NEWS: Over 200 register for community meeting to address ‘common concerns’ over crime and housing

Words & pics by Estelle Murphy

(This is an extended article from the one first published in the Erdington Local July newspaper)

Were you at this community meeting? We’d love to hear about it – please email: mystory@erdingtonlocal.com

Over 200 people registered for a community meeting on 20 June to address ‘common concerns’ affecting Erdington locals, including crime, HMOs, and exempt housing.

Promoted under the banner ‘strong community breeds safe neighbourhoods’ the meeting further aimed to “show the positive side” of local governance and encourage “a better understanding” between the public and those in power.

Organised by Gravelly Hill resident Roger O’Kelly, the meeting packed out the hall at Six Ways Baptist Church – leaving standing room only as people turned up in droves to hear from senior officials from Birmingham City Council (BCC) and West Midlands Police (WMP).

After introductions from Roger O’Kelly and Naziah Rasheed, who helped arrange speakers for the event alongside Gravelly Hill Councillor Mick Brown, the first question came before anyone got up to speak.

A woman from the eager crowd asked: “how many of the panel live in Erdington please?” Getting no answer, she continued: “…I thought so.”

James Fox, Senior Enforcement Officer (Planning) at BCC, began by walking the crowd through the planning and enforcement process. With many arguing the Council should do more to curb the rise of unruly social housing, Mr Fox surmised the Local Authority have “a duty to investigate reports, but are not duty bound to enforce that report”.

Deborah Moseley (Housing) talked about licensing for HMOs, stating there are 314 currently in Erdington, Gravelly Hill, and Stockland Green.

Then Yvonne Cowley (Supported Exempt Accommodation Team) explained the “minimal support” that Exempt Accommodation provide to receive extra money from housing vulnerable people, and later admitted “we (BCC) do not know what that looks like” when pressed by local campaigner Dawn Edwards.

Crime was the next on the now heated agenda, with Assistant Police & Crime Commissioner Tom McNeil talking about the work being done by WMP and brining new community police officers to Erdington. Mr McNeil also challenged the Exempt Accommodation in Erdington, stating many are run by organised criminals and calling for a vetting scheme for landlords.

Erdington’s Police Inspector Shameem Ahmed then discussed how the local police teams dealt with reports over HMO’s and Exempt Accommodation, and how they were tackling crime on Erdington High Street – admitting until people felt safe it wasn’t enough and asking people to come forward with their intelligence.

Erdington Town Centre Manager, John Hodgkiss, voiced concerns over higher local crime rates than the police realised – despite the Erdington ward being promised extra patrols on the High Street and a pop up police station scheduled for February.

And after one man demanded “what are you doing about the blatant drug dealing on the High Street?”, Sergeant Ahmed responded she would arrange for him to join police on patrol and see for himself.

Rounding off the meeting was Reg Banks from Neighbourhood Watch, speaking about the benefits of the scheme and how to get involved.

Organiser of the well attended community meeting, Roger O’Kelly, told Erdington Local: “We are delighted with the huge turnout, this lively event sends a clear message that Erdington wants to see more success by our local authorities in dealing with low-level crime and exerting greater control over exempt accommodation.”

“We are delighted with the huge turnout… this lively event sends a clear message that Erdington wants to see more success by our local authorities in dealing with low-level crime and exerting greater control over Exempt Accommodation.

“The point of the meeting was to bring understanding of the challenges.

“We achieved that somewhat. After today, we will work with Councillor Mick Brown of Gravelly Hill, Community Support and Development Officer Rachel West of BCC and Rev Chris Seeley of St Chad’s to establish a formal community organisation.

“The flawed financial model around HMOs, which favours enterprise, risks letting Erdington slide further into destitution and casting it as the Skid Row of Great Britain.”

Were you at this community meeting? Did you feel the issues were addressed well, or did you think the speakers left more questions than answers?

Whatever your thoughts, we’d love to hear them – please email: mystory@erdingtonlocal.com

NEWS: Last tickets available for community meeting on 20 June, after ‘huge response’ from local residents

Words by Ed King

Organisers of a community meeting to address ‘issues of common concern’ across the Erdington constituency are encouraging people to book their free place quickly if they want to attend – as only the last few free tickets are available, following a “huge response” from local residents.

