NEWS: Woman arrested on ‘attempted murder’ following vehicle attack on Reservoir Road – man remains in critical condition

Words by Ed King / Pics by Jobe Baker Sullivan

Reservoir Road was shut down today following a disturbance late on Friday night, leading police to cordon off the Erdington/Stockland Green thoroughfare whilst searching for clues.

As confusion grew across the area, with traffic brought to a standstill, West Midlands Police were reticent to issue any information other than the situation “was not fatal.”

Later on, it emerged there had been an ‘attempted murder’ using a vehicle – a 44 year woman has been arrested, whilst a ‘man in his 40’s remain in hospital in critical condition.’

People across the area had seen police presence arrive on Friday night, one Stockland Green resident told Erdington Local: “I saw some flashing lights late last night… but I didn’t think anything of it, there are flashing lights around here all the time.”

Another local resident speculated it may be a hit and run, with someone having wandered into traffic whilst under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

They said: “Most nights, all round the shops, the druggies come and hang out.”

Terry Bracher, who lives on nearby Bleak Hill Road, told Erdington Local: “Whilst walking the dog I saw police and taped off area, but didn’t know what it was.”

Local artist Jennette Hill said: “I saw the police last (Friday) night as I drove through on my way home, at about midnight. I thought it must have been bad.”

Following requests from Erdington Local and other concerned parties, West Midlands Police issued the following statement earlier today: “A woman has been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder after a man has been seriously injured after being hit by a car in Erdington.“

We were called to Reservoir Road at just after 10pm last night (8 October) and found a man with significant head injuries.

“The vehicle left the scene but has since been recovered and a 44-year-old woman has been arrested.

“The woman – who is known to the man – has also been detained on suspicion of driving while unfit through drink or drugs and remains in police custody for questioning. The man in his 40s remains in hospital in a critical condition.

“The road remains closed off while our enquiries continue and anyone with information is urged to get in contact.”

As investigations continue, West Midlands Police are calling to members of the public to come forward with any information that might help shed light on the case.

Stockland Green has just received £432,000 from the Government’s Safer Street initiative, which will be used to tackle street level crime, anti-social behaviour, and public disorder.

Stockland Green stakeholders are in the process of engaging with the community to formulate a Neighbourhood Plan.

The strategy will see local residents, police, strategic partners, and Birmingham City Counmcil join forces and work together to make positive changes in thre area.

West Midlands Police have stated anyone with information about the attack on Reservoir Road can get in touch via Live Chat at www.west-midlands.police.uk or call 101 and quote 20/1792022/21.

NEWS: ‘Hampers by Rosie’ – local mum raises money, lifts spirits, and builds a business during Covid

Words by Jobe Baker Sullivan / Pics supplied by Rosie Kaur

During the coronavirus pandemic, local NHS nurse and mother of two, Rosie Kaur, has been making luxury baskets and hampers to raffle off and raise money for charity.

Filled with things to pamper and lift people’s spirits, including luxury chocolates and eco-friendly Body Shop products, the care packages quickly became in high demand after Rosie took the first one into work to help raise funds for a local charity.

Now, through the encouragement of family and friends – as well as the demand from colleagues and co-workers, Rosie has now turned her charitable endeavours into her very own business.

Rosie told Erdington Local: “I wanted to do something to cheer people up. It’s been really hard at work for some people, and I noticed that people don’t always think to treat themselves or care for themselves.

“I created hampers filled with candles, chocolates, teddy bears, and creams that I would recommend people in my capacity working as a home consultant [for The Body Shop].”

Rosie has worked as a nurse since 2007 and has been on both the Covid and cancer wards at Queen Elizabeth (QE) hospital in Selly Oak. It was her experience at the QE which inspired her to start creating gift packages.

“You see some horrific cases – I’ve seen really low staff morale. All the nurses were thinking of was Covid, Covid, Covid. The hampers were so people can think of themselves for a bit, in a good way.”

Starting around December 2020, Rosie’s Christmas hampers were raffled off at work and she raised around £80 for Cancer Research UK.

Following an overwhelming response from friends, family, and colleagues, Rosie started to explore the idea of turning her gift baskets into a viable business.

Rosie added: “My dad said to me ‘why don’t you get some business cards?’

