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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NEWS: Lights, Camera, Action: Erdington Arts Forum bring ‘BBC broadcast quality production’ to their Evening of Creativity events

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Ed King

The Evening of Creativity (EoC) is a fixture in Erdington’s cultural diary that brings artists from many different backgrounds to the fore, all in the name of encouraging local talent.

The event, organised by the Erdington Arts Forum, moved exclusively online during lockdown – with thousands of regular viewers tuning in each month.

One silver-lining about the shift was that the production quality of the filmed EoC events increased drastically, thanks to the input of technician Paul Withers.

Regular live streaming has further encouraged a new audience for EoC events, bringing even more positive attention to Erdington’s lively art scene.

On the 17th July, at 7:30pm, the Evening of Creativity will be broadcast from the Erdington Arts Forum Facebook page – to watch the event’s live stream, visit: www.facebook.com/ErdingtonArts

Acts will include live music performances from Tarju Le’Sano and Chris Tye, as presented by Birmingham Review, as well as music from EoC regular Ilias Lintzos. There will also be spoken word by Sami Saunders, artwork by Angela Chapman and Rob Gunnell, and animation from Andy Spencer.

Paul Withers has an impressive pedigree of working in television as a camera operator, sound recordist, editor, and broadcast engineer. His credits include BBC, ITV, Channel Four, Sky Sports, and the History Channel to name but a few: ”I love helping great ideas come to life. I’ve worked in theatre, television, radio, and corporate communications for all of my working life – in the UK, Europe, Africa and Australia.”

Paul joined the collective at SASS (Secret Arts Space Studios) earlier this year, using the Erdington based creative hub as his Midlands base of operations. However, his association with the area goes back further: “I have a strong affinity with Erdington, working on films and plays based around the prestigious Rookery House back in the early noughties. To work with the Erdington Arts Forum is a great joy.”

Paul was first involved with the Evening of Creativity by editing the April show, initially consisting of pre-recorded content including music, art, poetry, and interviews. At many regular gig nights around the country, musicians and artists have had to ‘make do’ with live streaming to social media via mobile phones as a way of keeping their content relevant during COVID-19’s lockdown.

The first ‘live’ broadcast EoC show was held at the Oikos Café in June, in the midst of the coronavirus lockdown – using the venue’s in house production unit to film live, alongside broadcasting pre-recorded material.

I’ve been incredibly impressed with the high standards of programming at the Evening of Creativity,” comments James Kennedy, a regular EoC viewer and co-ordinator for Selly Oak Arts Forum. “It brings a diverse range of communities together in a celebration of arts, music and performance.”

Paul now commands an impressive, portable broadcast unit consisting three professional cameras, monitors, vision mixers, and sound engineering equipment – allowing the Erdington Arts Forum to regularly add BBC broadcast quality production to their EoC events.

From selfie-mode using a Samsung to a multi-camera, high quality production studio – Paul has added significant value to the Evening of Creativity events,” says Jobe Sullivan, coordinator of the Erdington Arts Forum. “He brings everything you need, and, spares – allowing us to give the musicians and artists involved a fully professional showreel. It’s been a huge step forward for the events.”

To find out more about and Erdington Arts Forum and their regular Evening of Creativity events, and to watch this month’s event at 7:30pm on Friday 1tth June, visit www.facebook.com/CAFEartsforum

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NEWS: Erdington Local celebrates 100 days and a ‘huge response’ reporting news across the constituency

Words by Ed King / Pics courtesy of Erdington Local

On Tuesday 14th July, Erdington Local celebrates its first 100 days – reporting news, features, and stories from local people from across the constituency.

Launched on Monday 6th April 2020, Erdington Local has had a ‘huge response’ from thousands of readers every week – reaching over 32,276 people in June alone.

Reporting from across all the wards, Erdington Local’s current online readership figures show a projected reach of over 350,000 readers in its first 12 months. A further monthly print edition of the newspaper is planned for release in Autumn this year, with a copy issued to every resident in the constituency – from Stockland Green to Castle Vale.

Originally scheduled to go live in June/July this year, Erdington Local pushed forward its online content by several months to report on the coronavirus crisis.

Whilst other media titles were closing down or culling staff, Erdington Local established a hungry and hardworking news team – publishing articles that explored the affect of the COVID-19 pandemic from care homes to classrooms.

Now a member of the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce, Erdington Local has been hosting the online address book and database of emergency support services since 7th May – as compiled by the Taskforce and the constituency’s strategic partners.

Offering vital links to food banks, financial services, education advice, housing organisations, and mental health and wellbeing support – the COVID-19 Local Support page alone has reached nearly 30,000 people across Erdington.

A partnership between Active Arts and Review Publishing, Erdington Local was set up to bring reliable local news back into the community.

With the major publishing houses relying more and more on syndicated news, Erdington Local prides itself on first hand reporting – shining a light on the issues that directly affect the lives of its readers, whilst challenging the attention grabbing ‘clickbait’ published by other news titles in Birmingham.