Set for 20 June at Six Ways Baptist Church, Erdington, the meeting will start at 7pm – with teas and coffees available to welcome people from 6:30pm.

To secure your free ticket, simply email your name and contact information to the organisers at b24nhwcoord@yahoo.com

Organisers are hoping the 20 June meeting will also be a chance to ”show the positive side” of local governance and encourage “a better understanding” of issues that affect many in the community.

Three key topics will be on the agenda: understanding the HMOs and exempt accommodation model, what steps the local police are taking to tackle low-level crime and anti-social behaviour, and how the long running Neighbourhood Watch scheme can be an effective support for local resoidents and communities.

With a focus on positive discussions and strengthening links between the local community and authorities, the message from the meeting organisers is simple: ‘strong community breeds safe neighbourhoods’.

The first speakers will be from Birmingham City Council (BCC) addressing concerns over HMOs and exempt accommodation. They will include BCC’s Senior Enforcement Officer, James Fox, and Veronica Cowley and Deborah Moseley from the BCC housing team.

Talking about crime in the constituency will be West Midlands Assistant Police and Crime Commissioner, Tom McNeil, and Erdington’s Police Inspector Shameem Ahmed.

There will also be an address from Reg Banks from Neighbourhood Watch West Midlands, explaining how the long established national network can be an effective way to support communities on a local level.

Chaired by Reverend Goshawk, from Six ways Baptist Church, there will also be a chance for a Q&A session after each section – giving members of the public the chance to ask questions directly to the speakers in attendance.

Although a non-political meeting, there will also be local councillors attending including Cllr Mick Brown (Gravelly Hill, Labour) and Cllr Robert Alden (Erdington, Conservative) – however they will not be asked to address the audience directly.

There will also be a designated time for ‘free discussion with officials’ from 9:05-9:30pm after the main meeting – allowing time for members of the public to engage with the local representatives in attendance.

Organisers have asked Erdington Local to extend a thank you to both councillors for their support, and to Cllr Mick Brown specifically for arranging the council officers who will be presenting to the public and fielding questions.

Further thanks go to local resident Naziah Rasheed, who helped plan and publicise the event and through her network engaged the speakers from the police, and Gravelly Hill resident Karen Hannah for her input on the topics of discussion and for helping to promote the meeting.

Roger O’Kelly, coordinator of the meeting and an extensive local Neighbourhood Watch group, told Erdington Local: “We have had a huge response to this initiative and look forward to meeting the many local residents who wish to gain a better understanding of how our authorities are facing the challenges presented by the twin issues of HMOs and tackling crime.

“We have places left. To book, please drop us a line at b24nhwcoord@yahoo.com.”

Anyone wishing to attend the 20 June meeting can register for their free place by emailing: b24nhwcoord@yahoo.com

NEWS: Community meeting to address ‘issues of common concern’ across Erdington – 20 June at Six Way Baptist Church

Words by Erdington Local editorial team

A community meeting is being organised to address the ‘issues of common concern’ across Erdington, and to show ‘the positive side of local government, policing, and Neighbourhood Watch’.

Set for 7pm on Tuesday 20 June at Six Ways Baptist Church – with teas and coffees to welcome attendees from 6.30pm – three key issues will be on the agenda: HMOs and exempt accommodation, how local police tackle low-level crime, and how the Neighbourhood Watch scheme helps build communities.

Those wishing to attend are invited to register for a free ticket by emailing the organisers at b24nhwcoord@yahoo.com

Supported by Neighbourhood Watch and Birmingham City Council, the event aims to show how ‘strong community breeds safe neighbourhoods’ and is open to residents from all wards in the constituency.

Speaking at the meeting will be senior officials from Birmingham City Council (BCC) – including Senior Housing Modernisation Manager, Collette Campbell, and Senior Enforcement Officer, James Fox.

With problem HMOs cited as a constant concern for many local residents, organisers want the meeting to help people better understand both the need and management of the prevalent social housing system – whilst having an opportunity to ask questions directly to Council officials who work on tackling the issues.

