FEATURE: No laughing matter, now nitrous oxide is illegal what changes will criminalising happy gas make to our streets?

Words & pics by Ed King (except lead image – Adobe)

On Wednesday 8 November, the British Government made nitrous oxide an illegal substance as per the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1971, effectively banning the recreational use of the ‘happy’ or ‘laughing’ gas which has seen a significant rise over recent years. Now registered as a Class C controlled substance, ‘serious users’ of nitrous oxide could face up to two years in prison.

Erdington Local looks at the ambitions of the legislation and the effects of both the ban and the drug on the wider community.

We’ve all seen them, small silver bottles that look like they belong in a SodaStream or balloon pump, lying scattered around park benches or bus stops. Nitrous oxide. Or the more colloquially known ‘laughing gas’ or ‘happy’ gas.

What was originally used to numb the pain of root canal surgery has been taken by recreational drug users since the 70s. But in recent years, the increasingly overt use of nitrous oxide has become a flashpoint for community concerns over anti-social behaviour and aggressive youth culture.

Nitrous oxide had already been recognised by the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, which addressed non-legitimate supply of the substance and issues such as direct sales to consumers and cannister sizes. But the Government further criminalised it as part of their Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan, making it a ‘criminal offence to be found in possession of (nitrous oxide) where its intended use is to be wrongfully inhaled’, or ‘to get high’.

As per the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, non-authorised possession of nitrous oxide is now as illegal the synthetic sedatives Diazepam and Temazepam.

The Home Office explains: “Associated antisocial behaviour causes wider harm felt by communities and to the environment. This includes group gatherings to abuse the drug in public spaces, such as children’s parks or high streets, and subsequent littering of the discarded canisters. There have also been deaths connected to drug driving incidents.”

Over on Castle Vale, many have welcomed the new law. One resident, Barabra, who lives neighbouring Centre Park, tells Erdington Local: “(Castle Vale) is going back to the eighties, to how it was with drugs, fighting all the while, kids out on the street.

“I’m a member of Families for Peace, I have been for 20 years, I don’t believe in guns, I don’t believe in knives, and I certainly don’t believe in drugs. I pay £10 a month for children to be kept off the street so that they’re kept safe.

“I’ll walk through here (Centre Park) at 5:30pm and they’ll all be high as a kite. You feel intimidated, you have to walk out of the park and walk all the way round. Why should we? I’ve got grandchildren.”

But many of the young people that live on Castle Vale don’t use nitrous oxide and feel they are being blamed for the actions of a few or are just “getting grief” from using local parks and public spaces when “there’s nowhere else to go”.

Likewise, in a review of nitrous oxide in 2021, requested by the then Home Secretary Priti Patel, the Independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) found the drug was already adequately covered by existing laws, officially stating: “the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 remains the appropriate drug legislation to tackle supply of nitrous oxide for non-legitimate use.”

The counterpoint to further criminalising nitrous oxide is that you would turn a legally available substance, one used predominately by young people, into a criminal offence overnight.

Over on Gravelly Hill North, Birmingham’s Youth Offending Team have traditionally operated from the Kingsmere Unit. Run by Birmingham Children’s Trust the future of the site is uncertain, but it has been a widely recognised starting point for many young people entering the criminal justice system

One ex-employee explains: “I think it’s a good idea the Government have now criminalised it along with other widely used recreational drugs, such as cannabis and amphetamine, as it is a dangerous substance and young people need to be educated about the potential harm. I think a lot of young people are just ignorant to the side effects of drugs and don’t really understand how damaging they can be.”

However, mirroring the findings recommendations from the ACMD report other professional bodies and individuals feel the move could cause more damage to young people than good.

One experienced services manager with over 25 years experience in the criminal justice system, supporting people suffering with significant drug and alcohol abuse issues, explains: “Legislation in itself will not make it safer for young people who use nitrous oxide, but it will push them into the criminal justice system and the long term effect of this could harm them more.”

Over their tenure they worked closely with the police, probation service, and a variety of partners and support agencies in the West Midlands and the Northeast.

They add: “As yet we do not know all the long term effects of this substance on individuals but it can cause both physical and mental health problems if abused. This is a Public Health problem and should be treated as such. The Criminal Justice approach will not make young people safer.”

Back on Castle Vale, local resident Barbara is concerned about the sizes of cannisters found in Centre Park. And as she works with the estate’s groundskeeper to clean up the mess left by a weekend of late summer sun, the immediate impact drug misuse has had on her family comes out in conversation.

“My son was a drug addict… I’ve just lost him. It would have been his fiftieth birthday tomorrow, and I’m in bits. He was off drugs at the finish, my grandson got him off them. He was off them for nearly two years, but he died from kidney failure.

“But this is all you see,” Barbara adds, picking an empty Sealy Bag up from the park grass.

“I told my son to get help, I took him to get help… but addicts don’t accept help. I spoke to the kids (in the park) last night, I asked where are your parents? They just told me it was none of my f’ing business. I’m worried they might hurt themselves… too damn right I am.”

But with extended or relaxed legislation, the answer to many social ills lies in the community itself. And when it comes to the little silver bottles, at least on Castle Vale, there is also a silver lining.

Cllr Ray Goodwin (Castle Vale Ward, Labour), explains what he and his team are doing to tackle the issues highlighted on the North Birmingham estate: “I have been working closely with worried residents, The Pioneer Group and Castle Vale Community Housing, our local police teams, and local youth organisations, to come with robust plan of action – we need to engage with young people and ensure they are engaged with other activities.