We’ve had a huge response from people across Erdington,” tells Ed King – Erdington Local Editor-in-Chief, “with an immediate audience of almost 1000 people per day. It’s been an incredible welcome. But it also reflects the need for a reliable news source.

Erdington Local is not going to hide from the more difficult stories, honesty and a tough skin are important in a newsroom. But our reporters live in Erdington, they grew up in Erdington. They know the hearts and souls of this community. And Erdington Local is here to represent this vibrant pocket of Birmingham – something that is long, long overdue from local media in the city.”

Claire Marshall, Project Director of Active Arts, adds: ““There has been so much that, until now, has gone unrecognised in Erdington – none of the major news outlets wanted to know.

The chance to launch a newspaper, to provide a new voice to the people of Erdington, was an exciting opportunity. With Erdington Local we now have a prominent platform to celebrate all the achievements from this fantastic area of Birmingham.”

Erdington Local has been publishing stories online since 6th April, with plans to release its first monthly printed edition in October this year – circulating up to 25,000 tabloid sized titles across the constituency and beyond.

Both Active Arts and Review Publishing will be exploring further ‘Local’ titles in neighbouring areas, with plans to develop the newspaper brand across Birmingham in early 2021.

Erdington Local is proud to put local people at the heart of our stories – if you have something you want Erdington Local to know about, or if there is something you think our reporters should investigate, then get in touch.

To contact Erdington Local, click here for full details – or email the newsroom directly on mystory@erdingtonlocal.com

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NEWS: Erdington MP Jack Dromey saves local art spaces from immediate eviction

Words by Jobe Baker Sullivan / Original photography by Ed King & Sylvia Chan

Erdington MP, Jack Dromey, has prevented the immediate eviction of two charity art groups from the old Central Square shopping centre on Erdington High Street.

The Cube and Active Arts Castle Vale are both known for dynamic engagement through the arts in the community – including painting, crafts, music, exhibition spaces, drama, and facilitating workshops and performances for well-being.

Both organisations were renting units at Central Square through East Street Arts, a Leeds born charity that works with landlords ‘to change the lack of infrastructure available for artists living and working’ in major cities across the UK – turning longstanding, empty commercial properties into vibrant art studios and spaces with more affordable rent.

Then on 25th June, The Cube and Active Arts Castle Vale were both given only three weeks to completely vacate their premises by Godwin Developers – in preparation for demolition of the whole of the Central Square, as part of Erdington High Street’s redevelopment plans. However, other businesses such as M S Fruits or the St Vincent’s charity shop were given extended leases of up to one year despite being on the same site.

After the art organisations got in contact with the Erdington MP’s office, Jack Dromey intervened directly in talks with Godwin Developments – who in turn agreed to extend the lease the same as the other businesses. Dromey announced on Twitter that: ‘This helps to protect the valuable arts community that thrives in Erdington.’

After contacting the constituency office, Jack Dromey MP told Erdington Local: “As soon as I heard The Cube and Active Arts Castle Vale were facing eviction at three weeks notice I knew I had to act immediately and contacted Godwin Developments, who recently acquired the site.

My discussion with the new owners of Central Square was a constructive one. I said that it was a sense of pride for Erdington that, in one of Britain’s poorest constituencies, local artists demonstrate how our community is rich in talent. I also brought home how those marvellous projects mean so much to the health and wellbeing of Erdington’s best.”

Active Arts Castle Vale work on art and community focused projects across the constituency, having converted the old Russell’s Furniture Store at Central Square into the Secret Arts Studio Space – ‘a place for artists to create their own work and have a safe space to test out ideas.’

Housing an ensemble of painters, illustrators, musicians, writers, and broadcasters, the Secret Arts Studio Space has been a growing success story for local artists – with new members lining up for affordable art studios in the heart of Erdington.

Leaving Central Square would have been a huge blow to the community of artists we have at the Secret Arts Studio Space,” explains Claire Marshall – Project Director at Active Arts, “it’s increasingly difficult for local artists to find affordable and accessible art space, and what we’d built up here – with help from East Street Arts – would have been totally turned on its head.

We know we’ll have to leave Central Square at some point to make way for the regeneration plan, which will be amazing for Erdington, and we’re getting support from people like Councillor Robert Alden and Terry Guest (Erdington Business Improvement District) to find an exciting new home.

But the eviction deadline from the developers was too hard and too fast – luckily as soon as we reached out to the MP’s office, Jack Dromey acted immediately and brokered us the time we needed. It’s a fantastic relief to all the artists here.”

As soon as the news came through regarding the eviction, The Cube were shaken too – desperately trying to sell the majority of their desks, computers, and pianos, in preparation for a drastic and fast move. They contacted every artist they knew to collect their work.

