NEWS: Free photo walks around Rookery Park and Erdington High Street – ahead of Green Spaces exhibition at Ikon Gallery

Words & pics by Ed King

Across March, a series of free to access photo walks and workshops will be held in Erdington – with Birmingham born photographer Jaskirt Dhaliwal-Boora inviting local residents to explore how green spaces and urban settings can impact their mental health.

Starting on Monday 4 March, the first photo walk will take place between 10:30am and 12noon – with subsequent workshops held at the same time on Monday 11 March and Monday 24 March.

The events will run for about 45mins each, with regular stops, and no previous experience of photography required to take part. Organisers have asked those attending to ‘wear suitable warm clothing and footwear for urban walking.’

Locations outlined for the photo walks include Rookery Park and Erdington High Street.

As well as the photography workshops, participants will have the option to display their work at Ikon Gallery in June as part of a special exhibition called Green Spaces – alongside portraits of those who attended the events in green spaces that are important to them, taken by Dhaliwal-Boora.

Jaskirt Dhaliwal-Boora is an award winning Birmingham photographer and multi disciplinarian artist, who uses her work to ‘empower and give voice’ to marginalised communities and explore how to visually capture and represent ethnicity, gender, and place.

Awarded the British Journal of Photography’s Portrait of Britain prize for three years running, from 2022-24, her previous work has been exhibited at the UN Headquarters in New York, Wembley Stadium, The People’s History Museum in Manchester, and at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games 2022.

To see previous portraits taken by Dhaliwal-Boora, click here to visit her online portfolio or on the link below.

A collaboration between Ikon Gallery and Living Well Consortium – a group of 30 charities, volunteer groups, and not-for-profit mental health organisations – the Green Spaces project and exhibition are intended to ‘raise awareness of, and engagement with, topics centred on mental health and wellbeing’, according to organisers.

According to UK based mental health charity Mind, a quarter of the British population will experience mental health problems – with the Office of National Statistics finding the one in six people across the UK will experience depression at any one time.

Men’s suicide rates, often linked to mental health concerns or depression, are three time higher than women’s in the UK – as found in a report published by The Samaritans.

Green Spaces is scheduled to be on display at Ikon Gallery from 12–23 June, later this year.

For more information and to book a place on the Erdington photo walks, please email Green Spaces producer Amelia Hawk at a.hawk@ikon-gallery.org

To find out more about the Green Spaces photo walks and workshops in Erdington visit: www.ikon-gallery.org/news/view/photo-walks-and-workshops

For more on the Green Spaces exhibition at Ikon Gallery visit www.ikon-gallery.org/exhibition/green-spaces

For more on Jaskirt Dhaliwal-Boora visit www.jaskirtdhaliwalboora.com

NEWS: Councillors rally support for Warren Farm Urgent Care Centre as threat of closure looms

Words by Erdington Local editorial team / Pics by Ed King

Kingstanding residents have been urged to show how much they value the Warren Farm Urgent Care Centre after the NHS admitted it could soon close for good.

Situated on Waren Farm Road, by the colloquially known Concker Island, the NHS operated centre is open 365 days a year and has taken the strain off local hospitals for decades, but a recent inspection deemed the building “substandard”.

Kingstanding and Oscott Councillors have been informed the Urgent Care Centre, which stopped accepting walk-in patients about three years ago – according to staff – could close in a matter of weeks. However, staff at the facility were unable to confirm if the closure was imminent.

Oscott Councillor Barbara Dring (Labour) told: “We need Warren Farm Urgent Care Centre to stay open. The service is so important to this side of the city. Everyone who uses it needs to tell the NHS how important and beloved the centre is. We cannot lose another wonderful facility and only say how great it is after it is gone.”

She added: “Warren Farm Urgent Care Centre also plays a pivotal role helping the vulnerable and disabled in the community who it appears are not always considered in decision making. It has long been a community lifeline for so many.”

Kingstanding Councillor Rick Payne (Conservative) has also demanded “talks with the Trust” after hearing about the centre’s imminent closure.

A spokesperson for NHS Birmingham and Solihull said: “No decision has been made at this point. However, Warren Farm Urgent Care Centre in Kingstanding is currently housed in a building which is of a sub-standard quality, with significant patient safety concerns arising as a result.

“It’s important to us that our patients receive the best possible care in the most appropriate and safest facilities, which is why we are working through options for the future of the service.

“Over the coming weeks, we’ll be talking to patients and staff about any proposals in order to ensure the service can adapt to meet the needs of its local population and teams.”

The possible closure of the Urgent Care Centre Centre comes amid widespread concerns about local GP surgeries being overloaded and appointments with doctors becoming harder to obtain.

