NEWS: Community shocked over sudden death of Kingstanding singer songwriter

Words by Adam Smith / Pics approved for use by Tina Phillps

The sudden death of a popular Kingstanding singer songwriter has left his community shellshocked and sparked a wave of online tributes.

Family, friends, fellow musicians, and Blues football club fans posted their favourite memories on social media of Darren Phillips who recently took his own life.

The 52-year-old had been a stalwart of the Birmingham music scene for more than 30 years. He started his musical career as a left handed drummer aged just 16 and appeared in numerous bands.

He switched to guitar in 1999 and also penned lyrics as well as singing vocals for bands including The Hungover Stuntmen. He and Robb Swadkiss formed rock outfit Geezer in 2005 and enjoyed success touring across the country and performing at Liverpool’s legendary Cavern Club.

In recent years Darren was releasing music and performing as Jack the Biscuit.

Kingstanding club promoter George Hadley was “gutted” by Darren’s sudden death.

He told Erdington Local: “Darren was what made Kingstanding, Kingstanding. He’d always take time for a chat and ask how I was. He was a really nice guy who was talented too, he was a singer songwriter who had success and was always interested how my promotion Sum Cellar was getting on.

“He was a real family guy too and we are all gutted for his family. These lockdowns have been so tough for so many people and seeing the amount of people in Kingstanding and beyond who have posted on social media has shown how loved he was.”

Darren’s wife Tina, whom he had three sons and four grandchildren with, pleaded with those suffering with mental health problems to confide to loved ones.

She said: “I have lost my best friend my world my rock. The best husband, dad and grandad in the world. I can’t believe I never had an inkling what was going through his mind. I would like to thank you all for your heartfelt messages I am absolutely heartbroken.

“Darren would be overwhelmed with all the kindness. Good night God bless my darling I will love you forever. Please all remember mental health matters just talk, if only Darren had I wouldn’t be writing this now.”

Darren’s beloved Birmingham City Football Club paid tribute to him during their home match against Swansea City on Friday 2 April.

They projected his picture on the big screen with the message ‘Singer Songwriter, Bluenose and Friend. Keep Right On Darren and Keep Rockin With All the Other Stars in Heaven. RIP.’

Former bandmate Robb Swadkins said: “Massive thank you and well done to Birmingham City FC for doing this at last night’s game. You did yourself and Darren proud.”

A GoFundMe page has been launched to help Darren’s family to pay for the funeral which raised more than £350 within 24 hours.

A memorial party is being held at the Sack of Potatoes Saturday, June 26 at 4pm, everyone is welcome.

To donate to Darren Phillips fundraiser visit www.gofundme.com/f/funds-for-darren-phillips-funeral-and-his-family

If you have been affected by issues surrounding mental health contact Bimringham Mind at www.birminghammind.org or call (0121) 262 3555

EXCLUSIVE: Mother of murdered Sandy Hook schoolboy funds Kingstanding bleed control kits

Words by Adam Smith / Pics supplied by Scarlett Lewis

The inspirational American mother of a boy murdered in the Sandy Hook school massacre in 2012 has funded ten new bleed control kits for Kingstanding.

Scarlett Lewis’ life changed forever when she was told there was a shooting at her six-year-old son Jesse’s school in Connecticut.

When the frantic mother got to the school parents were heading home with their traumatised children. However, Jesse was nowhere to be seen and neither were most his elementary class or his teacher.

As the day unfolded the full horror of what happened inside the school became clear. Armed with an assault rifle, former pupil Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 children and six teachers before turning the gun on himself – earlier in the day he had murdered his mother, a former teacher at the school.

Scarlett told Erdington Local: “I put my children on the school bus and assumed they would come home safe. I never thought in a million years my son would be shot in the forehead in his classroom in one of the worst mass murders in US history.

“I knew it became my responsibility, so I dedicated the rest of my life to do what is right as these shootings are 100% preventable. It’s just like tackling bullying and drugs, we need to tackle the causes of these problems.”

The Sandy Hook massacre remains the USA’s most deadly school shooting and sparked a campaign to tighten America’s notoriously lax gun control laws. However, Scarlett wanted to understand why so many young people kill.

She said: “The tragedy could have been averted with social and emotional intelligence.”

The first step of Scarlett rebuilding her life was to forgive the mass murderer who killed her son.

She said: “I forgave him, he was not treated well. He had special needs which weren’t known. Often was seen in the cafeteria by students crying and shaking with anxiety and the only person who would comfort him was the anxiety. He was bullied, so I felt compassion for him.”

However, what Scarlett could never expected after losing her son in a national tragedy was being the target of internet trolls accusing her of being involved in a conspiracy claiming the entire massacre was fabricated.

She said: “Conspiracy theorists do not have the strength to believe something as awful as Sandy Hook could happen in their country, they would rather believe I am a ‘crisis actor’ and the whole thing was made up than face up to the truth and be part of the solution.”

Scarlett’s negative social media experiences were outweighed by the support she received by other bereaved parents.