Heather Rowland, one of the co-founders of The Cube, said: “It was shocking when we were told we needed to move, but now we’re all so delighted. It would have been so much work to move out of there. I’ve been doing this for 12 years now. We’ve had a great time. I thought that was the end the Cube.”

But upon learning that The Cube can stay where they are, Heather also breathed a sigh of relief: “It’s lovely to think that we’ll still be here at Christmas. I know we’ve got to move out some time.”

Normally, The Cube is open Monday, Wednesday and Saturday 10am-3pm. Asking for a small donation, The Cube offers free or affordable space to a multitude of groups, allowing them to use their crafting facilities. It also hosts many accomplished local artists such as multi-media artists Cristelle Jones, Andy Spencer, and Ty Ford.

Central Square’s planned demolition contributes to the development of Erdington High Street – as part of the Future High Streets project – which, according to the .gov website should ‘encourage vibrant town centres where people live, shop, use services, and spend their leisure time.’

To find out more about The Cube, visit www.facebook.com/thecubeinthesquare

To find out more about Active Arts Castle Vale and the Secret Arts Space Studios, visit www.activearts.wordpress.com/secret-arts-studio-space

For more from Jack Dromey MP, visit www.jackdromey.org

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NEWS: Erdington Taskforce – ‘We’ll Be There for You’ music video reaches out to thousands across the constituency

Words by Steve Sharma, original photography by Ed King

A new music video promoting the work of the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce has reached out to thousands across the constituency – directing those in need to a database of vital support services.

Produced by Active Arts, the video is a reworking of the theme tune from the TV show Friends – tweaking the world famous title to ‘We’ll Be There for You’.

The Taskforce hope the ‘fun, catchy tune’ will encourage individuals and families who have remained ‘cut-off’ during the coronavirus pandemic to seek help and advice – promoting an address book of support services for finance, housing, access to food and essential items, employment, mental health, and more.

Afzal Hussain, Chief Officer at Witton Lodge Community Association, which facilitates Taskforce operations, said:

We are aware, from conversations that take place during our weekly Taskforce meetings, that there are people out there – isolated individuals – who are unable to access mainstream support.

There can be a number of reasons for this, such as a chronic long term health conditions, disability or poor mental health.

Throughout the pandemic, such people have remained cut-off from support services, have gone under the radar. But we are determined to not only reach these individuals but to give them the critical help and support they need.

We hope the video will stir people to help us identify anyone in their community who may be vulnerable and isolated.”

Comprised of several prominent and active community organisations, voluntary groups, public agencies, councillors, and volunteers – the Erdington Taskforce has so far raised over £450,000 to help local residents affected by the COVID-19 lockdown, alongside delivering almost 10,000 food parcels and over 7,000 wellbeing activities.

The online address book of support services has reached over 27,325 people, since first published by Erdington Local on 7th May – seeing over 2972 people engage directly through the newspaper, looking for essentials services and help throughout the coronavirus crisis and lock down.

The ‘We’ll Be There for You’ music video, performed by local artists as sourced by Active Arts, hopes to keep the message of community support alive – even whilst some lockdown restrictions are redacted.

We wanted to find an effective and fun way to communicate how people can get support locally,” tells Claire Marshall, Project Director at Active Arts and a member of the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce, “it has been inspiring to see how the different local agencies have pulled together to make a difference for people in need.

At Active Arts we have a pool of talented artists through the Erdington Arts Forum that we can draw on and the idea for ‘We’ll Be There For You’ flowed very quickly with these artists, supported by members of the Taskforce, getting behind the idea. As you can see it is a fun, catchy tune that gives a snapshot of what support there is.”

Singing lead vocals in the video is Sandra Daniels – alongside a backing track performed by local musicians Reuben Reynolds, Jobe Baker-Sullivan, and Paul Withers.

The ‘We’ll Be There For You’ music video also includes personal appearances from Erdington MP Jack Dromey and Birmingham City Councillor Robert Alden – alongside members from organisations like The Pioneer Group, The Active Wellbeing Society, Urban Devotion Birmingham, Erdington Community Volunteers, and Erdintgon Local.

The Erdington Taskforce is a fantastic initiative,” tells Sandra Daniels, “helping so many people in so many ways during what has been a very difficult time for many.

I was thrilled to get the chance to support them (with this project) and the work that’s being done.”

‘We’ll Be There for You’ – Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce

For contact information and details on the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce, and to visit the COVID-19 Local Support database and address book, visit www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19-local-support

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LOCAL PROFILE: Saba Malik

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Ed King & Saba Malik

Saba Malik moved to Erdington some two years ago with her husband Adeel Bajwa and three children. In normal circumstances she would be working as a secondary school science teacher. During lockdown, she took to volunteering to help the vulnerable in our community.