Elsewhere, the locally loved walk in centre on Erdington High Street closed its doors during the coronavirus lockdowns – eventually renaming the service as the Erdington Urgent Treatment Centre and moving to the Stockland Green Primary Care Centre in October 2020.

The High Street facility did reopen as the Erdington Health and Wellbeing Hub in December 2010, offering a range of free to access support through both drop in and pre-booked sessions with trained advisors – run by Witton Lodge Community Association.

From 2000 to 2010, under the Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown respectively, the NHS opened more than 230 walk-in centres across England.

But the facilities have been steadily shutting their doors, with the health regulator Monitor finding over 50 have closed since 2010 – with further research by the not-for-profit political-activism organisation 38 Degrees finding a further 44 are no longer seeing patients.

Originally planned to improve patient access to primary care, the NHS walk-in centres have ‘stirred debate’ within the healthcare sector over their cost effectiveness sand use of resources – according to Monitor.

However, the facilities have proved generally popular with local residents and users, offering an alternative to often overburdened GP surgeries.

One local patient, David Smith, complained: “I have given up trying with my doctors, they say phone up at 8am and the line is always engaged.”

For more on Warren Farm Urgent Care Centre visit www.warrenfarmurgentcarecentre.nhs.uk

LOCAL AMBASSADORS: It’s not you, it’s the system – navigating the NHS

Words by Jo Bull

My name is Jo, and I dare to exist while disabled. I am under the mental health team and I’m diabetic. I have experience on both sides of the desk in public services.

I don’t think it’s news to anyone that the NHS system is broken. Even before Covid-19 there have been areas of lack in terms of understanding and awareness with chronic illness, sensory issues, trauma informed practice, and hidden disability.

I write this because I need reminding of the following on a daily basis when I am ill. Because the system conditions us to feel like we are a burden, we are often left to manage our own illness – or treated as if we know nothing about our own brains and bodies after a lifetime of living and working within them.

And we can frequently experience unsafe treatment, in terms of both attitude and medication when practitioners are making assumptions or not paying attention.

The system is now so fragmented, overloaded, and traumatised, half the workers within the NHS are in states of fight or flight – and as no one has supported them to self-care, patients and service users often bear the brunt of that.

Sometimes they literally do not have enough bodies to do their job. Sometimes they are not feeling safe and grounded enough in their own selves to listen, absorb information, or keep us safe.

Two overloaded traumatised people meeting in these circumstances often don’t do well together. This is dangerous and distressing for people without complex needs, and even harder for those of us who do not fit the norm. If the system no longer works for the typical and abled it is now a massive hurdle for those of us who aren’t.

We need to pause, breathe, and meet each other – medic and patient – as two humans navigating impossible waters together. We need to have empathy for each other, without compromising needs or safeguarding, and without blaming, shaming, or being dismissive. Negotiating and navigating together, as a team.

As service users, we can tell ourselves the following things: they may not be able to meet our needs, they may not have empathy for us, they may not understand. This is not within our control. However, we do not have to accept or absorb arrogance, ignorance, abuse, or stigma.

We are not to blame for the gaps or lack within the system we keep falling through. The system’s lack is not the user’s fault; we do not need to hate ourselves. We are not a burden.

What we can have control over is how we view ourselves, and learning more about ourselves so we can continue to identify and ask for what we need.

Jo is part of the LOCAL AMBASADORS project, using community journalism to give local people a louder voice – including adults living with disabilities. For more stories from our LOCAL AMBASSADORS visit www.erdingtonlocal.com/category/la-news-features

If you would like to know more about the LOCAL AMBASSADORS project and join the team for free, fun, and friendly workshops on journalism and creative writing then email la@erdingtonlocal.com

NEWS: Erdington MP backs Covid-19 public inquiry and calls for Matt Hancock to “honour that commitment” and meet with grieving families

Words by Adam Smith

Jack Dromey MP is backing a Castle Vale woman’s demand for a public inquiry into the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic – after she lost her father and sister to the virus within a week.

Jane Roche is part of the Bereaved Families for Justice campaign and despite Matt Hancock promising to meet her and other Erdington families last December they have yet to see the Health Secretary.

Government this week ruled out holding a public inquiry in the foreseeable future, despite health experts estimating thousands of lives would have been saved if ministers had heeded warnings last year and implemented the first lockdown earlier.

Mr Dromey raised the complaints of the Bereaved Families for Justice campaign in Parliament and has accused Matt Hancock of avoiding meeting Covid-19 victims’ relatives.