“Young people need good facilities and places for them to be actively involved in things. They need youth centres, creative outlets, and sports clubs to join, so they are not just hanging around parks and public spaces where their presence and actions can infringe on other members of the community – even if they did not intend to cause concern or trouble to others.

“This collaborative and proactive approach, and ongoing relationship building with young people and local services, is the best way to protect our young people, prevent them from accessing these clearly dangerous cannisters, and make our communities a safer and happier place for everyone to live in.”

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article and want to tell Erdington Local about it please email: mystory@erdingtonlocal.com

For more on the recent Government legislation over Nitrous Oxide visit www.gov.uk/government/news/possession-of-nitrous-oxide-is-now-illegal

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: Halloween Spotlights Loan Sharks

Words by Hema Chumber


 
To mark Stop Loan Sharks Week 2023, Spitfire Support Services is delivering three Halloween themed events across Castle Vale to raise awareness of this hidden crime in communities.

The activities, funded by the England Illegal Money Lending Team and supported in partnership by Castle Vale Community Housing, Starbucks and Switch Radio aim to engage people while providing insight into the dangers of unauthorised money lenders.

A Halloween Fashion Show takes place at Starbucks on 31 October for families to strut the catwalk in their outfits and win prizes. On the same day at Castle Vale Library there will be arts and crafts sessions, a special screening of A Sharks Tale and a Halloween haunted maze while a Stakeholder Presentation and Workshop at The Sanctuary on 1 November will give residents the chance to speak to learn more about the inherent dangers of borrowing from loan sharks.


 
The England Illegal Money Lending Team (IMLT), also known as Stop Loan Sharks, investigates and prosecutes illegal money lenders and also supports victims.

Figures show that 56 per cent of the people supported by the IMLT in the first half of 2023 said they borrowed from someone they thought was a friend. This year’s Stop Loan Sharks Week has the theme ‘Behind the Mask’ with the aim of raising awareness within communities like Castle Vale that illegal lenders can often be hard to spot.


 
Tony Quigley, head of the IMLT, said: “These illegal money lenders are experts at deception. They are friendly and approachable at first, but when the time comes to make the repayments they can show their true face – a ruthless criminal intent on exploiting the most vulnerable.

“We want people to be aware that not all illegal money lenders look like they do on TV. They can be another mum in the playground, a neighbour, a work colleague, even a longstanding family friend.

“But it is a mask and behind it they are not your friend; they are lining their own pockets at your expense and ruining lives. There are far safer ways of accessing affordable credit, like credit unions. If anyone thinks they have been targeted in this way, they should contact our specialist team of advisers in confidence for help and support.”

Ward Councillor, Raymond Goodwin, who is also the Director at Spitfire Support Services, said: “Many families over the last 12 months have struggled because of the cost of living crisis and have not been able to pay for basic essentials unfortunately we have seen an upturn in loan sharks being accessed.

“These events are all about the dangers of using loan sharks and also how there are alternative methods of safe finance that can be accessed.”

Anyone who thinks they have been targeted by an illegal money lender or has information about illegal lending is urged to contact the IMLT in confidence.

People can call the 24/7 confidential hotline on 0300 555 222 or visit the website www.stoploansharks.co.uk where there is a live chat facility from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday.

For further details on the three Halloween events please visit the Castle Vale Community Housing Facebook page. 

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

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

FEATURE: Memorial service for late Erdington MP Jack Dromey and Stockland Green Councillor Penny Holbrook

Words by Ed King / Pics by Mohammad Ashraf, Ed King, and WLCA

On Saturday 14 January, a memorial service for Erdington’s late MP Jack Dromey and Stockland Green Councillor Penny Holbrook was held at Six Ways Baptist Church.

Organised one year and one week after Jack Dromey death, the remembrance event was attended by community representatives, political peers, and members of the public – alongside friends and family of the two “titans” of local politics.

Hosted by Reverend Gerard Goshawk, minister at Six Ways Baptist Church, the first tribute was spoken by Erdington’s current MP Paulette Hamilton, who began by saying: “Before you go forward you have to look back and give honour.”

Ms Hamilton was a long standing friend and political colleague of both Penny Holbrook and Jack Dromey, recanting the last time she spent with the former – walking dogs around Brookvale Park, an area in the late councillor’s Ward of Stockland Green she had championed and helped regenerate.

“I told her, look at all you’ve done here – look at the swans, the trees, the bushes,” continued Hamilton. “Our last conversation was so positive. As we go forward, she (Penny Holbrook) has left her own footprints for us to follow.”

Ms Hamilton continued to celebrate the life of Jack Dromey, a man she “absolutely adored” and would not “pretend to say I can walk in that man’s shoes. Jack was a doer, he brought people together. You could not tell Jack ‘you can’t do that’.”

Her final words were “honouring” both Penny Holbrook and Jack Dromey, saying: “thank you for your hard work and rest in peace.”

Ifor Jones, Head of Partnerships for The Pioneer Group, was next up to speak – praising the “strong champion” he had first “crossed paths” with whilst fighting to save the Jaguar Land Rover Castle Bromwich plant.

Mr Jones continued to celebrate the once union man turned politician, using an aphorism those that knew Jack Dromey would have heard him say many times before: “nothing short of remarkable.”

Celebrating the life and work of the well loved and long serving Stockland Green Councillor, Jones surmised the “privilege” of working with Penny Holbrook by stating: “Penny was a force to be reckoned with.” A sentiment echoed throughout the service and by many who knew her.