Saba is part of the Ahmadiyya Muslim faith – a movement founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, formed officially in Punjab in 1889 – and does community work through the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association (AMWA) in Erdington. Ahmadiyya Muslims are a unique and worldwide religious movement outside of the more well-known Sunni or Shia faiths, with 144 ‘branches’ across the UK alone.

Initially, the AMWA didn’t cope well with the monotony of lockdown: “they are used to having about 20 people over every weekend,” says Saba. Better at cooking potatoes rather than being couch potatoes, Saba galvanized the team of about 25 women into cooking up hot meals for vulnerable people around Birmingham, but especially in the Erdington Community. “Why not?”, explains Saba, “this is using skills, resources, something they can do, so we got in contact with those ladies and they’re more than happy – we got a bit of a rota going now.”

The AMWA joined up with Birmingham Community Solidarity group, which was set up very quickly in response to the announcement of lockdown on March 23rd – the group acts as sign posting for people with free time wanting to help those in need, with Saba becoming a key part in their delivery work in North Birmingham.

Always humble, she notes that “there’s amazing charities out there and organisations. We have a really good COVID-19 response as well in Erdington with the food deliveries.”

Helping those in need is a family affair for the Malik-Bajwas. Saba has created more than 50 protective masks at home using her sewing machine, and explains how her son, Yousuf, “wanted to learn to sow after he saw me on the machine for two days – and I thought, ‘good these are the things you learn!… I’m grateful we can share this with our children.”

But the Malik-Bajwa’s family approach didn’t stop there. “The littlest one has got a fan base of her own,” explains Saba – referring to Ayla, her youngest daughter, who has been writing letters and creating artwork for those people receiving regular food packages.

She can’t write completely! When I give deliveries, she comes with me. She just makes cards. She’ll write ‘I love you’ to whoever it is, and draw a picture, she puts it in an envelope, goes into the study, finds an envelope herself and decorates it.”

These simple acts of kindness can go a long way. As a proud mother, Saba recounts that “there are some who are completely on their own and they’re isolating, and it really makes their day. It breaks my heart when they tell me that they stare at her cards all day and it makes them feel happy, or they’ve got them on their fridge. If it makes them feel happy it’s good. I tell her ‘it’s so nice that you’re sharing your talent. It’s the cycle of wellbeing.”

But whilst volunteering efforts can be noble, they aren’t always appreciated. Not at first, anyway, as Saba recalls a situation where one of the women she met became suspicious of her appearance – noticeably the headscarf she was wearing at the time.

You know you are right,” explains Saba, “because one of the women I met first…. she spoke to me after and said ‘when you turned up… I don’t wanna be offensive, I don’t wanna get anything wrong. But you had this a scarf on your head, you had this mask on your face… and I just thought, who is this person who’s come to me’?”

Headscarf,” Saba laughed, politely correcting the mistake. And after talking some more, the woman admitted: “I never felt like I’ve ever discriminated, but without realising that’s what I felt when I saw you… she felt bad about it after, and we’re really good friends now. But that’s how you break down barriers sometimes, and it works both ways.”

But it’s not all about the hearts and minds when it comes to community action, someone has to do the paperwork – and admin queen Saba Malik keeps a keen record of all that the ladies group do. To date the Birmingham North branch of Ahmadiyya Muslims have distributed 200 meals, delivered 340 PPE masks, and are in constant contact with families across the constituency: “who have been 100% supported through donations and cooked food.”  

Now the lockdown pressures easing, Saba reflects on her time over the past couple of months. “It’s been long weeks of lockdown. I don’t want to open my diary,” she jokes. Always comparing her family to those less fortunate, Saba continues, “we’re just incredibly grateful it’s not been as challenging for us.”

Volunteer efforts, like Saba’s and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association, have been integral to helping people cope during the coronavirus pandemic – with faith and community groups working together to help their friends and neighbours. This phenomenal show of strength and community action has alleviated the anguish of lockdown for thousands across Erdington, much of which is unseen and unreported.

But the message that runs though many of the groups who are out there serving the community, is inclusivity – regardless of faith, age, status, or standing, now is the time to help. And as the web address and strap line for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association declares, ‘Love for all, hatred for none.’

Words Saba Malik underlines, clearly and confidently, when asked about the people her group want to reach out to and help: “…any religion, it’s irrelevant.”

To find out more about the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community UK, visit www.loveforallhatredfornone.org/

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NEWS: Erdington’s Evening of Creativity returns with its first ‘live show’ since lockdown

Words by Ed King / Pics courtesy of Erdington Arts Forum

On Friday 19th June, the Evening of Creativity will be returning to the OIKOS Café – presenting its first ‘live show’ since the lockdown began.

An eclectic programme of music and art, June’s Evening of Creativity will be a mix of pre-recorded performances from musicians across the city – alongside selected live performances on the OIKOS stage, being streamed through the Erdington Arts Forum Facebook page.