“That’s when I started making them (the hampers) for special occasions, for Easter time, birthdays, baby showers – my neighbour Richard for his colleagues at work to raffle for a mental health charity.”

Whist many people have lost their jobs or are struggling to find employment, due to the widespread difficulties faced by businesses during Covid, Rosie has weaved a new enterprise called ‘Hampers by Rosie’ – having recently been working on orders for Father’s Day.

Rosie continues to raise money for charities such as University Hospitals Birmingham and Acorns Children’s Hospice.

To find out more about ‘Hampers by Rosie’ email Rajbinder.sohal@icloud.com  

LOCAL PROFILE: Judy Tullett

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Ed King

Working in housing for 50 years, Judy Tullett is currently the Community Support Officer for Spitfire Services, Castle Vale.

Known for her work with the social enterprise Upcycle Birmingham and the profitable asset management transfer of Castle Pool, Judy has managed a portfolio of successful endeavours.

Erdington Local caught up with the prominent project manager to find out what inspired her community focus.

Judy was born in the historic town of Bodmin, Cornwall, and graduated from Swansea University with a degree in economics and social sciences.

In 1973, she moved to Birmingham for a course with Birmingham City Council in Housing Management Training.

“It wasn’t as common in those days for a woman to go to University,” remarked Judy. “I worked in environmental health, at a depo, all various different divisions of the housing department. It was a really good grounding.”

After working for Birmingham City Council, Judy did a stint at Tamworth Borough Council’s housing department but soon became “quite frustrated with the local authority set up” – moving to a job with the housing association Trident Group. There she worked on many projects, establishing the first ‘youth foyer’ in Birmingham, a type of housing for people aged 16-25.

“I always think if I didn’t work for Trident I wouldn’t get to work on so many exciting projects,” told Judy. “In your working life – and I’ve been working 50 years – you come across inspirational people.

“I had a role model in an inspiration chief exec at Trident called Nick Morton. I learned so much from him about risk and project management, how to develop something from nothing. He used to say to me ‘if you talk about something long enough, often enough, it will happen’”.

Judy’s role in housing led her to work alongside the Home Office on a special project to support Birmingham’s older Chinese community: “The home office had established there were loads of older Chinese people who could no longer live with their families, that now needed to have supportive elderly accommodation.

“I met amazing people, had to do all sorts of research, getting involved with Chinese networks in Birmingham.”

Working across cultures was something Judy developed a knack for, finding herself in a pivotal role supporting Japanese Toyota engineers who moved to the UK in the mid-90s.

“Japanese people have a completely different culture to the Chinese,” remembered Judy. “We had to learn things that would make the development successful and create an environment of trust. They would call me ‘Judy-san’.”

Judy’s other passion in life is swimming. Erdington Local featured her work with Castle Pool in an article last August, exploring the local authority asset transfer that turned the failing council run swimming baths into a ‘national success story’ run by local residents.

Judy herself is a swimming instructor and she has travelled to competitions in Cyprus, Dubai, France, Tenerife, Spain, and Malta. Judy became a grandmother in March and is looking forward to “teaching our Sienna to swim when she is old enough.”

About to reach the age of 70, Judy explains she has no intention of stopping: “I did try retirement when I was about 65. It wasn’t for me. I found it a difficult challenge. I empathise with people who retire and then think ‘oh, what happens next?’”

In her work for Spitfire Services a lot of Judy’s tasks revolve around Upcycle Birmingham – a charitable initiative set up “to solve the conundrum of people who wanted to get rid of household goods and furniture, and to help poorer families who had just moved to the Vale who didn’t have those things.”

Having been based at Castle Vale Business Park from inception, Upcycle has since moved to St Gerard’s old social club building.

One of the downsides of working at an Upcycle is supressing the inner hoarder. “It is a danger at working in these sort of projects that you take things home you don’t need,” Judy admits.

“We received a Georgian-style side table, painted by one of our volunteers. I thought I’ve got to have that; it would fit nicely in the hall with a few family photos. Although I am under strict instructions from my husband who says: ‘don’t start bringing any more stuff home.’”

Lockdown was difficult for Upcycle as they couldn’t take a lot of donations, having to sanitise and quarantine those that they did.

But as restrictions ease and places start to open again Judy has two words to get the business back up and running: ‘sales’ and ‘donations.’ And never one to rest for too long, Judy’s next mission is to set up a community café from Upcycle which is looking to open in July this year.