Crime will also be on the agenda, with Assistant Police and Crime Commissioner Tom McNeil talking about initiatives from West Midlands Police that tackle the causes of criminality and anti-social behaviour.

Mr McNeil has previously spearheaded a campaign on Erdington High Street to address the roots of crime that keep people in the loop of reoffending, including many of the social and economic causes such as financial instability and substance abuse issues.

At the Strategic Policing Crime Board meeting in February, he told: “We radically reduced reoffending, we saved retailers on Erdington High Street hundreds of thousands of pounds, and we reduced victimisation. But the job is not finished there and we need retailers to really buy into this…

“There are seeds of hope there, with programmes that really work. Because even with an improved police response you absolutely cannot police your way out of all of this. So, we need these high quality rehabilitation programmes.”

Rounding off the guest speakers will be Reg Banks from Neighbourhood Watch West Midlands, explaining how the long established national network can be an effective way to support communities on a local level.

Neighbourhood Watch UK was founded over 40 years ago and is the largest voluntary crime prevention movement in England and Wales, with over 2.3 million local members.

Further speakers from the Council and West Midlands Police have been invited, and Erdington Local will be publishing a follow up article online with the full list of those who confirm their attendance.

Roger O’Kelly, coordinator of the meeting and an extensive local Neighbourhood Watch group, told Erdington Local: “I feel Erdington needed a forum to discuss certain issues of common concern.

“The purpose of our meeting is to bring a clear understanding of three particular issues that affect the local community: how HMOs with the exemption model work; the challenges police face with low-level crime; and how Neighbourhood Watch is uniting communities through networks.

“We believe that strong communities create safe neighbourhoods. That means shifting the mindset of neighbourhood concerns to one of an open-hearted and joined-up community that seeks to appreciate local challenges and how they are being met.”

Anyone wishing to attend the 20 June meeting can register for their free place by emailing: b24nhwcoord@yahoo.com – or turn to the back page for more information from the organisers.

NEWS: Holocaust Memorial Day event to be held on Erdington High Street, Friday 27 January

Words by Ed King

As the world remembers Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) on Friday 27 January, a special ceremony will be held on Erdington High Street at 1:30pm.

Taking place on the Village Green, opposite Erdington Library, the event is free to attend and open to people of all ages, religions, and cultures.

Organised by Everyone Erdington, the multi faith organisation set up to ‘celebrate diverse Erdington’, Friday’s event is the continuation of an annual remembrance on Holocaust Memorial Day – which looks back at the genocide and mass extermination of Jews and other communities in World War II, as well as reminding us of more modern atrocities in places like Rwanda, Darfur, Cambodia, and Bosnia.

The theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2023 is ‘ordinary people’, recognising the day to day folk who are both responsible for and victims off human brutality. As the HMD website states: ‘Genocide is facilitated by ordinary people. Ordinary people turn a blind eye, believe propaganda, join murderous regimes.

‘And those who are persecuted, oppressed and murdered in genocide… simply because they are ordinary people who belong to a particular group.’

Everyone Erdington’s event will start by playing the theme music to Holocaust Memorial Day 2023 ‘Ordinary People’ – before a reading about the Veseli’s, a Muslim family who sheltered Jews during World War II in a small Albanian mountain village.

There will also be presentations from local schools St Edmund Campion and St Barnabas, with the later sharing stories about children who suffered during the Rwanda Civil War.

Music and moments of collective remembrance will also take place, with a final reading about Holocaust survivor Harry Spriro – who was separated from his family in his early teens, after the German invasion of Poland in 1939, and spent World War II in concentration and labour camps.

Harry Spriro’s family were murdered in the Poland based Trebilnka death camp, alongside an estimated 6,000,000 Jewish people across Europe during the Nazi’s Holocaust during World War II – including systematic pogroms and mobile killing units (Einsatzgruppen).

Harry himself was one 270 people who survived the ‘death march’ to Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia, which began with 3000 prisoners.

The Nazi’s also massacred an estimated 5,000,000 people who were not specifically Jewish during the Holocaust – including Jehovah’s Witnesses, communists, Soviet prisoners of war, and Romani and Polish people.

