COMMUNITY ANCHORS: A 2024 wish list for Castle Vale Community Housing

Words by Simon Wilson, Chief Executive Officer – Castle Vale Community Housing


 
I didn’t write to Santa as I am sure he had enough on his plate but if he had any influence on the state of social housing my wish list would probably look something like this:

First and foremost, whatever the outcome of this year’s General Election (and I think it will be this year) whoever is elected the need for a ‘long term plan for social housing’ as advocated by the National Housing Federation would be top of my list.

We don’t need more arbitrary targets (that never get hit) on building of more homes but actual delivery. We need to see social housing as a bedrock of lifting people out of poverty and improving life chances, reducing the strain on health and social services. I’d like to see this as a national mission and one we can play our part in.


 
For those who live in social housing times are not set to get any easier in 2024. While inflation looks to be reducing, let’s remember that simply means the rate of price increases is slowing not coming down.

For those in low paid work and on fixed incomes the price of their ‘basket of goods’ will continue to be challenging and The Pioneer Group is committed to playing our part through our cost-of-living taskforce in 2024. Some economic relief would be on my list!

Last but by no means least I want us to deliver on our own list of actions in the year ahead – we don’t need a man with a white beard to deliver on our promises – we will build more homes, we will invest in our existing homes and we will continue to provide a top class repairs service and charitable services through Compass Support.


 
I know people will be worried about the plight of the City Council – I am too – but we will do our bit in making sure we fight for and work in partnership to protest and deliver housing and estate services into our core communities that our tenants, residents and service users need.

I wish all you a very happy and prosperous 2024 and look forward to sharing more about our work in these columns in the year ahead.

For more on Castle Vale Community Housing visit www.cvch.org.uk

For more on The Pioneer Group visit www.pioneergroup.org.uk and for more on Compass Support visit www.compass-support.org.uk

Castle Vale Community Housing, The Pioneer Group, and Compass Support are key partners in the Erdington Local COMMUNITY ANCHORS programme – supporting independent local and community journalism.

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: Looking forward into 2024 with Witton Lodge Community Association

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


 
I suspect many of us will be looking ahead to 2024 with mixed emotions. Community workers, volunteers and organisers tend to be optimistic by nature, who combine deep purpose with fairness and justice to affect change in their neighbourhoods.

We know that there are many positive things to look forward to, however, we also know that it remains a very difficult time for many local residents. For organisations like Witton Lodge Community Association, this means providing a safety net to support some of our most vulnerable, as well as acting as a springboard to nurture local talent and support people to fulfil their potential.

We are also redoubling our efforts to demonstrate that when public agencies like the Council, NHS or the West Midlands Combined Authority work with the grain of communities – when they reach into neighbourhoods, and listen… genuinely listen and engage, then not only do they achieve better results, but they also get better value for money, reduce frustration and improve trust and satisfaction.

It’s in this spirit of collaboration that we will be further strengthening our own relationships with local groups and public bodies to help improve lives and livelihoods in Erdington.

Now given the time of year, many of you will have made or in my case ‘recycled’ previous New Year’s resolutions. Do pop into one of our hubs, take a look at our website, or call us to see how we can support you.

And remember, if you’re looking to develop new skills, make friends or give back to your community then volunteering may be perfect for you.

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.

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: …and finally from 2023

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


 
As we approach the festive season, many of us will celebrate, spend time with our loved ones and take a well-earned rest. In recent times, community spirit has been tested and emerged even stronger.

It is evident at this time of year, as so many people look out for each other, whether that is their neighbour or someone they know who may be on their own. Others volunteer and support so many good causes to make life better and a little more special. 

It is this sense of community that guides the work of the Association, gives us hope, and motivates us to do better. Reflecting on the past year, so many things stand out. First, it is important to acknowledge that cost-of-living pressures have and are still affecting many families.

Against this tough backdrop, the Erdington Wellbeing Hub continues to provide much-needed advice and support from the former walk-in-centre on the High Steet. I’m also pleased that we have been able to purchase and refurbish empty properties for local families in housing need.

The Witton Lakes Eco Hub celebrated its first anniversary and has exceeded all expectations – it is a great meeting place where you can also get advice on small changes that will save money on your energy costs and help to protect the planet; you can get healthier through numerous activities that cater for all abilities, or you can simply come along to enjoy the outdoors.