“We get regular customers that come in every day,” told Judy. “I can’t wait until they can have a mooch, and then have a brew.”

For more on Upcycle visit www.upcyclebirmingham.org.uk

LOCAL PROFILE: Pastor Rasaq Ibrahim

Words by Jobe Baker Sullivan

Rasaq Ibrahim is lead pastor at the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) in Erdington, which formed its first congregation 13 years ago last month. He is also vice chair of Erdington Churches Together, treasurer of Erdington Food Bank, and has recently launched the Street Pastors scheme in Erdington.

Erdington Local caught up with the prolific pastor to learn more about his life and community work across the constituency.

Now in his late 50s, Rasaq Ibrahim is originally from Lagos, Nigeria – born into a Muslim family, he and his father converted in Rasaq’s early life. He trained as a chartered accountant, achieving a first from University of Lagos and a master’s in accountancy and finance at Birmingham City University.

Whilst successful in his studies, Rasaq worked hard at his education: “In Africa, you are either rich or poor – no middle class. I’m from a poor family. I really went through a lot. I struggled to come out of the woodwork, to become somebody.”

Moving to the UK in 2005 under the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme, Rasaq Ibrahim came to Britain: “because of my children. I was doing work in Nigeria, I was okay. I became a Chief Inspector for banks, gained a senior career.

“But I wanted my family to have a better future and education. I didn’t want my two boys to go through what I went through.”

Helping to establish the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) in Erdington in 2008, Rasaq Ibrahim was ordained as a pastor the following year. Originally founded in 1952 in Lagos, RCCG now has over 5 million members worldwide – Pastor Rasaq explains the church’s humble Birmingham beginnings.

“We started at the old swimming baths. After about eight months, we moved to Six Ways Baptist Church and were based there for 10 years.

“We would be there praying, having our service in the afternoon, and then raised some funds for our own church building. The Christadelphian Hall in Erdington was closing down, so went to the housing market to bid for the building – and now we are based there, on Orphanage Road.”

With 100 adult members in Erdington, RCCG has also founded three further ‘Church plants’ across Birmingham – wherein other Christian churches in the same denomination are created thanks to the mother church.

“We are a friendly, family church where everyone is welcome,” explained Pastor Rasaq. “We’re a Pentecostal, evangelical church – we want to show the love of Christ. We show this through our lives, not just through the things that we say.

“We gave birth to RCCG Kingstanding, Sheldon, and our Bulgarian Church.”

With many churches relying on the gathering of people to one place, the coronavirus crisis and lockdowns have drastically affected how they reach their congregation.

The RCCG has continued to meet where it is safe and legal to do so, but also adopted online services to stay in touch with their community.

“We can only have 20 adults in the building on a Sunday for a ‘hybrid service’, livestreaming to Facebook and Zoom as well. We tend to leave two seats for first-time visitors. But we have services Tuesday and Thursday online.”

Outside of his own church, Pastor Rasaq is co-founder of Erdington Food Bank and remains its treasurer. From an initial investment of £1000, the Food Bank has become a breadbasket for Erdington, from its two outlets at Six Ways Baptist Church and George Road Baptist.

“The foodbank started with Churches Together,” told Pastor Rasaq. “Nine years ago, we started very small – 10 churches contributed £100 each. Now we feed 300 people every week in Everyone Erdington. This is a blessed project!”

Pastor Rasaq is also project manager for the RCCG BAME Project, which assists: “those affected by Covid – stress, out of work, troubled, worried, going through challenges.” It employs two external councillors running four sessions per week.

He explained that whilst the RCCG BAME Project has a particular calling to help Black and Asian minorities, it is for everyone: “We council Chinese, Caribbean, Indian, African, English… We’ve never turned anyone down. The project also gives food, separately from Erdington Food Bank.”

Through his role as vice chair of Churches Together, Rasaq has connected and launched many other projects – including most recently the Erdington Street Pastors scheme, covered in the community pages of this newspaper.

Asking him about his hopes for the future, Pastor Rasaq told Erdington Local: “I want to see Erdington come back to life. Everything used to be prosperous, when I came 13 years ago – now I see so many charity shops on the high street, and most businesses are closing.