She said: “Almost immediately afterwards I had parents of children who had been killed in similar circumstances reach out to me offering support. They helped me realise I would survive and now had a voice which would be listened to, which is why I decided to be part of the solution.”

Reading a heart-breaking message from her son, who saved the lives of several children by urging them to run as the gunman reloaded, also deeply affected Scarlett.

“Jesse wrote a chalk board message right before he went to school that day which I did not see until afterwards.

“He wrote ‘have some fun’ to his brother and then three words ‘nurturing, healing, love’. I knew instantly if the shooter had been taught to give and receive nurturing, healing and love the tragedy would never have happened,” she said.

“I also wanted to be a role model for my 12-year-old son TJ, I did not want him to spend his life angry and I wanted to be free of anger too.”

Scarlett began researching social and emotional learning and founded The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement which now offers free programming in 10,000 schools across every US state and in 110 different countries.

Scarlett believes love is the key to preventing mass murders and every child should be taught about emotions, connections, and relationships.

President Barack Obama was deeply upset by the Sandy Hook massacre and even addressed the nation from the school days after the tragedy. He failed in his bid to tighten gun laws but introduced Scarlett to his sister, a professor who helped launch the foundation. 

Kingstanding’s first bleed control kit was installed in October but another ten are needed for the area to be covered.

When Scarlett heard about deadly consequences of knife crime in Birmingham, she offered to purchase ten new kits, immediately.

“I totally understand the concept of zero responders and how bleed control kits can save lives. It took more than seven minutes for emergency services to get to Jesse’s school and a bleed control kit could have saved lives,” she said.

Bishop Desmond Jadoo and Majid Khan, from Yes2Life  – a Birmingham based group ‘campaigning against the effects of gun & knife crime’, were so impressed by Scarlett’s humanity they volunteered to be UK ambassadors for her Choose Love Movement.

Bishop Jaddoo said: “For a mother to forgive the killer of her six-year-old son, choose love and dedicate her life to saving lives is incredibly inspiring and because of her generosity lives will be saved in Kingstanding.”

For more information about The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement www.chooselovemovement.org

To follow the Yes2Life organsiation on Twitter,, visit www.twitter.com/_yes2life_

For more information about bleed control kits and the work being done by Bishop Desmond Jaddoo visit www.desjaddoo.org.uk

FEATURE: A spooky spirit walk though Erdington’s ghostly past… and present

Words by Adam Smith

It’s Halloween, and as trick or treating is another COVID victim why not explore why ghost hunters still flock to Erdington.

If you believe in the paranormal, or if your things-that-go-bump-in-the-night are more down to carelessness, there can be no doubt that Erdington has more than its fair share of ghost stories.

Whether it is the ‘melting woman in the phone box’, the old fella in the Lad in the Lane or the vanishing woman of Pype Hayes Park, these stories have been passed down the generations of Erdington locals.

Even if these stories have been embellished, altered, or given a splash of colour when told across pub tables or playgrounds, they have become part of who we are – a good ghost story is part of our oral history tradition.

Erdington Local can reveal there are new ghost stories happening now, as the unexplained is explored in a new book from local authors – They Walk Among Us – released this Halloween.

But first let’s walk through the spooky shadows Erdington’s of macabre memory lane…

The ‘melting phone box woman of Station Road’ is one of the most talked about ghost stories in Erdington. Two men were waiting to use the phone in the 1970s, a woman was in the box, and after a long wait they asked her how long she would be… only to find she had ‘melted away’.

The story gained traction, now local folklore says it was a young mother who ran to the phone box to phone the fire brigade as her house was on fire, her children died, and she committed suicide not long after. The phone box, however, could not survive the onward march of progress and was removed due to the popularity of mobile phones.

The Lad in the Lane is the oldest pub in Erdington, once called Ye Olde Green Man, so it stands to reason there would be a ghost story attached to the premises which dates, back to 1400. Ghost hunters claim the Bromford Lane pub has “considerable poltergeist activity” and a grey shadowy figure is said to roam the site.

If anywhere in Erdington would have a reputation for ghostly goings-on it would be Pype Hayes Park. The historic park, which has connections to both the famous Bagot and Arden families, also has a macabre side.

Society belle Mary Ashford was found dead in the park on May 27th 1817, she had been sexually assaulted and been thrown into a pit where she finally drowned. The gruesome murder took place after she had been to a dance at the Tyburn House, when she was just 20-years-old. Castle Bromwich man Abraham Thornton was eventually tried and acquitted of the crimes, not once but twice.

But Mary’s ghost is still said to roam both the park and the Tyburn House, angry at her attacker who was never brought to justice.

Bizarrely enough, 160 years later on the same day – 27th May, Whit Bank Holiday Monday, 1974 – Barbara Forrest, also 20 and also returning home from a dance, went missing only to be found dead on the edge of Pype Hayes Park.

Incredibly, a man named Thornton was also arrested, charged, and eventually acquitted of her murder – her co-worker at a children’s home, Michael Thornton.

