FEATURE: James Brindley Academy’s Dovedale Centre – school life during lockdown

Words & pics by Ed King

There have been a lot of words used to describe the coronavirus crisis. But when it comes to education, one stands out. Uncertainty.

Out of all the public sectors, withstanding healthcare professionals fighting on the pandemic’s frontline, education has been one of the most affected by lockdown restrictions – with staff and students alike having to embrace dramatic changes.

But whilst ‘uncertainty’ is ever present across all year groups, thanks to COVID-19, those in transition are amongst both the most talked about – with Year 11 students preparing for further education under the biggest question mark of their young lives.

The thought of going to college is still ‘a big one’, for me personally,” explains Archie Walters – who has left his leavers BBQ to sit and talk to Erdington Local in a now physically distanced classroom. “But at the same time it isn’t massive, because I’ve got an older brother who is eighteen and in his second year of college – and seeing him do it has made me realise that I can do it as well.” 

I’ve had quite regular communication and emails from, and to, teachers,” tells Callum Kimberley – who is also leaving Dovedale this year to go into further education, “checking up on me and seeing if I’m alright.

Regarding how they prepare me for collage, one teacher did all that before lockdown… Miss Connor. She helped me a lot. When we went to Sutton (Collage) and we went into one of the classrooms for a lesson, she was more worried about that than me. She was like, ‘ah, you’ve really made me proud…”

Part of the James Brindley Academy, the Dovedale Centre is ‘a 81 placement provision for pupils with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC)’ – teaching Key Stages 2, 3 and 4, preparing the older children for the next stage in their educational journey.

With a cohort that require a more tailored approach to teaching than those in mainstream schools, Dovedale’s students could be suffering the most during lockdown. But for Archie and Callum, at least, the experience has been surprisingly straightforward.

One of the reasons for that, is because in this school…” begins Archie, “it makes you feel like you’re important because they (teaching staff) will take their time, to give you emotional support wherever you need. And that’s partly, in my opinion, what makes the relationships between pupils and teachers here as good as they are. Because they’re willing to make the time.”

Quick to mirror the feelings, Callum continues: “Yeah, we have very good relationships… we have different ‘go to’ teachers. It’s basically ones with similar interests and there’s just loads to talk about – to be honest, quite a lot of pupils and teachers get along really well here…” 

As robust as any 15-16 year old you might want to meet, Archie and Callum head back out into the schoolyard – soaking up the last few hours with the people who have been so important to them over the past few years. But the students are only one side of a school, and life under lockdown has also been a shift for the staff at Dovedale.

At the start is was quite challenging,” tells Mr Ellery, a Teaching Assistant and Pastoral Worker with the Year 11 cohort, “it was difficult imagining being away from them in such an important year… and ending it almost halfway though. 

Usually they come to us for the answers – you’ve been through this before sir, how did you cope with it? But no one’s been through this (COVID-19) in their lifetimes and we can’t predict how long this is going to go on.” Concerns that are peppering society, but more acutely when it comes to education.

But like the world of work now entrenched in Zoom meetings, digital technology has helped Dovedale function during lockdown – using interactive online platforms, staff have been able to maintain a semblance of the status quo with their students.

We were able to get a group of kids together in a weekly Skype call,” continues Mr Ellery, “getting them talking to each other – encouraging them that, in a time like this, the best support comes from your friends and family, as well as your teachers.”

But Year 11 has its own challenges, not least of which is the transition from secondary to further education – a difficult time for any student, let alone a young person living with autism.

A lot of what we would have done in physical face to face meetings, has just taken place over the phone or virtually – via Microsoft Teams,” explains Ms Lowe, a Special Educational Needs Coordinator and English Teacher who works with Year 11 at Dovedale.

A lot of colleges have been great in providing virtual support as well,” continues Ms Lowe. “We’ve got one young person whose college has given them six weeks – half a day every week, for the last six weeks – where they’ve had a virtual tour of the college. They’ve met their tutors already; they’ve already been introduced to the people in their class. So, that’s really great.”

But necessity is often the other of invention, and the digital platforms that began as an interim measure are now being looked at as an unexpected silver lining – especially when dealing with students who can find social situations more of a challenge.