“16 years ago, I would come to the UK on holiday. On Sundays, on the road, we could feel the presence of God on the street. I want the churches to be filled again.”

For more on the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) in Erdington visit: www.rccgcraerdington.org

LOCAL PROFILE: Vera Gilbert

Words by Jobe Baker Sullivan / Pics by Ed King

**Read our LOCAL PROFILE with Vera Gilbert in the March edition of the Erdington Local newspaper, out now**

Once viewed on television screens across the UK, Vera Gilbert is a former broadcast journalist and passionate Erdington activist. Previously working for newspapers and radio, alongside her career in TV, Vera has found a happy home supporting her local church and animating events and festivals in Erdington. Erdington Local took up the chance to relive some great moments with her.

Vera was born in St Vincent and the Grenadines, her home country made her “very happy – I still retain that atmosphere as my little heaven. That sense of community… We were poor, but the people were very loving, very kind.”

Vera moved to Birmingham during her primary school years, first living in Washwood Heath. She attended Hodge Hill Girls School in the 1970s.

Vera’s interested in journalism stemmed from her love of engaging with people. “To this day, I enjoy telling people’s stories. They were always a focus – and because they were a focus for me, it was a real privilege. I loved it. All the quirkiness, the different accents, the peculiarities.”

She studied her undergraduate degree at Birmingham Polytechnic, with her thesis concerning ‘Community Newspapers’. She was prodigious and noticed for her talents early on.

“I remember always having offers. I had an offer from the Evening Mail – I even got a front cover scoop for a local newspaper in Luton! I ended up at BRMB. Ed Doolan was there at the time – Les Ros was there. I was a reporter, sent out with a tape recorder, the old style, and I remember covering the Fireman’s strike.”

Vera continued to work for broadcast companies, including ITV and BBC. She went on to become a much sought-after freelance journalist, presenting content for Nationwide, a news and current affairs programme that ran between 1969 and 1983.

“It was excellent, doing pieces to camera. I did a lot of main stories and many ‘and finally’s. I remember doing something on a nudist beech… and I had to report a piece to camera… I won’t tell you how I managed it!”

Travelling the country in search of stories, Vera visited many places and met many people, including celebrities. One such celebrity was the popular English comedian Rodd Hull, best known for his mischievous hand puppet named Emu. Vera notes being very confused when first meeting him, with Rodd Hull’s material today relying on the same celebrity-embarrassing energy seen in the characters of Sacha Baren Cohen.

She recalled: “He had the bird, which I really saw as a prop. Then I started noticing that this bird was moving. I don’t know why, but I took it was real. If ever the bird moved, I would jerk.

“The bird started to get what I thought as ‘aggressive’ and I backed away – the bird came forward, and I ran and I was screaming! This was all on live TV. I was shouting ‘control the bird! Somebody come to my help!’ I didn’t realize that the crew was filming it all. There are some people that remember that to this day.”

But life in broadcasting was not all glitz and glamour, and Vera lived through a dark times in British history. Black Britons were subject to waves of racism, with slogans such as ‘no blacks, no dogs, no Irish’ cemented in the national mindset as an example of such intolerance.

Black women were likely to be only seen in lower paid jobs, as Vera comments: “Back then, as a black woman, the best job you could hope for was nursing, and not even the highest echelons of that.” Vera felt that she had to be “a role model – not like people speak as it now – but, as a black person, you felt you were putting the community on show.”

Vera stopped working as a journalist some 20 years ago but turned instead to her local area. She writes the newsletter for the Erdington United Reformed Church where she takes great pride in finding interesting stories and putting people’s good deeds on higher pedestals.

“I love Erdington. I love the people. I want to do what I can to uphold the area.”

On March 26 at 7pm, Vera is organising an online event called ‘Truth to Tell’ which she says the purpose is “to have conversations where black people talk about their experience, for them to say why they feel supportive of Black Lives Matter and so that people know about racism.”

For more details on ‘Truth to Tell’ email: everyoneerd@gmail.com

LOCAL PROFILE: Lady Sanity

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Profile pics by Kristine Lakontra

From the Birmingham Music Awards to the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony on Australia’s Golden Coast, Lady Sanity has been performing her songs across the world. With a new single coming out at the end of February, Erdington Local talked to the Birmingham-based musical artist about her Erdington roots and global ambitions.