Recently elected Castle Vale Councillor Ray Goodwin, who had a “good and firm friendship” with the “double act” of Penny Holbrook and Jack Dromey, humoured about the first time he met the former and how “she put the fear of the man upstairs in me… she absolutely knew what she wanted.”

Then erstwhile Stockland Green Councillor Josh Jones, who represented the Ward alongside Penny Holbrook and worked closely with Jack Dromey, talked about the loss of “two people very close to me,” recanting stories from the campaign trail and how both would “go out of their way to help you.”

Next was a tribute from Abdul Latifin, who was rescued from Afghanistan by Jack Dromey and his office after the Taliban took control back of the war torn the country in 2021.

Mr Latifin paid his respects to his “close friend” and “global figure”, before celebrating the impact made by the “two great personalities” being remembered.

Local virtuoso Jobe Baker Sullivan, who runs Erdington Arts Forum, then performed the specially written ‘Jack Dromey Jig’ which had been penned for the MP’s memorial a year ago – joined by an ensemble of musicians.

Next to speak was Andy Winmill, current Director of Urban Devotion – a local faith based charity who work with young people across Perry Common and the Erdington constituency.

Mr Winmill joked that whilst “politicians aren’t always the most popular people”, over a year later there was still the desire and support to celebrate Cllr Penny Holbrook and Jack Dromey MP.

He continued by praising the “tender-hearted” Holbrook and how neither prominent political figure were “defined by their politics.”

In one of the most touching moments in the service, Mr Winmill reminded those present how Jack Dromey would call truce on the political battle and “collaborate to get things done” – possibly best represented by his de facto leadership of the the Covid 19 Task Force during the coronavirus pandemic.

“How we are going to honour their (Penny Holbrook and Jack Dromey) legacy,” continued Winmill, “is to build something together for Erdington,” ending his tribute to a heartfelt applause from the mixed faith congregation.

In an almost perfect representation of this bi-partisan sentiment, Birmingham Conservative Leader and Erdington Councillor Robert Alden stood up next to speak – a man who was often at the opposing end of the political spectrum to both Penny Holbrook and Jack Dromey but vocalised how “tragic” it was to “lose two titans of local politics.”

Mr Alden then celebrated the “passion Penny felt” which “came across in every conversation” he had with the late councillor, who was one vote away from becoming Council Leader in 2015.

“It was always about ‘what can we do to help’,” continued Alden, “what was best for local residents. Politics never came into it… she is so sorely missed.”

Turning his attention to Jack Dromey, perhaps Alden’s most immediate political rival for many years, the Birmingham Conservative Leader praised “his passion, fighting for worker’s rights” and how “Jack always put solidarity of workers first.”

Mr Alden, who had politically walked into the lion’s den to pay his respects – alongside his fellow Erdington Councillor Garth Moore – ended by saying: “to the family and friends (of Penny Holbrook and Jack Dromey), God bless you and God bless Erdington.”

Crossing back over the aisle, further respects were paid by current Stockland Green Councillors Amar Khan and Jane Jones – with the former remembering how Penny Holbrook would often “pop in” to his home and became “a good family friend.”

“It is a great honour and privilege to say a few words,” continued Cllr Khan. “Both will be forever missed and I know they are both watching from heaven. God bless their souls.”

Cllr Jane Jones then remembered how “Jack never, ever stopped”, even checking in with his constituency office whilst sunbathing on holiday in Sicily, and how “Penny was totally dedicated… so kind and generous.”

The final words of remembrance came from Linda Hines and Afzal Hussain, respectively Resident Director and Chief Officer of Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) – a Perry Common born organisation with a longstanding relationship with both Penny Holbrook and Jack Dromey.

After an anecdote about the first time she met Jack Dromey, whilst standing in for a sick Father Christmas at Perry Common Community Hall, Linda Hines – who had not scripted or prepared her tribute – told: “I’m five foot, but I loved standing next to them (Penny Holbrook and Jack Dromey) because they made me feel 6 foot tall.”

Hines continued to remember “my friend” Penny Holbrook and the dog walks they too would go on around Brookvale Park. “We put the world to rights,” told Hines, “and everyone we passed would say ‘hello Penny.”

Recognition was then given to the late and well loved Perry Common resident and community activist Mary Harvey, who passed away in 2022 aged 100 years old and who knew both local politicians well. “She’s with them now,” quipped Hines, “telling them what to do.”

Closing the personal tributes to Penny Holbrook and Jack Dromey, Afzal Hussain expressed the widely felt “deep, deep sadness they’re not here” and how “there is still that sense of loss” over a year after both had passed.

“They created relationships,” continued Hussain, “they brought people together.

“They genuinely would make a difference. When you talked to them you felt they were really listening to you; you felt special and you could take on the world.”

Hines and Hussain then announced a new bursary for young people in Erdington called Ladders of Opportunity – set up in memory of Penny Holbrook and Jack Dromey, through equal investment from Witton Lodge Community Association and The Pioneer Group.

The memorial service was then brought to a close with a prayer from Reverend David King, minister at New Life Church in Erdington, who praised the “passion and diligence” of the remembered public servants.

Penny Holbrook was found dead at her Abbey Road home on Sunday 21 November 2021, aged 43.

Jack Dromey was found dead at his Erdington residence on Friday 7 January, aged 73.