In my role as SENCO, it’s given me food for thought for some of our young people who’ve got real anxiety about coming to school in the first place,” adds Ms Lowe. “We’ve now got the tools and the knowledge and the skills to be able to still give them the education they’ve got the right to.”

A lot of them present themselves quite confidently, but they’ve got these deep rooted anxieties,” explains Mr Ellery. “But today, when I asked about their thought process about college, each one of them have said ‘I’m actually looking forward to it. I’m anxious about it starting, but I’m looking forward to it.”

This experience,” continues Miss Lowe, “it’s forced them to transfer the skills they’ve learned in school into their own personal life. Coming back after the lockdown, they are so much more mature. Their resilience has been overwhelming. They’ve been amazing.”

The strength of the relationships between students and teaching staff at Dovedale is palpable, mirrored in the words and actions of both. It’s the first thing everyone mentions when asked about school life.

But at the top of the hill you get the broadest view, and Dovedale is a community of students, staff, but also the parents and carers of the children that attend.

We started looking at what do parents want? What’s the need?” explains Charmaine Parry, Centre Leader at Dovedale.

Surveys were then put out to all our parents,” continues Ms Parry, “to find out what do they want? And not only do they want us to be open, but with what sort of provisions. What can we do to support them as parents? And to get our young people transitioning slowly back into the school system.

So, we went through that process, gathered the data, and then as a team – with the attendance officer, Pastoral managers, SENCO – we spoke to every parent. We said, look, tell me what you want. We’ve done the survey. We’ve got an idea. But now as an individual, you tell me, what do you need?”

One of the widespread concerns, in the media at least, has been physical distancing – clouded by doubt over whether young people would stick to the guidelines in school. At Dovedale, however, this hasn’t seemed to be a problem.

To start off with, we looked at the size of the classrooms – so we could work out how many pupils we could have realistically in school,” tells Ms Parry. “Then we did all the markings. The one way flow system, that was all put in place as well – having to come in through reception, go down the corridor, up the back end ,up the stairs, to come down the front, we put all that in place.

Surrounded by black and yellow can create a sense of safety, but also of urgency – how did the children at Dovedale respond? “There’s been a huge change,” admits Ms Parry, “but the minute they came in, they saw that they could understand it. It was very clear. The signs are really clear.”

But how about the parents and carers? “I think the parents are probably being a little bit more anxious,” continues Ms Parry. “But I’ve had emails from parents saying that they are now happy to send their child to school after hearing from other parents – telling how well it’s planned, the structure that’s in place for them, the one way system, and the social distancing. And that means a lot. 

We’re doing our best to make sure that staff and children are kept safe in school. And everyone’s adhering to that. Everyone understands the guidelines.”

So, despite understandable concerns, it seems life under lockdown at Dovedale has not made a drama out of a crisis.

And whilst many questions remain, there is another word that would be appropriately applied to Dovedale. One that may not have been spoken in March, but as September approaches is growing in both suitability and strength.

Confidence.

To find out more about James Brindley’s Dovedale Centre, visit www.jamesbrindley.org.uk/dovedale

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FEATURE: Erdington residents left without emergency dental care during lockdown

Words & pics by Ed King

**IF YOU ARE SUFFERING FROM DENTAL PAIN AND CANNOT REACH YOUR REGULAR PRACTICE/SURGERY, PLEASE GO STRAIGHT TO THE CONTACT INFORMATION AT THE END OF THIS ARTICLE**

During the widespread lockdown of shops and services, to combat the spread of COVID-19, Erdington residents have been left without any clear route to emergency dental services.

Following Government guidelines, and the preventative measures endorsed by Public Health England, dentals surgeries across both the constituency and country have been forced to close.

But whilst emergency services remain open for a wide range of illness and accidents, with people even encouraged to keep in contact with their GP surgeries, dental practitioners have been given no clear guidance on how to support their patients – leaving local residents suffering from dental pain walking through a complex minefield of referrals to find treatment.

When I rang my local GP surgery (Eaton Wood Medical Centre), they were absolutely no help whatsoever, explains Karen Baker-Sullivan – an Erdington resident who was suffering with a severe tooth infection.

I initially rang my dentist, and she told me to ring my local GP – tell them you’ve spoken to your dentist, who is not at her practice at the moment, and they will be able to refer you to some antibiotics. It was supposed to be that simple.

