NEWS: Erdington UFC star cancels Vegas fight after testing positive for Covid

Words by Adam Smith

Erdington MMA star Leon Edwards has been fored to pull out from headlining UFC Fight Night 186 in Las Vegas after testing positive for COVID-19.

Fight fans across the world were looking forward to the 19th December clash between welterweight Edwards and the UFC’s new “global star” – Russian born Swede Khamzat Chimaev. 

Catching Covid caps off a dreadful year for Edwards who has unable to fight due to a string of pandemic related cancellations, match-up disputes, and injuries.

Edwards not only tested positive but was laid low by the disease losing 12Ibs in four days and being unable to train, meaning the best-case scenario is the two reschedule a fight in January.

Edwards tweeted: “Another setback, but when you come from the mud you learn to put everything in perspective.

“This virus has affected many lives and families much worse than mine.”

He said: “Looking forward to getting this rebooked soon, thank you all for the well wishes.”

Headlining UFC Fight Night 186 in Las Vegas against the much hyped Chimaev would have cemented Edwards‘ place on the global sports stage.

Edwards and Chimaev could not have had more contrasting years, Edwards not stepping in the octogen once – whereas Chimaev burst on the UFC scene winning three fights in the first round since July.

Crucially Chimaev has impressed UFC supremo Dana White, who needs another global superstar after the retirement of Khabib Nurmagomedov.

White said: “The guy is special. I’ve been in this game my whole life; I’ve never seen anything like him. I’m telling you the guy is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Never seen anything like this in my life. Special.”

The UFC temporarily removed Edwards from the welterweight rankings last month due to “inactivity” but reinstated him as world number three when the 29-year-old accepted the fight with Chimaev.

Edwards has been calling out competitors on social media, after refusing a short notice world title shot against Kamaru Usman in July led to him consistently being overlooked for big bouts.

Edwards told MMA Fighting beating Chimaev will guarantee him a world title shot due to the interest in the fight.

He said: “Outside a title shot, I believe he’s the biggest fight. Obviously, [Jorge] Masvidal would have been good as well, but he turned the fight down. This is the biggest fight to guarantee me what’s next.

“That was my thinking going into this. The UFC loves him. Dana [White] loves him. They all think he can’t be beat. When I go out there and take him out, I can’t see what they can say next to give me my title shot. I’d be on a nine-fight win streak. I believe this was the fight to make and now here we are.”

He added: “I know the UFC’s probably banking, Dana anyway, I know he’s praying that this kid wins, but I’ll be way too much for him in there, I’m telling you,”

This time last year the former Aston Hall Academy pupil was one of the hottest properties in the UFC with his signature post clinch elbow move making him a fan favourite.

Represented by the same management company as Irish superstar Conor MacGregor, Paradigm Sports, Edwards secured his financial future by penning a five-fight deal with UFC.

On an eight-fight winning streak, one of the longest current unbeaten runs in the sport, Edwards was rewarded by headlining UFC London on March 21 at Wembley Arena. A win against legendary fighter Tyron Woodley would have given him a world title shot against champion Karamu Usman, however, the event was cancelled to the first UK lock down.

Though not a title eliminator, a rearranged Las Vegas fight will give Edwards the platform to increase his fanbase in America and stop one of the most hyped new fighters in UFC in his tracks.

The last UK fighter to top the bill in Las Vegas was boxer Tyson Fury in February, who won the heavyweight championship of the world when he dismantled Deontay Wilder in one of the greatest British sporting performances of all time.

Fury described why headlining a major event in Las Vegas is so special for any British fighter.

He said: “I always dreamed of seeing my name up in lights on the Las Vegas strip and being the main attraction.

“There is nothing like fight week in Las Vegas and for a British fighter to come over here and win is always going to be special, because of how rare it is for our fighters to come over here and be recognised as the main man and actually win.”

