NEWS: St Thomas’ Association raise £400 to support brain injury rehabilitation centre

Words by Ed King / Pics supplied by St Thomas’ Association and Google Maps)

Earlier this year, members of the St Thomas’ Association handed over a cheque of £400 to West Heath House – a Birmingham based rehabilitation centre that provides care and support for people recovering from brain injury.

The money was raised after kind hearted people at the Erdington social club, situated on Station Road, held fundraising raffles over six weeks and generated a total of £1000 for charity.

Donations were also made to Birmingham Hospice Partnership – who operate John Taylor Hospice on Grange Road, the Alzheimer’s Society – and Guide Dogs for the Blind. 

West Heath House, based in West Heath, is run by the national charity Brainkind and is and is one of the only places in the city that can offer ‘innovative rehabilitation and ongoing support to enable people to thrive after a brain injury.’

The South Birmingham facility was chosen by people from St Thomas’ Association after one of their longstanding members – Colin Anderson, who has played dominoes at the club for over 30 years – became a resident at West Heath House.

Staff from the centre took time from their own personal life to escort Colin to a special dominoes league presentation night at St Thomas’ Association in October last year, traveling across Birmingham and back again, and won the hearts of the people who use the club and know Colin.

After receiving the generous donation from St Thomas’ Association, West Heath House Service Manager, Paul Higgins, responded in writing by saying: ‘I would like to thank all members of the St Thomas Association for their amazingly kind donation. The money will be used for the people we support in a way of their choosing.’

St Thomas’ Association has been part of the Erdington community for nearly 130 years, having first opened its doors in 1895. The club recently had an upgrade worth £200k and offers a vibrant social and events calendar – alongside top of the range facilities for private parties, functions, and corporate bookings.

For more on St Thomas’ Association visit www.saint-toms.co.uk or call (0121) 373 4144

For more on West Heath House visit www.brainkind.org/services/west-heath-house

NEWS: “Throw good money after bad” – concerns raised over the real cost to fix Birmingham’s Oracle IT system

Words by Ed King

(The following article is part of an ongoing investigation with Birmingham Dispatch, looking into Birmingham financial crisis and governance issues. For more on The Dispatch, and to subscribe to their daily content, visit www.birminghamdispatch.co.uk )

Birmingham City Council remains shocking unclear as to just how much money – and time – it will take to fix their beleaguered IT system, as the reality of the Oracle scandal starts to come to light.

In a fraught audit committee meeting on Wednesday 21 February, the projected costs outlined to aid with the “reimplementation” of the financail management programme came under fierce scrutiny, with Cllr Meirion Jenkins (Con, Sutton Mere Green) asking “a straight forward question” about how many more paid consultancy days were needed until the problems was solved.

Cllr Meirion underpinned his concerns by reminding the committee “these people are coming in at £1000 per day… possibly more”, mirroring more widespread concerns over the City’s arguably exuberant expenditure on outside consultants.

He further compared the local authority debacle to the private sector, where, he argued, commercial companies would decide “we don’t want to throw good money after bad.”

In response, the City’s Interim Finance Director and Section 151 Officer, Fiona Greenway, admitted the Oracle recovery team “are getting to grips” with the situation and pulled back on providing “a set of numbers and deadlines… only to come back and say, actually they’ve changed.”

Greenway, the Council officer who issued the Section 114 Notice in September 2023 – effectively declaring Birmingham as bankrupt, has recently been appointed as the Council’s Senior Oracle Responsible Officer working underneath Oracle Programme Lead, Philip Macpherson.

Macpherson, who sat on a table alone with slumped shoulders throughout the 21 February Audit Committee meeting, further confirmed his team still has “a lot of work to do” and whilst “estimates” have been put into the Council’s budget to pay for the Oracle fiasco they may have to “refine those”.

Having already reportedly cost Birmingham City Council and its taxpayers £86m, in recent budget proposals for 2024/25 and 2025/26 a further £45m was allocated across the two years to help support the Oracle recovery.