However, the most cited ghost sighting in Pype Hayes Park is that of a young woman in an old fashioned, yellow dress who has been seen floating through the park. She is said to walk towards a tree but vanishes and never come out the other side. The West Midlands Ghost Club took the story so seriously they investigated it in 2008.

A Roman Centurian is also has been seen wandering across the Chester Road near Pype Hayes Park too, alongside a white misty figure who takes a seat on the stone bench in Tyburn.

It is surprising locals can get a seat at The Tyburn House with all the ghosts believed to haunt the place. Yet a friendly monk called Fred is believed to be a regular there, with several licensees having reported a “dark human shape” jump past them on the stairs to the cellar.

On Erdington High Street, there have also been sightings of ghosts at the Roebuck Inn. Poltergeist activity has been reported at the old watering hole – as glasses were found smashed all over the function room and a pool ball has been thrown through a window, from inside, during the night. A barmaid was also covered in shards from exploding sherry glasses and a figure in a white shirt has been seen sitting in a locked, darkened restaurant.

There have been other ghost stories attached to the railway arch on Station Road (a monk with a lantern), Orphanage Road on the site of the old orphanage (crying children heard and the caretaker wandering around), and a 16-year-old girl with an expressionless face in Woodend Road.

However, there are new ghost stories also popping up in Erdington, Kingstanding, and Perry Common.

Two friends who met at school used their time in lockdown to write a book about new ghost stories in the West Midlands called They Walk Among Us, and Eridington was not without it’s spooky spectres.

Kingstanding journalist Charlotte Hart and Perry Common writer Louise Blackburn are releasing their book on this Halloween and have told Erdington Local about ghostly-goings on in Erdington.

Charlotte, 42, said: “One the best tales in the book is in Erdington. Someone reported thinking they’d run someone over by the cemetery but when they got out of the car to investigate, there was no-one there.

Our contributor said he’d be left very shaken by it, it left him feeling chilled.”

She added: “Another story involves a toddler from Kingstanding regularly talking to someone at the if her bed in the middle of the night and an Erdington couple who told us about her TV jumping from a chest of drawers to the floor on the other side of the road without getting damaged and waking the cat up.

There’s other stories about people being visited at Good Hope Hospital and spooky events at Highbury Theatre in Boldmere.”

Louise, from Perry Common, was amazed with the response when she asked for contributions from people with modern ghost stories.

She said: “It’s impossible to check the integrity of people’s stories because they’re all first-hand accounts and if people tell us something has happened, then that is good enough for us.

It’s up to the reader whether they believe something or not, and different people accept varying levels of paranormal activity.

If the stories we have shared make people question what they are willing to believe, then we will have achieved what we set out to.”

They Walk Among Us – Unexplained Tales of Ghosts and Spirits of the Midlands is available from 31st October. For more information and links to online purchases, visit www.amzn.to/34yvlm9

To find out more about ghost hunts in the Midlands visit  www.hauntedhappenings.co.uk/ghost-hunting-events/West-Midlands

OPINION: Marcus Rashford has played a blinder helping the hungry children of Erdington

Words Adam Smith

If this was any other year, then Marcus Rashford’s campaign to fill poor children’s stomachs might have fizzled out faster than a flaming Turkey Twizzler in a Northern blizzard.

But this is 2020, a year none of us will ever forget, and the Manchester United striker has nutmegged the Government completely and touched a raw nerve with the British public.

Today is the first day of half term in world’s fifth largest economy and there will be children going hungry because our Government will not pay peanuts for dinners.

And in the great scheme of things the £20m needed to provide poor children with dinners for a week in England (Scotland and Wales are providing them) is the equivalent what can be found down the back of the Government’s sofa.

I understand the argument though – it is not up to the Government to provide children with school dinners during the holidays. However, we are not living in normal times.

Millions of people in the North are living under lockdown and are unable to work, those on minimum wage and who qualify for help are not even getting the full amount, so if there was ever a time for the Government to listen to a footballer’s humanitarian plea then this is it.

And considering the story has led the news agenda for six days now, I bet they wish they listened to the 22-year-old and did a U-turn as they did in the summer.

Figures released in the summer revealed the Erdington constituency had the fourth most schoolchildren in England eligible for free school meals, 33.8% of 15,932 pupils.

To put that into context, if you walk down Erdington High Street today, you WILL see lots of children who need free school meals and could be hungry right now.

However, top of the free meals eligibility league was Northfield (35.4% of 16,437 pupils), which is represented by a Kingstanding councillor.

Erdington must be the only constituency in the country to have three MPs in the House of Commons. Labour’s Jack Dromey was elected by the people of Erdington in last year’s election, but in a strange twist of electoral fate we have two more elected voices who could shout for our area in Parliament.

Kingstanding Conservative Councillor Gary Sambrook rode into Westminster on Boris Johnson’s blue wave and was elected to represent Northfield. And Castle Vale Conservative Councillor Suzanna Webb took advantage of the Brexit / Remainer Tory civil war to replace former minister Margot James as MP for Stourbridge.,

A year after the election and both remain councillors, and therefore are supposed to be representing the area the best way they can. Both voted to stop feeding Brum children in the holidays.