To find out more about Leon Edwards, visit www.ufc.com/athlete/leon-edwards

For more from UFC, visit www.ufc.com

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NEWS: Erdington MP steps in to secure mass COVID-19 testing site on Orphanage Road

Words by Adam Smith / Pics by Ed King

Getting tested for Covid is a matter of life and death, this was the stark warning given by Erdington MP Jack Dromey at the site of a brand new mass testing facility – which could be open in Erdington as early as next week.

Construction of the testing facility began on Friday 26th November, after Mr Dromey brokered an 11th hour agreement between the Department of Health, Birmingham City Council, and the NHS.

The Erdington based facility was the last testing site signed off by the Government, but a licensing issue held up construction and put the entire project in danger.

Speaking at the old Colliers site, Orphanage Road, where the centre is being built, Mr Dromey told Erdington Local mass testing offers a route out of Tier 3 restrictions for Birmingham.

He said: “We needed a facility that enables thousands of local people to be tested in Erdington.

“Lives would be lost if there was not a testing facility in Erdington and lives will be saved because there is a testing facility in Erdington, it is as simple as that.

“There were delays concerning it being approved but thankfully they were sorted out, it should take two days to build and then a few days to get the facility ready and it could be open as quickly as the end of next week, when the national lockdown ends.”

The MP admitted getting all the relevant agencies and departments to work together on the project was not easy.

He said: “To begin with it was like pulling teeth but progressively it got better; I’d like to thank NHS Birmingham and Birmingham City Council for their hard work in delivering the facility.”

The Erdington MP is in no doubt how important mass testing will be in the fight against controlling COVID-19 and saving lives.

He said: “Here and now, as we don’t have a vaccine yet, the message is test, test, test. So I say to the citizens of Erdington come and get tested.

“And to those who doubt the wisdom of getting tested I say come and get tested – if you are not tested and get Covid you might end up dying, you might be responsible for members of your family dying, and you might be responsible for your friends and members of the community dying. So come and get tested.”

Erdington residents will be able to book a test either online or by using 119, walk to the testing facility, take a test, and then they will be notified of the results between 24 and 72 hours later. A recent trial of mass testing in Liverpool reduced the R-Rate and helped the city escape Tier 3 restrictions.

The MP added: “We discovered this week that Birmingham will enter into the highest level of restrictions, Tier 3, following the end of lockdown on Wednesday. The whole city must now pull together in order to drive down the spread of the virus and get us out of Tier 3 as quickly as possible.

“Tier 3 restrictions will be devastating for many businesses and workers across Birmingham. In particular the hospitality industry, and the tens of thousands of people it employs in the city, will be severely impacted.”

He added: “We have seen from the recent trial in Liverpool, that mass testing is an extremely effective way for us to reduce the R-rate and exit Tier 3.

“This testing facility will therefore play a crucial role in Birmingham’s response to COVID-19 this winter and I’m very happy Erdington residents will have the best possible access.”

Joining Mr Dromey at the site to see construction begin was Damien Siviter, Group Managing Director of Seven Capital who own the former Colliers site.

He said: “This has been a great example of how the public and private sectors can work together. We were approached about two weeks ago to see if the site could be used for a testing facility and we did everything we could to make it happen.”

The Covid testing centre could be on the site between three and six months and, if needed, could be turned into a vaccination station.

Mr Siviter confirmed the long-term plan for the site remains a new supermarket and housing estate to be built.

Jack Dromey MP for Erdington talking from Orphanage Road COVID-19 mass testing site

For daily updates on COVID-19 from Public Heath England, visit www.coronavirus.data.gov.uk

For the latest or NHS Test and Trace (England) and coronavirus testing (UK), visit www.gov.uk/government/collections/nhs-test-and-trace-statistics-england-weekly-reports

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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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OPINION: Coronavirus crisis, in crisis – do we have the strength for another lockdown?

Words by Ed King

Christmas is cancelled.

Or being split into three, to be exact.