Both will long be remembered for their kindness, compassion, and unflinching dedication to the people of Erdington. Rest in peace.

NEWS: Castle Vale residents and councillor discuss ‘views and priorities’ for revised Ward Plan

Words & pics by Ed King

On Wednesday 11 January, Castle Vale residents met with Councillor Ray Goodwin (Lab, Castle Vale) to discuss the ‘priorities’ for a new Ward Plan.

Braving a bitterly cold January evening, active locals met with the recently elected Castle Vale councillor at Castle Vale Library – spending nearly two hours identifying key aims and objectives for the North Birmingham estate.

Cllr Goodwin was adamant to involve local residents in any amendments, allowing him to “review, analyse, and build on what I hear” to form a revised a Ward Plan “based on local resident’s views and priorities.”

Since being elected to office in May 2022 Cllr Goodwin has been spearheading local initiatives such as Bin Watch Wednesday and the Pop Up Police Station.

Cllr Goodwin organised Wednesday’s official Ward Forum meeting to revisit the ‘Ward Priorities’ set out in the estate’s 2018-30 Neighbourhood Plan, as presented by the previous Castle Vale councillor Suzzane Webb and the constituency’s late MP Jack Dromey.

Top of the list was ‘Ensuring Castle Vale is safe, clean and green’, with Cllr Goodwin identifying several pots of public sector money that could finance the estate’s parks and open spaces – such as the Future Parks Accelerator Fund and Future Parks Fund.

Plans for a new park by Filton Croft were also discussed, with alternative sites along Park Lane also identified.

Cllr Goodwin further  reiterated the “very loud and very clear” message from local residents that any park new or children play area must be “disability friendly… and accessible for children with additional needs.”

Other facilities were discussed, including Castle Pool – which was saved from closure by a community asset transfer and inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth II in November 1981.

Referring to the Castle Vale assets, including the library and football stadium, as the “crown jewels of the estate” Cllr Goodwin assured residents of a “commitment to Castle Pool, despite the (increasing) energy prices… what we want here is a pool for the next 40 years.”

Tackling fly tipping on the estate was also a high priority for residents, with special focus on “dumped shopping trolleys” left on the streets from supermarkets at the Castle Vale Retail Park.

Since being elected Cllr Goodwin has been regularly reporting abandoned trolleys for collection, estimating around “30 trolleys in the last three months” having been removed from residential areas.

Several options were discussed, including the reintroduction of trolley locks that seize the wheels if removed from a designate area.

The use of the Trolleywise initiative was also recommended, an online report and collection service from Wanzl – the world’s largest shopping trolley manufacturer, although this required buy in from the supermarkets chains in the area.

Of the two supermarkets on the Castle Vale Retail Park, Sainsbury’s were active members of the Trolleywise scheme, but B&M had reportedly refused to engage in either the Wanzl service or any constructive conversation about the problem.

Cllr Goodwin further suggested working with Birmingham City Council’s Regulation and Enforcement department to develop a “carrot and stick” approach to encourage local retailers to properly address the ongoing problem.

Housing on the estate was also a contentious issue, with many residents raising concerns over the properties managed by The Pioneer Group – including inadequate window insulation on some of the older dwellings.

Cllr Goodwin, who is also CEO of Spitfire Advice and Support Services (SASS) – a Castle Vale based charity who ‘provide free, confidential and impartial advice’ for local residents – confirmed a “significant amount of our (SASS) case work is about housing” and agreed “housing needs to be Ward Forum meetings moving forward”.

Praise was given for the Pop Up Police Station initiative, although some residents were keen for more “one to one time” with the attending officers.

Ongoing issues with dogs fouling the streets were aired by several people in the room, with a myriad of suggestions of how to police this on Castle Vale – ultimately ending in the need for culprits to be “held to account… fined” to help end the problem.

Plans to encourage job opportunities for Castle Vale residents were also discussed, citing Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) as one potential employer with whom to forge stronger vocational pathways – with Cllr Goodwin committing to ensure “Castle Vale gets its fair share” of employment opportunities.

Concerns over the potential closure for the JLR Castle Bromwich site – which neighbours the Castle Vale estate – were also raised. Cllr Goodwin committed to being “on the front foot, doing everything I can to stop the plant closing” and to “protect the jobs of people on this estate.”

Another issue discussed at the Ward Forum meeting was the continuation of heavy goods vehicles using Castle Vale as a thoroughfare, with one resident stating: “they should not be driving past school at 9am.”

The success of the Mobile Household Recycling Unit was also celebrated, with Castle Vale receiving collections “once every five weeks” – more in comparison to many areas of the city.

And the need for improved transport links, and the location of a new Castle Vale strain station scheduled for 2030, were also paramount in local people’s concerns – with access to and from Castle Vale for healthcare workers at Good Hope and Heartlands Hospitals referenced as a particular concern.

At the end of the Castle Vale Ward Forum meeting, which ran nearly 30minutes over time, Cllr Goodwin thanked those in attendance and reiterated his hope residents will continue to ask “…what about?” and be vocal about their issues and ambitions for the North Birmingham estate.

A revised Ward Plan for Castle Vale was submitted to Birmingham City Council on Thursday 12 January.

For more on Councillor Goodwin in Castle Vale visit  www.facebook.com/thisiscastlevale

NEWS: Castle Vale opens ‘warm welcome spaces’ to support people across winter

Words by Ed King / Pics by Bianca Parvuceanu

As the cost-of-living crisis makes the coming cold months even harder for people, Spitfire House and Castle Vale Library have become part of the city’s official ‘warm welcome spaces’ – providing free to access heated facilities across winter.