From a quick glance at Hansard, it seems both are not raising Kingstanding or Castle Vale issues in Parliament – it is a bit like blagging your mate into a posh nightclub with a free bar and then not getting him a free pint because “it’s not the done thing”.

If you enjoy politics as a spectator sport, then this week has been great fun, seeing a working class Northerner run rings around politicians.

First there was the demand to feed hungry children, then the Parliamentary defeat and then, Britain being Britain, the avalanche of free food being offered by businesses across the country.

Seeing the amount of companies, councils, and charities answering the remarkable young man’s plea was a beautiful bright spot in a morass of COVID misery.

Erdington and Kingstanding did not disappoint either with cafes like Goodfillas and Stockland Café, and chippies like Reed Square, offering free food for children.

Goodfillers Cafe – Kingstanding / Kids can eat free (off the kids menu only and 1 meal per day) from Monday 26th to Friday 30th between 8am -1pm. Eat in only no takeaways

This was Pype Hayes fish bar Reed Square’s Facebook post: “We were shocked when MP’s voted down the motion to give free school lunches to deserving children throughout the October half-term holiday.

“Presently we’re witnessing first hand the devastation that the pandemic is causing to some of our customers finances due to job losses, reduced working hours therefore reducing their household incomes.

“As a proud member of this local community the team at REED SQUARE FISH BAR want to play our part. As such we will be offering each school age child a free meal, each lunch time next week with a choice of sausage and chips, chips and peas, chips and curry, chicken nuggets and chips. (one meal per child per lunch time).”

Have you ever known a chip shop sounding so angry? No, me neither. It was not so long ago politicians were demonising chip shops for causing our little cherubs to be obese – now the chippies are giving kids free food because the Government won’t… we are living in weird times.

Kingstanding Regeneration Trust are giving away 200 free meals tomorrow between noon and 2.30pm at George Road Baptist Church, Erdington – click here for more details..

And then there were the MPs who doubled down on the keep kids hungry policy. A North Devon MP attacked those businesses offering to help by saying they shouldn’t moan about being under COVID restrictions  – then Ben Bradley and Mark Jenkinson claimed mothers were swapping food tokens for drugs.

And now the defense is crumbling, with new Tory MPs feeling the white hot heat of Joe Public’s disgust as the man/woman in the street realised their taxes pay for subsidised meals – but not to feed the poorest children in society during a pandemic.

The Government is safe in power for another four years. But those Conservatives who are facing the ballot box next year are pig sick over the fowl up over these free meals. West Midlands Mayor Conservative Andy Street is a perfect example, he is up for re-election next May and he broke ranks to call on the Government to do a U-turn.

And then this morning, when the story could have run out of steam, Health Minister Matt Hancock did the PR equivalent of pouring petrol on the story and flicking a match at the media.

Hancock told us Boris Johnson had been talking to Marcus Rashford about the situation. Which was news to Marcus, so he tweeted immediately this was not the case.

New MPs usually pile on the pounds when they get elected, an endless round of free lunches naturally expand their waistlines. Then there is the subsidised food and drink in Parliament – a petition to stop this perk has got thousands of signatures.

The sheer disparity of well-fed politicians refusing poor children food is stark; it might not be as simple as that, but that is the perception. And it has enraged people, alongside MPs set for a 4% pay rise and private companies getting contracts worth billions of pounds to fail repeatedly at keeping us safe.

I qualified for free school dinners when I was a kid at Great Barr Comp. But my mom was too proud to claim them so instead of sitting with the cool kids eating chocolate concrete and pink blancmange, I’d be looking longingly from the ‘sarnie tables’ because I couldn’t face another lunch hour eating a drab crab paste sandwich.

I knew hunger as a child, as a teen, and as an adult when I worked in London – but what saved me in ‘the smoke’ was getting a press pass to Westminster.

All the food and drinks in Parliament are subsidised… by you. By the taxpayer. It was the cheapest place to get a decent pint and dinner in the entire city. What would cost £30 in St Stephens Tavern opposite Parliament would cost £7 inside those hallowed walls.

The food was fantastic too. And one thing’s for sure, there was not a Turkey Twizzler on any of the menus in Westminster.

To find out more about Kingstanding Regeneration Trust’s food giveaway visit www.facebook.com/events/2610523112591632

NEWS: Inspiring photograph of St Luke’s wins thousands for Kingstanding church in national competition

Words by Adam Smith

A Kingstanding church has won £2,500 after a picture of fireworks above the parish came runner up in a national photography competition.

Sarah Farnan was inspired to pick up her camera after seeing the fireworks light up the night sky above St Luke’s Church, Cavendish Road.

She entered the picture into the Parish Pixels competition with the following description to help capture the character of the church: “The St Luke’s family has been sparkling like a diamond at the centre of the community of Kingstanding for over eighty years, shining out the love of God for all to see.”