The parasites of paranoia have carved our turkey into socially distanced servings this year, with support bubbles now dictating the one day my family always did well. And always did together.

It’s breaking my heart. It’s broken my family. The childhood joy I feel around Yuletide has been replaced by limitations and fear – with parlour games and presents being pushed into the cold by social isolation and shielding.

Whilst I understand why… be warned, if someone suggests a Zoom meeting on Christmas Day I’m going to start throwing sprouts (or maybe coals off the fire).

And that was all before Saturday’s announcement.

In case you’ve been living under a rock (not a bad place to be right now), on 5th November England is moving into another national lockdown – lasting four weeks or longer, we’re back to where we were in March and until at least the start of December.

Coronavirus has spiked over summer, and the precarious but pragmatic locally enforced ‘tier system’ hasn’t had the desired effect.

People are still getting sick. People are still dying. Potentially more than we can manage – 661 new ‘lab confirmed’ cases per day (Government, 1st Nov) are being reported in Birmingham, with over a million people across the UK having caught the virus since we started taking count, leading to nearly 50,000 deaths. That we know of.

But whether you’re the Office of National Statistics or Chris Whitty’s pocket calculator, the invisible beast is rampant once again. It’s a worrying and sharp upward curve – the trajectory of positive cases looks like an alpine skier’s Christmas wish.

So, it’s back to the short, sharp, circuit breaker approach to stem the contagion – a method already adopted by both our British Isle counter parts and most of mainland Europe. Lockdown, across the country. Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives. Game, set, match. God help us all.

I’ll be honest, I’m not happy about it. I’m not a lot of things about it. There are other words I could use to flesh out my feelings but I’m trying to stay on the right side of righteousness.

But I get it; I get the need for it. I support it, in my way. If it needs to be done, then it must be done. So, let’s do it as quickly as possible. And do it right.

And whilst the voice of reason rolls around my head, ‘coronavirus fatigue’ is spreading across the country in a way that ironically reminds me of the virus itself. I feel that too.

When we were first told to ‘duck and cover’ back in March, people responded. They shut their doors, they covered their mouths, and we all walked forward together in a show of unity that I never imagined I’d see. It was, despite all the horror, a beautiful sight – the innate goodness and kindness reaffirmed my sometimes ailing faith in the human endeavour.

It was not without its cost, however. To put it into a personal context, I lost £8000 as soon as the first lockdown was announced – by time it took me to drive from Stourbridge to Kings Heath. By the end of the week, I’d lost anther £2000. And I’m not a rich man.

Over the months that followed the goal post shifting cost me more that I can calculate – financially and emotionally, along with most of the country I started circling the drain. And I have not lost as much as many, many, MANY more people I both know and work with. I am one of the lucky ones.

But we did it. We did what needed to be done. And like the end of December dinner I hold so close to my heart, we did it together. It was quite an incredible sight to see too, the sheer fortitude that swept from bus stops to boardrooms was nothing short of miraculous. People showed their true colours and those colours shone bright.

Over the past, ghastly, few months, I’ve been amazed and made proud by people’s resilience during this pandemic – at their deep rooted kindness and adaptability. It’s been incredible and uplifting. It’s been inspiring. It’s almost been worth it just to see such compassion. It makes me want to cry a bit every time I really, truly, think about it. But it’s been awful, a waking nightmare. It’s destroyed lives…

…and now we have to do it all again.

I’m sitting in a pub writing this, my local, squeezing out the last drops of my Sunday and licensed premise camaraderie I’ll be able to enjoy for a while. It’s one of those pubs where they know your name and you can walk in alone. Where you’re always amongst friends.

All around me – amidst the conversations of armchair eugenics and headline politics, despite the sharp end of the stick breaking the ribs of the hospitality industry – I am getting a sense of that end-of-March solidarity. People are preparing for Thursday, for the lockdown, and their doing it with the honesty and humour that I saw back in spring.