But those projected costs now appear to be more wishful thinking than a concrete cashflow forecast, as an “options analysis” is still being done to decide the best way forward with Oracle.

Greenway further stated the need for an interim financial management system to avoid “a number of risks from manual workaround” as one of the “fundamental issues”, but did not clarify the cost for putting a new system in place “through due procurement process.”

Perhaps the only point that can be agreed upon is the importance of having a functioning system in place, as no financial recovery plan is fully possible without auditable accounts. The Commissioners appointed by Central Government to clean up Birmingham’s financial mess, led by Max Caller CBE, have cited the “Oracle recovery” as one of the “fundamental elements” of their plan to save the city.

But in the same statement, made ahead of the Audit Committee last week (21 February), Commissioners also call out Birmingham City Council for not having “demonstrated the ability and capability” to follow the advice to do so.

After bringing in external auditors Grant Thornton, recommendations over Oracle made to Birmingham City Council on 31 January 2024 again highlighted “a lack of Oracle knowledge” leaving the local authority “without the capability and expertise” to properly balance their books.

But the viability of the entire system is now seemingly under question, which since it’s initial ‘go live’ date nearly two years ago has never operated successfully – leaving the UK’s largest local government to manually “adjust inaccuracies” in its ledger.

Questioning whether the City had now in fact reached “the point of no return” with Oracle, Councillor Paul Tilsley CBE (Lib Dem, Sheldon) went on to challenge previous decisions not to pull the plug on the defunct system as it could have been “cheaper for (the Council) to start again”.

Cllr Robert Alden (Con, Erdington) also questioned the strength of any previous analysis, which was reportedly conducted after the first failings in the Oracle system were addressed, asking that “when the new options appraisal is shared, we can make sure the old one is shared too.”

However, Mark Stocks, Grant Thornton’s Head of Public Sector/Not for Profit Audit and author of their recommendations made to Birmingham City Council on 31 January, explained the Council were still “a way away from making that decision” – leaving the future of the Oracle system, and the costs involved in fixing or replacing it, hanging in the balance.

Erdington Local has asked Birmingham City Council for a breakdown to the costs for the Oracle recovery to date, and to clearly identify how much of the projected budget would be allocated to outside consultants or technical support.

It is expected the ongoing financial and logistical concerns over the Oracle system will be addressed at the Cabinet meeting held today, on Tuesday 27 February.

If you would like to get in touch about any of the issues raised in this article, or around Birmingham City Council’s ongoing financial crisis, please email: edking@erdingtonlocal.com

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: Building community scaffolding with Witton Lodge Community Association

Words by Afzal Hussain – Chief Officer of Witton Lodge Community Association


 
The first weeks of 2024 seem to have passed in a blur. Although still early in the New Year, there have already been some notable highlights.

First, we are thrilled to welcome a number of new volunteers who have joined our existing colleagues and are already making incredible contributions. We were also delighted to support 31 local groups and organisations with grant funding to deliver a wide range of services, which we are confident will make a huge difference across Erdington. We will shortly be publishing details of these projects, so do look out for them.

Off the back of this success, we are seeking to work with trusted local groups to establish Digital Hubs across Erdington, where residents can access computers and online services, as well as support to gain new skills.

As many of you will know, Witton Lodge Community Association was setup in response to a housing crisis, and over the past 30 years worked hard to transform Perry Common. But we know there is more to do, and in recent years we have been purchasing empty properties, refurbishing, and making them available to local families.

Many of our residents are still struggling with cost-of-living pressures, which is why our Advice Services, Health and Wellbeing projects, and Job search are so vital, and in demand. We believe this ‘community scaffolding’ will hold us in better stead for the inevitable tough times ahead.

Our approach, at its heart, remains as it did all those years ago… working with and alongside our communities, listening, and harnessing their knowledge and experience to develop services that deliver results.

For more on Witton Lodge Community Association, visit www.wittonlodge.org.uk

Witton Lodge Community Association is a key partner in the Erdington Local COMMUNITY ANCHORS programme, supporting independent local and community journalism.