Mr Dromey told Erdington Local: “I know many Erdington families have lost loved ones to Covid-19 and they are desperate for answers as to whether their loved one’s death was preventable.

“When you hear a story like Jane’s, or any of the other members of the campaign, and you hear the pain they have suffered, you want to help them find at least some degree of closure – and that can’t be done until the questions they have are answered.”

He added: “I asked Matt Hancock to meet with families from the West Midlands who have lost loved ones, which he agreed to in Parliament. He must honour that commitment and set a date.

“A public inquiry is so important for another reason, one that I know is so important to the families, to make sure mistakes are never repeated.”

Pressure mounts on the Boris Johnson this week, as leaks about his vocabulary and conduct around the coronavirus crisis continue to make national headlines. Various reports from Whitehall officials have cited the PM as saying he would rather see “bodies pile high” than put England into another lockdown.

Office for National Statistics figures reveal 348 people in Kingstanding, Erdington, and Castle Vale died due to Covid-19 between March 2020 and March 2021.

Jane Roche said: “We are absolutely determined to make sure this public inquiry goes ahead, and it needs to happen as soon as possible. Thousands of grieving families need answers to why we lost our loved ones the way we did.

“Boris Johnson is dragging his heels, but he needs to set a date for the inquiry, it’s the least he can do. He can’t ignore us forever.”

Responding to calls for a public inquiry a Government spokesman said: “An inquiry now is not appropriate.

“The very people who would need to give evidence to an inquiry are working round the clock. It is not anticipated that the government’s workload will ease in the coming months.”

For more on Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice visit: www.covidfamiliesforjustice.org

For more information on the COVID-19 vaccines direct from the NHS visit: www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-vaccination

NEWS: Erdington MP survey reveals “worryingly” high number of care home staff refusing Covid-19 vaccine

Words by Adam Smith

A “worrying” amount of care home staff in Erdington and Kingstanding are refusing to have the Covid-19 vaccine, a recent survey has revealed.

Shockingly 67% of 30 care homes in the constituency questioned by Jack Dromey MP had staff who have decided against having the life-saving jab.

One home reported 23 out of 25 staff refused the vaccine, including the manager. In another 75% of staff turned down the chance to be vaccinated.

The reasons for refusal show widespread misinformation about the vaccine’s side effects including fears of fertility problems or the jab being poisonous.

Mr Dromey said: “The results of my latest care home survey reveal worrying levels of vaccine uptake amongst care home staff.

“The fact that so many staff in care homes across Erdington are refusing the vaccine is deeply concerning. There is a significant risk posed to care home residents in particular who, for one reason or another, are unable to be vaccinated.

“What is also concerning is some of the reasons that were given for refusing the vaccines. Myths such as the vaccine is ‘poisonous’ and it ’causes infertility’ were both quoted in the responses, despite these being comprehensively disproven. Those who are responsible for sharing these dangerous myths should be utterly ashamed of themselves.”

The UK’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty believes care home staff have a “professional responsibility” to have the vaccine.

Government ministers are discussing whether to make the vaccine mandatory for NHS and care sector staff but unions including the GMB have warned against the idea.

Three of the UK’s biggest care home owners, Care UK, Barchester and Advina Healthcare, are insisting staff have the jab and from now on will only hire people who have been vaccinated.

Mr Dromey’s survey also revealed problems with PPE equipment not getting through to care homes seem to be solved.

Currently only three local care homes currently have current Covid outbreaks. – two with one member of staff affected, but another has seven staff and 14 residents currently battling the virus.

Mr Dromey also praised local care home staff for their bravery over the last 12 months.

He said: “Throughout the pandemic I have been in regular contact with Erdington’s care homes, including three surveys of all 47 local care homes. I have heard first-hand the extremely difficult challenges that staff and residents have faced.

“What has shone through over the past 12 months is the dedication and commitment of care home staff to the residents they care for. I know how hard they have worked, and they have gone above and beyond to provide the very best care in extremely difficult circumstances.”

He added: “I’d like to pay tribute to all care home staff across Erdington for their heroic work.”

For more information on the COVID-19 vaccines direct from the NHS visit www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-vaccination

NEWS: Erdington healthcare expanded with Urgent Treatment Centre at Stockland Green Primary Care Centre

Ed’s note… Please contact NHS 111 (it’s free to call) before attending Erdington Urgent Treatment Centre at Stockland Green Primary Care Centre, as walk-in patients cannot been seen.

Words and pics by Ed King

The new Erdingon Urgent Treatment Centre at Stockland Green Primary Care Centre (EUTC) is now open and operational, boosting much needed healthcare across the Erdington constituency.