Sarah’s snap won the West Midlands regional final of the competition which saw more than 600 Anglican churches enter pictures.

Parish Pixels was launched by insurance company, Ecclesiastical, which awarded the church £1,500 for winning the regional final.

Sarah and church representatives were due to attend a glittering national ceremony for the final in London last week, but due to COVID-19 restrictions the event was streamed online.

However, there were still celebrations after judges announced Sarah’s picture clinched the runner’s up spot winning the Kingstanding church another £1,000.

School administrator Sarah joined the congregation six years ago and was delighted her photo was recognised.

She said: “Situated at the heart of a deprived inner-city area, Kingstanding is often the focus of bad press. There’s quite a lot of unemployment and crime. But St Luke’s is like a shining light, a sparkling diamond, with the love of God at its heart.

As soon as you walk in, you notice an overwhelming sense of genuine warmth and welcome. Our mission is to meet people ‘where they are’, recognising the diversity within our community, embracing and building on the goodness and community spirit that exists here.”

She added: “The church is a real sanctuary – our parish brings people together and tries to unearth the hidden diamond within each of us.”

I don’t know yet how the money will be spent, but there are always things which need doing in any church and fundraising is difficult in an area such as ours, so it’s very welcome.”

She added: “So I want to give a huge thanks to everyone who supported my entry by voting for my picture.

The national final was going to be a trip to London, a presentation lunch and awards ceremony in Westminster. Very disappointingly that fell victim to COVID and instead the ceremony took place virtually online.”

The Parish Pixels Award 2020 ceremony is now available for anyone to watch online and can be seen here:

St Luke’s Church posted about the competition on its Facebook page: “Thanks to all of you who voted and shared our photo. It has been wonderful to see the enthusiasm and support for the competition despite the months of lockdown and lovely to experience the support and interest from our parishioners.”

Parish Pixels organisers, Ecclesiastical, revealed they were overwhelmed by the amount of entries and social media interest in the competition.

A spokesperson said: “We received more than 600 entries, from all corners of the United Kingdom, and together they formed a magnificent illustration of the astonishing diversity of our places of worship and the humbling faith and dedication of their congregations.

Whittling the 635 brilliant submissions down to nine regional winners was tough enough – but then our judges faced the almost impossible job of naming a winner.

We invited you to help them to choose by voting for your favourite on our website, and over 7000 of you responded.”

For more information about St Luke’s Church visit www.saintlukeskingstanding.co.uk

For more on Ecclesiastical, visit www.ecclesiastical.com

NEWS: Erdington police have “changed the tone” with public over COVID-19 restrictions, including fines from £100 to £3,200

Words by Adam Smith

Erdington’s top cop has warned his police officers will be more assertive with people flouting COVID-19 restriction rules.

Inspector Haroon Chughtai explained the new tougher stance as Birmingham was placed under the Government’s new Tier 2 restrictions today – including on the spot fines and fixed penalty notices of £100, increasing up to £3200 for repeat offenders.

In an email to Erdington residents, Inspector Haroon Chughtai explained people should by now understand the pandemic and its consequences – so his officers will spend less time explaining rules and more time enforcing them.

He said: “We have changed the tone of our policing of COVID. It could be argued that we have all had enough time to live with and understand what and why restrictions exist, so while we are still using the 4 E approach (Engage, Explain, Encourage and then Enforce) which I have mentioned previously, we will move to enforcement quicker then we have previously.

Thankfully this remains a rare occurrence with most people being very sensible and responsible in their behaviour. To give you some context in the last month, we have issued two fines, one to an individual who refused to wear a mask without a valid exemption and the second was only yesterday to a business in Sutton who have little or no social distancing measures in place.”

The Tier 2 COVID-19 restrictions which come into force today (Wednesday  14th October 2020) in Erdington, Kingstanding, and across Birmingham are:

  • People must not socialise with anybody outside of their household or support bubble in any indoor setting, whether at home or in a public place
  • The rule of six will now apply to private gardens, alongside other spaces like beaches or parks (other than where specific exemptions apply in law)
  • Weddings can go ahead with restrictions on the number of attendees
  • Funerals can only have 30 attendees, with a maximum of 15 at wakes and commemorations
  • Team sports can only be played where officially organised by a club or organisation
  • People are advised to minimise the number of journeys they make
  • While you can still go on holiday, it can only be with people you live with, or your support bubble
  • Businesses and venues can continue to operate until 10pm, in a COVID-secure manner – although customers must sit at a table when eating and drinking
  • Schools, universities and places of worship will remain open

As well as the latest COVID-19 policing issues, Inspector Chughtai revealed overall crime has risen again in Erdington compared to last year’s figures with domestic violence again worryingly high.

Inspector Chughtai said: “Erdington is showing a 10% increase in overall crime, that is around 600 extra victims of crime, like I said last month domestic abuse plays a large part in this increase with 450 extra victims of domestic abuse so far this year compared to the same period last year.