Gerard Goshawk, minister at Six Ways Baptist Church and part of Everyone Erdington, told Erdington Local: “We are pleased once again to be marking Holocaust Memorial Day here in Erdington. What we offer is an intimate, accessible and meaningful event to mark this really significant occasion.

“Those of us organising it and those taking part recognise the importance of remembering the evil of genocide and making sure that our community here in Erdington remains strong and positive in celebrating diversity and challenging discrimination and hatred.”

Erdington MP Paulette Hamilton added: “As we mark Holocaust Memorial Day, we will honour those who were murdered during the Holocaust and pay tribute to those who survived.

“Holocaust Memorial Day is an important opportunity for people Erdington, Kingstanding and Castle Vale to reflect on one of the darkest periods in world history and ensure we always stand together against antisemitism, demonisation and hate.”

Erdington Ward Councillors Gareth Moore and Robert Alden have been attending the Holocaust Memorial Day events in Erdington since they began in 2017.

Cllr Gareth Moore told Erdington Local: “It has become a welcome tradition that here in Erdington we have a yearly event, organised by Everyone Erdington, paying our respects and remembering those who lives where stolen in such tragic acts.”

Cllr Robert Alden, who studied the Holocaust as part of his history education and has visited the infamous Aushwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, added: “It is vital that we remember genocide events such as the Holocaust, however we must also ensure that such events are never allowed to happen again.

“It would be a grave mistake if we were to assume that the horrific incidents of the past cannot happen again that is why it is on us all to be vigilant and to remind people of the things that we all have in common not the differences.

“This why programmes like British Values in our schools are so important, they remind everyone of the things we have in common, of the shared values that everyone can have regardless of race, wealth or sex.

“Once you have visited Aushwitz-Birkeneau the feeling it leaves in you doesn’t go away, it stays with you, it is important that people come together to remember but looking forward we must continue to ensure it can never happen again.”

Everyone Erdington will hold a free Holocaust Memorial Day event on Friday 27 January at 1:30pm, on the Village Green at the end of Erdington High Street – opposite Erdington Library.

For more from Everyone Erdington visit: www.facebook.com/EveryoneErdington

For more on Holocaust Memorial Day visit: www.hmd.org.uk

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.

CHRISTMAS STARTS TODAY… Christmas lights ‘switch on’ event kicks off the festive season on Erdington High Street – today, from 4pm to 7pm

Words by Ed King / Artwork supplied by Ceol Agency, profile pic by Ed King

The festive season starts in Erdington today, with a special event celebrating the Christmas lights ‘switch on’ – running from 4pm to 7pm, with more events and performances up and down the High Street.

All the Christmas activities are free to attend and suitable for all the family, big and small kids alike are welcome.

The main stage, outside the Co-op supermarket, will be hosted by Radio WM DJ and presenter Henry Liston – with a headline musical performance from local superstar singer Liam Price, who shot to fame after his debut on The Voice Kids UK (2019).

Also performing will be The Trouverers, a musical storytelling ensemble fronted by Katrina – alongside a troupe of Indian Drummers, playing rhythmic beats with traditional South Asian instruments and costume.

Abbey Primary School Choir will be singing the traditional Christmas carol ‘In dulci jubilo’, along with the Birmingham Irish Association. Whilst classically trained international duo Soreno will be closing the main stage after the Christmas lights have been officially ‘switched on’, with their modern medley of folk, pop, and light jazz.

Further up Erdington High Street, there will also be a community choir stage outside St Barnabas Church – with Christmas carols and traditional songs performed by choirs from across Erdington, accompanied by world touring guitarist and singer Stefan Stefanov.

There will also be a free Santa’s Grotto downstairs at Central Square – running from 4pm until around 5:30pm, where up to 1000 children can visit the winter wonderland, meet Santa, and get a free selection box treat.

Santa will then be making his way down to the main stage by the Co-op supermarket, to help turn on the Christmas lights and officially start the festive season in Erdington.