NEWS: Eden Café to be taken over by new management from March

Words & pics by Ed King


 
Eden Café, on Reservoir Rd, just off Six Ways roundabout, is to be taken over by new management from March this year – with the official launch scheduled for April.

2 Much Passion, a local Community Interest Company (CIC) ‘committed to teaching and creating mouthwatering projects’ and encouraging ‘real life cooking that will impact (on people’s) health and well being’ has been using the Eden Café kitchen for their community food solution projects.

But the CIC made the decision to move permanently into the YMCA owned site this spring, to extend their community support and breathe new life into the beleaguered café.


 
Already running a Warm Space facility from Eden Café on Wednesdays and Fridays between 12:30pm and 4:30pm, and a Community Pantry on Thursdays between 10am and 2pm, 2 Much Passion are looking forward to getting the once popular hub back open to the general public.

The hardworking CIC also have ambitious plans to extend their community outreach and support programmes, which currently provide lunches to the Northcroft Hospital “on a daily basis” and saw them use Eden’s kitchen to make meals to feed up to a thousand people a day during the summer.


 
There are also plans to bring live music and entertainment to the site, mirroring the current Eden Café strapline that declares the venue offers ‘more than coffee’.

Managing Director of 2 Much Passion, Vanessa Kelly, told Erdington Local: “We are looking forward to being the go to community café, providing the community led food solutions that Erdington really needs.

“We operate the Warm Welcome and Community Pantry, but for people using the café they will know that by buying a coffee or a meal with us that is being reinvested back into the community.

“We want people to know that Eden is there for benefit of the community, and with the cost of living crisis and everything that’s happening we don’t want anyone to go to bed hungry. So, if you can afford to – you can buy. But if you can’t we will feed you.

“By eating with us you support us to feed somebody else.”


 
For more on 2 Much Passion CIC visit www.2muchpassioncic.co.uk

For more on Eden Café visit www.facebook.com/eden.coffee.erdington/

NEWS: Man appears before Birmingham Crown Court for murder and fraud charges after body found at Baldmoor Lake Road address

Words by Ed King / Pic of Wallis Webb supplied by WMP – pics of Baldmoor Lake Rd from Google Maps

A man has appeared before Birmingham Crown Court, charged with murder and fraud by false representation after a body was found at a Baldmoor Lake Road address last week.

On Tuesday 6 February, Mr Wallis Webb, aged 65, was discovered dead at the Erdington address – sparking a murder investigation by local police.

Days later and Sakander Hussain, aged 25, was arrested and subsequently charged with the murder of Mr Wallis and fraud by false representation – after police found the deceased’s bank card had been used posthumously.

Mr Hussain, from Ingleton Road, Ward End, first appeared before magistrates and has now been processed through to Birmingham’s Crown Court, where he appeared via video link from HMP Hewell to confirm his name.

Judge Simon Drew KC, presiding, set a plea and trial preparation hearing for 22 April – where the accused will be asked to enter a plea against the charges brought before him. A provisional trail date has also been set for 5 August 2024.

Addressing Mr Hussain, Judge Simon Drew KC said: “I am going to adjourn your case.

“The next hearing will be on April 22, that is the hearing at which you will be expected to enter a plea of either guilty or not guilty.”

He added: “I am fixing your case for trial on August 5. You must attend the trial and if you fail to do so, you could face a separate offence.”

A spokesperson for West Midlands Police further confirmed: “A 51-year-old man, who was arrested on suspicion of fraud, has been bailed with conditions while enquiries continue.”

They added: “We’re doing all we can to support (Mr Webb’s) family during this terrible time.

“We remain keen to hear from anyone with information which could help our investigation.”

Mr Webb, who served briefly as a local councillor, was found dead at the scene by emergency services on Tuesday 6 February.

His family released a statement through West Midlands Police: “To try to compress a life into short sentences does not do anybody justice. This is by far the hardest of them all.

“Wallis was a Councillor for a short period of time, because he really believed in trying to help others and felt strongly about the hardships people now have to endure without the help so many need.

