NEWS: Community comes together to celebrate the completion of the Maplin site mural

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Ed King

Ed’s note… this is a community story; the Erdington mural is a community endeavour – many local groups and individuals played a part in this beautiful project. We are focusing on the community.

For this article, Erdington Local was invited to a group photo opportunity – as organised by the project’s steering group. Our aim was to follow up from our original story and document the spirit of unity that the project reflects – understanding the individuals featured in article (or group photo) are not the only people involved.

We appreciate there will have been those who were unable to attend, but we thank and recognise everyone who helped make Erdington that little bit brighter. 

The Erdington Mural project is complete. Having turned an “eyesore” of hoardings into a community-involved, professional art display, many of the artists and organisers gathered together for a celebratory (and socially distanced) photo for Erdington Local.

I think this is fantastic – it’s great!” praises Rob Gunnell, founder of Erdington Litter Busters [ELB], “it doesn’t just add colour, it supports a connection to the community – and it’s also saying, Erdington’s a good place.” Along with many other organisations, ELB assisted in ‘priming’ the site before the four commissioned artists set to work on painting on the boards.

Our contribution was to apply the white paint – the base,” explains Dawn Edwards, another ELB member, “then we cut down the overgrown branches and Birmingham City Council took away all the bags of greenery.”

The project was funded by Mercia Real Estate, the owners of the site, as well as Active Arts – via the Erdington Arts Forum.

Erdington Local covered the story of those involved with the project at its inception – and whilst the original impetus is somewhat contested, the final project is as vibrant a representation of community spirit as the artwork itself.

Erdington Local caught up with the four artists who were tasked with bringing the boards to life – each one taking a separate side for their original design. Whilst each artist is unique, each of them noted the positive feedback they received for their work.

I’ve seen a few pictures put up [on the internet] of kids standing in front of it,” notes Steve Allen, pleased with the social media pick up. Steve painted the ‘Welcome to Erdington’ side of the mural, which includes a big ‘thank you’ to the NHS and what is purported to be the coat of arms of Erdington.

I got a lot of positive feedback from when I was doing my painting,” echoes Abian Richards, responsible for the rather psychedelic take on Erdington’s Witton Lakes – featured on the small segment by York Road.

This was to celebrate Erdington’s many ‘green spaces’, with an interesting interpretation: “I chose to use blues, pinks and purples to get some vibrancy into the piece.”

The project proved to be an excellent incubator for local talent, with Keely Iqbal admitting “it was quite challenging because it was my biggest mural to date.”

She painted the striking ‘historical Erdington’ on Sutton New Road – complete with an image of a spitfire, a horse and carriage, Rookery House, and the esteemed Mothers nightclub.

Such a large undertaking was not without its challenges, as Keely continues: “I was painting and then it started pouring down with rain! All of the paint started running everywhere. It was so bad. I did all of this lettering – there was a delay, but I managed to catch up with it.”

It was even a learning curve for experienced artist Edward Thrush: “Fly posters are hellish – I hate them! I won’t use those again. There’s been a lot of maintenance!”

Edward created the eye-catching ‘It’s all Go, Go, Go in Erdington!’ piece on Summer Road, celebrating the various community groups in the local area. Edward especially praised how “the volunteers were amazing – they were really good help.”

Councillor Gareth Moore, who had been helping whitewash the boards – along with fellow Erdington Councillor Robert Alden – explains how the piece is “visually appealing and significantly improved the site in question given its prominent location.”

Likewise, Robert Alden tells how “it’s been a really great community project, pulling together people across Erdington. It’s celebrating our heritage, our history and the culture of Erdington.”

Erdington Local overheard Dawn Edwards from ELB prodding Sam Clark, a founder and current CEO of Mercia Real Estate, about some potential future projects on the land. Especially advocating for the intended retail space to have greenery.

This project is just an example of what the community can do in terms of improving the area,” Dawn reflects, “there was nothing on the boards and now there is that reflects Erdington. Watch out! More to come.”

Mercia Real Estate acquired the Maplin site following the closure, a spokesperson from the Birmingham based real estate and asset management company said:

Mercia Real Estate acquired the site in 2018 with a view to redeveloping the buildings into a terrace of convenience retail units.

Whilst this has been in planning we were approached by community leaders earlier this year who had expressed an interest in creating various murals on the site hoarding.

Wherever we invest we are always keen to engage with the community and in this case were happy to extend a donation to support the creativity of the various groups involved.”