Organised by The Recovery Foundation and supported by the Erdington Business Improvement District (EBID), the Santa’s Grotto at Central Square is also completely free – with children of any ages up to 14 welcome to come along.

To secure your place on the day, simply head to the Christmas lights ‘switch on’ event outside the Co-op supermarket, from 4pm, where you can a pick up a free ticket for Santa’s Grotto – one per child, allocated on a first come first served basis.

Organised by the Erdington Business Improvement District (EBID) and local partners, today’s Christmas lights ‘switch on’ event  will be surrounded by more free events for the family to enjoy on Erdington High Street – including a ‘Nutcracker Trail’ and ‘Best Dressed Window’ competition.

The month long programme of free festive fun, starting just over four weeks before Christmas Day, will bring some welcomed Christmas cheer to Erdington – after years of Covid restrictions and amidst the current cost of living crisis.

Supporting local businesses, the EBID also hope the free Christmas events will also encourage people to search for those special seasonal gifts on Erdington High Street.

Town Centre Manager John Hodgkiss told Erdington Local:

“This winter the Erdington Business Improvement District (EBID) wanted to bring some Christmas cheer firmly back to Erdington, with an exciting programme of family friendly fun that won’t cost you a penny.

“Join us for the official Christmas lights ‘switch on’ celebration and free Santa’s Grotto on Thursday 24 November, and check out the other fun events happening up and down the High Street.

“It’s been a tough couple of years, and this winter will be a difficult time for many of us.

“But EBID and our local partners have organised these free and fun events so Erdington can celebrate Christmas as a community again. We hope to see you all on the High Street.”

For more on the Erdington Business Improvement District and all the Christmas events coming to the High Street visit www.facebook.com/erdingtonBID

EIGHT DAYS TO GO… Countdown begins to Christmas lights ‘switch on’ event on Erdington High Street – Thursday 24 November

Words & profile pic by Ed King /  Artwork supplied by Ceol Agency

IT’S CHRIISSTTMMAASS… or at least it will be, soon.

Erdington’s festive season officially begins on Thursday 24 November, with the Christmas lights ‘switch on’ event taking place on Erdington High Street.

Running from 4pm to 7pm and completely free to attend, there will be a programme of family friendly music and celebration up and down the High Street – with a main stage outside the Co-op supermarket and second community choir stage outside St Barnabas Church.

There will also be a free Santa’s Grotto downstairs at Central Square, where up to 1000 children can visit the winter wonderland at the Secret Arts Studio Space, meet Santa, and get a free selection box treat – as organised by The Recovery Foundation, and supported by the Erdington Business Improvement District (EBID)

‘Switching on’ the Christmas lights will Birmingham born gymnast, Joe Fraser – coming to kickstart Erdington’s festive season after winning two gold medals at the Commonwealth Games 2022 and helping England retain their No1 spot.

Hosted by Radio WM DJ and presenter Henry Liston, the main stage will also welcome local superstar singer Liam Price, who shot to fame after his debut on The Voice Kids UK (2019).

More music will come from the storytelling ensemble The Trouverers, fronted by Katrina – alongside a troupe of Indian Drummers, playing rhythmic beats with traditional South Asian instruments and costume.

Abbey Primary School Choir will also be performing with the Birmingham Irish Association, singing the traditional Christmas carol, ‘In dulci jubilo’.

Closing the main stage celebration will be a special live performance from the international duo Soreno, bringing a classical twist to a modern medley of folk, pop, and light jazz.

The community choir stage outside St Barnabas will host choirs from across Erdington, including the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) and Six Ways Baptist Church – joined by world touring guitarist and singer Stefan Stefanov.

Organised by the Erdington Business Improvement District (EBID) and local partners, the Christmas lights ‘switch on’ event on 24 November will be surrounded by more free events for the family to enjoy on Erdington High Street – including a ‘Nutcracker Trail’ and ‘Best Dressed Window’ competition.

The month long programme of free festive fun, starting just over four weeks before Christmas Day, will bring some welcomed Christmas cheer to Erdington – after years of Covid restrictions and amidst the current cost of living crisis.

Supporting local businesses, the EBID also hope the free Christmas events will encourage people to search for those special seasonal gifts on Erdington High Street.