Open between 9am to 9pm on weekdays, and 10am to 4pm on Saturdays, the indoor ‘warm banks’ not only offer a heated place for families to come to, but also work stations, computer access, hot drinks, baby changing areas, and ‘children’s play equipment’.

One of 26 current official outlets across Birmingham, the citywide initiative has commandeered libraries, community hubs, and sports centres, to provide a warm support network over winter – spearheaded by Cllr John Cotton, Cabinet Member for Social Justice, Community Safety and Equalities.

As energy prices reach record highs, and people across the country are forced to decide between basic essentials – often represented by the choice between ‘food or heat’ – the Council led support programme has committed to providing ‘places you can use and visit during the winter period and beyond.’

Spitfire House and Castle Vale Library are run by Spitfire Advice and Support Service (SASS), whose Chief Officer, Ray Goodwin, is also the elected Labour Party Councillor for Castle Vale.

SASS have always had publicly accessible ‘warm spaces’ at both Spitfire House and Castle Vale Library, alongside their other community support programmes – such as food distribution and financial advice services.

Now part of the citywide initiative, Cllr Goodwin hopes to reach more people across the Vale and offer a more robust support service – whist ensuring the growing post-Covid problems and those caused by the cost of living crisis are not ‘normalised’.

Cllr Goodwin told Erdington Local: “The ‘welcome warm spaces’ initiative is probably one of the most important initiatives in this city.

“It’s not only going to provide a space for people to stay warm, and make sure they can meet their friends and socially interact – and combat social isolation, but quite frankly it’s going to stop people dying.

“For us this is a really important step to help during the cost of living crisis, which will protect both people and communities.”

Spearheaded by Cllr John Cotton (Glebe Farm and Tile Cross, Labour), Birmingham’s ‘warm welcome spaces’ initiative is a Council led answer to the nationwide dangers many will face during the cold months.

In a recent article in the Guardian, announcing the introduction of the scheme and published the day after Liz Truss took over as Prime Minister, Cllr Cotton was quick to put the onus of responsibility squarely on the steps of No10.

In the final paragraph, Cllr Cotton warns the erstwhile PM: “unless you tackle this crisis with the same urgency and focus that we approached the pandemic, you will see people dying in their own homes this winter. The choice, Prime Minister, is yours. For all our sakes, make the right one.”

Now Rishi Sunak is Prime Minister, Cllr Cotton has an equally unflinching message for the country’s new Conservative Leader and top politician.

He told Erdington Local: “Mr Sunak and his party have been in power for 12 years.  The fact that we are now having to build a network of ‘warm welcome spaces’ to keep Brummies warm and safe this winter is a damning indictment of their decade of economic failure and mismanagement.

“People in our city need help now with meeting the rocketing costs of heating their homes, putting food on the table and keeping a roof over their head.  What they don’t need are more cuts to public services, or a refusal to ensure their pensions and benefits keep up with spiralling inflation.

“Birmingham’s Labour Council will do everything in its power to keep people warm and safe this winter.  But the Government needs to act – and act fast – to avoid their cost of living crisis turning into a disaster for many people in our city.”

At the time of writing, Birmingham has 26 ‘warm welcome spaces’ recognised by the Council, growing from an initial eight when launched – with more businesses and organisations being invited to join the scheme.

St Mark’s Community Hub, Brandywood Crescent, Kingstanding, is also part of the Council’s official ‘warm welcome spaces’ – although it is only open to over 50’s on Thursdays between 1:30pm to 4pm.

St Martin’s Social Care Project at St Martin’s Church are also part of the initiative, but again only open to over 50’s on Tuesdays between 10am to 1pm.

The new community hub from Foundations 4 the Future, opening in Central Square later this month, has also pledged to offer a warm open space for local families, alongside the outreach work they do to support young people and challenge youth violence.

For more on the ‘warm welcome space’ at Spitfire House and Castle Vale Library visit www.birmingham.gov.uk/directory_record/418843/spitfire_advice_and_support_service

For more on Spitfire Advice and Support Services visit www.spitfireservices.org.uk

NEWS: Erdington MP calls for General Election after Liz Truss resigns as Prime Minister, as Erdington reacts to PM stepping down

 Words by Ed King

Erdington MP Paulette Hamilton has called for a General Election following the resignation of Prime Minister Liz Truss yesterday.

Liz Truss publicly stepped down as Prime Minister, addressing media and crowds outside Number 10 Downing Street on Thursday 20 October – claiming she was “unable to deliver the mandate” she had been elected by the Conservative Party to push through Westminster.

Following widespread reaction and speculation across the county, Erdington’s MP Paulette Hamilton told Erdington Local: “It’s been 45 days of chaotic and disastrous leadership.

“The Conservative Government under Liz Truss has crashed our economy so badly that working people in Erdington, Kingstanding and Castle Vale are facing an average mortgage increase of £413 a month.

“The mess that the Tories have created is of their own making. The damage they have done could take years to fix, but it will be people in our community picking up the pieces.

“The Tory party can no longer be trusted to decide who runs the country. A General Election is the only way to end this nightmare.”

The recently elected Labour councillor for Castle Vale, Ray Goodwin, also mirrored the message coming from the Erdington MP and Labour Party leadership.

Cllr Goodwin told Erdington Local: “I find it quite shocking that the country is in complete turmoil, families are worried about food or fuel. An economic plan is in tatters, which nearly bought the country to its knees.