“This is yet another life taken in a shocking and senseless manner.”

Anyone with any information that might prove useful to the investigation have been asked to contact West Midlands Police via Live Chat on their website at: www.west-midlands.police.uk/contact-us/live-chat  

Alternatively, people can call 101 and quote Log No. 631 of 6/2 – or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111

NEWS: Pype Hayes resident launches petition to ‘Stop Birmingham City Council’s Unfair Council Tax Increase’

Words by Ed King

Pype Hayes resident, Daniel Edge, has started an online petition to ‘Stop Birmingham City Council’s Unfair Council Tax Increase’ – amassing hundreds of signatures a day from people across the city.

Launched on 10 January, the petition set a target of 1500 signatures which it is well on course to reach.

At the time of writing, only five days after the petition went live on the recognised campaigning website Change.org, 1358 people had put their name down in support – with 228 recorded in a single day.

To access the petition to ‘Stop Birmingham City Council’s Unfair Council Tax Increase’ on Change.org, click here.

Birmingham City Council (BCC) has recently come under question after they wrote to the government last year, to get Westminster to allow the beleaguered local authority to increase Council Tax above the legal limit of 4.99% without holding a referendum.

Current laws limit the amount a local council can increase their yearly Council Tax charge to residents without a public vote on the matter.

But following BCC’s financial crisis, after the city issued a Section 114 notice in September 2023 – effectively declaring itself bankrupt – the drastic step has been taken to get government approval to jump those restrictions, meaning Birmingham residents could face an increase of up to 21% on their Council Tax bills over the next two years.

The decision to approach central government to allow such a significant hike in Council Tax, without the legally required public consultation or vote, was approved by BCC in a full Cabinet meeting in December 2023 – with Council Leader John Cotton stating it would only be implemented “if necessary”.

Cllr Cotton added: “It’s clear that we’ll need to seek exceptional financial support from the government in order to bring the council’s budget back into balance.

“These are obviously very tough times, we’ve got some difficult and challenging decision ahead of us in shaping this budget.”

On 5 September 2023, Birmingham City Council issued a Section 114 notice after facing a budget shortfall of around £84m for their next accounting year.  

There were also reported debts over equal pay liabilities amounting to an estimated £760m and costs surrounding the Oracle IT system of up to a further £100m – although these figures have been questioned by some sources in the city.

With a team of commissioners now overseeing Birmingham’s bank balance, local residents are worried they will end up footing the bill for BCC’s mistakes – seeing “unfair” increases in Council Tax and losing services.

Speaking to Erdington Local about his decision to start a petition to ‘Stop Birmingham City Council’s Unfair Council Tax Increase’, Daniel Edge explained: “I was moved to create the petition because of the unfairness and injustice of the proposed council tax hikes.

“Birmingham has 1.1M citizens of various socio-economic groups and a large proportion of those will be significantly impacted by these above inflation increases.

“It is simply not fair that the council tax payers are picking up the pieces of over 10 years of financial mismanagement. I’m happy for a 4.99% increase, the most the council can do without seeking government approval, but not a penny more.”

One signee of the petition comments: “I’m a resident of Birmingham and the councillors should be held to account for their mismanagement of finances over the years as opposed to this ridiculous increase in council tax.”

Another adds: “Daylight robbery! Stealing from the poor full stop for mis-management of public funds.”

Whist a further supporter of the petition ends their comment by saying: ”… I am being penalised for being a good resident and paying my way. I am not prepared to be a cash cow.”

To read more on the petition to ‘Stop Birmingham City Council’s Unfair Council Tax Increase’ visit: www.change.org/p/stop-birmingham-city-council-s-unfair-council-tax-increase

LOCAL Q&A: Andy Harper – author of Knitted Swimming Trunks

Words by Ed King / Pics supplied by Andy Harper and Brewin Books

Just before Christmas, local author Andy Harper released his tell all autobiography – Knitted Swimming Trunks, published by Brewin Books. Click here for our first news story about the book and its author.

