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

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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

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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

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LOCAL PROFILE: Nikki Tapper

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Nikki Tapper

Erdington Local is proud to support Black History Month. The newspaper will be releasing a local profile piece each week focusing on black members of the community, amplifying these voices and celebrating the richness of multi-cultural Erdington.

Erdington resident Nikki Tapper professes to wear “three hats. Teacher by profession, radio broadcaster and event host.” She is a familiar voice to many local people via radio airwaves, working for BBC WM since 2003.

Her regular BBC WM programme ‘Sunday Night with Nikki’ focuses on ‘stories that matter to the Midland’s African and Caribbean communities.’ Erdington Local explores her varied life as a local personality.

Born in Smethwick, Nikki now lives and works in Erdington. She tells Erdington Local about her experience as a teacher.

I started off lecturing in Business Studies in Wolverhampton for four years. I left there and came to Kingsbury – now Erdington Academy – and taught there five years.” She fondly remembers a student who would call her teasingly call her ‘Miss TT’ after the Audi TT car she owned at the time.

Nikki made the tough leap from mainstream education to teaching at City of Birmingham School, a citywide Pupil Referral Unit [PRU] with sites across Birmingham. In her own words, these are often for “emotionally based school refusers – they struggled with anxiety and had mis-diagnosed learning needs, or were diagnosed with being autistic or ‘on the spectrum’”.

Whilst Nikkiloved teaching” at the PRU, she bemoans the way that young people from difficult backgrounds or with emotional needs continue to get inadequate support – even in PRUs. She feels like the educational system is saying: “if you don’t fit the mainstream setting, then we’ll put you in another setting that will just fit the mainstream setting again.”

Nikki’s work at City of Birmingham School understandably caused her a lot of stress, bringing with it more challenges that a mainstream educational setting.

Nikki remembers one time “one of my students got stabbed and I ran after one of the perpetrators,” and rather boldly “went straight back to work after that.” She also recalls how “last year we had an attempted kidnapping, to do with ‘County Lines’” – the system of recruiting young people to courier drugs and contraband in and out of the city.  

From working in one of the toughest teaching environments, Nikki is now self-employed. She wants to “take how I would like to work with young people, work with them in a small group setting, help them build their confidence and self-esteem.”  

Nikki is also a familiar voice across Birmingham radio, having presented shows on BBC Radio West Midlands for over 20 years. Recently Nikki also presented a six part series called ‘COVID Conversations’ on Newstyle Radio, speaking to ‘people living and working in Black Communities across the West Midlands to understand how COVID has affected their lives.’

Also known for her long running Radio WM show ‘The Gospel Lounge with Nikki Tapper’, she commenced her radio career in Christian radio: “I’m a proud wife, mother, and committed Christian” proclaims Nikki.

She recounts an early job with radio being to “run around Church notices boards in Birmingham noting down service times” – gathering content and information for congregations, announcing on air: “St John’s in Great Barr, Sunday service starts at eleven O’clock, with Bible study on a Wednesday at seven.”

Now a prestigious broadcaster working for the BBC, Nikki thoroughly enjoys working in radio, saying it’s “a great medium to use your imagination,” and a “great way of not having to stress about what you look like. That’s why I tell people I look like Halle Berry!”

In her time as a broadcaster, Nikki has interviewed a high calibre of celebrities, including singer Mary Wilson from The Supremes, poet Benjamin Zephaniah, musician Tito Jackson from the Jackson Five, comedian Sir Lenny Henry, Dawn Butler MP, and one of her favourites DJ Trevor Nelson.

A champion of her city and community, when asked about Black History Month Nikki tells Erdington Local: “I struggle with Black History Month, if I’m honest. Black history is just HISTORY. It’s history across the year.”

She recalls, as a teacher, that “my education and teaching head would say ‘Oh here we go again, we better do black history; let’s put up Martin Luther King, Malcolm X. We didn’t really change the conversation, the rhetoric, we didn’t really look at the curriculum.”

But the agenda of Black History Month is still a relevant one, with the global struggle for, and through emancipation, an ongoing and important conversation. Nikki notes some huge milestones to celebrate in 2020, such as “The National Trust saying ‘actually, 93 of our stately homes have been built by slaves.”

Talking about her personal experience as a black woman, she felt growing up she was “not really valued,” and that the opinion was that “the race that I come from didn’t add anything, other than ‘let you run for my country. Play your music – I love your music – play a bit of Bob Marley.’”