So, again, I feel proud. Again, I feel fear. But if we can call on the inner core kindness that we found eight months ago… then again, I feel we’ll get through this.

And next Christmas I’m hiring a marquee, everyone’s welcome.

Ed King is a Birmingham born writer and editor-in-chief of Review Publishing, which publishes Erdington Local  – alongside Active Arts Castle Vale. To follow him (and his stories) on Twitter, visit www.twitter.com/edking2210

For more on Review Publishing, visit www.reviewpublishing.net/

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NEWS: Erdington parents ‘threatened with fines’ for children not returning after half term

Words & pics by Ed King

Ed’s note… The images used in the article are archive pictures of schools in Erdington and ARE NOT RELATED to the people who have supplied quotes or their children.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, or have any updates or developments from a school in Erdington, please get in touch – you can send us a direct message via the Erdington Local Facebook page or email sue@erdingtonlocal.com

As schools reopen after the half term holidays, families across Erdington are being ‘threatened with fines’ if they still feel the classroom is not COVID-19 safe and keep their children at home.

Despite another national lockdown closing the country from 5th November, parents and carers are being told that all young people must go back to school this week – or literally pay the price for any absences.

Birmingham City Council had previously taken the stance to not impose the fixed penalty notices, which had been set by the Department of Education in July, electing to wave the fines for the first half term.

But as school gates open for the last few weeks of the Autumn term, families keeping their children at home could be charged up to £120 for every empty chair they now leave in the classroom.

With increased concerns over the rising cases of coronavirus, many Erdington parents and carers feel they should be allowed to choose what is best for their children – without facing even more debt due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Natasha Court has two children at primary school in Erdington, she says: “I believe it is completely wrong that the City Council are threatening parents with fines for actively carrying out their duty of care to protect their children whilst still ensuring they are being educating them at home.

All children need an education, 100%, but a ‘one size fits all’ approach is not appropriate, particularly in the midst of a worsening health pandemic.”

She adds: “I have two children with health conditions who would both be at heightened risks of serious complications should they catch COVID-19. I have my own health conditions too. No matter what schools do, they cannot protect our children in a class of 30.

Fines will hit the financial and mental wellbeing of the families who are already struggling. So the ‘alternatives’ they are left with are to send them to school and be put at risk, or de-register and be let down by the system that is supposed to help ALL children get a strong start to life through education. This is not right nor fair.”

Another Erdington parent, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “I have been threatened with fines from the Council if I now don’t send my child into school.

This is completely unfair. How can they tell me school is safe for my child when they have already had cases in the school?

With cases and deaths rising sharply now all I want to do is protect my whole family, yet I am unable to do that due to potentially being fined.

Attending school during a pandemic should be the parents’ choice to make.”

Schools across Birmingham open for the final weeks of the Autumn term from Monday 2nd November.

As set by the Department of Education in July this year, fixed penalties of £60 can be imposed for any absentee child – increasing to £120 if not paid within 21 days.

Minister for Education, Gavin Williams, announcing fines on LBC Radio (first broadcast on July 29th)

For the latest information on coronavirus restrictions in Birmingham, issued by Birmingham City Council, visit www.birmingham.gov.uk/coronavirus_advice

For the latest information on the lockdown starting from 5th November, issued by Government, visit www.gov.uk/guidance/new-national-restrictions-from-5-november

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BACK TO: …work, with Dellano Lewis – Employment & Engagement Officer at Witton Lodge Community Association

Words by Dellano Lewis / Pics by Ed King

As the country takes its first steps out of lockdown – with people returning to their places of work, education, and leisure – Erdington Local has been asking for some simple steps to help us get back to normal.

This article has been supported by the Erdington Coronavirus Taskforce – for a full list of local support services, visit www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19-local-support

______________

EL:  You are the Engagement and Employment Support Worker at Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) – tell us a bit more about your role and responsibilities?
DL: My role includes outreach activities, working alongside our partners such as DWP, handling paperwork related to registration, actively updating and monitoring client database, filing away documents, ensuring monthly reports are submitted to secure finances. Other duties include helping clients with CVs, job application forms, universal credit accounts, job searching, digital skills, helping to find suitable work, training and voluntary opportunities.