A searingly honest portrayal of school life in the 50s and 60s, told through the eyes of a self-confessed “massive target for bullies”, the 252 page paperback begins as the Erdington based author is born.

Knitted Swimming Trunks then takes the reader through his childhood growing up in the back to backs in Birmingham and continues across his troubled school years, until the day he received his City and Guild certificate after leaving education.

An intrinsically Brummie journey of hope and humility, hear more about Knitted Swimming Trunks as Erdington Local caught up with Andy Harper just before his debut book hit the shelves.

______

Congratulations on you first book, what compelled you to write about your life?

“Lockdown came along and I was bored to tears. I help out with a charity called Dogs for Good (based in Banbury), socialising assistance dogs, and that gave me an excuse to go out. But everywhere was closed down and it was weird, it was a bit like a horror film. And there’s only so many repeats of Bargain Hunt you can stay indoors and watch.

“So, I started to write things down about those very early years as a legacy for my children and grandchildren – and then it seemed to grow and grow, and my wife said you’ve got a book here.”

 

The narrative focuses on your difficult school years, but what made them so challenging for you?

“It wasn’t until the back to backs were being knocked down, and we ended up moving to Rubery, that I was enrolled for any length of time into a school. And when I started at Colmers Farm I was very weak, very frail – emotionally and educationally I was well, well down. I was a massive target for bullies. And I was put on the ‘thick table’ which didn’t help.

“Then I went into senior school, and I remember sitting in reception and the headmaster coming onto the stage and telling us: ‘there are two types of people in this world, there are the chefs and they’ve passed the Eleven Plus and gone onto Grammer School. You lot are destined to stir the pot.’

“Now if you say that to a frail young lad who is very emotionally damaged because of the bullying and everything, what’s going to happen…? I went into a little bubble, sat at the back of the classroom, and just looked out of the window. And I did that for the majority of my school years.”

 

That must have been difficult as a younger child.

“I did feel let down by my schooling. But it isn’t a ‘woe is me’ book because it wasn’t just happening to me, it was happening the thousands of other children at that time. And all the teachers seemed to be interested in were the bright ones at front who keep putting their hands up and answering questions.

“But really they should be concentrating on those ones at the back who just sit there – those are the ones who need the teacher’s attention. But it wasn’t given, that’s just the way education was back in the 50’s.”

 

And where did the title, Knitted Swimming Trunks, come from?

“Back in the 50’s mothers used to kit you everything: hats, gloves, jumpers, everything. Because it was cheaper. My mother, bless her, decided to knit me swimming trunks… it didn’t work out. I didn’t notice the flaw in the design until I got into the sea at Westen Super Mare; I got a very strange feeling in the material around the groin, then they just billowed out and became very saggy.

“And it was a hell of a long walk back to where my mum and dad were, at the far end of Weston beach, holding on for dear life to these soggy knitted swimming trunks.”

 

That sounds embarrassing…

“All through the book it’s the rather embarrassing, rather bizarre things that happened to me. And that just typified what might have started out as a wonderful idea but ended up in complete disaster. So, the ridicule of that walk back sums up a lot of what was happening to me in those years.

“But It’s not just about knitted swimming trunks, it’s about my personal story of growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, seeing how the world and Birmingham was changing through my eyes. It’s very nostalgic.

“There are lots of tears in the book but also lots of laugh out loud moments; I experienced the whole lot across those twenty odd years.”

 

And for someone learning about your life today, through this book, what would you want them to take away from reading Knitted Swimming Trunks?

“This book is about making sure you’re not defined by the bullies and doing the best you can. It’s about making the most of yourself and not allowing it to be a bad experience. It’ll make you cry on one page, then loud out loud on the next.

“Hopefully some teachers will read it and think, let’s see what’s happening at the back of the class…”

Knitted Swimming Trunks by Andy Harper is out now, available through Brewin Books. For more information and links to online sales visit: www.brewinbooks.com/knitted_swimming_trunks

To contact Andy Harper directly please email: Andyharper74@btinternet.com

NEWS: Chester Road manufacturer and disability employer featured in King Charles III commemorative album

Words by Kevin Emery & LOCAL AMBASSADORS / Pics supplied by Shelforce

Shelforce, a Chester Road based window and door manufacturer, has been featured in a special 75th birthday commemorative album for King Charles III.