The special Friday night showcase will be the first time the event has been held, in part, at the OIKOS Café since the widespread closures of venues to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Organisers are keen to recreate the live gig experience, using the full venue set up at OIKOS Café – with all the sound, lighting, and staging in place that you would find at one of their regular concerts.

Running from 7:30pm, musicians appearing across the evening will include Clive ‘the slide’ Allsopp – who is taking a break from his role as conductor of the Walsall Symphony Orchestra to play some solo jazz trombone.

Robin Surgeoner will also be performing a live solo acoustic show, playing a set of original music – all penned by the nine time Gold medal winning Paralympian swimmer, who is also a prominent musician, poet, and artist under the pseudonym Angryfish.

There will also be a special cooking segment from the Polish Expats Association (PAE), showing the online audience how to prepare authentic Central and Eastern European dishes – as featured in the Central European Cookbook on the PAE Facebook page.

Performing and hosting the Friday 19th June event will be local poet, Empress P – returning to the Evening of Creativity after her set at the 17th April showcase, the first event held online after the widespread venue closures.

Empress P will also be interviewing local author Ed King – whose new book, Snapshots of Mumbai, is an exploration into the South Asian megacity and the historic relationship between India and Britain. Keen to shine a light on the fingerprints of Imperialism for a modern day audience, Ed King will be discussing his book amidst the recent clarion calls for clarity over Britain’s colonial past.

Having run every month since it was first established in 2017 by the Erdington Arts Forum, the Evening of Creativity events have become a regular fixture in Erdington – hosted at the OIKOS Café on Erdington High Street, until the coronavirus crisis forced it online.

Committed to supporting artists across the constituency, each Evening of Creativity is also a chance to introduce new performers to Erdington – establishing them in front of a vibrant North East Birmingham audience, and vice versa.

But as the lockdown saw music venues close and stages left empty, the Evening of Creativity embraced a new digital audience – one that allowed the local event to reach out even further than before through social media and live streaming.

Now, as the coronavirus crisis is brought more and more under control, with the physical and social distancing restrictions being eased week by week, organisers are keen to nurture this new-found fan base – alongside returning to the live environment that helped establish the event.

We’ve always been ‘standing room only’ at Oikos,” tells Jobe Baker Sullivan – Evening of Creativity founder and chair of the Erdington Arts Forum, “the live events were well supported and loved by a loyal crowd – every month, without fail, we saw a packed house enjoy music from across Erdington and the country.

But when the lockdown came and venues closed, we were forced online to keep the event alive – recording performances and posting them onto social media. Initially we didn’t think of this as anything more than a stopgap, but the ability to reach audiences well beyond Erdington has been an unexpected gift.

So, on Friday 19th June, we are going to bring back the live show – recording part of the event live, back at Oikos, and broadcasting it as it happens. But we’re also keen to nurture our new digital audience too and bring them more into the gig – recreating the live show experience as much as we can for everyone enjoying the Evening of Creativity online.”

To find out more about and Erdington Arts Forum and their regular Evening of Creativity events, and to watch this month’s event at 7:30pm on Friday 19th June, visit www.facebook.com/CAFEartsforum

For more on Oikos Café, visit www.oikoscafe.co.uk

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LOCAL PROFILE: Reverend Gerard Goshawk

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Ed King

Reverend Gerard Goshawk has been a Baptist minister for “probably about 18 years.” Working first as a lay pastor, he became a full time pastor 13 years ago – finding his way to Six Ways Baptist Church after coming “from Nottingham, and it’s been brilliant. I love Erdington.”

But the ‘new normal’ created by the coronavirus crisis has established new ways of working, socialising, and even worshipping – as everywhere from classrooms to congregations have been subject to physical and social distancing restrictions.

Reverend Goshawk’s working week before lockdown “was a different rhythm. It was more based with things happening up at Six Ways Baptist Church. The different groups, activities we had there, being around for those, and visiting people – and lots of meetings, meetings, meetings! Lots of worship based at the church, and (the Erdington) foodbank based at the church.”

An important part of the community, the Erdington Foodbank is based at Six Ways Baptist Church – providing ‘three days nutritionally balanced emergency food and support to local people who are referred to us in crisis.’

But during the COVID-19 pandemic, The Trussell Trust – who support the Erdington Foodbank – have seen usage across their UK network increase by 89% from April 2019 to April 2020. For Reverend Goshawk, his active role helping the people who need access to food has become even more pertinent.

Although reaching his congregation was also a concern, as places of worship across the country were completely closed during the coronavirus lockdown. “It’s been a big learning process,” explains Reverend Goshawk, as social media became the most viable method of communication with people in self-isolation.

We have a service on YouTube that we pre-record for each Sunday, that goes out… I do some Daily devotions on Facebook live each day and I send them out on a WhatsApp list as well. That’s Monday to Friday.

Then, we also have a zoom fellowship – a service on a Sunday where most people that can do that get together. That’s been really great and we’ve kinda adapted to how we do that.”