The receptionist took all these details and told me the GP would ring me back… I eventually got a phone call back about four hours later and was asked to go through all my symptoms again. Which I did. At the end of it I was told I couldn’t have any antibiotics because they don’t deal with dental pain. I was just told to get back in touch with my dentist… who isn’t practicing at the moment.”

Government is yet to lay out a medical response plan for dental care during the coronavirus crisis, with sterility and the safeguarding of surgery staff as their public facing concerns – the only clear message coming from Whitehall about dentistry. But as PPE shortages continue to affect the widespread NHS and healthcare services, dentistry is continually overlooked – leaving many dental practices in the dark and their patients suffering in silence.

It’s clear that some professions are more likely to be close to people for long periods and you may get some sort of aerosolisation of the sputum and so on,” says Sir Patrick Vallance – the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, “so there are risks in certain professions and dentistry is clearly one of those where that might be the case.

This is being looked at, I know, by the Chief Medical Officer (Professor Chris Whitty) in terms of what could be done to reduce that – and, of course, dentists are healthcare professionals who are used to working in environments where there are infections risks.”

The advice given by the British Dental Association (BDA) is that ‘assuming you have not got COVID-19 related symptoms, you should call your (dental) practice.’ But with many surgeries closed, or oversubscribed with emergency enquiries, many people are finding it difficult to contact their regular dentist.

Further advice from the BDA refers patients in pain to the national NHS 111 hotline, which Erdington Local called seeking advice for a ‘constant and throbbing pain in one of my bottom left molars.’ After a significantly protracted question and answer session, using a generic address on Erdington High Street, we were referred to either the 6 Ways Dental Practice on Gravelly Hill North or Bupa (Oasis) Dental Care on Summer Rd.

There was no answer at 6 Ways Dental Practice, only a pre-recorded answering machine message stating ‘due to the coronavirus pandemic and Government recommendations 6 Ways Dental Practice will remain closed until further notice…’ – with a mobile number for patients needing ‘an emergency telephone consultation.’

Bupa (Oasis) Dental Care did pick up the phone but were unable to “see any face to face appointments.” Although, as with 6 Ways Dental Practice, the surgery could “get the dentist to give you a call back if it’s an emergency.”

Both 6 Ways Dental Practice and Bupa (Oasis) Dental Care referred us back to the NHS 111 hotline.

After phoning several more dentists across Erdington, with most surgeries relying on a pre-recorded message akin to the one from 6 Ways Dental Practice, Erdington Local was finally directed to the Scott Arms Dental Practice on the Walsall Rd in Great Barr – an off the record referral from a helpful member of staff at another dental practice.

Seemingly the only surgery taking face to face appointments, Erdington Local went through a robust over-the-phone examination to ascertain the severity of our complaint and to recommend treatment. There was also a helpful PDF document on the surgery’s website, titled ‘Managing Toothache at Home – Tips to help manage dental problems until you can see a dentist.’

On visiting the Scott Arms Dental Practice there was a constant stream of patients coming in and out of the surgery – being managed by staff, in accordance with the physical distancing guidelines issued by Government. And although many people were being asked to wait patiently in the car park, the sense of relief was palpable.

As one couple explained whilst waiting on the front steps, with the woman clutching a handkerchief to her jaw and clearly in considerable pain, “it wasn’t easy finding anywhere in Birmingham that would see us… but at least this place is open.”

For more from the Scott Arms Dental Practice, visit www.scottarmsdentalpractice.com

For further information, advice, and guidelines from the British Dental Association, visit www.bda.org

To visit the NHS 111 online support service, for all health concerns, visit www.111.nhs.uk

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NEWS: Online services safeguard Erdington resident’s mental health

Words by Steve Sharma / Pics courtesy of Witton Lodge Community Association

A new online support service aims to safeguard the mental health and wellbeing of elderly Erdington residents during the coronavirus lockdown.

The weekly support group sessions, delivered by Witton Lodge Community Association, are tailored to provide engagement and encourage positive coping mechanisms for people who are isolated and vulnerable as a result of the pandemic.

Held every Tuesday from 3-4pm, using video conferencing tool Zoom, participants are invited to share their stories and experiences with each other – to boost their sense of community and connection. Each session carries a particular theme, with content supplied and delivered by qualified physiotherapist Sonia Kumar.