 
Perry Common Community Hall remains our ‘anchor’ where anybody can turn up – whether that be for support or to volunteer for a cause that they’re passionate about. On that note, I am delighted to welcome our new volunteers who will complement the existing team and make a huge difference to community life.

From the entire Witton Lodge team, we wish you a happy and peaceful Christmas and New Year.

(This column was written for initial publication in the Erdington Local newspaper – published on 8 December.)

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.

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: Social Economy Cluster launches at Witton Lodge Community Association

Words by Witton Lodge Community Association

On 24 October Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) were delighted to welcome the Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, to officially launch the Social Enterprise Cluster.

Part of a £2 million support package through the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) using unspent Commonwealth Games money, this initiative has been created to help level up some of the region’s most disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

The Cluster is being led by key social businesses in all the Combined Authority’s seven constituent council areas of Birmingham, Dudley, Wolverhampton, Walsall, Sandwell, Coventry, and Solihull.

Each organisation will receive seed funding to help them develop plans to identify specific projects that will improve the local area and act as a springboard to bring in further investment.

Witton Lodge CA was co-funded by Power to Change as the first local cluster and is now joined by a dynamic mix of social businesses including CWCDA, iSE, Colebridge Trust, SWEDA, Access to Business, and Provision House, all of whom have excellent experience in developing and supporting their respective communities.

This is a valuable opportunity to learn from each other and create a sustainable eco-system for social organisations and their communities to flourish.

Afzal Hussain, Chief Officer at Witton Lodge Community Association, said: “We were delighted to welcome everyone involved with the Social Enterprise Cluster to Witton Lodge for the launch of this fantastic initiative. This investment will give us the much-needed resources to do the job we are trying to do, to improve the local area and economy to generate wealth and retain it in our communities.

“It’s a great opportunity for the community to decide what’s right for us, and help create change that makes a real, tangible difference.”

The WMCA’s Social Economy Growth Programme is being funded by the WMCA’s Commonwealth Games Legacy Enhancement Fund, which was established in response to the Games coming in under budget.

Following discussions with the Mayor and the WMCA, the UK Government agreed to invest the £70 million underspend back into the region to enhance the legacy of the Games and ensure the benefits continue their positive impact for years to come.

Watch Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street discuss the importance of social economy with Afzal Hussain, Chief Officer, and Linda Hines MBE, Resident Director/Chair of WLCA.

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.

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: WLCA host Jobs Fair at Perry Common Hall on Friday 13 October

Words and promotional imagery by WLCA


 
Witton Lodge Community Association is hosting a Jobs Fair on Friday 13 October, inviting local jobseekers to meet with major employers from across the region.

The WLCA Jobs Fair will be held from 10am to 2pm at Perry Common Community Hall, 87 Witton Lodge Rd, Birmingham, B23 5JD. Click here for a Google Maps link to the address.

The Job Fair will be showcasing a range of training and employment opportunities from a variety of organisations including Amazon, who will be promoting their opportunities for local people from all backgrounds.

The Witton Lodge Community Association Employment and Skills Team will also be on hand to engage with those attending and provide advice to support their journey into work.

The upcoming Jobs Fair is an excellent opportunity for people to meet the team, employers, and training providers to find out more about the range of employment and training opportunities available across the city.

Marcia Lewis, Employer Engagement Officer at WLCA said “We are delighted to provide a welcoming space to help connect jobseekers from our local community to potential employers as well as a range of training providers to support attendees with any skills and training needs they may have.”

She added: “The Jobs Fair will be held in the heart of our community at Perry Common Community Hall and will be showcasing opportunities in warehousing, health & social care, hospitality/facilities, construction, office, customer service and more. We look forward to welcoming everyone on the 13 October.”

To find out more about the WLCA Jobs Fair, or to discuss your employment or training needs with the WLCA Employment and Skills Team, contact WLCA on (0121) 382 1930.

Or follow WLCA on social media and stay up-to-date with their our news, events, and activities.

For more on Witton Lodge Community Association and links to their social media, 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.