Excited by the prospect of this new normal, Reverend Goshawk notes that “there’s statistics out there about people who have not done church before but are watching church services online. There’s a whole new field of people out there who are being reached, and in our small way, Erdington is part of that.”

But while he can’t yet meet his congregation at church, Reverend Goshawk still goes out to members where they live – spending a lot of his time “cycling round Erdington, delivering news sheets, written information for people as well… because we have… 25 people in our church not connected on the Internet.”

There’s even a chance for prayer, as Reverend Goshawk finds himself “sometimes praying with people on their doorstep… 2 meters away.”

Places of worship are now set to open for private prayer in England from the 15th June, and Reverend Goshawk is preparing for “coming out of lockdown, as of next week. We’ll be able to open up for people to come in just for quiet prayer, socially distanced and everything.”

But like many businesses and social groups in the UK, Six Ways Baptist Church has seen how some engagements are actually better off being at least partly conducted online.

We wouldn’t want to be losing all the new things that we’ve done,” tells Reverend Goshawk, “because we are reaching different people in different ways, you know.

Sometimes I used to do a bible study for a very small number of people who would turn up on a Sunday evening at the church – on a cold winter’s evening, about four faithful people perhaps sometimes just turning up. And now we’re in double figures every time and growing with the number of people that will come to bible study [via zoom].

I believe we’re made by God to connect with each other and to be alongside each other. I think we will still do lots of things online. It would be a shame to lose that experience and that benefit that we had. It just means a bit more work!”

Outside of the coronavirus crisis, and the changes Reverend Goshawk has made to stay in touch with his immediate community, Six Ways Baptist Church has received recognition for its hard work helping migrants and asylum seekers.

Reverend Goshawk is also the chair of the group Everyone Erdington, which celebrates diversity, and in the past has organised “get togethers”, lunches, and festivals specifically inviting people from different backgrounds. And whilst institutionalised racism is a constant concern, affecting communities worldwide, following the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota people and protest have risen up across the globe in solidarity.

Our church at six ways is a black majority church,” explains Reverend Goshawk. “I don’t really feel equipped to speak on behalf of people that would identify themselves as black. But the response has been deep… actually looking at the practical ways that we as a church can make a difference for ourselves and for this community to actually be part of that transformation.

That exciting change that seems to be out there as a possibility at the moment. There’s a whole range of feelings about it. One of those, the more positive thing about it, there’s a move that’s happening. It does feel like there’s potential for real change.”

Reverend Gerard Goshawk is pastor at Six Ways Baptist Church. To find out more about the church, visit: www.sixwayserdington.org.uk

For more on the Everyone Erdington Facebook group, visit: www.facebook.com/EveryoneErdington

For more on the Erdington Foodbank, including information on how to access provision or to make a donation, visit: www.erdington.foodbank.org.uk

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OPINION: Black Lives Matter protest in Birmingham

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Chris Neophytou & Jobe Baker-Sullivan

As far as I’m concerned, the police in America might as well be a terrorist organisation.”

I was spellbound by the thousands of people who gathered in Birmingham for the Black Lives Matter protest. There were people of all ages and races. There were children, and even a few pet dogs. It was in response to George Floyd’s death – which has caused shockwaves in cities around the world. I was proud to be there for Birmingham’s show of solidarity.

Initially, it was a scary experience. On my way to Birmingham Library, where the speeches took place, I was handed a slip of paper from an organiser with ‘advice on arrest’. I became anxious as the crowds gathered momentum – lest we forget, there is also the possibility of being infected with coronavirus.

But the intention of this protest was noble.

People chanted in full voice: “George Floyd, remember his name!” organically, along with other slogans. There were signs containing anti-establishment messages, messages of hope – some tongue-in-cheek, some with wise quotations. The one that resonated with me was the powerful, ‘They want our rhythm not our blues.’ As a musician, I believe that a vast amount of popular music owes a lot to talented, pioneering yet anonymous, often intentionally uncredited, black musicians. And as a white musician, I believe we stole their music but we didn’t alleviate their sorrow.

By chance, I spotted some people I know from Erdington. Pastor Rasaq Ibrahim from the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) joyfully handed me a free face mask, before disappearing into the crowd to give more to strangers.

Feeling fully equipped, having brought my vinyl gloves and voice recorder, I joined the crowd outside the library to hear passionate speakers selected by the Black Lives Matter group using a portable PA, often doubled with a megaphone. It was only audible if you were very close to the action, but people were happy to start chants in their own pockets of activity. I caught most of the speeches, with various speakers commending the multi-ethnicity of the crowd, the fact that this protest cannot be the last, and getting the crowd to kneel as a gesture of solidarity.

The fight is not black verses white; the fight is not black verses Asian. The fight is not black verses any race. The fight is against racists,” one speaker sermonised, followed by rapturous applause.

A couple of hours later, we marched, from Centenary Square, along New Street, to protest symbolically in front of the Lloyd House Police Headquarters.