Prior to the lockdown I also conducted weekly employment related activities in groups, delivering weekly online sessions, operating the WLCA Instagram page, creating content using video software, supporting with other areas which increase the associations presence through live events such as (Track Friday). Building key relationships with local providers in and across Birmingham are also a part of my role. 

EL: How long have you been working in the community?
DL: This will now be just over four years working in the community. 

EL: How did you find your job?
DL: I had met Iram (Fardus – WLCA’s Business Development & Performance Manager) at the time and the opportunity came about to do some volunteering with the association around helping the youth. I was very interested in this, so I decided to take on the opportunity. Through volunteering I was then given a part time role leading to a full time position. 

EL: The coronavirus crisis has turned many people’s worlds upside down, how has it affected the people you work with through WLCA?
DL: Due to the situation a lot of people haven’t been able to cope with looking for work – another thing is the health and wellbeing of the client, if someone is not in the right frame of mind to look for work it will be difficult for them to move forward. Alongside that, clients have been struggling with I.T. – this has also been one of the major factors preventing people from accessing opportunities. 

EL: What are the most immediate concerns facing people over employment?
DL: Some of the immediate concerns from people are finances and health – a lot of people have lost jobs and a number of business’s have closed. 

EL: What are WLCA doing to address these concerns?
DL: The response from WLCA Team has been exceptional – this is including all the volunteers that stepped in to support. Our service had a slight change in delivery, making everything accessible online; clients who had an interest in accessing jobs during the lockdown were able to contact the employment team and receive this support.

Many families and individuals were feeling very worried, the prompt action and response from the team in delivering services related to food gave the residents and people in the community a sense of reassurance that someone is looking out for them.

Health & Wellbeing was also a major factor. With the lockdown, mental health was increasingly affecting a majority of people. Staying connected with those affected, especially the elderly, was very important as they were the ones who have gone months without seeing family, friends, or even outdoors. 

EL: For anybody looking for employment, especially during the coronavirus crisis, what simple first steps should they take?
DL: If you are currently looking for work one of the things to have ready is an active CV, this is like your plane ticket. The CV is the first thing an employer is going to see so make sure everything is correct and easy to read; ensure your work history, qualifications, and any type of work experience you have done is on the CV.

Alongside the CV, create a cover letter and indeed account once you have these begin to make a plan of action. Think about the type of job you want to be doing short term and the career long term. If you require some support with taking the next step or setting these things up give us a call for support (0121) 382 1930. 

EL: What about people who are having to self-isolate, are there any pathways to employment they could take?
DL: For those self-isolating, don’t feel discouraged – with online learning you can sure find something that interests you. Platforms such as alison.com, Future Learn, and Vision2Learn have a wide range of free courses you could do online to gain knowledge and even claim a certificate upon completing.

EL: How about people who are still in employment, but feel unsupported or uncertain about their workplace – what advice would you give them?
DL: If you are feeling unsupported or uncertain about your place of work, one of the first things would be to speak to your manager and let them know how you are feeling. Also check out the furlough scheme information on the Governement’s website in the event of becoming unemployed, you will be able to claim 80% of your wages through your employer.

Click the link for more information: www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wages-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme

EL: With lockdown restrictions being imposed again on certain pockets of the country, as speculation around a ‘second spike’ of COVID-19 grows, what preparation can people take – around employment?
DL: In relation to a potential second spike I think it would be a good Idea to develop some digital skills. Starting from the very basic, if you are more advance explore areas of work that require some computer device to carry out the role.

In various areas of work the role may require you to complete an administrative task, so gaining those skills from now will be really good. Create a plan of action, think about two or three areas of work you would like explore – it may not be computer related – go online and learn the fundamentals for those roles, the information is free and accessible.