Established to replace the Health & Wellbeing Walk-In-Centre, that operated from a shopfront site on Erdington High Street, the EUTC can see up to 100 patients per day – taking over previously unused space at the Stockland Green Primary Care Centre (SGPCC).

Despite being a well-loved and well-used facility, the previously high street based practice was not without its challenges – such as opening hours , parking, and proximity to busy licensed premises. The site was further dogged by the constant threat of closure, once in 2013 then again in 2020.

Following several campaigns to save the facility, the Walk-in-Centre finally closed it’s doors during the coronavirus crisis – but with assurances from Birmingham healthcare bosses that such a facility would remain ‘at the heart’ of the community, as called for in an open letter by MP for Erdington Jack Dromey.

The new Stockland Green Primary Care Centre based EUTC will be operational 12hrs a day, seven days a week – with a significant capacity for parking and emergency vehicles, allowing drivers to get right to the front door in desperate situations.

Next to several major bus routes, the EUTC will also offer easier access for patients using public transport from Erdington wards such as Stockland Green, Perry Common, Kingstanding, and Short Heath.

Further facilities on hand at the EUTC are three GP services, a pharmacy, and ‘a range of NHS community services.’

The NHS Birmingham and Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group (BSCCG), who manage the city’s NHS healthcare provisions, are hoping that many of the issues surrounding the old high street centre will be solved with the new facility.

Paul Jennings, Chief Executive of NHS BSCCG, said: “We welcome the opening of the relocated Erdington Urgent Treatment Centre; which will provide crucial urgent care services to local people.

We are committed to ensuring there is suitable local healthcare provision across Birmingham and Solihull, which meets the needs of our diverse communities.”

Erdington’s Member of Parliament, Jack Dromey, is also hopeful that the new UTC will bring widespread benefits across the constituency.

Speaking to Erdington Local about the EUTC , Jack Dromey MP said: “I am delighted that the Erdington Urgent Treatment Centre has opened and is already providing a first-class service to the people of Erdington.”

The Erdington Walk-In Centre saved countless lives, and when it closed temporarily due to COVID, many constituents contacted me with concerns over the future of our local healthcare provision. Back in August, I sought reassurances from the Birmingham and Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group that Erdington would retain such a service, and I am pleased they have delivered on that promise.” 

The new site not only offers improved medical facilities, but the increased accessibility will hopefully mean many more Erdington residents will now access this invaluable local service.” 

It is important for those who wish to use the service to remember to call 111 in the first instance to be referred for an appointment. The threat of COVID-19 is still very real, and we should not risk the health of others by turning up at the new Urgent Treatment Centre without an appointment.”

Local residents looking to access the EUTC, during the coronavirus crisis, have been asked to initially contact NHS 111 – to make sure everyone at the new facility can be met with COVID-19 safe environment.

For more details on how to access the Urgent Treatment Centre, visit www.birminghamandsolihullccg.nhs.uk/your-health

For more information on NHS 11 online, visit www.111.nhs.uk

For more from Jack Dromey MP, or for contact details to his constituency office, visit www.jackdromey.org

For more on the NHS Birmingham and Solihull CCG, visit www.birminghamandsolihullccg.nhs.uk

NEWS: Erdington guaranteed an ‘urgent care service’, following push from Jack Dromey MP to keep vital healthcare ‘at the heart of Erdington.’

Words & pics by Ed King

Erdington families have been guaranteed an ‘urgent care service’ will remain open and operational, despite widespread closures of public amenities due to the coronavirus crisis.

In an open letter to Paul Jennings, the Chief Executive of NHS Birmingham and Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), MP for Erdington Jack Dromey pushed for ‘reassurance over the future of these vital local services’ – following a ‘steady stream’ of concerns from across the constituency about the future of the Erdington Walk In Centre.

Responding swiftly to the MP’s letter, which was dated 18th August, Mr Jennings gave written assurance that the NHS ‘are now in a position to reopen an urgent care service in Erdington, in the very near future.’

In his letter, Jack Dromey MP further underlined the importance that such a service ‘will remain at the heart of Erdington.’

And whilst the location of the facility, which will be called Erdington Urgent Treatment Centre (UTC), has not been confirmed by the NHS, they were able to the commit ‘it will be open seven days per week, 12 hours a day’ – mirroring the accessibility of the High Street situated Walk-In-Centre – and ‘are hopeful that the new service will be up and running in October 2020.’

Located on Erdington High Street, the Walk-In-Centre was forced to close due to Government guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the free to access facility, which fought for survival back in 2013 – again championed by Jack Dromey MP – has been the difference between life and death for some local residents.