Lady Sanity has always lived in Erdington, attending Stockland Green School for her secondary education. Despite being passionate about music from an early age, Sanity told how “I have no musicians in the family – me being a musician was a little bit of a curve ball for everyone… Although my grandfather used to take out his harmonica every now and then.”

Her family did, however, expose her to many different musical genres – encouraging the artist to embrace a variety of genres in her own music. “My cousin was showing me Hip Hop over in America. My sister was listening to bands in the UK. Another cousin was listening to Indie and Rock music… A lot of the music I was listening to were fusions of rap.” Sanity even notes Linkin Park as being an early influence.

At aged 12, Lady Sanity got a guitar from Home Bargains – bought for her by her older sister, which was a “cheap, crappy guitar with nylon strings.” Sanity was self-taught, using ‘tabs’ – a type of musical notation system.

Sanity ‘went electric’ aged 14, which was also around the time she was performing her own original music. She fondly remembers her music teacher, Mr Scott, as “very much encouraging me to rap and play guitar…. I was quite a reserved and quiet kid at school!”

Lady Sanity is one of many great musical artists to have come out of Birmingham – producing music inspired by Jazz, Hip-Hop and Grime.

Having played at many venues and events across the city, including Handsworth/Hockley based urban festival The Flyover Show and the Shard End Park hosted Shardfest, Lady Sanity’s first major festival appearance was at Glastonbury 2016.

Sanity entered into a competition called ‘Glastonbury Emerging Talent’, which although she didn’t win, she benefited from immensely: “I was picked up by other bookers to perform smaller stages of the festival – I had three different slots during the weekend. It was an amazing experience”.

She also recalls performing as part of a Hip Hop conference called ‘New Skool Rules’ in Rotterdam, Netherlands. “There were people from America, Canada, UK,” told Sanity. “Artists who came from all around the world – it’s a great weekend to really jam and connect with people.”

A crowning moment for Lady Sanity was performing at the Gold Coast Australia-Birmingham handover ceremony for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, although it came as a surprise for the young artist. 

“I was asked if I was free for a couple of days. I went down to the Hippodrome for an interview and they said they had a gig for me – the Commonwealth Games gig! That was only the second gig that me and the band played together! They offered me a house-band but I wanted to keep my own musicians.”

Covid has been adverse for many musicians, making live gigs impossible – an important source of income for a touring musician like Lady Sanity. She estimates she had some “20-30 gigs cancelled” and numerous, potential last-minute requests unaccounted for: “I finished touring with Sound UK before lockdown, and I even performed with Pee Wee Ellis – he was James Brown’s saxophonist… Some gigs were postponed – I was supposed to tour Belgium.”

Nonetheless, Lady Sanity adapted to cyberspace, performing on many livestream gigs – including one facilitated by The Sunflower Lounge which she took part in “to support this amazing venue so it can stay open”. It wasn’t as enjoyable as the live experience, but for Lady Sanity it was still “good to get out to gig, although it’s not the same as interacting with a crowd”.

But the web is indeed worldwide, and during the coronavirus lockdowns Lady Sanity has “been in contact people around the world. I’m working with an Italian power ballad singer I met over the Internet… Now is the time I can sit down and work on EPs, because I’m not up and down doing shows.”

On a personal level, Sanity also believes the lockdown has allowed her to “slow down… It’s helped me be grateful for my life and family.”

Lady Sanity is now looking forward to a year of gigs-that-should-have-happened, as well as releasing her new single, ‘Love’ – coming out at the end of February 2021.

“It’s about the different aspects of love,” explained the Erdington born and raised artist, “your family, friends, and yourself.”

For more on Lady Sanity find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/OfficialSanity

NEWS: Team Cat Rescue and Emre – Erdington’s amazing ‘cyborg cat’

Words by Jobe Baker Sullivan / Pics supplied by Jo Baldwin

Erdington’s very own “cyborg cat” is the new poster boy of a local charity which rehomes abandoned moggies.

Emre, aged four, was adopted by musician Jo Baldwin in 2016 after he was left for dead on the side of a road in Marmais, Turkey.

Prior to this he experienced neutering, the loss of his right eye, and was rapidly using up his nine lives.

