NEWS: Evening of Creativity’s Black History Month special at Oikos Café on Friday 16th October

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics supplied by Erdington Arts Forum

On Friday 16th October, running between 6-8pm at Oikos Café on Erdington High Street, the Erdington Arts Forum is hosting a special Evening of Creativity – in celebration of Black History Month (BHM).

Set to be another exciting evening of poetry, music, and visual art, the long running event has been given the coronavirus all clear to allow a limited, ticketed physical audience in to enjoy the show.

A popular showcase of art and endeavour, the Evening of Creativity is expected to sell out – anybody wanting tickets should click here to check availability. All tickets must be purchased in advance.

Anyone who cannot join the live event at Oikos Café will be able to watch online via the Erdington Arts Forum Facebook page, with behind the scenes interviews also being broadcast. Donations to help support the event and local Arts Forum can also be made online.

A specially programmed showcase in support of Black History Month (BHM), Friday’s guest producer, Samiir Saunders, who also lives in Erdington, talks more about the importance of the event: “For the past 3 and a half years, the Evenings of Creativity have been an important staple of Erdington’s performance arts scene.” 

He goes onto to say that, “as an artist and poet who is very early on in my career, I have personally gained a lot from being given the platform to share my work with my local community, as well as the opportunity to meet other artists like me.

On producing the special BHM event, Samiir is “incredibly excited this month to be part of the team creating that same platform for others!”

Friday’s BHM special Evening of Creativity is set to welcome the powerful words of published poet Ryan Sinclair, musical musings of singer songwriters Xolo and Philippa Zawe, and a speech from Adrian Anderson from the mental health charity, Black Minds Matter UK.  

There will also be a special celebrity guest live performance from 2018 BBC Young Musician of the year Xhosa Cole and his trio.

The Evening of Creativity’s ‘online gallery’ this month features another Erdington resident, Oliver Hassell, who says: “I’m proud to be exhibiting my work in my hometown, and helping the growth of the local art community.”

Talking about what BHM means to him, Oliver continues: “I believe that Black history should be told every month of the year. It’s just as important as the rest of history and I don’t think that it should only be focused on for just one month. Black history is British history, American history, and world history.”

With Birmingham now in the Tier 2 list of new lockdown restrictions, as announced on Wednesday, it is fortunate that the Evening of Creativity live event at Oikos Café can continue – the event has taken place every month for nearly four years without missing a show.

Oikos Café have been required to make only a few changes to the venue, including only allowing ‘household bubbles’ to sit at a table together.

Ensuring Oikos Café operates COVID-19 safe, venue manager Ben Jeffery has an official statement for Erdington Local:

In light of the Government restrictions to combat the growing risk of COVID-19, Oikos Café continues to operate cleanliness, social distancing and crowd limitations in accordance with government guidelines.

We are proud to welcome people and continue operating legally as a business in this difficult time, and look forward to welcoming patrons and local people for our monthly extravaganza with the Arts Forum”.

To book your advance tickets for the Evening of Creativity, visit online ticket outlet Eventbrite: www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/evening-of-creativity-16102020-black-history-month-tickets-122386670827

To watch the Evening of Creativity live stream, including exclusive backstage interviews and other videos, visit the Erdington Arts Forum Facebook page: www.facebook.com/ErdingtonArts

For more on Oikos Café, including contact details and information on the venue’s COVID-19 safe regulations, visit www.oikoscafe.co.uk

For more on Birmingham’s Black History Month, visit www.birminghamblackhistorymonth.co.uk

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OPINION: Invest in live music, not the pub

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Profile pics by Chris Neophytou

Imagine if the government invested in the soul of the nation.

‘If music be the food of love, play on,’ wrote Shakespeare.

I’m talking about music. From the point of view of a musician and gigaholic.

Music makes the world go round,” sang the Hamilton Brothers.

What I’ve witnessed over the past few months is a series of missed opportunities. ‘Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but foresight is better,’ taught William Blake.

Can we move forward from now, into the festive season, and reengage musicians? We can’t lose this precious part of our culture – live music. A lack of opportunities in the past few months has meant that brass players lips crumble, violinist fingers are stiff. All musicians – the well-behaved ones at least – are struggling.