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: The power of community

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


 
I am sometimes asked what difference community-led organisations really make? Especially given the scale of today’s challenges, such as, the cost-of-living crisis. Events recently held across Erdington start to shed some light on this.

In Wyrley Birch we celebrated the first birthday of Witton Lakes Eco Hub.  It is a shining example of how over many years, local residents and volunteers overcame huge obstacles, and with grit and determination helped to create this wonderful community facility.

Once the site of a derelict building and a rubbish dump, it is now a thriving community hub where residents can enjoy a drink or join in a wide range of activities. Local school children are learning about the environment and a network of community partners will provide advice and practical tips to reduce energy use and fuel bills.

In contrast, a community meeting held at Six Ways Baptist Church regarding HMO’s & exempt accommodation raised serious concerns from residents on issues including crime, antisocial behaviour, and safety. There was palpable anger amongst residents.


 
I’m not certain a strong, local community anchor will have prevented the problems from arising, however, I am confident that these issues will have been raised earlier, with options and possible solutions explored with stakeholders. Maybe this will provide the impetus to create a strong local voice.

At Witton Lodge Community Association, we are huge advocates of communities playing a leading role in shaping their neighbourhoods, and believe more decisions should be taken locally. We continue to make the case for this, and take our message to national and local politicians.

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.

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: Spring into summer with the return of Perry Common Festival – Sat 29 April

Words & pics supplied by Witton Lodge Community Association

The wait is nearly over – after a four-year absence the Spring into Summer Festival returns to Perry Common this weekend.

Perry Common will come alive on Saturday April 29 as local residents come together to enjoy community spirit at its finest.

This year’s event has a lot to live up to but promises to be one to revel in with a range of activities planned to occupy the crowds.

Highlights include a super slide, bouncy castle, donkey rides and a football cage.

There will also be a number of stalls manned by partner organisations like The Net Pentecostal Church, St Martin’s Church, The Friends of Witton Lakes and Boss Gardens.

Established in 2010, Spring into Summer has become a much-loved community celebration in Perry Common with the event regularly attracting hundreds of visitors.

Paul Tse, Flourishing Community Development Officer at Witton Lodge Community Association, has co-ordinated the 2023 version.

“Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Spring into Summer has been missing for four years but it is now back and we are expecting an eager and excited crowd for next weekend’s extravaganza,” he said.

“The event captures and celebrates the vibrant community spirit that exists in Perry Common.”

Spring into Summer 2023 takes place from 12-3pm on The Ring, Witton Lodge Road, Perry Common, B23 5JD.

Perry Common Spring into Summer Festival / Saturday 29 April 2023

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

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: WLCA celebrate “significant achievement” with over 200 affordable and social housing properties

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

Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) is celebrating a “significant achievement” after its portfolio of properties for rent surpassed 200.

The Perry Common based community landlord has been tireless in its attempts to provide affordable and social housing which meets the needs of local people.

In 2017, the Association set up a subsidiary, Witton Lodge Community Homes (WLCH), to develop its housing and community asset development aspirations.

Targeting empty properties to bring them back into use, WLCH works with Birmingham City Council and other stakeholders to explore opportunities for new build development which can also provide affordable housing solutions.

This new milestone underlines the commitment and progress Witton Lodge has made to realising its long-term goals.

WLCH Chief Officer, Afzal Hussain, said: “Our asset base of social, affordable and market rent homes has enabled the Association to invest in communities and transform neighbourhoods in Erdington and across North Birmingham.

“This is a significant achievement for us and the community led housing movement, as what really sets us apart from others is that our developments are shaped by local people and go with the grain of communities.”

Having achieved registered provider status with Homes England, WLCH can apply directly for funding to develop and manage properties.

The Association’s Homes and Assets Development Manager, Gareth Hopkins, said: “We have aspirations to do even more. When we purchase properties they often need a lot of investment, so we aim to retrofit and refurbish them to a really high standard.

“We are proud to be investing in our properties and working towards local and national carbon zero targets and helping our tenants save money on their energy bills.

“Given the cost of living crisis, this is obviously good for our tenants and good for the environment.”

Witton Lodge Community Association started life in 1994, established by local residents, in response to plans to demolish the Perry Common estate.