For more on Steve Allen, visit www.nozzleandbrush.co.uk
For more on Abian Richards, visit www.facebook.com/faffabout
For more on Keely Iqbal, visit www.keelyiqbal.com
For more on Edward Thrush, visit www.elthrush.com

For more on Mercia Real Estate, visit www.merciarealestate.com
For more on Active Arts, visit www.activearts.wordpress.com

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NEWS: Community art project transforms Maplin hoardings into a mural ‘to celebrate Erdington’

Words & pics by Ed King

On Saturday 15th August, volunteers from across Erdington kick started a new community art project – transforming the hoardings that have ring-fenced the old Maplin site into a vibrant mural ‘to celebrate Erdington.’

Over 20 local residents and representatives gave up the start of their weekend to help whitewash the 107 boards that surround the disused commercial site by Six Ways Island.

In huge display of community spirit, members from a wide range of local action groups worked across the morning and into the afternoon – preparing a blank canvas to be filled throughout the week by four Birmingham based artists.

Displaying the very unity that they want to celebrate, the mammoth task was completed by 1pm – aided by hard work and camaraderie from organisations including Erdington Litter Busters, Erdington Community Volunteers, Ahmadiyya Muslim Association, Witton Lodge Community Association, Urban Devotion, Good Gym, Erdington Arts Forum, and Active Arts.

Erdington Councillors Robert Alden and Gareth Moore, who helped the project get up and running, also rolled up their sleeves on Saturday – working alongside the collage of community groups to get the job done quickly and professionally.

The idea is to celebrate Erdington as a place to live,” tells Claire Westmacott – a member of the Erdington Community Volunteers group who were helping whitewash the hoardings.

When you drive through here, you are going to see this mural… it’s to celebrate the different areas of Erdington and what makes Erdington so good.

It’s the people, it’s the people getting together – you can see here the community spirit. It’s been brilliant… people have been asking what’s happening and saying that’s a brilliant idea.

“People passing by have taken notice of what we’ve been doing; it’s the community making improvements.”

Steve Allen – the first of the four artists commissioned – began his painting immediately, completing the front face of the mural by the evening on Sunday 16th August. Steve, aka Nozzle and Brush, is a local ‘mural and spray paint specialist’ who uses aerosol paints to create ‘one off artwork for bedrooms, walls, shop shutters, gym spaces and more.’

Further work will continue on the mural throughout the week, with local illustrator and designer Edward Thrush using the boards along Summer Road for a piece celebrating the volunteer groups that work in and around Erdington.

Keely Iqbal, an illustrator and fashion designer with a studio at The Custard Factory, is using the Sutton New Road side for an artistic exploration into the history of Erdington.

Whilst Abian Richards, a local artist who ‘works with an expressive mixed media style’ will be painting a special piece that celebrates the green spaces from across the constituency.

Organisers hope the full mural will be completed by Sunday 23rd August – hoping to see selfies and photos captured by members of the public across social media, tagging Erdington Arts Forum or one of the other groups.

Supporting this act of community spirit, Mercia Real Estate have financed the lion’s share of costs attached to the mural – fronting £2250 for the project, with an extra £750 added by Active Arts who have helped coordinate the artists commissions as part of their Erdington Arts Forum role.

Maplin Electronic Supplies went into administration in February 2018, closing all of its UK stores and putting it 2,500 strong work force into unemployment.

Since then, the site that looks out over Six Ways Island has been boarded up – sitting as both a public eyesore and an unpleasant reminder to the employees at the Erdington branch who lost their livelihoods.

Mercia Real Estate, the Birmingham based company who took over the land following the Maplin closure, said:

Mercia Real Estate acquired the site in 2018 with a view to redeveloping the buildings into a terrace of convenience retail units.

Whilst this has been in planning we were approached by community leaders earlier this year who had expressed an interest in creating various murals on the site hoarding.

Wherever we invest we are always keen to engage with the community and in this case were happy to extend a donation to support the creativity of the various groups involved.”

For more on Steve Allen, visit www.nozzleandbrush.co.uk
For more on Edward Thrush, visit www.elthrush.com
For more on Keely Iqbal, visit www.keelyiqbal.com
For more on Abian Richards, visit www.facebook.com/faffabout

For more on Mercia Real Estate, visit www.merciarealestate.com
For more on Active Arts, visit www.activearts.wordpress.com

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NEWS: Erdington MP Jack Dromey saves local art spaces from immediate eviction

Words by Jobe Baker Sullivan / Original photography by Ed King & Sylvia Chan

Erdington MP, Jack Dromey, has prevented the immediate eviction of two charity art groups from the old Central Square shopping centre on Erdington High Street.