An acquaintance of mine spotted me in the crowd. Like all the following speakers, she is black and wishes to remain anonymous. She is from Castle Vale: “Everyone’s out here. Black, white, Indian. Fighting for the same cause. It’s like the most peaceful protest I’ve ever been to. The message is clear. All anybody wants to have is an enjoyable life, and some people are robbing them of that.

Me personally, I feel like Black Lives Matter is inclusive to everyone as well. As far as I’m concerned, the police in America might as well be a terrorist organisation. The George Floyd incident was filmed, but it’s like, this has been going on for decades. This protest is saying, stop it. Just stop.”

I too had fear that this day would not remain peaceful, having seen the news of tear gas and looting in America. Trump’s response was to threaten to send in the army to cease the unrest, yet here in Birmingham I see an army of well-meaning citizens mobilizing to bring positive change.

One man, from Moseley, tells me: “As you can see, everybody’s behaving and respecting. Not many police officers. In general, I’m quite blown away because also, nobody with grey hairs like us! The majority of people are under 30. It’s mixed like hell mate! Proper mixed… It’s been an excellent day, a great day.”

We stopped our conversation to admire the marching crowd as it circled around Colmore Circus. Buses had come to a stand-still, and cars sounded their horns as they drove by in solidarity.

This is different from every other one [protest] because it’s worldwide. And it’s unfortunate that the people who commit the crime are telling other people to be peaceful!”

Another male I knew from Erdington was a little more sceptical of the speakers present at the protest: “to be honest, I think it’s just a façade. There was no direction on the mic in what they were saying. There were people on the mic saying: ‘if you’re not down with XYZ then you’re not XYZ’.”

Black Lives Matter itself as an organisation is not without its criticisms. It has been accused of being militaristic, police-hating, and has had a history of confrontation in the public domain – a prominent Black Lives Matter activist and writer, Shaun King, was banned from Facebook in 2016. Although King’s censorship was later redacted by the social media giant and labelled ‘a mistake’.

But whilst agitation can be seen as an important part in evolving debate, it can also lead to messages getting blown out of proportion in a media frenzy – a difficult balance no doubt Black Lives Matter, and many activist groups, will be all too familiar with. And if you need an example of how this can go wrong, just Google ‘Katie Hopkins’.

But the response to the George Floyd murder, for that’s what it is, has been the most recent flashpoint of a whole history of anti-human abuse. Black lives do matter, and as offensive as it is to even need an organisation to clarify that the conversation about race needs to be kept alive, by everyone.

And personally, from my corner of the crowd and community, it was important for me to be part of this historic event in my own city. And as a musician, and a human being, I can only pray that finally a change is going to come.

For more on Black Lives Matter, visit www.blacklivesmatter.com

Jobe Baker-Sullivan is an Erdington based musician and arts ambassador, leading the Erdington Arts Forum and the Active Arts Evenings of Creativity. For more on Jobe Baker Sullivan, visit www.facebook.com/JobeSullivanMusic

For more on the Erdington Arts Forum, visit www.facebook.com/groups/cafeartsforum/

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FEATURE: Death and social distancing – the grief of funerals during lockdown

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Ed King

The UK’s funeral industry is estimated to be worth around £2billion annually, with an estimated 4,000 directors conducting 600,000 funerals each year at an average of £3-5000 per service. Britain’s death economy is big business.

But honouring the dead is also paramount for people’s mental health and society’s social fabric – a respectable funeral is a helpful step in the grieving process, allowing people to say goodbye to loved ones whilst offering the emotional sanctuary of a traditional service.

During the COVID-19 crisis, however, funerals have taken on an even more sombre tone, as death tolls rise whilst places of worship across the country have been closed to stem the spread of the virus – building a backlog that has seen some funerals held weeks, even months, later than normal.

Along with the Government restrictions being imposed on funerals of all faiths, whatever your beliefs the COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed the way this vital part of human society is carried out.

As someone who would play the church organ at funerals pre-coronavirus, sometimes three times a week, I was interested in exploring the drastic changes people now face during this important part of the grieving process.

It feels like their bereavement is suspended,” says Father Simon Ellis, the parish priest at St Margaret Mary’s Church on Perry Common Road, who has officiated over six funerals since the start of lockdown – unable to make two, as he was recovering from coronavirus himself.

It’s been agonising… It feels like people have said, you go, I’ll stay at home. The overwhelming thing I’ve heard is that ‘they deserve more’… Normally there would be 50, 60, 150 people at the church or the crematorium. Now we can only have six,” the maximum number of mourners allowed, at that time, according to Birmingham City Council.

And if someone has died of COVID-19,” continues Father Ellis, “people are not permitted to see their loved ones in the funeral parlour. They’re not permitted to touch the coffin. It’s something that will have people struggling with their mental health.”