Adding to the narrative, Nikki has a positive call for the future way black history is thought of: “I want people to recognise that actually yes – in the 18th century, 19th century, there were black people that could have been utilised differently, and they were only presented as subservient.”

Erdington Local asked Nikki her thoughts on Erdington itself. “I love Erdington,” she says with a smile. Speaking of its past, she continues: “it was like this little unknown jewel in the north of the city that had this eclectic mix of characters, those who had money, those who didn’t, those who were very creative, those who just wanted to get on with it.”

She expresses concerns, however, for Erdington today: “what I’ve seen change in our part of the city has been neglect for those who really need help.”  She praises the huge efforts by volunteer groups and churches “such as Oikos Church, St Barnabas, the Arts Forum, Standing Ovation,” to make Erdington a better place to live.

With plans for more investment into the High Street, Erdington “could be like Brixton,” suggests Nikki. “Let’s just hope we don’t price ourselves out.”

For more on BBC WM’s ‘Sunday Night with Nikki’, visit www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p07pcktr

To find out more about Nikki Tapper, visit www.nt-events.co.uk 

For more on Birmingham Back History Month , visit www.birminghamblackhistorymonth.co.uk

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LOCAL PROFILE: Ben Jeffery – Oikos Café & Church

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Yellow Mustard photography

Oikos Café (part of Oikos Church) on Erdington High Street has brought an alternative vibe to the local area – one of high quality coffee, work meetings, and evening events which one might see in ‘swanky’ areas of London. Ben Jeffery is Oikos‘s centre manager, as well as a founding member of the Oikos Church.

Prior to managing the café full time, Ben was a technical sales manager for a chemical company: “I travelled all over the country, in a nice company car, selling specialist chemicals to companies.” After what he described as a religious ‘calling’, he started to manage the café one year after it was founded.

Ben explains that Oikosstarted as a house church over in Short Heath road.”

The pastor of the church, Jez Dearing, would host Christian gatherings in his house until they started renting a YMCA hall on Sundays on Turftpits Lane. They finally settled with the building they have now: “We felt God call us to have a presence on the high street – to have a bigger presence in the community.” Previously a furniture store, the building was eight years “totally derelict. This was just a shell. Front staircase, toilets, telephone, internet, central heating, office – literally it had nothing.”

If you visit the church-come-café, you would be forgiven for not thinking of it as a religious building. The lack of crosses, biblical quotes, ‘smells and bells’ is no accident – nor a mere symptom of the Oikos Church‘s ‘low church’ style, but rather a conscious effort. As Ben explains: “We wanted to make the barrier to entry (into the church) as low as possible”, believing that “in a post-Christian culture, one of the hardest challenges a church faces is people stepping through the doors.”

Although now a staple feature of the high street, the café had to fight its corner to exist, as Ben explains: “there was a lot of opposition from councillors who wrote to residents to try to oppose us opening a café.” Although forgivingly he states that “it probably came out of not understanding what we were about or what we wanted to do.”

A café in the day, Oikos is also available for hire by organisations who want to use the space. Ben lists the “Evening of Creativity, Nikki Tapper’s ‘Tapper Talks’, organisations like Urban Devotion, the GAP from Sutton, and wedding receptions” as those that they welcome and support. There was a local couple that wanted their reception in the café because of its central location, “because they love Erdington so much” as Ben earnestly tells.

Ben enjoys strong relationships with the organisations and partners who use the space: “It’s really important to get to know people – that process takes time.”

With the café very much at the heart of Ben’s day to day operations, he explains that he is “Constantly walking the tightrope between running the business of the café and wanting to do the missional work of the church”, referring to all of the jobs and trials he has to undertake as a business manager on a busy high street.

He tells: “the thing that drew me to the café was interaction with people. I’m naturally an extrovert by nature… There are a lot of people who come in here with interesting backgrounds and current things they want to talk about and share.”

Oikos had to transform itself as a church during lockdown. Their regular Sunday morning service, called “a gathering”, was closed for five months to the public from March until August. “We livestreamed a full service every Sunday,” tells Ben, “it wasn’t just like a quick Zoom call or a 20 minute sermon. We were very blessed to have somebody who does this as a job (livestreaming) and has the equipment.”