Remember to take time out for yourself as well don’t feel too pressured into doing everything all at once. Exercise, try to have something healthy to eat, looking for work is a challenge but keep going think positive and stay active.

Full more from Witton Lodge Community Association, visit www.wittonlodge.org.uk

For more on the government’s Job Retention Scheme, visit www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wages-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme

This article has been supported by the Erdington Coronavirus Taskforce – for a full list of local support services, visit www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19-local-support

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NEWS: Witton Lodge Community Association launch Digit-All, tackling ‘digital poverty’ with a new electronic lending library

Words by Steve Sharma / Pics supplied by Witton Lodge Community Association

From Monday 24th August, isolated and vulnerable Erdington residents will be able to access essential support services thanks to an innovative new project being rolled out by Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) – Erdington Local can reveal.

The Perry Common based organisation is launching Digit-All – its own IT lending Library – to provide older residents and others in need of digital literacy support with the tools, skills, and knowledge they need to engage online.

Paul Tse, Flourishing Community Development Officer at WLCA, explains how COVID-19 has heightened an already pressing concern around digital literacy.

As a result of the lockdown, a significant number of the services and activities which older residents are dependent on have moved online,” he said.

The levels of digital poverty in Erdington were already quite high but this situation has seen even more adults become marginalised, unable to access the support they need. This puts them at greater risk of isolation, poor mental health, and mobility difficulties. Our project seeks to redress this imbalance and prevent such suffering.”

Work being delivered by the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce and Witton Lodge’s employment and skills and health & wellbeing teams, has identified a number of people in urgent need of digital literacy support. Digit-All will address the three main areas of concern which have been identified – a lack of IT facilities, a lack of connectivity, alongside confidence and capability.

We have purchased a range of portable IT equipment including laptops and tablets that will be available to lend to isolated, vulnerable adults,” added Paul.

As part of the service offer, we will also be providing users with a free data plan (and/or wireless dongles) to enable individuals to connect to the Internet where they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to.

Digital skills training will also be available to help older adults learn how to use their devices and interact with others through platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook or Zoom.”

Funding for the project has been acquired through the Erdington Neighbourhood Network Scheme – one of Birmingham City Council’s constituency-based networks, established to enable engagement with and investment in community assets which support older people to lead independent and connected lives.

Councillor Paulette Hamilton, Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care, said: “Neighbourhood Network Schemes have been set up to reduce isolation and improve social connectivity and wellbeing at a local level and in particular to support our older and more vulnerable citizens, keeping them active and engaged within their own localities.

The evidence of work carried out by organisations like Witton Lodge during the COVID-19 lockdown reveals that many of our older adults either do not have access to information technology that could help them be more in control of their lives, or do not have the confidence and ability to navigate the Internet to search for information and services that can help them remain independent.

Digit-All is a proactive response to digital poverty that has become more apparent during COVID-19 across our communities.  I am excited and look forward to seeing the service develop and being rolled out across Birmingham’s neighbourhoods,”

The project, as a prototype, launches from Monday 24th August – with those already identified as being in urgent need of support the first to receive laptops and tablets.

Following this initial trial period, the scheme Witton Lodge Community Association are looking to roll out Digit-All to a wider audience across North Birmingham.

For more information and photo opportunities call Steve Sharma on 0121 382 1930 or email steve.sharma@wittonlodge.org.uk

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

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OPINION: The Economic Impact of COVID-19 – A Birmingham View

Words by Ifor Jones – Head of Partnerships, The Pioneer Group / Picture of Birmingham skyline by Luke Matthews, profile pic courtesy of The Pioneer Group

As the economic impact of the COVID-19 lockdown has become clear with the threat of a tsunami of redundancies across the West Midlands I couldn’t help but reflect on what I experienced first-hand with the closure of MG rover first hand back in 2005 with 6,300 redundancies being made.