It’s apparently too dangerous for musicians to be doing what they do, entertaining us all, bringing us all to a higher state of consciousness with harmonious sounds and that. Especially singers (yes, singers are musicians). Singing in groups is considered a ‘higher risk activity’ by the government, because of the potential for aerosol production. Don’t get me started on those pesky woodwind instruments. Ignore the hundreds of people protesting on the streets, Dominic Cummings on his roadshow of potential infection, or the big queue in Lidl – “there’s a flute player in this place! Shoot them! Or open a window for better circulation!”

At least I’ve had some gigs, I guess. I can’t complain, but I think I’m allowed to be somewhat sardonic. I’ve had a few livestreams, a handful of small outdoor gigs paid by the magic Arts Council England money tree of ‘please don’t forget us next year, we’re doing our best.’ Grateful. Honestly, very grateful. Here comes the cold now, where do we go?

Well, pubs are open. Great. And musicians are able to play in them, following some volume-related rules.  But that’s not really the investment in the soul I had in mind. Pubs are a chance for this full time musician to go out with his band ‘Jobe and the Spotify Playlists’ – doing requests for the ‘loud drunk guy at the front’, who shouldn’t be raising his voice anyway, but he’s bigger than me and the bouncer hasn’t spotted him yet/this pub forgot to hire security.

My experience in the pubs has been stressed landlords trying to tame insatiable extroverts and more covid-19 deniers than you can shake a Piers-Corbyn-branded stick at (I could have chosen any number of Covid-19 deniers). It’s a place for extroverts to get their fix, and the amount of antisocial behaviour I’ve seen at 21:55 because it’s kicking out time has been rather laughable. I proudly nurse my pint knowing I can stay past 22:00 curfew – I’m working!

I can see my musician mates disappearing off to ‘retrain’ under the reign of Rishi Sunak. Whether he did or did not say that people in the arts need to go and find a proper job, we’re just generally hot and bothered about the whole malaise of the situation.

Goodbye fellow musicians. Part of me wants to say ‘yey, more work for me’, but losing my band and playing to backing tracks actually makes my skin crawl. “Please!” I plea to my drummer (percussionists also considered musicians), “don’t become an itinerant electrician in Bedfordshire! You’ll be too tired by to gig on a Friday when you get back to Brum. Oh, and I need this amplifier pat tested.”

We’re quite harmless, actually, us musicians. We might complain about not being paid enough, and, no matter how much you’ve paid us, if we don’t get a free drink from the bar your name is besmirched for life. We all keep a spreadsheet of scrooge-oriented venue managers…

Anyway, we’re harmless.

On the 6th of October, there was a protest gathering of over 400 musicians in Parliament Square. They formed an impressive orchestra and blasted Gustav Holst’s ‘Mars’ from The Planets, Op.32 at the politicians, who must have enjoyed a rather delightful evening concert for free. See? We can’t even protest, right! Lorry drivers strike by not driving. Teachers strike by their absence, shutting down a school. Us musicians strike by “ooh come on let’s have a ruddy good jam session, that’ll learn ‘em!”

Just imagine if the government invested in venues over this period, ready for the world to return to normal. Clean, socially distanced, even folk-club style. All people welcome. This could be a chance for people to listen to new music, or old music in a new way. You can actually pay attention to the lyrics for once! Dancing from our seats, doing the sit-down shuffle, and practicing to become the best ‘hummers’ in the world. May I suggest Puccini’s ‘Cora a bocca chiusa’. Or be inspired by the vocal acrobatics Bobby McFerrin.

I guess the only profound quote we can be left with now is that of Jim Bowen, the host of the 80s darts-themed TV gameshow Bullseye. After the players had lost, the curtains would draw back to reveal a speedboat, a car, or a “beautifully crafted Wedgwood Dinner Service set.” “Let’s see what you could have won,” Jim would say.

We’ve invested in health. We’re investing in economy. Let’s not forget the soul.

Let’s see what we could have won.”