Covering topics such as health, personal grooming, diet and exercise, upcoming sessions will be addressing issues such as: sleep hygiene (26th May), osteoarthritis (2nd June), osteoporosis (9th June), persistent widespread pain (16th June), diet and exercise (23rd June).

People can take part in the weekly sessions with Witton Lodge Community Association by logging onto Zoom using the following link: https://bit.ly/2Zm0Pt8

Wellbeing Officer at Witton Lodge, Fauzia Begum, said the weekly meetings are crucial in helping people to cope with current circumstances.

The impact of COVID19 is something which affects us all but for the elderly and vulnerable – particularly those people with underlying health conditions – the consequences can be devastating,” she said.

For someone who is suffering the effects of poor health and living in isolation, time spent in the company of others can make such a positive difference.

Our support group is to help people cope with life during the lockdown and encourage them to undertake activities which can boost their mental and physical wellbeing.”

Community action and support groups have been quick to provide a range of services during the national lockdown, such as access to food and financial advice. But the longer the physical and social distancing restrictions stay in place, issues surrounding people’s mental health are becoming an increasing concern.

Sourced and supported by The Erdington Coronavirus Taskforce, a portfolio of organisations are offering support services for mental health across the constituency – including facilities from the NHS across Birmingham and Solihull.

Details of all organisations can be found in the Erdington Local COVID-19 Local Support address book and database, hosted on the Erdington Local website.

To find out what support services are available to Erdington locals and residents, visit www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19-local-support/cat/mental-health/

To find out more about Witton Lodge Community Association, visit www.wittonlodge.org.uk/

 

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NEWS: Jump the queues (and language barriers) for Erdington essentials at Janosik

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Jobe Baker-Sullivan and Ed King

Queues on Erdington High Street are now an all too familiar sight, as shops encourage social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Many Eastern European shops, however, remain accessible without too much queueing – stocking an abundance of the basic necessities that supermarkets now sometimes lack.

Janosik, situated at 203 High Street in Erdington, is a grocery store that caters for the Polish community. There is a queue outside, but not for this ‘polski sklep’ (polish shop): it’s for Lloyds bank next door.

Full of food, drink, and household essentials, Erdington Local explores the shelves at Janosik – one of Erdington’s many polish shops where a language barrier might be the only thing slowing down your shopping.

Bread (chleb) is found at the back of the store – fresh, sliced, and easy to spot. Polish people also like to make their own bread and pastries, and there’s a large selection of wheat flour (mąka, the ą gives it a sound more like ‘monka’) on the shelves at Janosik – a staple that’s been disappearing from supermarkets across the region, as many people have begun baking at home during lockdown.

Pasta is also in abundance – specialties, as well as simple ‘farfalle’ priced 400g for 99p.

For milk (mleko), the most common choice popular brand UHT Łaciate [pronounced ‘wa-chya-the’). But don’t get caught out by ‘kefir’ – it might look like normal milk from the packaging, but it’s more like a thin yoghurt that’s used in baking.

It’s good for a hangover!” chimes in Krystian, a helpful regular customer. Krystian visits the shop every couple of days for his basic amenities.

The beer is cheaper here than the Co-op,” he boasts, “and there’s a lovely selection of treats” pointing to the shelves of biscuits and chocolate.

Drworek is a brand of soup (zupa). “It’s like the Polish ready-meal,” says Krystian. Pomidorowa (tomato) and kapuśniak (cabbage) are easy to heat in the pan and serve 3-4 portions.

Most of the products in Janosik are Polish, with a small selection of Romanian items available at the back of the store – such as Zacuscă, a vegetable spread that goes nicely on that fresh chleb (bread).

But there are many basic household products that you can buy in Janosik, everyday essentials, that are all too familiar on shopping lists across Erdington. The shop also boasts a pharmacy, a fresh meat counter, and a variety of other foodstuffs.

Shopping at Janosik, and other Eastern European shops, in Erdington might be the perfect way to avoid those High Street queues – whilst supporting more of our local businesses during lockdown.

To find out more about Janosik, situated at 203 Erdington High Street, visit their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/JANOSIKSUPERSTORE/

For more about the Polish community across Birmingham, visit the Polish Expats Association at www.facebook.com/polish.expats

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