Ben explains that lockdown has really taken its toll on the emotional strength of the Oikos community: “Oikos means family – family is a big thing for us as a church. It’s very weird when you can’t physically meet or be together. That’s not what families do, right?

We ‘feel’ that distance between people growing because they’re not able to be with each other in quite the same way.”

Despite five months of relative hardship, Ben’s eyes are set on making Oikosa real part of making and helping things that go on in this community,” and remarks that “it’s something we still need to ‘grow in’.”

With a Costa now opened in Erdington, as well as new plans for the high street regeneration fund, Ben can still rely on Oikos‘s strong, reliable customer base moving forward – with people of all faiths enjoying the café and all the events it has to offer.

To find out more about Oikos Café, visit www.oikoscafe.co.uk

For more on Oikos Church, visit www.oikoschurch.co.uk

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LOCAL PROFILE: Reuben Reynolds

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics supplied by Reuben Reynolds

Accomplished guitarist Reuben Reynolds, 29, has lived in Erdington for most of his life – one of many hidden talents in our local area.

Falling in love with the guitar around age 15, Reuben graduated from Coventry University with a ‘Professional Practice’ Music Degree. His earliest musical interests reflect his eclectic playing style: “Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, Green Day, Reggae music. These are like my early influences.”

Living in Erdington, but gigging all around the UK and abroad, Reuben has a hectic and varied life as a freelance musician. “My schedule is split between a few days teaching, performing, creative sessions, production, recording sessions dotted around.”

A travelling troubadour, Reuben teaches weekly outside of Birmingham – including at the Evelyn Grace Academy in Brixton and Uppingham School, a boarding school in East Midlands.

He also has private, one-to-one tuition with clients and is often booked for workshops, for a day or a few weeks, as a tutor. Teaching, for Reuben, is “rewarding” as it’s a chance “to connect with people who are less experienced, or people who are just coming up. It’s good for me because it keeps me connected with learning.”

A staple part of the music scene in Birmingham, Reuben has performed at many venues – big and small. He also works on a monthly event at Mama Roux’s in Digbeth called ‘The Unique Experience’, a regular showcase promoted by his longstanding musical partner Call Me Unique: “I would organise the band and lead the band, sometimes I wouldn’t even be playing! I tend to do a lot of house band events like that.”

In 2017 he performed at the world famous TED talks when the series came to Birmingham. He was the guitarist for Lumi HD – a Nigerian born, Birmingham-raised singer-songwriter, with a small ensemble. He’s no stranger to venues such as Town Hall or the Hippodrome, large music venues that can seat hundreds of spectators.

Reuben comments that his biggest audience was around 2000 people at the 02 Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London. Although he hasn’t been keeping score, giving a high quality performance no matter what the numbers on or off stage: “I try to play as if it doesn’t make a difference – It doesn’t matter if it’s 100 or 1000, I just play.”

Taking a piece of Erdington out into the world, Reuben has performed in France, The Netherlands, Poland, Bulgaria, Germany, and even North Carolina – playing as part of Soul or Gospel bands in various festival tours. He was due to tour in Germany this year, although this was cut due to COVID-19 – cancelled thanks to coronavirus, like a lot of his work.

Erdington Local previously spoke to Reuben about his thoughts on how musicians first responded to the coronavirus crisis – in our ‘Saturday night cabin fever’ feature, first published in April this year.

During the lockdown Reuben stayed positive, enjoying “more sleep”, a chance to reconnect with other creative projects, and to teach over Zoom. Now he notes a “significant loss of work” and especially bemoans the fact that he missed “summer – the most significant season for performing. He lost three weeks of work working with Punch Records too, where he was teaching up to ten students every day for three weeks.

But as lockdown eased and live music in the UK was able to resurface, albeit in a limited capacity, Reuben has been back gigging around Birmingham. Performing as part of a function band at Digbeth’s ‘Zumhof Biergarten’, Reuben laughs: “people aren’t allowed to dance – it’s a bit strange, when you’re playing song about dancing!”

Reuben also plays with a trio and was booked to play a series of quirky gigs in residential spaces in Handsworth this summer. Bringing music directly to the people, he performed in “open garden type areas outside people’s homes within earshot of their windows.” Residents were elated to be listening to live music from their balconies, performed in the open green space below. “I haven’t really done things like this before,” tells Reuben. “Lockdown has made people think of different ways to bring art to people.”