Domestic abuse continues to show increases with a 40% rise, which is 450 extra victims – this remains my biggest concern and the one of the main priorities of my teams.”

He added: “Robbery and burglary continue to show good reductions, with robbery showing a 16% reduction with 33 less victims of robbery, house burglaries show a 5% reduction with18 less victims of burglary, like Sutton we have seen an increase in burglary offences recently which is taking away the good reductions made earlier in the year.”

He added: “Under 25 violence shows a 6% reduction, which has increased compared to last month – largely down to an increase is low level fights between school children and some robbery offences with young people being both victims and offenders. We are working very closely with the schools around this.”

For more information from West Midlands Police about the latest COVID-19 restrictions, visit www.west-midlands.police.uk/coronavirus

For more information from Government on the latest COVID-19 restrictions in Birmingham, Sandwell, and Solihull, visit www.gov.uk/guidance/birmingham-sandwell-and-solihull-local-restrictions

If you believe you are a victim of domestic abuse, you can seek help and advice via the freephone 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline is 0808 2000 247

For more information visit www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk

NEWS: Kingstanding gets its lifesaving first bleed control kit on the Hawthorn

Words by Adam Smith / Pics by Ed King

The first bleed control kit has been installed in Kingstanding to save lives if stabbings and shootings continue to happen in the area.

The Grapevine off licence, Hawthorn Road, now has the medical equipment needed to stop bleeding immediately if someone gets injured nearby.

After a wave in deaths in inner city Birmingham, Bishop Desmond Jaddoo from Yes2Life put the kits in Lozells, Aston, and Handsworth – and has now set his sights on Kingstanding and Erdington.

He told Erdington Local: “We have wanted to get a bleed control kit in Kingstanding for a while.

The recent spark in violence has made it essential, it is about being prepared, just in case, many times things happen and we do not know what to do.

We started in Lozells, Handsworth and Newtown but our target has been North Birmingham, Kingstanding, Erdington, Oscott etc.”

He added: “We want to get bleed control kits in these areas but also provide training too, however, due to COVID training sessions have been hampered.

When there was a shooting in Great Hampton Street, Hockley, a woman got a bleed kit and saved his life, she had not had training but had seen some of our Facebook videos, so we are looking to produce more training videos.

The violence has not stopped because of COVID, in fact it has gone up.”

The bleed control kit includes items such as a tourniquet, bandages, and a foil blanket, and has been created with the help of Bunzl Healthcare, Purple Pharma, and Blue Kit Medical.

Bishop Jaddoo is delighted to have got a lifesaving foothold in Kingstanding.

He said: “This is the first bleed control kit in Kingstanding, we would have been in Kingstanding before but we are not funded. We have to fund these ourselves, so every time we get some donations we install more kits.

Our aim is to get bleed control kits on the College Road, Witton Lodge, Kingstanding Circle, here on the Hawthorn and up Kingstanding Road.

What we try to do is cover an area completely with kits and educate people how they can be used and then move on, we will go to Erdington next. But as we are not funded we need to build it slowly.

When people talk about issues proportionality, poverty and violence, a lot of people think because Kingstanding is in North Birmingham, which is seen as more affluent than inner city Birmingham. it’s OK but there is a lot of social housing in this area, and with that there is a lot of working class white people, and they are totally forgotten about and that is so wrong.

We need to think how society rates us, they lump in the black and Asian communities in with the working class communities. So, we have to class ourselves as one group.”

He added: “We picked The Grapevine because the shopkeeper understands the importance of bleed control kits and why they need to be in the community.

If someone is hurt, and we are not just talking about stabbings and shootings, if there is a car crash, the kit is for the zero responder, the person who sees the incident and can help immediately before the emergency services get there. These kits have tourniquets and bleed pressure bandages, those first minutes are vital.”

Owner of The Grapevine off licence on Hawthorn Road, Paul Bradford, wanted to have a bleed control kit in his shop to foster a sense of community in Kingstanding.

He said: “I have followed the work (Bishop) Desmond has done over the years and he told me how these bleed control kits can save lives so I wanted to get involved.

It is not just about the rising crime; we witnessed a really bad car crash outside the shop not long ago and we could have really done with a bleed control kit to help those injured.

If something happens on the Hawthorn we will be prepared, and anything can happen, we are a community on the Hawthorn. There is a defibrillator in the Co-op as well in case anyone has a heart attack, we are all in this together.

I’m glad that The Grapevine is the first of hopefully many businesses in Kingstanding to have a bleed control kit, I wish there was no need for them but there is.”

Bishop Desmond Jaddoo – outside The Grapevine off licence on Hawthon Road, Kingstanding

For more on Yes2Life, including the work they do challenging knife and gun crime, visit www.yes2life.co.uk

For more information about Bishop Desmond Jaddoo visit www.desjaddoo.org.uk

EXPLOITED: Part 3 – The unchallenged rampage of HMOs and shared houses, wreaking havoc for a profit across our community

Words by Adam Smith

In the third instalment of EXPLOITED, Adam Smith looks at the oversaturation problem in the HMO and supported living sector – hearing from the top of two housing associations and going right down to the root cause of the misery.