The Erdington company was founded in 1836 and is committed to ‘employing and training those with disabilities’.

Earlier this year, Shelforce was presented with The King’s Award for Enterprise in Promoting Opportunity (through social mobility) after His Majesty the King approved the Prime Minister’s recommendation that the Erdington company be recognised in the inaugural King’s Award for Enterprise.

The Erdington based business has now been further recognised in the new book King Charles III: The Leadership and Vision of a Modern Monarch, launched at Claridge’s in central London on His Majesty’s 75th birthday earlier this month.

Published by St James’s House and royal biographer Robert Jobson, the fully illustrated and beautifully presented hardback book charts Charles’s life, from his role and responsibilities as the Prince of Wales, to his accession and coronation as king.

The special celebratory publication also highlights examples of achievement and progress across social, cultural, technological, and commercial spheres.

Howard Trotter, Shelforce’s Business Manager, met King Charles III at a royal reception hosted by His Majesty the King at Buckingham Palace for all Kings Award for Enterprise winners.

Mr Trotter said: “It is an unbelievable honour for Shelforce to feature in such an important and historic book in the year of the King’s coronation, and we are delighted to represent the local community of Erdington.”

Located at Erdington Business Park, off the Chester Road, Shelforce provides a place where people with mental or physical disability can thrive in employment and produce high quality products in a competitive market.

First established in 1839, the organisation was set up as part of the Royal School for the Blind to provide visually impaired people with paid employment and training – originally producing items such as brushes, baskets, and mats.

Relocating to Erdington in 1981 and changing its The City of Birmingham Sheltered Workshops of the Disabled in Erdington, a wider brief was established to begin employing people with different disabilities.

Eventually changing its name to Shelforce, after working with Coventry University, the local manufacturer was officially opened by The Princess Royal, HRH Princess Anne in 1984 – expanding its operations to include bed manufacturing, engraving, and woodwork, and making gates and fences for Birmingham City Council.

For more on Shelforce visit www.shelforce.com

NEWS: Kingstanding’s K-Star Academy Muay Thai fighter Gene Smith wins ISKA British Campion belt in rare hometown contest

Pics supplied by K-Star Academy

Kingstanding K-Star Academy fighter Gene Smith recently won the ISKA British Campion belt, continuing his spectacular rise in the world of competitive Muay Thai.

The 16-year-old impressed the judges at the recent hometown fight, held on Sunday 19 November at North Solihull Leisure Centre, and is now preparing to face the best from across the globe at the world championships in Thailand next year.

Smith has found it increasingly difficult to find matches as his reputation has grown throughout the sport following a lightning run of form – earning him Midland, British, and World Muay Thai titles.

Then on Sunday 19 November, the Kingstanding trained fighter also became the ISKA British Champion – winning on points against Fin Mueller from Wales. The fight was matched prior to the event by the organisers.

The WBC World Mauy Thai Games are in February at the iconic Lumpinee Boxing Stadium in Bangkok. However, Gene Smith’s next fight is a little closer to home when he will face Josh Duncan in Liverpool on 16 December.

Smith told: “I am delighted with another victory and another title. Everything I am doing is working towards the world championships in Thailand.

“I loved every minute of representing my country at the WBC World Championships in Venice in June and in Canada the year before at the World Muay Thai Games. But know I have to be 100 per cent dedicated to the sport for me to compete with the best in the world in Thailand.

“Being in Asia, where the sport originated, makes me even more excited to fight in Thailand.”

Gene’s coach is Steve Logan, who first set up the first K-Star in Kingstanding more than 30 years ago and is hoping to guide Smith to world glory.

He said: “Sunday was another brilliant performance by Gene. We know the entire division, junior and adult, fear him and this is brilliant for when he represents his country in Thailand next year.”

