NEWS: West Midlands Mayor Andy Street set to invest £400m in social housing in Stockland Green and across the region

Words and pics by Erdington Local editorial team

West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street, has secured £400m from Central Government in an ambitious new plan that will see the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) invest hundreds of millions in social housing across the region.

Mr Street announced the new policy at social housing provider Nehemiah Housing Association, an organisation based in Great Barr and with properties in the Erdington constituency.

Launching his mayoral election campaign at Stockland Green School on 21 March, the West Midlands mayor further identified Stockland Green as an area the WMCA will be looking at on “how to improve the housing stock”.

The plan, which was secured ahead of the mayoral election on 2 May, will be the first time the West Midlands Combined Authority has directly funded the building of social housing.

It became possible after Mr Street petitioned Government for £400m investment into the WMCA Affordable Housing Programme, which had reportedly previously only been allocated 50% of that budget, as part of the Deeper Devolution Deal agreed last year.

 

Having secured the multi-million pound social housing investment fund, which will be overseen by the West Midlands Mayor, Mr Street hopes the new plan will attract national media attention and become the blueprint for social housing provision across the country.

Mr Street told Erdington Local: “I want to do this because housing is key to solving so many problems in our region. People might find it strange a Conservative Mayor would care so much about social housing, but I know we could do so much more.”

He added: “The £400m I secured is key, it was a red line for me when signing the Deeper Devolution Deal with the Government.”

The chronic lack of quality social housing across Birmingham is a major factor why Erdington became a hotspot for Houses of Multiple Occupancy (HMOs), assisted living properties, and exempt accommodation.

Now a widely reported and recognised national concern, Erdington Local first covered the frightening reality of those living in HMOs and Exempt Accommodation in August 2020 – with a series articles written by a reporter who has lived experience of the problems facing thousands across the country.

(Click here to read the first story in the series, titled ‘EXPLOITED: HMOs – when greed meets vulnerability, carving up communities for a profit’.)

Following the initial article published by Erdington Local, many other media outlets then covered the topic in depth – with titles from Birmingham Mail to The Guardian all shining a much needed light on the issue.

Mr Street continued: “This kind of plan is a real third term policy as we have been working towards this since I was first elected.

“Housing has always been top of my agenda, prompted by Erdington Local’s investigation into HMOs and assisted living I lobbied the Select Committee in Parliament to look into the problem.”

He added: “This policy is about building new homes, but we will continue to look at how to improve the housing stock in places like Stockland Green.

“This is about building quality social homes for rent for people who want to have a home to call their own – people like key workers, nurses, and young families.

“By partnering with organisations like Nehemiah, we will be building real communities too – that are nurtured by supportive housing associations.”

Despite securing the funding, the WMCA will not actually be building new homes or improving existing social housing themselves – but would instead partner with organisations who have experience in the sector, such as Nehemiah Housing Association, Witton Lodge Community Association, or The Pioneer Group on Castle Vale.

Using funding from the Affordable Homes Programme, Mr Street has promised to triple the current rate of 500-700 homes built by housing associations in the West Midlands to 1,700 per year by 2028.

Mr Street launched the policy at Nehemiah Housing Association, which the organisation’s website describes as providing ‘quality, affordable housing together with wellbeing services to ethnically diverse communities across.’

The housing association has more than 1,250 properties serving the multicultural African, Caribbean, Asian, Irish, and European communities across the West Midlands, including Erdington.

Martin Levermore, Vice Chair of Nehemiah Housing Association, said: “We are celebrating our 35th anniversary this year. Social housing is so important but Government policy changes so often it can be hard to keep up.

“It’s incredibly important that we build enough Social Housing, and the devolution of funding for Affordable Housing could be a game changer for the region. Housing associations like Nehemiah not only build homes, we build communities; so we look forward to seeing how we can play a role going forward.”