He was also booked to perform by the Erdington Arts Forum to support a family fun day in Erdington. With nothing but a gazebo, a battery powered amp, and vocalist Tavelah Robinson, Reuben’s makeshift duo were able to entertain kids with a two hour selection of upbeat music on Spring Lane Playing Fields – despite the unorthodox circumstances and unpredictable weather. Check out the video below.

When asked about the wider arts scene in Erdington, Reuben says: “I know about Oikos Café and the Secret Art Space Studios, but I feel like that’s all there is to know.” He acknowledges that “there’s a lot of musicians” but grieves that “there aren’t the type of venues that have live music, it seems. If you go up to Sutton (Coldfield) there’s seems to be more activity.”

Nonetheless, Reuben loves Erdington’s location in the country so he can gig anywhere, and the convenience of the high street.

By the sounds of things, Erdington isn’t going to lose this home-grown talent any time soon.

Reuben Reynolds and Tavelah Robinson @ Spring Lane Playing Fields

To find out more about Reuben Reynolds, visit www.instagram.com/reubzmusic

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LOCAL PROFILE: Dave Travers – Castle Vale Stadium

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Ed King

Castle Vale Stadium boasts three football pitches, a function room, bar, a maximum total capacity of 1500, and an enviable amount of parking. It is now owned by The Pioneer Group, who recently hired Dave Travers as the new stadium manager – coming into post just before lockdown.

An engineer for 30 years, “designing press tools and making components for aerospace companies, 50 year old Dave Travers leapt into stadia management some five years ago – as a keen volunteer at Boldmere St Michael’s Football Club. His aptitude swiftly led him to become full time as the commercial director for that club.

When I first joined [Boldmere] they had one adult team, one junior team. It became my job, and then when I left Boldmere St Michael’s they had over 60 teams playing under the St Michael’s banner.”

Now firmly on the Vale, Dave has encouraged two prominent local teams – Castle Vale Town and Romulus F.C. – to run their football training on the same evening, helping the sport to help itself.

To me, if you’re a club – this is what we did at Boldmere – you can have peer coaching. There’s nothing better than under 10s joining an under 8s session, and them trying to be a leader as such. It’s great experience for them.”

At its centre, Castle Vale Stadium houses a four year old ‘3G Artificial Turf’ pitch – allowing matches to be played “52 weeks of the year – the only thing that stops us from playing football on this is snow. If it’s windy, rainy, sunny, you can still play on this. It is a fabulous football pitch.” There are two further grass pitches that require regular maintenance, which can also be used for other field sports and events.

Looking to further drive the site’s revenue, Dave is yearning for the bar to be more accessible and recognised on the Vale: “I wouldn’t say the bar had any regulars at the moment, it’d be nice to encourage them.”

He wants the function room to be utilised and has already accepted an “over 50s men’s group,” for regular bookings.

On top of this, the newly appointed manager aims “to open the little hatch as a café for match days, although that might take a month or two to get off the ground.”

But football is at the heart of Castle Vale Stadium, on the pitch and off. As the centre becomes more popular post-lockdown, diving full throttle diving into the F.A. Cup, Dave anticipates larger crowds and the need for more helping hands.

Now we’re getting busy, the stadium actually needs more staff. Bar staff we’re looking for, and someone young and dynamic who wants to work under me and see the inner workings of a football stadium.”

Football is a sport with a passionate spectatorship, so it has been a challenge for Dave to keep people abiding to the two meter rule necessary to ensure safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. The stadium ensures that no more than six people sit next to each other in the same bubble.

But the stadium manager is pragmatic and he is resolute about safety: “you’ve just got to use your noggin,” says Dave, having to cope with ever changing guidelines, “we can only fit 25 people in the bar due to current regulations.”

Dave’s concentration is also set on preparation for the F.A. cup season. “The beginning of the season is very stressful. Now is the busy time as you have to get all schedules in,” he tells, sounding jubilant about the match between Romulus F.C. and Coventry Sphinx later that night.

Tonight’s the first round of the FA cup. To get to the final – most boys dream about playing in the F.A. cup sometimes – as daft as it seems, they’re only 13 games from being away from the F.A. cup final.”

Whilst the weekly fixtures and management at Castle Vale Stadium will take up a lot of Dave’s time, his soul is still with the community.