Currently recovering well from his latest operation to his humerus, which was restored with a metal rod, Emre is now a marvel of modern science and due to amount of metal in his head has been dubbed a “cyborg cat”.

Jo said: “Although I may have saved his life, it’s fair to say he saved mine; he is boisterous cat, and very popular with the female cats of his neighbourhood.”

Emre has also found a new best friend in Josie, Jo’s black Labrador. Lockdown has been a pleasure for the two.

Jo said: “They both receive lots of attention from their mum, as she’s not out gigging as much anymore – Covid’s meant I’ve had to stay at home.”

You don’t need to go to Turkey to adopt a cat like Emre, however. Team Cat Rescue (TCR) is a Birmingham-based charity that works on “neutering, rescuing, and re-homing abandoned and needy cats and kittens.”

Coordinator, Lynne Buffery, told Erdington Local: “We work closely with local vets to ensure that all the cats in our care are given the best possible start.

“The charity has rehomed around 140 cats since April 2019. The TCR van, or the ‘catmobile’, has clocked-up hundreds of miles more in 2020 than in 2019. No wonder I’m appealing for more support with driving.”

Lynne added: “Covid-19 lockdowns have meant more people had time on their hands and more were working from home.

“But this has been a real positive for TCR, resulting in new volunteers coming on board – joining the various arms of the already 20 plus strong team – fostering, fundraising, publicity, and admin.”

For the purr-fect way to support Team Cat Rescue, or if you would like to rehome a cat yourself, contact: 0121 373 4596 or visit www.teamcatrescue-bham.weebly.com

NEWS: A rather ‘Nice’ Friday evening – Erdington’s Evening of Creativity hosted by celebrity guest, Mrs Barbara Nice 20.11.20

Words by Jobe Baker Sullivan / Pics courtesy of Sami Saunders, Janice Connolly, and Anne-Marie Allen

Erdington’s long running Evening of Creativity has never missed a month, even during COVID-19 pandemic.

Thriving on art, creativity, and giving creatives a chance to experiment, it is now being broadcast using a mix of high quality camera-work and editing along with locals being asked to submit their art from home.

Tonight’s Evening of Creativity broadcast will be hosted by actress and comedian Janice Connolly BEM, under the guise of her lovable alter-ego Mrs Barbara Nice. Janice is a comedienne who hosted the 2019 Erdington Lights switch on.

“Up the arts!” she says, with a wry smile, in support of the event. 

November’s Evening of Creativity will commence with a traditional Indian dance from Sahana Shrikaanth in celebration of Diwali, an annual ‘festival of lights’, celebrated by Sikhs, Hindus and Jains.

It will include performances from classical guitarist Mike Bethel – alongside original musical songs by Anne-Marie Allen, promoting her album on Spotify.

Centrala Art Gallery will feature as part of the EoC with their lockdown-special online exhibition – hosting an art collective from Finland called Valmed Ry, exploring ecology and nature through photography, projection and 3d printing.

The Evening of Creativity was founded and hosted by the Erdington Arts Forum, whose primary goal is to improve the status of artistic activity in the Erdington constituency.

The Arts Forum engages people with workshops, exhibitions, training programmes, exhibitions and music performances.

It acts as a conduit for people to explore all range of artistic activities, hosting regular ‘forum meetings’ and running a Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook group, and mailing list to keep Erdingtonians and interested parties in the loop.

Ordinarily held at Oikos Café on Erdington High Street on the third Friday of each month, the Evening of Creativity had to adapt to an online format very quickly  due to the coronavirus lockdowns – embracing the chance to invest in new camera and sound recording equipment.

During the summer of 2020, as COVID-19 measures eased, the Evening of Creativity continued at Oikos Café with a small, live audience – using a table booking service to ensure social distancing and safety measures.

The regular showcase, however, continued to broadcast all their events – going out live using a multi-camera system.

Despite a new national lockdown coming into force 5th November, the Arts Forum once again continue to host their Evening of Creativity – following government guidelines – by using pre-recorded clips and editing them into a full length show.

You can watch this months’ Evening of Creativity online from the Erdington Arts Forum Facebook page, from 6:30pm on Friday 20th November.