I’ve used the Walk-In-centre several times myself, when I’ve been unable to get doctor’s appointments,” tells Shaun Bebbington, who lives on Lindridge Road in Stockland Green. “But about three years ago my partner was quite ill… it turned out to be sepsis, but it was misdiagnosed at least once.

She started having a fit early hours one Tuesday morning; I called an ambulance, but the paramedics also missed the symptoms of sepsis. I got a taxi, with my partner, to the Walk-In-Centre as soon as they opened – they picked up the symptoms right away, asking the right questions, and then got us straight to Good Hope Hospital, where she was for 17 nights.– had she not have had medical attention within that timeframe she would not be here today.”

Jack Dromey MP previously led the campaign to save Erdington Walk-In-Centre back in 2013, when the then David Cameron led Government were looking to close eight healthcare facilities across Birmingham and Solihull.

Seven years later and the MP is back on the frontline, fighting for ‘the future of these vital local services’ – heralding ‘the CCG for your continued constructive and open dialogue.’

But Dromey’s support for Erdington’s health and wellbeing doesn’t stop at the Walk-In-Centre, as the MP has further called for the NHS Birmingham and Solihull CCG to ‘consider Erdington as a location for any future drive-through COVID vaccination site.’

Although the location of any new testing facility is too early to confirm, the NHS Birmingham and Solihull Chief Executive did ‘welcome a further conversation with you (Jack Dromey MP) about exploring the excellent community assets you have in Erdington, to see what would be possible.

We will be working harder than ever to ensure that everyone who is eligible for a vaccination is able to have one and would very much welcome your support with this.’

Interview with Jack Dromey MP and Shaun Bebbington – outside the Erdington Walk-In-Centre

For more from Jack Dromey MP, or for contact details to his constituency office, visit www.jackdromey.org

For more on the NHS Birmingham and Solihull CCG, visit www.birminghamandsolihullccg.nhs.uk

NEWS: ‘Nubsters’ play Russian Roulette picking up cigarette butts on Erdington High Street

Words by Adam Smith / Pics by Ed King

Desperate nicotine addicts have been warned they are playing Russian Roulette with their lives on Erdington High Street, by picking up and smoking cigarette butts from the pavement.

The “filthy habit” normally has a tranche of health consequences, but the COVID-19 pandemic could see more deadly results for the so called ‘Nubsters’. And the threat of catching coronavirus is not just confined to those picking cigarettes from the floor but extends to people who share ‘twos’ with their friends.

The warning has come from Erdington nurse, Leonie Smith (37), who has swapped working at her own clinic to be on the front line fighting COVID-19 in a mental health ward.

Leonie said: “I grew up in Erdington and we used to laugh at the old guys who picked up cigarettes from the floor, but now as a nurse it terrifies me the consequences of this filthy habit during this pandemic.

If I walk down Erdington High Street I can’t go ten yards before seeing someone picking up a fag end from the floor, I thought because of the pandemic people would have the sense to stop.

Normally it would be the germs and bacteria on the floor which would cause the health scares to these addicts, but now it is also who smoked the fag before which is the danger. It is a sure fire way of catching the virus.

Every pull on that cigarette is ingesting the previous persons saliva and germs; I still see young people passing one another cigarettes or spliffs of cannabis.”

Government has not released any statistics about how the coronavirus virus has hit drug addicts, but they often have underlying health conditions and low immune systems – a demographic described as ‘vulnerable’ by Public Health England.

We need to educate everyone in society to follow the rules and drug addicts are no different,” continues Leonie. “Passing on a roll up, cigarette, spliff, or vape has to be seen as a dangerous and stupid thing to do – we all have a part to play, to call out friends, family and those who are blasé and do this like they always have.”

Leonie went to Perry Common School and has lived in Erdington and Kingstanding whilst working in the NHS – including the Children’s Hospital in Birmingham.

Before the COVID-19 crisis she had set up her own clinic as an expert in children’s mental health. However, as the call out for support came from Government she immediately volunteered to go back on the front line.

Leonie has now created her own signs, which include the slogan ‘No More Twos’ and ‘Picking up fag butts is like Russian Roulette’ – hoping to help deter the trend of picking up discarded cigarette ends and to further prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Birmingham City Council pinpointed Erdington as one of the busiest high streets outside the city centre and removed on-street parking, as well as widened pavements, to help tackle problems physical distancing.

For further help and guidance on health issues surrounding COVID-19 and the coronavirus crisis, visit www.gov.uk/coronavirus

For help and guidance giving up smoking, visit www.nhs.uk/live-well/quit-smoking/nhs-stop-smoking-services-help-you-quit/