The Cube and Active Arts Castle Vale are both known for dynamic engagement through the arts in the community – including painting, crafts, music, exhibition spaces, drama, and facilitating workshops and performances for well-being.

Both organisations were renting units at Central Square through East Street Arts, a Leeds born charity that works with landlords ‘to change the lack of infrastructure available for artists living and working’ in major cities across the UK – turning longstanding, empty commercial properties into vibrant art studios and spaces with more affordable rent.

Then on 25th June, The Cube and Active Arts Castle Vale were both given only three weeks to completely vacate their premises by Godwin Developers – in preparation for demolition of the whole of the Central Square, as part of Erdington High Street’s redevelopment plans. However, other businesses such as M S Fruits or the St Vincent’s charity shop were given extended leases of up to one year despite being on the same site.

After the art organisations got in contact with the Erdington MP’s office, Jack Dromey intervened directly in talks with Godwin Developments – who in turn agreed to extend the lease the same as the other businesses. Dromey announced on Twitter that: ‘This helps to protect the valuable arts community that thrives in Erdington.’

After contacting the constituency office, Jack Dromey MP told Erdington Local: “As soon as I heard The Cube and Active Arts Castle Vale were facing eviction at three weeks notice I knew I had to act immediately and contacted Godwin Developments, who recently acquired the site.

My discussion with the new owners of Central Square was a constructive one. I said that it was a sense of pride for Erdington that, in one of Britain’s poorest constituencies, local artists demonstrate how our community is rich in talent. I also brought home how those marvellous projects mean so much to the health and wellbeing of Erdington’s best.”

Active Arts Castle Vale work on art and community focused projects across the constituency, having converted the old Russell’s Furniture Store at Central Square into the Secret Arts Studio Space – ‘a place for artists to create their own work and have a safe space to test out ideas.’

Housing an ensemble of painters, illustrators, musicians, writers, and broadcasters, the Secret Arts Studio Space has been a growing success story for local artists – with new members lining up for affordable art studios in the heart of Erdington.

Leaving Central Square would have been a huge blow to the community of artists we have at the Secret Arts Studio Space,” explains Claire Marshall – Project Director at Active Arts, “it’s increasingly difficult for local artists to find affordable and accessible art space, and what we’d built up here – with help from East Street Arts – would have been totally turned on its head.

We know we’ll have to leave Central Square at some point to make way for the regeneration plan, which will be amazing for Erdington, and we’re getting support from people like Councillor Robert Alden and Terry Guest (Erdington Business Improvement District) to find an exciting new home.

But the eviction deadline from the developers was too hard and too fast – luckily as soon as we reached out to the MP’s office, Jack Dromey acted immediately and brokered us the time we needed. It’s a fantastic relief to all the artists here.”

As soon as the news came through regarding the eviction, The Cube were shaken too – desperately trying to sell the majority of their desks, computers, and pianos, in preparation for a drastic and fast move. They contacted every artist they knew to collect their work.

Heather Rowland, one of the co-founders of The Cube, said: “It was shocking when we were told we needed to move, but now we’re all so delighted. It would have been so much work to move out of there. I’ve been doing this for 12 years now. We’ve had a great time. I thought that was the end the Cube.”

But upon learning that The Cube can stay where they are, Heather also breathed a sigh of relief: “It’s lovely to think that we’ll still be here at Christmas. I know we’ve got to move out some time.”

Normally, The Cube is open Monday, Wednesday and Saturday 10am-3pm. Asking for a small donation, The Cube offers free or affordable space to a multitude of groups, allowing them to use their crafting facilities. It also hosts many accomplished local artists such as multi-media artists Cristelle Jones, Andy Spencer, and Ty Ford.

Central Square’s planned demolition contributes to the development of Erdington High Street – as part of the Future High Streets project – which, according to the .gov website should ‘encourage vibrant town centres where people live, shop, use services, and spend their leisure time.’

To find out more about The Cube, visit www.facebook.com/thecubeinthesquare

To find out more about Active Arts Castle Vale and the Secret Arts Space Studios, visit www.activearts.wordpress.com/secret-arts-studio-space

For more from Jack Dromey MP, visit www.jackdromey.org

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