve created some incredible artwork.

“Today is the showcase… there’s a real sense of pride around people wanting to show what they’ve created.

“There’s been a lovely buzz about the place, some lovely conversations. But also lovely to see that community come back together again and support each other.”

A local mum, Ali Walker, took part in The Recovery Foundation art workshops after suggesting the programme to a friend.

With a new born baby to look after, who she took to each session, Ali found the workshops a chance to meet other people and further explore her passion for art – already being a keen photographer.

Attending the showcase exhibition at SASS with her now 10 month old daughter, Ali told Erdington Local: “I got a range of things from it (the art workshops), on the art side I learnt a lot of skills and techniques and things that I didn’t think I’d be able to do.

“On the other side of things, it was connecting with people from different backgrounds and getting involved in all sorts of conversations. And getting to know about Erdington a lot more, which I really enjoyed.

“I was trying to encourage someone I know, who struggles with their wellbeing, to come along but they couldn’t make it.

“I’d already put my name down and thought because I’m a new mother it was a good chance to get out for myself as well.”

After the success of Art in Parks and the subsequent art sessions, The Recovery Foundation are looking to establish a more permanent home in Erdington – and will be running another series of creative workshops in September.

Birmingham based professional mixed media artist, Eddy Aigbe, knows first hand the impact both creating and exhibiting art can have on people’s sense of self-worth.

Eddy told: “It’s something I’ve promoted myself in my previous job, where we had a community centre in Lozells.

“The problem was a lot of people were isolated and had mental health issues… and had a lot of talent. Just like you do here in Erdington – there’s a lot of talent going on.

“But there’s not much space to exhibit and show it off. A key part in being an artist is not just producing the work but showing it off – it validates you as an individual.

“As an artist, it’s a way to evaluate all the processes, styles, and everything you’ve been doing.”

The Recovery Foundation art workshop showcase on Monday, 8 August was open to the public, with the exhibition still on display at SASS.

Local resident and campaigner Basharat Dad attended the showcase’s opening. He told Erdington Local: “I think it’s brilliant, The Recovery Foundation have been great at engaging with the local community.

“Some of the artwork is the first-time people have tried art, and they’ve created some amazing pieces.

“There’s more of a need in Erdington, in terms of art spaces and projects, that could really help not just with mental health but also community building and bringing people together.”

Erdington Ward Councillor Robert Alden also attended The Recovery Foundation art showcase launch.

Cllr Alden has long championed the constituency’s creative industry and endevours, alongside his running mate Cllr Gareth Moore – from the mural on the hoardings around the old Maplin site, to the ongoing Active Arts and Kaleidoscope events.

Cllr Alden added: “It was great to be at The Recovery Foundation art event in Central Square and to see so many people from across the area together who had benefited from the art sessions that they have put on locally, especially in Rookery Park.

“These kind of events can help provide people with that support and community conversations that help people when they need it.

“Cllr Gareth Moore and I will be doing what we can to help support The Recovery Foundation with their plans for further events and services to support the local area in the coming months and years.

“While this was their first Erdington art show, at the Secret Art Studio Space, I have no doubt it won’t be their last.

“Well done to all of the local residents who produced some stunning pieces of art as part of the show.”

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

NEWS: Public Space Protection Order finally back on Erdington High Street

Words & pics by Ed King

After years of campaigning, Erdington High Street and the surrounding streets are now back under a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) – giving local law enforcement greater powers in tackling street crime, drinking, and anti-social behaviour.

Following a combined effort from the Erdington Business Improvement District (BID), Erdington Ward Councillors Robert Alden and Gareth Moore, and members of the North Local Partnership Delivery Group (LPDG) – working alongside West Midlands Police and Birmingham City Council – Erdington’s PSPO was finally approved and back in operation from Monday, 16 May.

Brought in under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, a PSPO allows local police teams to forcibly remove anyone from the ‘Restricted Area’ they suspect are intoxicated, behaving aggressively, or causing problems for other people – without an official crime being reported.

Starting on the corner of Oakfield and Wood End Road, the PSPO for Erdington covers from Orchard Road and across Sutton New Road – encompassing Abbey Catholic Primary School and Highclare School – then back up Summer Road to Six Ways Island and Erdington High Street.

With the previous PSPO running out in 2018, many residents, businesses, and constituency stakeholders have been championing to have it reinstated.

The latest application being submitted in December 2021, following a period where objections against the order could be heard.

But despite seeming to be a unified ambition, there have historically been some objections against the PSPO in Erdington which stymied the process of reinstating the order.

Several reasons for the four year delay have been suggested, with Terry Guest, Erdington Town Centre Manger, previously telling Erdington Local:

“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.

“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.”

Policing across the West Midlands has been slashed since 2010, with the regionwide budget losing £175m over the last 12 years. Over 2200 police officers have been lost, including around half of all officers allocated to neighbourhood and community policing.