From then on, the community landlord has supported local residents through the demolition of the old estate and the rebuilding of the new – keeping the local community at the centre of the process and ensuring local people influence decisions.

WLCH continues to work with Birmingham City Council to tackle the city’s ongoing housing crisis.

In February 2021 there were over 17,000 applicants on Birmingham City Council’s housing waiting list, the local authority area within which WLCH deliver their services. In addition, there are more 9,000 empty properties in the city.

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

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: NBER Business Engagement & Growth workshop at Perry Common Community Hall

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

The latest North Birmingham Economic Recovery (NB:ER) Group Business Engagement & Growth workshop provided invaluable insight into the importance of strategic marketing and branding.

Hosted by Witton Lodge Community Association and held at Perry Common Community Hall in January, attendees learned how to coordinate and implement outbound and partner marketing as well as the value of Public Relations and Branding.

A series of presentations also examined why effective marketing is a crucial part of any business plan and how emotions and meaning behind branding have an enormous impact on the success of marketing.

Formed in response to Covid-19 to support both businesses and individuals recover from the pandemic, the latest NB:ER workshop was part of the group’s continuing commitment to ‘creating effective routes into skills training and sustainable jobs for those currently facing barriers and/or exclusion.’

Guest speakers included Lyndsey Thomas and Heidi Salmons from IM Properties and Winvic Construction, who engaged with the audience to draw out the concept and power of branding.

“It was a pleasure to deliver and be a part of the latest NB:ER Business Engagement & Growth workshop talking to attendees about how consistent and genuine marketing, branding and social value are essential components of a successful business,” said Lyndsey.

“The attendees were really engaged and interacted throughout our session asking considered questions and making valuable connections with other small businesses during networking in between presentations and after the session – a well organised event by the NB:ER team!”

Emma Rhymes from Winvic Construction talked about how to use CSR and Social Value to grow your business while Linda Jones, from the Salus Fatigue Foundation, spoke about the journey of a local successful enterprise.

NB:ER coordinator, Jobeda Shahed, said feedback from those attending the workshop was very positive.

“It was great to see so many people taking part, with many commenting on how they picked up useful tips on how to create meaningful and impactful marketing,” she said.

“Thank you to everyone who attended and supported the event, especially our partners for their great presentations.”

The North Birmingham Economic Recovery (NB:ER) Group is formed of businesses and institutions with a vested interest in North Birmingham, including Aston Villa Foundation, IM Properties, BMET, and Witton Lodge Community Association.

The NB:ER Task Force is chaired by Erdington MP Paulette Hamilton, who took over the role after the passing of Jack Dromey MP – who was a ‘driving force’ behind the group’s inception.

NB:ER is further endorsed by West Midlands Mayor Andy Street and supported by the West Midlands Combined Authority, who are a member organisation to the group.

For more on the North Birmingham Economic Recovery (NB:ER) Group & Plan, visit www.northbirminghameconomicrecovery.co.uk

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

NEWS: Erdington stakeholders told “officers are doing what they can” as crime and community policing discussed at local meeting

Words by Ed King / Pics by Mohammad Ashraf 

Crime and community policing were the main issues discussed at Erdington MP Paulette Hamilton’s Big Conversation last week, with a keynote speech from West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner Simon Foster.

Joining Mr Foster were Chief Inspector Kelly Monaghan, from the Birmingham East Local Command Team, and Erdington’s new Inspector Shameem Ahmed.

Organised by the Erdington MP, the Big Conversation events began soon after Paulette Hamilton was elected to Parliament in March 2022 – bringing senior Council officials and public servants to address local stakeholders and concerned Erdington constituents.

On Thursday 12 January the subject of focus was crime in the constituency, with CI Monaghan opening by identifying the “priorities” for police in the area – hosted at Perry Common Community Hall by Witton Lodge Community Association.

Top of the list was burglaries, with CI Monaghan reiterating the nationwide pledge made in October 2022 that “every single person who is a victim of burglary gets a visit from one of our officers.”

One concerned resident challenged the claim, citing a house on Harrison Road – off Erdington High Street – that has been repeatedly used for growing cannabis, with people breaking in to steal the illegal crops “leaving a trail of (cannabis) leaves through the car park” opposite the address.