“Services so under pressure by families in crisis, the sort of leadership that the labour party in Birmingham has shown by announcing emergency funding and a cost of living emergency, this is needed nationally.

“This is why I believe the only solution left, is to let democracy take place and a General Election must now be called.”

Outside of the political arena, voters across Erdington were also reacting to the news of Liz Truss’ resignation – as the Conservative Party face yet another leadership election and fight to reassure the public they are united enough to lead the county.

Castle Vale resident Terri-Anne Coope said: “I feel all this yo-yoing in London is just causing more uncertainty in the local area, people are already experiencing political fatigue.

“And a lot of the services in Erdington and surrounding areas are provided by charities, volunteer, or community interest groups – the looming idea of more Government cuts to services is just going to put more pressure on those who already volunteer their time for free.

“Those groups also have to pay bills too, so unless there’s money to support this I can see vital community services having to reduce the services they offer or scrap them completely.”

Sue Spicer, former Chair of the Castle Vale Community Housing Association, told: “As an ex Prime Minister she is possibly entitled to a payment of £115,000 each year for life when she was only Prime Minister for about 45 days.

“When the general public are worried whether they can afford to eat or keep warm this absolutely scandalous, if it does happen. I also can’t believe that there is a call for Boris Johnson to come back as PM but then again, I am not sure who would be the person for the job from the current government.”

Outside of the Castle Vale estate, Erdington ward resident Sue Bicknell added: “I think we have become the laughing stock of the world.

“My worries about local area are that there will be less money for services that are needed and the middle is society will be squeezed, e.g. the families that do not qualify for benefits and have to pay for everything themselves but are less well off than some on benefits because of this.”

Following the announcement of Liz Truss’ resignation as PM, the Government has announced there will be another Conservative leadership “in the coming week”.

Erdington Local approached Erdington ward councillor and leader of the Birmingham Conservatives Robert Alden but has yet to receive a response – which will be published in this article, or elsewhere at Erdington Local, if received.

NEWS: Castle Vale residents “devastated” and face “being homeless” after 60% rise in service charge

Words by Ed King / Pics supplied by residents

Castle Vale residents in the Redrow development are facing a rise of around 60% in their yearly service charge, adding potentially hundreds of pounds onto their monthly bill.

Managed by HLM Property Management, the drastic increase has been attributed to utilities costs, but some residents are now facing monthly fees even bigger than their mortgages – to be paid directly to HLM.

In a letter issued to residents around Yatesbury Avenue and Merlin Way/Walk, HLM told: ‘We understand this is going to be a difficult time for leaseholders, however in order to ensure that services at the property continue we would ask that prompt payment is made.’

The letter also included a note explaining the national property management company had budgeted ‘a contribution from the reserves to reduce the impact of the utilities cost increase’ totalling £75000.’

Over 100 residents received the letter, issued at the end of last month, leaving many feeling “devastated” and worried about “being homeless” if they can’t make ends meet.

Paul White, Merlin Walk, told Erdington Local: “I have just bought my first property and within a month it (service charge) has gone from £300 to £460 a month, way above mortgage and inflation level with wages not being increased.

“I am worried that even though I own my property I could be faced with being homeless.”

Another resident, Amber Batt, said: “I’m a 23-year-old, first time buyer. Initially I was advised the service charge would be around £300 and of recent I have been told it is going to be upwards of £450.

“I am not able to go out and live the normal life of a 23 year old as I have the impending responsibility of paying over £400 a month to be able have a functioning house in addition to my mortgage and council tax.

“It feels there is no choice in the matter and no consideration is being given to people’s individual circumstances.”

Christine Pascoe said: “I moved in to my flat in February of this year and got my first service charge bill, whilst buying the property.

“I was told the service charge would be £250 approximately per month, but it’s come out at £412 per month. I live alone and a pensioner.”

Sarah Garfield, who has lived on Castle Vale since the houses were built in 2006, added: “My service charge has risen by £160 a month which I find absolutely criminal. I live alone so therefore only have my wage to live on and this rise will have a massive impact on my day-to-day living.

“It’s time HLM were confronted and provide us with a decent management service instead of the abysmal one we’ve had to put up with for the past 16 years.”

One resident, Matthew Bowler, saw his monthly service charge jump from £195 to £318.5 due to increased energy costs, despite living alone in a studio apartment.

He explained: “I’m paying more for my energy than many families in three bedroom houses. It’s just shocking.

“These flats are well insulated; I don’t have the heating on that much – even in winter. There’s no way that the energy I’m using correlates with the price I’m paying for it.”

After individually trying to challenge the home wrecking increase with HLM, a group of residents have now banded together to fight the hiked-up service charge – which is scheduled to begin being paid to the company on 1 July.

At the time of writing, over 40 people had joined a special WhatsApp group to challenge the utility costs and get a “fair deal” from the property management company.

Matthew Bowler continued: “(We want) a fair deal in proportion to inflation because this is way above inflation.

“It’s reached a tension point now where things have got to be addressed and we’ve got to sit down with them (HLM) and say ‘look we’re really unhappy and this price that you’re trying to put on us is going to be devastating. You need to work with us to get a solution.’

“If they don’t act, people could lose livelihoods; there’s families that live here, there’s pensioners, and we won’t be able to cope. There’s going to be people made homeless by it – they’re not going to be able to pay the mortgage and the service charge.