With policing resources stretched and response teams taking priority, many have felt the PSPO would give much needed support to those officers still patrolling Erdington High Street.

However, even after the PSPO was passed at the end of 2021 the order still required Birmingham City Council to install signage before it could be enforced – which took nearly another six months.

Special training for local business owners was also needed from West Midlands Police, working alongside the Erdington Street Warden, Erdington Street Pastors, and private businesses security staff.

Following the eventual reinstalment of the PSPO last month, Erdington Ward Councillor Robert Alden said:

“We’re disappointed it has taken as long as this to get the signage up and training in place – for the zone to be enforceable it requires signs to go up on lampposts and training to be provided by the police, which we needed to get the Council to implement.

“But it’s now really positive that everything’s in place, and Gareth (Moore) and I have been working with the Erdington BID and the police to make sure that got moving.

“Now the police can start enforcing it (the PSPO) and hopefully it will lead to a safer High Street for people to be able to enjoy spending their time and shopping on.”

NEWS: Erdington Litter Busters receive Lord Mayor Award for cleaning up constituency

Words by Ed King

On Thursday 24 May, Erdington Litter Busters (ELB) received a Lord Mayor’s Award for their services to Erdington.

ELB have been sweeping up the constituency streets since 2018 and currently have a ‘growing community of volunteers’ going out across Erdington on the first Saturday of each month.

The group also look after a 3.5 mile track of canal and run their ‘Adopt a Street’ programme, where individual members litter pick around where they live – the initiative currently has around 200 streets ‘adopted’ across Erdington.

A social group as well and an enterprise, the Erdington Litter Busters also meet for ‘a friendly coffee and chat’ after each monthly litter pick, tend a local allotment together, and can be seen involved in countless other community groups – from street paintings to saving playing fields.

Nominated for the Lord Mayor’s Award by Cllrs Robert Alden and Gareth Moore (Local Conservatives, Erdington) and Cllr Mick Brown (Labour, Gravelly Hill), Erdington Litter Busters were notified of their success in a special letter from the Lord Mayor’s office at the end of April.

One of the last duties before his yearlong term came to an end, Birmingham’s erstwhile Lord Mayor Muhammad Afzal presented two of the ELB founders, Dawn Edwards and Rob Gunnell, with the award in the Council Chamber at the Birmingham Council House in Victoria Square.

Given annually by the exiting Lord Mayor, the awards recognise individuals and organisations who have ‘improved the reputation’ of Birmingham or ‘improved the lives of a great number of people’ in the city.

The nomination criteria highlight the awards will only be given to honour “outstanding achievement or exceptional service to the City and people of Birmingham”.

Joining Dawn and Rob at the awards ceremony were the three local councillors who nominated the group, and who have all put party politics aside for the good of the community and joined the ELB on numerous ‘clean ups’.

Many political wards across Erdington are blighted by roadside rubbish, illegal fly tipping, and waning Council waste disposal services – with virtually every candidate in the recent local elections highlighting the issue on their campaign trail.

After receiving the coveted award, Erdington Litter Busters Dawn Edwards and Rob Gunnell told Erdington Local:

“This was a golden opportunity to receive such a prestigious award on behalf of our ELB team and for the many volunteers who continue to make such a huge difference to where we live.

“It also continues to be a huge privilege to be a part of a community initiative which started out four years ago and has now diversified significantly with other projects in the area.

“We very much appreciated being nominated by local councillors, Mick Brown, Robert Alden and Gareth Moore, who have been supportive from the onset.

“It is our desire to build on our partnership with the City Council in a way which enhances our understanding of their plans and strategies for supporting community groups like ours”

Cllr Robert Alden commented: “We were delighted to jointly nominate Rob and Dawn for the Lord Mayor’s Award and were delighted to be there for the awarding of it. They have both done brilliant work for our area helping to tackle fly tipped rubbish, litter and graffiti.

“All of the litter busters do a wonderful job, and we have and continue to be very happy to support the group in any way we can to help us all show pride in Erdington.”

Cllr Gareth Moore said: “Congratulations to Dawn and Rob for all their brilliant efforts leading Erdington Litter busters. A massive thank you to everyone who also volunteers with the litter busters all your efforts are hugely appreciated.

“We have been delighted to work with all the litter busters over the last few years and look forward to continuing to do so in the years ahead – together we are all making a real difference to our local area.”

Cllr Mick Brown added: “You often hear stories in the media about people who have made a real difference in their communities but never expect to actually meet one; well in Dawn and Rob I have had the privilege of meeting not one but two.

“I never cease to be amazed at not only their commitment to personally making a difference but to their ability to inspire others to want to make difference as well.”

For more on Erdington Litter Busters visit www.erdingtonlitterbusters.com or www.facebook.com/groups/ErdingtonLitterBusters

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.”