Town Centre Manager John Hodgkiss told Erdington Local: “This winter the Erdington Business Improvement District (EBID) wanted to bring some Christmas cheer firmly back to Erdington, with an exciting programme of family friendly fun that won’t cost you a penny.

“Join us for the official Christmas lights ‘switch on’ celebration and free Santa’s Grotto on Thursday 24 November, and check out the other fun events happening up and down the High Street.

“It’s been a tough couple of years, and this winter will be a difficult time for many of us.

“But EBID and our local partners have organised these free and fun events so Erdington can celebrate Christmas as a community again.

“We hope to see you all on the High Street.”

For more on the Erdington Business Improvement District and all the Christmas events coming to the High Street visit www.facebook.com/erdingtonBID

NEWS: Hundreds welcome Little Amal to Erdington as a ‘community of sanctuary’

Words, images & video by Ed King

Erdington High Street saw hundreds of people welcome the world famous ‘living puppet’ Little Amal on Thursday 28 October – as part of the Kaleidoscope events, organised by the Erdington based charity Active Arts.

Gathering outside Oikos Café from 1pm, people started the day’s celebration by playing traditional street games from countries around the world and dancing to live music – building the carnival atmosphere before Little Amal arrived at 3pm.

Members of Birmingham’s refugee community were joined by hundreds of local families, support agencies, churches, and schools.

After saying hello to several children and meeting the crowds, Little Amal then walked up the High Street, accompanied by children and dancers – to a welcome ceremony held in the Central Square Shopping Centre.

Central Square had been specially decorated and transformed into a one day festival venue, with stages and a canvas roof over the main concourse.

At the welcome ceremony Little Amal continued to meet the hundreds of people who had come out in support of her journey, and her message of sanctuary and community, before being greeted by the Birmingham Lord Mayor.

A special poem celebrating Birmingham as a city of sanctuary was then read to Little Amal by two sisters, Sheema and Logeen Aroob, who had themselves fled from Syria to the UK with their family five years ago.

Writer Stephanie Neville joined Sheema and Logeen in delivering the poem, which had been selected from Stories of Home Hope and Home – ‘a story-telling project offering Asylum Seekers and Refugees a space to share their stories and others a space to hear them.’

Sheema and Logeen also presented Little Amal with a friendship bracelet specially crafted for the giant puppet, as event organisers handed out further bracelets to the audience.

In the weeks running up to Little Amal’s Erdington visit, a series of Kaleidoscope arts and craft workshops had been held at the Secret Arts Studio Space in Central Square – where local children and families had been making the friendship bracelets out of colourful twine and materials, working with Celebrating Sanctuary Birmingham.

Little Amal is a 12ft high ‘living puppet’ who has been walking across the world since July, to raise awareness about the plight of refugee children.

Starting on the Turkey/Syrian border, Little Amal has travelled over 8000km through Greece, Italy, Switzerland, and France, before coming across the Channel to the UK – even meeting with Pope Francis in early September 2021.

Visiting only a handful of locations in the UK, Little Amal had been in Coventry the day before her visit to Erdington, before ending her global walk in Manchester on 3 November.

Attending the event and joining the team escorting Little Amal to the Central Square welcoming ceremony, Erdington MP Jack Dromey told Erdington Local: “I am deeply proud that Erdington is the Birmingham home that Little Amal will come to.

“All throughout the last 10, 20, 30 years we’ve had war after war and famine after famine – people have therefore fled for their lives, wanting a new start for them and their families and looking for sanctuary and safety. We have a moral duty to say those who come to our shores desperate for refuge, you’re welcome here.

“I’m proud that Amal is coming to Erdington because it sends the message that we are a constituency and community of sanctuary – that we are there to give home and support to those who desperately need it.”

Also attending the Little Amal event were Erdington ward councillors Robert Alden and Gareth Moore.

“It’s absolutely brilliant to see so many people here in Erdington, on our High Street – it really emphasises the possibilities of how we can regenerate Erdington High Street and what the long term attraction to the area can be.