For a live stream of the event, and for more on the Erdington Arts Forum, visit www.facebook.com/groups/cafeartsforum

LOCAL PROFILE: Oliver Hassell

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics supplier by Oliver Hassell

Artist Oliver Hassell took Erdington by storm with his striking, colourful, and darkly-inspired pieces displayed for Black History Month. Erdington Local catches up with him to find out what makes him tick.

Born in Erdington and living here his whole life, Oliver started to enjoy art “as a toddler.”

I’d draw what I’d see on TV – things like Harry Potter,” although he admitted, with a smile, that at this age they were “stickmen, and I’d just label them ‘Harry Potter’.” He sees these early years of drawing “cartoons and action figures” as an important sign he had a calling for visual art.

Oliver says that he “didn’t get into making proper art until I was about 16.” He studied illustration at Birmingham City University (BCU), saying that “Uni was fun, I had a good time” – spending that time developing new skills, professing that he learned a lot “by himself” as opposed to part of the university course.

Oliver creates colourful, eye-catching pieces with dark figures, foreboding smiles, and references to social media, religion, sex, death, and his latest piece regarding coronavirus (with the virus literally coming out of a Corona bottle of beer).

Oliver explains his general working method when creating his artwork. Commencing with a sketch, then “mainly drawing in pens, adding small details in with paints for “mouths and eyes.”

To give the art an extra layer of otherworldliness, Oliver then scans his piece onto the computer and edits slightly to “step it up from a drawing to something to look at.”

Oliver has various inspirations, saying the “past year or so I’ve been concentrating on the concept of the shadow self.”

He goes onto say that “Everyone’s got their dark-side that they don’t really want to look at – It’s up to you to figure out and understand that [dark] side of yourself so you can become a complete person.” He explored these themes in his debut exhibition in January 2020 at The Gap Arts in Balsall Heath.

Oliver worked in a collective setting as part of Gallery 37 which is a ‘creative residency programme where young people can rediscover themselves as artists’. The joint exhibition of 5 artists was called ‘Karma-Utopia’ hosted at Centrala in Digbeth.

Oliver created an art piece which was a colourful, illustrated “stack of blocks, with different values on it like love – creativity.” The words were written backwards, placed next to a mirror.

Viewers could participate with the piece, ordering the blocks in the order of values which they found most important to them. “It puts you with what you think is important,” and the fact it is next to a mirror represents that the values are a “reflection of yourself.”

Erdington Local asks Oliver his opinions regarding Black History Month [BHM]. Oliver is “mixed – Black Caribbean and white British.”

He feels like “We’ve come so far with it now,” thinking that 2020 BHM should be the “start of something that goes on forever.”

Oliver sees the murder of George Floyd in May as a great “injustice” and that it’s important to “support the fight.”

He says he personally “hasn’t felt oppressed by the government,”but was aware of racist language when he was growing up. “It’s a joke when we were kids, but that’s still a problem,” Oliver says.

Oliver was featured as part of October’s Evening of Creativity at Oikos Café and is happy that “stuff like this is happening now in Erdington,” bemoaning that there isn’t much for visual arts in the area.

He transformed lockdown into a chance to concentrate on his own business, ‘Death in Colour’, which is his own clothing line featuring his art work: “Upcycled, vintage clothing with my art work – all customized.”

Starting the business in March, Oliver says he’s been “doing quite well during COVID” with some of his stock now sold out.

He did have intentions for a pop up shop-come-exhibition space, although this was not possible due to the pandemic. “A couple things have been scrapped, but it hasn’t stopped the train,” says Oliver, positively.

Oliver is now learning more about animation, 3D, and digital art forms. He’s interested in “Wallace and Gromit-style,” plasticine 3D animation.

I’m just trying to evolve – build up my skills as much as possible. Good stuff will happen.”

To find out more about Oliver Hassell, visit www.oliverhassell.com

To find out more about Birmingham Black History Month, visit wwwb.irminghamblackhistorymonth.co.uk

OPINION: Invest in live music, not the pub

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Profile pics by Chris Neophytou

Imagine if the government invested in the soul of the nation.

‘If music be the food of love, play on,’ wrote Shakespeare.

I’m talking about music. From the point of view of a musician and gigaholic.

Music makes the world go round,” sang the Hamilton Brothers.

What I’ve witnessed over the past few months is a series of missed opportunities. ‘Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but foresight is better,’ taught William Blake.