Councillor Gareth Moore (Con, Erdington) was quick to suggest “could the police use closure orders” on properties that had repeated problems, as has been previously enforced to shut down unruly HMOs.

Vehicle crime was another “big business” high on the police agenda, with its “knock on effect” to burglary and other offences including the rampant trade in stolen catalytic convertors.

Successes by the Stockland Green police team were mentioned, with both Chief Inspector Kelly Monaghan and Inspector Shameem Ahmed advising the use of anti-theft aids such as steering wheel locks and tamper proof screws for licence plates.

Youth violence was also a paramount police concern on the agenda, discussed only hours before an Erdington based teenager would be charged with the Boxing Day murder of Cody Fisher.

“Gang violence” was raised by Paulette Hamilton as a growing concern amongst her constituents in places such as Wyrley Birch, with the Erdington MP quizzing the police if they were “working with local partners” to effectively tackle the issue.

Consistent crime and violence on Erdington High Street was also raised, with the Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) imposed in May 2022 making little impact despite the “40 fines” reported to have been issued.

As one resident commented: “there are street drinkers and dealers outside Boyles (betting shop)… if you are fining them then it’s not working.”

Paulette Hamilton underscored the issue, stating “people are saying the soul has left the High Street” and again calling for more “joined up work” with local partners and police.

Erdington’s new Inspector Shameem Ahmed, who took over the Neighbourhood Police Team several months after Rachel Derby left the post in October 2022, was candid about and committed to the problem facing her force.

“I’m not confident or happy the issue is being resolved as it could be,” told Inspector Ahmed, “and working with partners is something we (police) could do more about – my officers are doing what they can.”

West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner Simon Foster then introduced himself to the room, giving a full background of his role and cementing his commitment to “productive, problem solving, and visible community policing.”

In an immediate challenge, the lack of any noticeable police presence was quick to be raised – with Paulette Hamilton MP stating “you never see police in open spaces” such as parks or children’s play areas, despite a number of violent attacks in areas such as Pype Hayes Park.

Inspector Ahmed informed of a “walkabout” with uniformed officers in Finchley Park, Kingstanding, organised for the end of January – with Ms Hamilton responding: “how is this supported locally and why are you not linking with local councillors?”

Inspector Amend replied “they should be”, despite Councillor Des Hughes (Lab, Kingstanding) unaware of any planned activity at Finchley Park by West Midlands Police. The Kingstanding councillor further suggested Birmingham Citry Council’s Parks Department “had a role to play” in safeguarding the public spaces within their portfolio.

Concerns over the increase of licenced premises and betting shops on Erdington High Street was fiercely debated, with several stakeholders in the room having worked to block the recent application by Boyles Sports to open a second Erdington site at the old HSBC building opposite The Swan pub.

A lack of communication between local police teams and the planning committee, who are ultimately responsible for allowing or blocking applications, was raised as a systemic problem – with one local resident suggesting campaigners and members of the public alike should contact the West Midlands Police Licensing Team directly if they wanted to challenge future plans for more betting shops.

Councillor Gareth Moore (Con, Erdington), who sits on Birmingham City Council’s Planning Committee, further addressed the need to “break down the silo mentality” when gathering evidence and responsible authority support to challenge contentious planning applications.

The recent ‘Pop Up Police Stations’ held on Castle Vale were praised, with Simon Wilson, Chief Executive Officer of The Pioneer Group – who took over the housing portfolio of the estate’s Housing Action Trust – suggesting “another model” could be adopted across Erdington, giving the public more access to local police teams.

Paulette Hamilton was quick to endorse anything that supports “a core level of service (from local police teams) that makes people feel safe,” further suggesting more police “pop ups across the constituency.”

Police and Crime Commissioner Simon Foster confirmed there would be a new police station opened in Erdington by “summer 2025”, situated at the existing site on the corner of Sutton Road and Wilton Road – although there would be “no public desk”, with the nearest station open to members of the public based in Stechford.

Widely challenged by the room, the lack of a publicly accessible police station in Erdington “seems crazy” to Reverend Emma Sykes from St Barnabas Church, who implored the Police and Crime Commissioner to “consider” revising the plans.

Paulette Hamilton MP will be hosting another Big Conversation later in the spring. For more information visit www.paulettehamilton.org