To find out more about Jobe Baker-Sullivan, visit www.facebook.com/jobesullivanmusic

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NEWS: Erdington family embark on 5K sponsored walk to help save Twycross Zoo

Words & pics by Ed King

As zoos and safari parks across the country reopen from 15th June, when the Government eases the lockdown restrictions for selected businesses and tourist attractions, one Erdington family is busy fundraising to help save Twycross Zoo.

A special place,” for the Campion Garden residents, Ollie (9) and Rosie (5) Kinsella are embarking on a 5k sponsored walk around Pype Hayes Park – hoping to raise £500, dressed head to toe as their favourite animals, by Saturday 27th June.

To know more about Ollie and Rosie’s sponsored walk to help save Twycross Zoo, or to make a donation, visit www.totalgiving.co.uk/mypage/ollieandrosietosavethezoo

I went there for my first ever birthday,” tells Ollie – as he practices hiding like a Zebra, in his black and white camouflage costume, behind the sofa.

My favourite animals are penguins, because… they swim. And I like swimming under water. But there are no penguins at Twycross Zoo, so I’m a zebra… they’re my favourite because they’re stripy and they run fast. I can already run fast.”

Rosie has opted to be a flamingo, because she is an expert at standing on one leg and “flamingos are my favourite because they are pink.”

But the Erdington family of four are worried that the prolonged lockdown could put the UK’s zoos and safari parks at serious risk, seeing them as important places for children’s experience and education about the wider world.

Obviously, you can’t just go to South Africa and see the animals in the wild,” says Chantal Kinsella – Ollie and Rosie’s mum.

Some people are against zoos because the animals are not in their natural habitat. But you get to see things that you wouldn’t normally get to see every day – you get to see how they’re looked after, they do talk shows, they feed the sea lions… it’s a place of learning for the children.”

As thousands of businesses across the UK were forced to shut their doors from 23rd March, helping to stem the spread of COVID-19, zoos and safari parks have been closed to the public since early spring. But following guidelines from Public Health England, places that operate outdoors have begun to reopen as they are seen as lower risk.

I am very grateful to the zoo industry for their cooperation and forbearance,” explained Boris Johnson during the Government’s daily briefing on Wednesday 10th June, “and am happy to confirm that they too can reopen from Monday (15th June), provided visitor numbers are managed and safeguards put in place.

That includes keeping indoor areas such as reptile houses closed and facilitating social distancing.”

But as the light at the end of the economic tunnel begins to shine, there are still concerns for the welfare of such beloved places of interest.

People take it for granted that the zoos are always going to be there,” explains Craig Strawfrord, Ollie and Rosie’s dad – who once had a closer than usual encounter with a giraffe when he was stationed in Kenya, training for Afghanistan.

People might think just because they’re opening, they’re magically going to get the money back. But businesses can still be trading by slowly going under, because of the debt and interest rates. So, every little bit we can give them helps.”

Originally the zoos weren’t opening so they weren’t getting any income whatsoever,” adds Chantal, “they are opening now – but there’s still a shortfall because the zoos are not going to be able to have as many guests as they normally would have.”

Twycross Zoo first opened in 1963 and welcomes over half a million visitors to see the 500 animals in their care – including the ‘the largest collection of monkeys and apes in the Western World.’

The reported costs of running the wildlife sanctuary are over £500,000 per month.

But to Ollie and Rosie Kinsella it is a place of magic and learning, where they can experience wonders of the world a short distance from home. And if it helps to keep Twycross Zoo open for birthdays to come, walking 5km around Pype Hayes Park is a small price to pay.

They tell you facts,” explains Ollie – who is now trying to stand like a flamingo alongside his sister Rosie, “like how cheetahs can run fast… Did you know there’s a neon fish, that glows in the dark? In the sea. But they live very deep, so you’d need to dig a really big hole to see them.

I’d like to see a giraffe, like the one that walked over Daddy when he was in the war… But If I saw a tiger I’d run… or I’d fight back.

Ollie and Rosie will be making their 5k sponsored walk round Pype Hayes Park on Saturday 27th June – aiming to raise £500 to help save Twycross Zoo. For more information, or to make a donation, visit www.totalgiving.co.uk/mypage/ollieandrosietosavethezoo

To find out more about Twycross Zoo, visit www.twycrosszoo.org

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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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