This had a profound economic and social impact on local communities which was mitigated by the action of the MG Rover Taskforce. I led the community support strand of the Taskforce which started with mobilising advice services to work in tandem with JC plus and the Learning Skills Council and progressed with a community regeneration programme supporting grass roots organisations and focusing on providing support for workers and the MG Rover community.

The following sets out the learning and the lessons which arose from this tragic time which I feel are very relevant to the potential impact of COVID-19 across the City.

In the lead up to COVID-19, statistics for the first quarter of 2020 confirmed Birmingham’s comparatively high unemployment claimant rate (9.3%) compared to other major English cities.

The figure had been relatively stable but began to increase during 2018 in the wake of benefit changes connected to the roll out of Universal Credit.

It is my assertion that, when considering the potential impact of COVID-19, we will see two distinct cohorts within the unemployment claimant count for Birmingham.

  • Longer term cases clustered in geographical hotspots or demographic characteristics such as youth unemployment, BAME groups and people with disabilities.
  • Those who have lost their jobs as an economic consequence of COVID-19, across a range of sectors and impacting on an even wider cross section of the working population.

A Precedent for What’s Next

In 2005, MG Rover at Longbridge closed with the overnight loss of 6,300 jobs. Further job losses in the supply chain pushed this figure to over 8,000.

However, a significant number of workers were able to retrain to change their careers; undertaking academic vocational training. A report indicated around 4,000 (63%) of former MG Rover workers found new, mostly full-time, work. Approximately 25% of these workers were earning more with over 50% of them earning less.

Strong partnerships were key to the management and mitigation process, especially in relation to the social and economic impact of such a significant plant closure.

In a two-year period, I witnessed a shift from crisis management to sustained economic and social strategies for recovery. At the heart of this was a collaborative approach coordinated at different levels, from the very local in Longbridge and Northfield to across the city, region and nation as a whole.

My engagement through a localised team in the City Council was to co-ordinate the initial crisis response regarding advice and community support delivered in partnership with agencies such as JobCentre Plus and The Learning Skills Council. This was complemented with the support of organisations across the voluntary and community sector and, most critically, the MG Rover communities themselves.

Mobilising a response to administer change at pace was critical, as was building relationships with the workers and MG Rover to ensure engagement with and wider community buy-in.

The lessons that were learned, that can help us deal with the anticipated fallout of COVID-19 include:

  • mobilise interventions at pace working with both cohorts – existing and new claimants
  • get new cohort of unemployed into training and work as soon as possible
  • quickly intervene with training agencies and providers for re-skilling
  • ensure personal contact with individuals whether through advice and support or training
  • recognise importance of welfare advice and wellbeing services and administering benefits quickly
  • use opportunities for public service employers to take on and train former MG Rover workers, for example the city council created opportunities in youth, leisure and community development services
  • work in partnership – at regional, city and local levels – with public services, employers, community and third sector agencies
  • provide community support in the moment of crisis – e.g. helplines, social events, funding for holiday breaks
  • create a strategy for inclusive growth e.g. local area regeneration – Longbridge transitioned from a centre of economic activity of regional and national significance to an important local centre with a mix of new housing, retail, public services and some retained manufacturing.

Ifor Jones is Head of Partnerships at The Pioneer Group – for more on The Pioneer Group, visit: www.pioneergroup.org.uk

The Pioneer Group is a member of the Erdington COVID19 Taskforce, facilitated by Witton Lodge Community Association.

Established in April 2020, the Taskforce is a network of local organisations from a wide variety of sectors, working together to support people who have been adversely affected by the pandemic.

To access the online address book and database of local support services compile by the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce, visit: www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19/local/support

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LOCAL PROFILE: Saba Malik

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FEATURE: Erdington Community Volunteers, the silver lining of the coronavirus crisis – helping thousands across the constituency

Words & pics by Ed King / Video by Paul Withers – Erdington Local Broadcast Unit

There has not been much to celebrate over the past few weeks, as the world has been put on pause to stem the spread of COVID-19.