Gene’s father, Great Barr businessman Roland Smith, a former fighter himself, understands the work which goes behind his son’s rise to the top table of the global sport.

He added: “Gene has got the talent, the determination, and dedication to get to the top, but this sport costs money and his sponsors have helped him to focus more on just being the best he can.

“Gene has achieved so much already, from his title wins, to representing his country to being the youngest UK fighter to have ranking.

“However, he could not have done it without sponsors Jacksons Recovery, Green Power Plant Hire, Beeches Recovery, 24 7 Worldwide Exhibition Services, Level Group, Endangered Fightwear, Foxstar Clothing and Art Attack Design Associates with support from Luke1977.”

Mauy Thai doesn’t receive sports funding from outside sources, with sponsorship one of the only ways new and rising fighters can professionally compete.

For the Kingstanding K-Star Academy fighter Gene Smith, training and travel costs can easily climb into the thousands as he takes part in fierce competitions across the world competing to be the best.

Anyone interested in supporting Gene contact design@artattack.org.uk

Follow Gene Smith on Instagram at www.instagram.com/gene_kstar

For more on K Star Academy visit www.k-starthaiboxing.com

NEWS: Knitted Swimming Trunks – “It’ll make you cry on one page, then laugh out loud on the next”, local author releases tell all autobiography of 50s and 60s school life

Words by Ed King / Pic supplied by Andy and Bridget Harper

Local author Andy Harper has released his tell all autobiography of 50s and 60s school life in Birmingham – Knitted Swimming Trunks is out from 17 November, published by Brewin Books.

A searingly honest portrayal of life in and around the classrooms of the 50s and 60s, told through the eyes of a self-confessed “massive target for bullies”, the 252 page paperback begins as the Erdington based author is born and takes the reader up to the day he received his City and Guild certificate after leaving secondary school.

Having lived across the city – from early beginnings in Weoley Castle, to the ‘adventure playground’ of the back to in Birmingham City Centre, to starting his married life in Erdington – Andy Harper is a brummie born and raised.

However, his entry into the world was not an easy one. Delivered at home with nuchal cord asphyxiation, where the umbilical cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck preventing air supply to the new lungs, Andy suffered with “every illness going” when he was a young child – keeping him out of education until attending Colmers Farm School in Rubery several years later in life.

“It wasn’t until the back to backs were being knocked down, and we ended up moving to Rubery, that I was enrolled for any length of time into a school,” explains Andy, “and when I started at Colmers Farm I was very weak, very frail – emotionally and educationally I was well, well down.”

He continues: “I was put on the ‘thick table’, which didn’t help. But I met some wonderful characters, and a lot of the book is about a very dysfunctional bunch of friends at school – getting into all sorts of scrapes.”

Pulling no punches, the title of the book describes a life changing humiliation at Weston Super Mare, when the titular knitted swimming trunks – made from love because “back in the 50’s mothers used to knit you everything” – prompted a long walk of shame back from the sea to his parents on the beach. 

The book goes on to challenge the cruelty of school life, from both teachers and fellow students, and stand as a stark warning not to disregard the quieter children as “those are the ones who need the teacher’s attention.”

But as the author himself describes, Knitted Swimming Trunks “is not a woe is me book”, but more a clarion call for young people struggling to navigate the challenges of youth.

“I really hope that when people read the book they can reflect on that (the difficulties some children face at school) because it may be happening to them now. And this is what I say – put your hand up, do something, tell someone about the bullying, tell someone what’s going on.”

He continues: “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done or what people say you are, you’ve every right to become the person you want to be. You don’t need to be an academic, you just need passion and desire.

“This book is about making sure you’re not defined by these people and doing the best you can. It’s about making the most of yourself and not allowing it to be a bad experience. It’ll make you cry on one page, then laugh out loud on the next.”

Knitted Swimming Trunks by Andy Harper is available through Brewin Books – out from 17 November. For more information and links to online sales visit: www.brewinbooks.com/knitted_swimming_trunks

To contact Andy Harper directly please email: dyquest1@outlook.com