He wants to plan a fun day in “July next year… Fields sports, general sports, family facilities where you can play rounders.” He fondly reminisces about times he dressed up as a clown and as Santa Claus for various family fun days in his previous role at Boldmere St Michael’s.

Whilst Dave quips with a wry smile that he’d “rather just be watching football”, his passion for organisation for the ‘The Beautiful Game’ is palpable.

Asking him what it takes to do his role, he responds: “It’s everything, isn’t it? There’s the financial planning, pitch planning, customer liaison – it takes in a hell of a lot of spheres. You have to have a thick skin as well.”

To find out more about Castle Vale Stadium, visit www.castlevalestadium.co.uk 

For more from The Pioneer Group, visit www.pioneergroup.org.uk

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LOCAL PROFILE: Rev. Emma Sykes – St Barnabas Church

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Words by Ed King

Rev. Emma Sykes is the vicar for St Barnabas Church, Erdington – the Anglican Church in the heart of Erdington High Street.

Originally from Wiltshire, Emma is familiar to Birmingham, previously working for local charities empowering young people, homeless charities, and for UK Youth Parliament. She was ordained in Birmingham in 2008 and, as part of her religious training, served as curate of St Martin in the Bull Ring.

Emma was announced as vicar of St Barnabas Erdington one week before the COVID-19 lockdown came into force on March 23rd. Like most people in the UK at that time she had to work remotely, and the Church of England had a rather unorthodox method of licencing her as incumbent of the church.

I was licensed via Zoom. We had a simple service, with the church wardens there, Bishop Ann of Aston, with some prayers, all over Zoom. A very unusual start to the job.”

Emma confidently launched into her spiritual leadership embracing remote working. “Straight away I started to do online video reflections and prayer that would go out every Sunday. I couldn’t access the church building at all, so I would do these from home.”

St Barnabas Church is now open with regular holy communion services on a Sunday, as well as operating a live stream for people shielding, and is open for private prayer during the week. The service includes live church organ, although Emma bemoans the current government guidelines that “we’re not allowed to sing at the moment. It’s frustrating for all of us!”

As well as leading the church’s rich spiritual life, Emma is in charge of the business side of the busy St Barnabas Church Centre – which includes the Harbour Café and conference rooms. Emma’s first few weeks in post consisted of “sorting out finances, getting up to speed with furloughing, how to reopen as a café.”

Now measures have eased, Emma is working on other plans to help her flock in Erdington. “Our café is well used, but I want to reshape it properly into a community café.” She wants to encourage “different agencies to use the café,” especially those helping with problems of “drug abuse, domestic violence and homelessness.

Whilst living not too far away in Boldmere, Sutton Coldfield, Emma notes that she’s “really enjoyed getting to know Erdington. Especially the community aspect. I love all the energy for the area, the passion for the area, it’s great to be involved in that.” She has been working closely with other church leaders in the Greater Erdington Partners group.

The Grade II listed building of St Barnabas has been a place of worship since 1824, although was severely damaged in a fire in 2007. Emma sings the praises of the previous vicar, Rev. Freda Evans, who left the parish in January 2018 and oversaw the rebuilding of the church.

Emma was impressed with “the sense of light, space and sanctuary. You get the sense that it is a safe harbour,” – all of the Church’s stained glass windows and roof were destroyed, with only the outer walls and the bell tower remaining. “I love the sense of continuity” in the church architecture, tells Emma, “honouring the old but bringing in the new.”

One of Emma’s current church projects is tackling the unkempt churchyard, which includes the graveyard. “I was very aware when I arrived that the church yard needs regenerating. We have a lot of antisocial behaviour in the church yard, which has been compounded by lockdown.” She wants to turn the churchyard into a “peaceful place where people can come and reflect and sit in God’s creation,” as well as “honour the memory of those who have died.”

The church is in the process of setting up the ‘Friends of St Barnabas Churchyard’, a fully constituted group consisting of people from the Erdington Historical Society, councillors and local police, to map out the churchyard graves – including war graves and commonwealth graves.

We’re waiting to hear more on the 5 million pound regeneration fund, as that will affect what we can do.”

Rev. Emma Sykes is yet to have her ‘installation’ service. The date has not yet been decided and will most likely take place in 2021 when the coronavirus pandemic has eased.

Emma welcomes everybody to take part and celebrate her officially as vicar of St Barnabas Erdington in the Church of England.

To find out more about St Barnabas Church, visit www.stbarnabaserdington.org.uk

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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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