“If HLM aren’t prepared to do anything then we’ve got to bring into question their reputation as a company – it’s completely not acceptable.”

After being contacted by residents looking for help, newly elected Castle Vale Councillor Ray Goodwin (Lab) began organising a public meeting to hear concerns directly and seeking legal advice from colleagues at Birmingham City Council.

Cllr Goodwin told Erdington Local: “Having been approached by residents living in the Redrow development on Merlin Way/Walk and the surrounding roads, I’m deeply concerned by the disproportionate increase in relation to utility costs. In some incidents this appears as high as a 300% increase.

“I will be supporting the concerned residents – who are angry, worried, and very stressed by this – to find a way forward which ensures they pay fair utilities costs.

“It simply unacceptable to estimate such figures, especially during the ongoing cost of living crisis.”

HLM Property Management were approached for comment which they replied would be issued “in due course.”

If you have been affected by a rise in service charges, imposed utility bills, or landlord/lettings agent fees, we want to hear from you – email in confidence: edking@erdingtonlocal.com

NEWS: Vandals damage Queen’s Jubilee decorations from Spitfire Play Park on Castle Vale

Words by Ed King / Pics and video supplied by Yvonne Hughes

CCTV has caught two lads stealing decorative flags and ripping down banners from a children’s play park on Castle Vale, hours before the country woke up to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

Paid for by local resident Yvonne Hughes, who lives on Castle Vale, the flags had been put up around the Children’s Play Park by Spitfire Way a week before – in preparation for the following weekend of jubilee celebrations.

But at around 1am on Thursday 2 June, two young men entered the children’s play area and began ripping down the decorations – captured on CCTV walking up to the park and plucking the flags from the railings.

Later one of the young men was seen pulling off one of jubilee the banners, also attached to the park’s railings.

Local residents were quick to challenge act of vandalism, with Gillian Graham asking: “Why do people always spoil other people’s pleasure,” and hoping the young men responsible “have a conscience and take them back.”

Other residents had seen the decorated park “yesterday and thought how nice it looks” whilst several gave reports of how they’d been worried about their own decorations getting vandalised or stolen.

Yvonne Hughes herself was angry at the attack, wanting to see Castle Vale “pull together” to tackle crime on the estate. But in the true blue stiff upper lip spirit of community, she added: “It’s not the flags, I can replace them.

“It’s just why, all they had to do is come and ask if I’ve got anymore – not come at 1 am in the morning (and steal the flags) … but never mind it won’t spoil tomorrow.”

Other residents were quick to offer support, rallying round to find new decorations for the Spitfire Way Children’s Play Area.

Recently elected Castle Vale Councillor Ray Goodwin asked for any evidence or CCTV footage of the crime so he could help “forward it to the right people”, whilst also joining others to help locate extra jubilee decorations to replace what had been stolen.

Cllr Goodwin told Erdington Local: “I am very saddened and disappointed to see the hard work and the pride residents have taken to celebrate the Queen’s jubilee ruined by mindless individuals.

“I will be supporting residents to report the vandalism to CVCH (Castle Vale Community Housing) and the police.”

From Friday 3 to Sunday 5 June, the UK will be celebrating the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee – marking the 70 years Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has ruled over the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth countries, making her the longest ruling monarch in British history.

Born 21 April 1926, the young Elizabeth ascended to the throne in 1951 after the death of her father King George VI – retaining the name Windsor for the royal household, as it has been since 1917.

Vandals damage jubilee flags and banner – Spitfire Way Children’s Play Park

 

NEWS: Castle Vale to host first Neighbourhood Festival Site for Commonwealth Games 2022

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan

Castle Vale will host the first in a series of Commonwealth Games Neighbourhood Festival Sites, as organisers set up suburban satellite events across the city to allow those who can’t attend the main events to enjoy the Games.

On 28-29 July, Farnborough Fields will host the very first Neighbourhood Festival Site event, coinciding with the official opening ceremony for the Commonwealth Games 2022.

Further Festival Sites will be set up in Victoria Square and Smithfield – the current site of Birmingham’s Wholesale Market.

The Neighbourhood Festival Sites will celebrate the sport and culture of the Games, whilst providing food, drink, and entertainment – allowing a citywide audience to access and enjoy some of the key sporting moments on a big screen, alongside a programme of live performances from artists and community groups.

Organised by Birmingham based ‘female-led, multidisciplinary arts and events producing house’ OPUS (Outdoor Places Unusual Spaces) each Neighbourhood Festival Site is being produced by professionals who either live or have strong links to the location.

Festival producer for the Castle Vale Neighbourhood Festival Site, Lateesha Johnson, told Erdington Local: “We really want to see the Festival Sites reflect the spirit and culture of the neighbourhood they are located in.

“We’re encouraging all local residents to come and participate with workshops, celebrate a variety of art and culture and enjoy some fantastic cultural cuisine. All sites will act as a welcoming space to enjoy the Games and give local people an opportunity to embrace and celebrate this historic event.”

As Farnborough Fields is the first location in a series of seven Neighbourhood Festival Sites, and running alongside the official opening ceremony for the Games, the theme for the Castle Vale event is ‘The Warm Up’.

The Farnborough Fields festivities will be a local starting point for people to ‘discover a new interest, skill or local artist and spend two days immersed in the excitement of the Games’.

Recently elected Caste Vale Councillor Ray Goodwin, and CEO of Spitfire Services, said: “the Commonwealth Games mean a lot for the people of Birmingham, not just because it is bringing in a lot of new career opportunities and revenue streams but because sport is extremely important for our people.