The Government guidelines have been put in place so that ‘mourners and workers involved in the management of funerals are protected from infection,’ according to the .Gov website. But this has caused anguish for many families, with some having to make tough decisions about who attends the funeral of a loved one and who does not.

But despite the hardships during lockdown Father Ellis has noted, “generally families seem to be sticking to the rules… All the families have been saying there will be something at a later date – whether that’s a memorial mass, a memorial service, or something followed by a proper reception. There are plans for the future.

I feel genuine sorrow for people. Whether they’ve lost a person through COVID-19 or some other reason, they’ve been hurled into this new world…

It is very hard to experience this extra burden people are carrying. But it’s also remarkable how resilient and high-spirited people are being.”

The coronavirus crisis has also seen ingenuity, as people embrace digital platforms to combat the widespread physical restrictions. “Perry Barr Crematorium did have a system where they could relay the service outside,” tells Father Ellis – explaining a shift in how the funeral is conducted which allows more people to gather outside of the chapel area.

Some funerals are also being livestreamed for the benefit of those who can’t be attend in person, and Father Ellis has taken on the challenge: “[livestreaming] has always happened, but now there are more people are involved. What you’re trying to do in the service, which I’ve never done before is start at the beginning of the service is saying ‘if you’re following remotely, you are most welcome, we are thinking of you’. It’s just something to say, ‘we know you’re there.’”

But for all those who are grieving during the coronavirus crisis, it has been a whirlwind experience; as if losing a loved one wasn’t difficult already, not being able to have a conventional funeral has been a great shock to many mourners.

Steve Lafferty, who lives on Lambeth Road in Kingstanding, lost his brother, Charles, on the 4th April after a seven year battle to cancer. Under normal circumstances, there would have been a ‘receiving in’ ceremony the evening before the funeral, wherein the coffin of the deceased remains in church, St Margaret Mary’s, overnight.

We’d have liked him (Charles) to go to church first, to St Margaret Mary’s,” explains Steve, “for the overnight, and then the service… then the funeral mass, in the church, then up to the crematorium for a little service there.

We’d have had the hymns in church… he wanted certain songs, his kids wanted certain songs, so we’d kept them for the crematorium. But because we couldn’t get to church we give them the songs that they wanted, that my brother wanted, to go out there.”

Part of a strong Scottish family, Charles Lafferty had many mourners wishing to pay their final respects. But with the numbers of attendees restricted, the family he left behind found themselves – like many across the country – having to make some difficult logistical decisions.

He had six grandchildren, so the eldest grandchildren were to go,” tells Steve, crunching the numbers usually reserved for a wedding planner – Sandwell Crematorium, where Charles was cremated, are allowing a maximum of 10 mourners at each service. “Then his three children, his three brothers – his son’s partner, she came. But then my wife came, my other’s brother’s wife came…”

They were quite good actually at Sandwell, they gave us a link,” continues Steve – explaining the digital streaming service Sandwell Crematorium were able to offer, “because I’ve got relations in Scotland and all that there, and they said the link was very good as well.

They give us a code to put in – they set it up straight away, then told us – in a few weeks time – to just click here and it will automatically go through. It was really good. Where the camera was you had the coffin, the priest, the people that were there… it was really, really good.”

For Charles Lafferty, his funeral was to be well and widely remembered – despite all the coronavirus roadblocks now in front of a regular procession. But fortitude deserves fanfare, and whilst working within the Government guidelines the family were still able to say goodbye in their own way.

I went down to the undertakers, Unwins on Rough Road,” explains Steve, “they said look Mr Lafferty, with the circumstances we’re in you can only have this, this, or this… no cars, only a hearse. And because we’re Scots we had a bagpiper performing.

So, what we did… where I live on Lamberth Road… I told all his friends to come, but they must keep social distancing all along the road. Don’t go to the crem, but do it along the road outside my house – and then the bagpiper played him up to my house.

The three bothers and his family there, we walked in front and others walked behind, all the way up. Then they stayed outside my house for about five minutes for anyone who wanted to come up to touch the coffin – it was the only time anyone was allowed to touch the coffin – then I went down in front… You had the bagpiper, me, the lady from Unwins, and the coffin then followed me down the road and we were off to Sandwell (Cremetorium).

I can’t knock Sandwell, and I can’t knock my undertakers down the road, especially under the circumstances. They were very, very good.”

For more information on how ‘births, deaths, and ceremonies’ are being conducted across Birmingham during the coronavirus crisis, visit www.birmingham.gov.uk/info/20016/births_deaths_and_ceremonies

For Government guidelines on ‘managing a funeral during the coronavirus pandemic’, visit www.gov.uk/covid-19-guidance-for-managing-a-funeral-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic

For more from Unwins Undertakers, visit www.urwinsundertakers.co.uk

For more on St Margaret Mary’s Church, visit www.birminghamdiocese.org.uk/st-margaret-mary-perry-common

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