“I think this exactly the thing that people have been talking about – we need to ensure that actually all countries are safe for people, so that people don’t have to go through the horrific things that you hear refugees have had to go through.”

Local arts charity Active Arts was leading Erdington’s Little Amal visit and the Kaleidoscope events on behalf of Birmingham City Council and Birmingham 2022 Festival.

Further partners include Celebrating Sanctuary Birmingham, Centrala, Open Theatre Company, Mama Dojo, Surge Forward Music & Arts, Vortex Creates, Autin Dance Theatre, Everyone Erdington, Oikos Café, Six Ways Baptist Church & Food Bank, Erdington BID and Godwin Development.

Active Arts Project Director Claire Marshall told Erdington Local: “Little Amal’s message is one of sanctuary, about showing refugees and displaced people that they can find a place to call home if they have been forced to leave theirs.

“Erdington is a welcoming and diverse community, one with a history of embracing people from many different countries and cultures – and a place that continues to do so.

“This event is about celebrating that sanctuary, it’s about showing people they can find a new home here if they have had to leave theirs.

“The atmosphere here, today, as we welcome Little Amal, has been something wonderful – it’s been a truly special day and I couldn’t be prouder of the people around us.

“Little Amal’s message, highlighting the plight of refugee children, is one born from desperation and sorrow.

“But the kindness and compassion you can feel from people in Erdington here today, the simple sense of love and community in the air, gives us all a feeling of hope to hold on to.”

Watch Little Amal as she walks down Erdington High Street and into Central Square Shopping Centre

For more on Little Amal and ‘The Walk’ visit www.walkwithamal.org

For more on Active Arts visit www.activearts.wordpress.com

ON THURSDAY: A sneak peek – check out the celebrations at Central Square ahead of Little Amal visit

Words & images by Ed King

**LITTLE AMAL CELEBRATIONS FROM 12:30PM/1PM OUTSIDE CO-OP ON ERDINTGON HIGH STREET ON THURS 28 OCTOBER – FREE**

Central Square Shopping Centre has been bursting with colour, music, and dance as people get ready for Little Amal’s’ visit to Erdington on Thursday 28 October.

Little Amal is a 12ft high ‘living puppet’ that has been travelling the world to raise awareness about the plight of refugee children – travelling over 8,000km before arriving in Erdington for a special one day celebration of sanctuary.

The festivities will begin outside the Co-op supermarket on Erdington High Street at 12:30/1pm – with live music, dance, and street games – before Little Amal will walk up the High Street to a special welcoming ceremony at Central Square.

The entire day is free to attend and open to children and adults of all ages – led by local arts charity Active Arts on behalf of Birmingham City Council and Birmingham 2022 Festival.

Transforming the old Central Square Shopping Centre, Active Arts and the creative team behind the Little Amal Erdington event have been busy decorating the High Street retail hub.

A team of dancers, local children, and families spent the week practicing a special routine to welcome Little Amal – whilst a creative team transformed the High Street retail hub into a festival venue with bright colours and decorations.

A special stage has been constructed at Central Square for the event, which will see everyone from Birmingham’s Lord Mayor to local school children welcome Little Amal to Erdington.

A large canvas roof has also been installed over the Central Square concourse – ensuring the day will be a truly special occasion that all ages can enjoy, come rain or shine.

The event is Covid safe and stewarded by official security and event safety staff.

Have a sneak peek below of what’s happening when Little Amal visits Erdington on Thursday 28 October.

Central Square gets ready for Little Amal Erdington visit

Little Amal will visit Erdington on Thursday 28 October, with a one day carnival starting at 1pm outside the Co-op and Oikos Café on the High Street – before heading up to the Central Square Shopping Centre.

For more on the Kaleidoscope event and Little Amal’s visit to Erdington visit www.activearts.wordpress.com/little-amal or email activeartscv@gmail.com

For more on Little Amal and ‘The Walk’ visit www.walkwithamal.org

2 DAYS TO GO: Syrian refugee sisters to present friendship bracelet to Little Amal at Erdington visit

Words & images by Ed King

Two sisters who escaped the war in Syria five years ago will be presenting Little Amal with a handcrafted friendship bracelet, when the 12ft high ‘living puppet’ visits Erdington on Thursday 28 October.