It’s a license to print money,” one former employee of a housing association tellingly revealed.

And it stands to reasons where there is easy money on offer there will be a queue of people ready to take it.

On the Birmingham City Council website there is a list of HMOs where landlords can charge the benefits system £900 for a room, which often can be more than £500 over the private rented market value. And the list runs into the thousands.

Across Birmingham there are 2345 HMOs with six or more people living in them, with applications pending for another 758 properties – including houses in Mere Road, Queens Road, Chester Road, Hillaries Road, Norfolk Road, Kings Road, Slade Road and George Road in Erdington.

As well as the licensed HMOs there are thousands more smaller HMOs and shared houses which fall into the category of ‘exempt’ or ‘supported’ accommodation. There are hundreds of companies which can apply for an HMO license in Erdington, many of which have been arguably set up just to take advantage of the system.

Spring Housing Association (SHA) is a Birmingham based Housing Association which operates HMOs, hostels and social housing – an organisation that has been referenced in previous Exploited articles. SHA has close links to Birmingham City Council and is one of the biggest housing associations in the Midlands, managing or owning more than 700 properties.

SHA, which has Edgbaston MP Preet Gill on its board of directors, has lobbied the Government to tighten up regulations and is now even turning shared houses into family homes.

SHA group chief executive and founder, Dominic Bradley, told Erdington Local there should be tighter regulations on the mushrooming number of companies which can run HMOs and shared accommodation.

He said: “We believe that there is over saturation of exempt shared housing provision in Birmingham. This is not to say that this type of housing doesn’t have an important part to play in the prevention of homelessness in all of its forms. In fact it’s essential.

However, we have long recognised that in parts of the city we are over saturated with this style of housing – which is disruptive to local communities. Stockland Green is an obvious example of this.”

Dominic added: “It’s one of the reasons we are about to purchase a shared house in Erdington and convert it back to a family home. We are aiming to do something similar in Edgbaston, which has had similar community issues to Stockland Green.

Whilst this is a start and one we are keen to develop further there are wider more systematic issues that need to be tackled around strengthening existing regulations about what we mean about care, support and supervision and work with providers to curb the current unmitigated growth and target provision linked to local strategy which we know Birmingham City Council are very keen to achieve.”

In the last article, Exploited – Humans Must Obey,  we outlined the rules tenants have to follow whilst living in supported housing and HMOs.

In the housing sector the term used is ‘Exempt Accommodation’ because in 1996 Housing Benefit regulations were changed to include ‘non-commissioned EA’ which were defined as ‘accommodation which is…provided by a non-metropolitan country council, a housing association, a registered charity or a voluntary organisation where that body or a person acting on its behalf also provides the claimant with care, support or supervision.

‘If a provider or landlord meets these criteria, they are exempt from rent restrictions within the private rented sector and are able to yield rent levels, paid for from housing benefit, far in excess of ‘general needs’ social sector rents and, often, market rents.’

These two paragraphs provided the starter of the sector gun, as landlords and housing associations realised they could charge more rent without the hassle of tenancy agreements – and the introduction of Universal Credit in 2012 massively increased the sector. The Conservative government’s change of rules, that the tenant received the housing benefit and not the landlord, meant it made sense for landlords to claim their houses were ‘exempt’ so they could get the cash directly as had been the case for decades.

The last Parliamentary research into HMOs, published in 2019, revealed there were more than 497,000 HMOs in England in Wales in 2018. And that number is growing.

Spring Housing Association, the University of Birmingham, and Commonweal Housing combined to produce a 60 page report – Exempt from Responsibility? Ending Social Injustice in Exempt Accommodation – which detailed the shocking state of housing provision and detailed how thousands of people were stuck in negative housing situations across the city. 

Ashley Horsey, chief executive of Commonweal Housing, a charity formed to ‘implement housing solutions to social injustice’, described the damage exempt housing is doing to tenants and communities.

He said: “The findings of this report are stark. That over 11,000 people in Birmingham – and many thousands more across the country – are living in potentially unsafe and unsuitable ‘exempt’ accommodation should concern us all.

Residents interviewed for this report described feelings of ‘entrapment’ in financial instability; exclusion from decision-making processes; lack of control over where, and with whom, they are housed.

At the same time, the nature of too many of the business models involved in this space are causing some concern, not least inflation linked leases from property owners requiring ever rising rents.

In addition, the deficit-based tenant modelling – talking up your tenant’s weaknesses to justify your income stream – is all too common, and a tricky place to be morally. Especially where there remains little oversight.”

Ashley added: “The ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ nature of some of the governance and regulation of this sector is alarming. Of course, everyone accommodated in the exempt accommodation sector is in need of a home. But asking no questions simply because this sector is putting a roof over a head is not good enough.

In particular, the exempt accommodation sector is too often the only housing available for the marginalised, the overlooked, the undervalued and the de-valued in society. They are the women who find themselves here after fleeing domestic violence, as their only housing option.”