“I am looking forward to Castle Vale becoming the first Festival Site wherein people will be able to play, enjoy music, meet each other, all in the friendly name of international sports”.

Castle Vale resident Tracey Barrington added: “I love seeing exciting things on the Vale, and a big thing like a Festival Site is just what we need after the difficult time of Covid. Praying for good weather to see Castle Vale come alive.”

The Commonwealth Games, or the ‘friendly games’, were first held in 1930, and take place every four years.

Birmingham will host the main 2022 event at Alexander Stadium, Perry Barr, which like much of the city has undergone extensive renovation, predicted to have cost around £72 million.

As well as other large outdoor spaces and indoor sports venues in Birmingham, the Commonwealth Games will also use venues in Solihull, Coventry, Cannock, Leamington Spa, Warwick, and Wolverhampton, with the furthest venue being at Lee Valley VeloPark in London.

Louise Martin CBE, Commonwealth Games Federation President, adds: “Birmingham is truly the Commonwealth’s city, and we look forward to showcasing its humanity and pride over the coming months and years.”

More details about the Castle Vale Neighbourhood Festival Site are to be announced, for updates direct from the Commonwealth Games visit www.birmingham2022.com

NEWS: Erdington’s city councillors announced as local election results declared

Words by Ed King

Voters across Erdington have decided their next council representatives, as the results of the local elections were announced today.

Winning the Castle Vale Ward, Labour’s Ray Goodwin was “blown away” by the support he received from local voters – beating The Green Party’s John Macefield by a narrow 44 votes, but with a confident 233 lead over the Local Conservative candidate Tyrese Romain.

He told Erdington Local: “I’m absolutely blown away; this is absolutely amazing. I did wonder if I should stand, but as many people know it was Jack’s (Dromey, Erdington’s recently deceased MP) last wishes was that I stand, and it was really important that I did. So, in my mind I did it for Jack. And Jack, I won it for you as well.”

The Green Party also picked up many new votes in the Gravelly Hill Ward, where newly standing candidate Siobhan Harper-Nunes achieved 363 votes – beating the Local Conservative candidate into second place by 35 votes.

Although not enough to take the ward from Labour’s Mick Brown, who has traditionally held a strong lead in Gravelly Hill, The Green Party’s endorsement from local voters shows a significant move away from previous local election – with Labour losing over 400 votes from the 2018 results.

Green party candidate Siobhan Harper-Nunes told: “Of course, I am disappointed but really not surprised.

“I have loved every minute of the Gravelly Hill campaign, meeting people, getting to grips with local issues and of course solving problems.

“We have gained a lot of support and the Green Party has made a footprint across the city. At local elections people must vote for the candidate they believe in and it’s clear, their belief is still unanimously with the sitting councillor.

“My work as a Green Party advocate has only just begun and I will still be around pushing forward on green issues.”

Labour continued to clean up across the constituency, with both candidates in Stockland Green – Jane Jones and Amar Khan – successfully retaining the ward for the party, although losing hundreds of votes from the 2018 elections.

Local Conservatives’ new Stockland Green candidate, Estelle Murphy – who moved into politics after successfully campaigning to save Short Heath Playing Fields – was voted in third, and the only front runner candidate to improve on her counterpart’s performance in the 2018 elections.

She told: “This has been a brilliant learning curve as a first innings and I’m looking forward to what I can achieve in the next four years.”

Elsewhere across the constituency, Perry Common was won by Labour’s Jilly Bermingham, who beat the Conservative candidate Rachael Okello with a 204 vote lead.

Whilst Pype Hayes was won by Labour’s Basharat Mahmood, beating Local Conservative Clifton Welch by 91 votes – mirroring the closely fought contest in the 2018 local elections.

Cllr Robert Alden and Cllr Gareth Moore retained the Erdington Ward with a confident majority, the largest in the constituency, collectively beating Labour’s Suriyah Bi and Basharat Mahmood by 1189 votes.

Speaking to Erdington Local after the announcement, Cllr Alden said: “It’s a huge honour to represent the people of Erdington, something I’ve been delighted to do for almost 20 years.

“Erdington’s an incredible place and we’ll keep doing all we can to represent the people of Erdington.”

Cllr Gareth Moore added: “The responses, over the last few weeks on the campaign trail, have been really positive and people are grateful for the work Robert (Alden) and I have been doing in Erdington and it’s great to see that reflected in the result today.”

But the shock of the day came in Kingstanding, as Labour and Local Conservatives split the ward with one candidate winning for each party – Rick Payne taking 1286 votes for the Local Conservatives, and Des Hughes receiving 1350 for Labour.

Whilst both candidates were saddened their running mates would not be join them in local office, each were firm that they would work together for the good of Kingstanding.

Local Conservative Rick Payne told: “I just want to thank all the people of Kingstanding who have put their trust in me to represent them as a councillor.

“And I will work with who I have to work with to get the best for Kingstanding.”

Labour’s Des Hughes, who was elected Kingstanding councillor in 2015 but lost the ward the following year, added: “I’m delighted that the electors in Kingstanding have given me the opportunity to represent them again, which I look forward to doing with enthusiasm and vigour.

“I do regret that my college, Naz Rasheed, isn’t able to join me. But ultimately, we’ve (Rick Payne, Local Conservatives) got our political differences, but the objective is to serve the residents of Kingstanding and that’s what counts.”