Sheema (16) and Logeen (11) Aroob will be a central part of Little Amal’s visit to Erdington, gifting the friendship bracelet – a symbol of sanctuary and welcome – as part of the official welcoming ceremony.

Starting outside the Co-op on Erdington High Street at 1pm, the celebration will also include live music and street games from across the world – before Little Amal leads a procession of local children and adults to Central Square Shopping Centre.

Recommended through Refugee Action, Sheema will also be reading a specially selected poem which celebrates the beauty of Birmingham and welcomes people to the city.

A poet in her own right, Sheema recently performed one of her own works at the Erdington Arts Forum’s Evening of Creativity – at a special showcase event recently held during Refugee Week.

Sheema told Erdington Local: “I was asked by Refugee Action to present special friendship bracelet to Little Amal when she comes to visit Erdington.

“I am very excited to be part of the Little Amal event, and a little nervous. But I like to join in with these events as it helps bring out my confidence.

“We came from Syria to the UK five years ago, after leaving Lebanon because of the war – once a bomb dropped right outside the front of our house, it was a dangerous place, and our family were scared for their lives.

“Also, my father had injured himself and was unable to work; life was very difficult.

“The poem I am reading when Little Amal comes to Erdington was suggested to me by Johnny (Autin, choreographer) and is about Birmingham, how beautiful the city can be, and how people should come and visit Birmingham and see it with their own eyes.

“I like to write poetry as it is a good way to get my thoughts and feelings out, and I can be more honest in a poem. I have also written a story about our journey from Syria to the UK.”

Inspired by stories from the Calais refugee camp, and made by the production team behind Warhorse, Little Amal is based on a young Syrian girl who lost her family whilst out looking for food – with the ‘living puppet’ having travelled over 8,000km to reach the UK.

Little Amal has been travelling across the globe since July, starting on the Syria/Turkey border, to raise awareness on the plight for refugee children – who account for over 50% of the world’s displaced people, according to UNICEF.

Having travelled from Syria with her family five years ago, escaping the ongoing war, Sheema Aroob has a direct understanding of Little Amal’s journey, with members of her family still living amidst the violence.

“Little Amal began her walk in Jarabulus, on the border of Syria and Turkey, which is where my aunt – my mother’s sister – still lives. So, the journey Little Amal has made is very close to our hearts.

“My auntie still lives in Jarabulus but in a tent, with her children – she has two daughters and one son; one of the daughters is disabled.

“We are still in touch, but there is still trouble and violence there and it is going to be very hard for her and her family this winter.”

Local arts charity Active Arts is leading Erdington’s Little Amal event on behalf of Birmingham City Council and Birmingham 2022 Festival.

Further partners include Celebrating Sanctuary Birmingham, Centrala, Open Theatre Company, Mama Dojo, Surge Forward Music & Arts, Vortex Creates, Autin Dance Theatre, Everyone Erdington, Oikos Café, Six Ways Baptist Church & Food Bank, Erdington BID and Godwin Development.

Active Arts Project Director Claire Marshall told Erdington Local: “We’re really pleased to have Sheema and her family as part of Little Amal’s visit to Erdington – they have experienced, first-hand, some of the issues faced by refugees this international art project is trying to shine a light on.

“Sheema and her family have been a huge part of the Kaleidoscope workshops and have been heavily involved in preparations for the event too. It’s been a joy working with and getting to know them, individually and as a family.”

Little Amal will visit Erdington on Thursday 28 October, with a one day carnival starting at 1pm outside the Co-op and Oikos Café on the High Street – before heading up to the Central Square Shopping Centre.

The final Kaleidoscope arts, craft, street games and dance workshop will be held between 1-3pm at the Secret Art Studio Space on Wednesday 27 October – at the Central Shopping Centre on Erdington High Street.

For more on the Kaleidoscope event and Little Amal’s visit to Erdington visit www.activearts.wordpress.com/little-amal or email activeartscv@gmail.com

For more on Little Amal and ‘The Walk’ visit www.walkwithamal.org