The next instalment of EXPLOITED will reveal the shocking stories of women who have either lived in, live in, or have been affected by HMOs, exempt, or shared housing.

To read Exempt from Responsibility? Ending Social Injustice in Exempt Accommodation, visit www.springhousing.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Spring-Housing-Final-Report-A4.pdf

To read the 2019 Parliamentary briefing paper on HMOs, visit www.commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/sn00708 

For more on Spring Housing Association, visit www.springhousing.org.uk

For more on Commonweal Housing, visit www.commonwealhousing.org.uk

If you have been affected by HMOs or any of the issues mentioned in this article, we want to hear your side of the story – email Erdington Local on exploited@erdingtonlocal.com

NEWS: Heartless thieves target Kingstanding charity stealing £20,000 of community equipment

Words by Adam Smith / Pics supplied by Kingstanding Regeneration Trust

A Kingstanding charity is reeling after thieves stole tools worth £20,000 which local youngsters use to clean up pensioners’ gardens.

Burglars used an angle grinder saw to break into Kingstanding Regeneration Trust’s (KRT) shipping container, Dulwich Road, and clear the shelves inside – steeling so much gardening gear they needed a large van to drive it away.

The charity, which is based at Kingstanding Leisure Centre, has now been burgled four times in two years.

Assistant manager Emily Dwyer told Erdington Local: “This is really upsetting. This is the fourth time we have been broken into in two years. We really try and do good work for the community at KRT so it is very sad this keeps happening.

These tools were used to help local young people get back into work and provide a gardening service for the pensioners.”

She added: “In December last year, thieves broke in and stole all our computers. We are waiting to find out what our insurers say about the tools but it will be so hard to get insurance after this latest break-in.

If anyone has any information about our tools or would like to donate to the charity then please contact us on 0121 439 6780.”

KRT was founded 12 years ago and provides training for young people to help them get into work.

The charity also provides a low cost gardening service for pensioners throughout North Birmingham and runs various community projects from the leisure centre.

As part of their ongoing community outreach activities, KRT also helps nurture and develop green spaces – creating eight community gardens in recent years and “greened up” Hawthorn Road by planting trees and shrubbery.

Kingstanding Police Team issued an appeal for information to the public about the theft at KRT.

PCSO Tracy Baker said: “KRT, a local charity based at Kingstanding Leisure Centre, has had their shipping container broken into over the weekend.

The container was full of gardening and power tools worth approximately £20,000. All the tools are used to train young people so they can access employment. The container had three locks on and needed an angle grinder or still saw and a large van to carry all the kit.”

She added: “Please may I ask you report any information you have, especially if you are approached by someone selling tool to us via 101 or our Live Web Chat quoting crime number 20BE/228247Q/20.”

To find out more about Kingstanding Regeneration Trust, visit www.krtbirmimingham.co.uk

For more on the Kingstanding Police team, including non-emergency contact information, visit www.west-midlands.police.uk/node/2711b

NEWS: Kingstanding Police offer free bike security kits following knife point robbery

Words by Adam Smith

Kingstanding Police are offering free cycle security marking after a spate of robberies of mountain bikes from youngsters in the area.

Bike owners are being invited to Kingstanding Police Station this Saturday to get their property marked and be added to a national register which will reunite them with their bike if recovered after being stolen.

Last week, Rebecca Hurley’s child was robbed at knife point for his bike in Dovedale Road.

Appealing for information on Facebook the mother, who shared pictures of the bike and CCTV footage of the robbery, said: “The damage these people have done to my son’s confidence is unbelievable, it’s heart breaking.

They robbed him at knife point just off Dovedale Road. They ragged him around but he’s not hurt just really shook up. They tried to steal his phone as well but he managed to get away on the back of the bike.”

She added: “I have since found out these people had robbed two other boys at knife point in the area.”

The Facebook appeal was successful and the bike was returned to the boy after a woman who had bought it for £35 this weekend got in touch with the family.

Mrs Hurley said: “I can’t thank people enough for sharing my post as he has his bike back. These lads robbed my son for £35! They need to be stopped.”

Throughout the summer there have several other bike thefts from children in Kingstanding and Erdington.

The police have teamed up with national cycle database BikeRegister to help bike owners get their cycles marked with permanent security markings.

In a message to residents, Kingstanding Police team said: “We have obtained a limited number of bike security kits from BikeRegister and you like to offer you the opportunity to pop into Kingstanding Police Station on Saturday, September 19th, whereby, we will apply the kits to your pedal cycle.

We will then register you FREE of charge to our approved provider BikeRegister.”

Anyone interested should email their name, telephone number, address, bike make, model and frame number to kingstanding@west-midlands.pnn.police.uk

Local cyclists will then be given a time slot on Saturday 19th September to visit the station.

How to mark you bike with a BikeRegister kit

To find out more about BikeRegister, visit www.bikeregister.com

For more on the Kingstanding Police team, including non-emergency contact information, visit www.west-midlands.police.uk/node/2711b