Can we move forward from now, into the festive season, and reengage musicians? We can’t lose this precious part of our culture – live music. A lack of opportunities in the past few months has meant that brass players lips crumble, violinist fingers are stiff. All musicians – the well-behaved ones at least – are struggling.

It’s apparently too dangerous for musicians to be doing what they do, entertaining us all, bringing us all to a higher state of consciousness with harmonious sounds and that. Especially singers (yes, singers are musicians). Singing in groups is considered a ‘higher risk activity’ by the government, because of the potential for aerosol production. Don’t get me started on those pesky woodwind instruments. Ignore the hundreds of people protesting on the streets, Dominic Cummings on his roadshow of potential infection, or the big queue in Lidl – “there’s a flute player in this place! Shoot them! Or open a window for better circulation!”

At least I’ve had some gigs, I guess. I can’t complain, but I think I’m allowed to be somewhat sardonic. I’ve had a few livestreams, a handful of small outdoor gigs paid by the magic Arts Council England money tree of ‘please don’t forget us next year, we’re doing our best.’ Grateful. Honestly, very grateful. Here comes the cold now, where do we go?

Well, pubs are open. Great. And musicians are able to play in them, following some volume-related rules.  But that’s not really the investment in the soul I had in mind. Pubs are a chance for this full time musician to go out with his band ‘Jobe and the Spotify Playlists’ – doing requests for the ‘loud drunk guy at the front’, who shouldn’t be raising his voice anyway, but he’s bigger than me and the bouncer hasn’t spotted him yet/this pub forgot to hire security.

My experience in the pubs has been stressed landlords trying to tame insatiable extroverts and more covid-19 deniers than you can shake a Piers-Corbyn-branded stick at (I could have chosen any number of Covid-19 deniers). It’s a place for extroverts to get their fix, and the amount of antisocial behaviour I’ve seen at 21:55 because it’s kicking out time has been rather laughable. I proudly nurse my pint knowing I can stay past 22:00 curfew – I’m working!

I can see my musician mates disappearing off to ‘retrain’ under the reign of Rishi Sunak. Whether he did or did not say that people in the arts need to go and find a proper job, we’re just generally hot and bothered about the whole malaise of the situation.

Goodbye fellow musicians. Part of me wants to say ‘yey, more work for me’, but losing my band and playing to backing tracks actually makes my skin crawl. “Please!” I plea to my drummer (percussionists also considered musicians), “don’t become an itinerant electrician in Bedfordshire! You’ll be too tired by to gig on a Friday when you get back to Brum. Oh, and I need this amplifier pat tested.”

We’re quite harmless, actually, us musicians. We might complain about not being paid enough, and, no matter how much you’ve paid us, if we don’t get a free drink from the bar your name is besmirched for life. We all keep a spreadsheet of scrooge-oriented venue managers…

Anyway, we’re harmless.

On the 6th of October, there was a protest gathering of over 400 musicians in Parliament Square. They formed an impressive orchestra and blasted Gustav Holst’s ‘Mars’ from The Planets, Op.32 at the politicians, who must have enjoyed a rather delightful evening concert for free. See? We can’t even protest, right! Lorry drivers strike by not driving. Teachers strike by their absence, shutting down a school. Us musicians strike by “ooh come on let’s have a ruddy good jam session, that’ll learn ‘em!”

Just imagine if the government invested in venues over this period, ready for the world to return to normal. Clean, socially distanced, even folk-club style. All people welcome. This could be a chance for people to listen to new music, or old music in a new way. You can actually pay attention to the lyrics for once! Dancing from our seats, doing the sit-down shuffle, and practicing to become the best ‘hummers’ in the world. May I suggest Puccini’s ‘Cora a bocca chiusa’. Or be inspired by the vocal acrobatics Bobby McFerrin.

I guess the only profound quote we can be left with now is that of Jim Bowen, the host of the 80s darts-themed TV gameshow Bullseye. After the players had lost, the curtains would draw back to reveal a speedboat, a car, or a “beautifully crafted Wedgwood Dinner Service set.” “Let’s see what you could have won,” Jim would say.

We’ve invested in health. We’re investing in economy. Let’s not forget the soul.

Let’s see what we could have won.”

To find out more about Jobe Baker-Sullivan, visit www.facebook.com/jobesullivanmusic