But the silver lining of the coronavirus crisis can be found in the volunteer groups that have sprung up all across the country – grassroots organisations who have mobilised friends, families, and neighbours to support the most vulnerable in their communities.

And as national campaigns such as Volunteers’ Week have been highlighting across the UK, this community spirit and endeavour is playing an increasingly vital role in our country’s social care network.

The Erdington Community Volunteers began as a Facebook group, an online act of goodwill set up by local resident Jo Bull – launching via social media on the day lockdown began.

Two months later and they now have over 800 online members, with an active team of over 70 local people helping the official Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce deliver important outreach campaigns. What started as a simple gesture has become a fundamental support network for thousands of Erdington residents.

There was a nationwide group of mutual aid groups at the time,” explains David Owen, who came onboard to help co-ordinate the Erdington Community Volunteers as their membership grew, “and a centralised group were asking for each community to create their own, in essence.

We had 500 members (online) in our first 24 hours and it’s grown consistently since then, so we’ve got just over 800 members now. We wanted a platform for people who wanted to help, to meet up with those that needed help.”

Working with the Erdinton COVID-19 Taskforce, the Erdington Community Volunteers have become the hands and feet of a significant outreach programme with organisations such as The Active Wellbeing Society, Witton Lodge Community AssociationCompass Support and The Pioneer Group 

There has been an immediate and constant programme distributing food and essential household items across the constituency, with around 20 Erdington Community Volunteers delivering daily care packages to those who have needed to self-isolate.

The coronavirus put people into lockdown who normally live completely independent lives,” explains David, “they weren’t used to dealing with established organisations.

“So, we filled that gap, if you like, between what are the statutory requirements and what are the requirements during COVID-19.

Some of the national programme were slow to respond, in all fairness, and we able to very very quickly identify people who needed help and get that help to them.”

But whilst playing an important role in the community, especially during the coronavirus crisis, the Erdington Community Volunteers has become a community within itself – as many members discover unexpected positives from the time and effort they have given to the group.

I found out about the group through my cousin, who started delivering a few weeks before I did, explains Dillon Linford, a young resident who has been helping the Erdington Community Volunteers distribute food and essential items with The Active Wellbeing Society.

It’s good. It’s a good way to break up the day and it gives you something to do during lockdown. I’ll have to fit it in between everything I’m doing, that’s restarting after lockdown, but I can definitely see myself doing more of it. It’s good for me; it’s good for other people. It’s good to help.”

But as Volunteer’s Week draws to a close, with the #NeverMoreNeeded and #BrumTogether campaigns hoping to continue the momentum of support, the Erdington Community Volunteers are also making plans for the future.

For many of the volunteers it has been an extremely positive experience,” continues David, “it’s given them an opportunity to help when there was a sense of helplessness.

They wanted to help, they wanted to help the community, but they didn’t know how. They didn’t know the established organisations that existed. This platform, this group, has given them that opportunity.

You see more affluent areas, such as Sutton Coldfield or Moseley, with a charitable trust – I’m not saying the (Erdington) Community Volunteers will become that, but with the networking that’s happened I’d like to see something like that established within Erdington – and to see that as our legacy.

If anyone wants to help, and we are still desperately looking for volunteers, please get in touch with us via Facebook or by emailing erdingtoncv19@gmail.com

Erdington Community Volunteers

To visit the Erdington Community Volunteers Facebook group, where you ask for help and support during the coronavirus crisis – or offer your services as a volunteer, visit www.facebook.com/groups/625073991557017

Alternatively, you can email David Owen at the Erdington Community Volunteers group via erdingtoncv19@gmail.com

A directory of all Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce organisations, offering help from employment advice to mental health support, can be found by visiting: www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19-local-support

Volunteers’ Week runs across the UK from 1st to 7th June – for more information, visit www.volunteersweek.org

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