For more on Andy Street visit www.andystreet.org.uk

For more on the West Midlands Combined Authority visit www.wmca.org.uk

Click here to learn more about the West Midlands Mayoral elections on 2 May.

NEWS: Andy Street announces £2.4m careers advisor fund during mayoral election campaign visit to Stockland Green School

Words and on location pics by Erdington Local

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street chose Stockland Green School to make his first major policy announcement of his election campaign.

Mr Street visited the Slade Road secondary on the first day of his official campaigning for the mayoral election to announce if re-elected on 2 May the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) will pay for 40 careers advisers for schools in some of the region’s most challenged areas.

The plan has been costed at £2.4m with funding already identified by the WMCA.

Mr Street announced the policy at Stockland Green School due to its successful careers programme, which was launched after the legacy of lockdown saw work experience plummet and face-to-face careers sessions with pupils drastically decline.

Mr Street told Erdington Local: “This school has been praised by Ofsted for its commitment to careers advice, but sadly across the West Midlands the same not can be said for all schools.

“There are still too many young people who are not getting the right opportunities and guidance during the critical years when they are deciding what to do for work.”

He added: “30 per cent of our children have not had work experience; one in six have never had face-to-face careers advice. And as usual it’s the schools in the most challenged areas which have these problems.”

Mr Street, who credits his economics teacher as the catalyst for his journey into the business world – which saw him run the department store giant John Lewis from 2007 to 2016, before entering politics – is concerned youngsters will turn elsewhere for crucial advice if denied access to careers experts.

He continued: “In a world where youngsters are getting their career advice from people like Andrew Tate on social media, having trusted local grown-ups in schools is more important than ever.

“I spoke to children in this school today and they all had a spark, a passion, and an idea what excited them concerning jobs – and for children like these, they need help to give them advice about how to get to where they want be and fulfil their aspirations.”

As announced today, if Mr Street is re-elected as West Midlands Mayor schools which score high on the pupil poverty indicators will be able to apply to the WMCA for funds to employ a dedicated careers officer.

Stockland Green School, which is part of the Arthur Terry Learning Partnership, was praised last year by Ofsted for the “tenacious” approach of staff in driving up student aspiration.

Assistant headteacher, Katerina Lee, is also responsible for the careers advice in the school. She said: “The pandemic caused so many problems with work experience, and with careers advisors not meeting pupils we wanted to do something about it.

“We work with local companies to get our pupils the routes to the jobs and careers they want. However, it is hard. And it would be wonderful to have a full time careers advisor… in fact we could do with lots, their work is so important.”

She added: “It is not like in previous years, where pupils would be given a pathway to industries which would open their doors for work experience and then a job offer would be at the end of it.

“We have to work hard identifying the needs of pupils, like our SEN (special educational needs) children, it is very important to identify their needs very early on.”

Headteacher Rebecca Goode began working at Stockland Green School 16 years ago before getting the top job in 2022.

She said: “Our pupils enjoyed telling Mr Street their aspirations and what they want to do when they enter the job market. Giving them access to careers advice is a really important part of making that happen.”

Mr Street, who won the previous two West Midlands mayoral elections, promised to keep the region’s youngsters and children at the top of his agenda. He believes improving their economic prospects is key in both their success and that of the wider West Midlands.

He added: “This is one of those areas where we just haven’t had the budget, powers, and responsibility to sort this until now. But I will get a grip of career education if I’m re-elected in May.

The West Midlands Mayoral election is being held on Thursday, 2 May. Candidates include the incumbent Conservative candidate Mr Street, Labour’s Richard Parker, Reform UK’s Elaine Williams, and Sunny Virk for the Liberal Democrats.

For more on Andy Street visit www.andystreet.org.uk

For more on the West Midlands Combined Authority visit www.wmca.org.uk

Click here to learn more about the West Midlands Mayoral elections on 2 May.

OPINION: A message from Paulette Hamilton, MP for Erdington

Pic supplied by Paulette Hamilton MP

As your local MP representing Erdington, Kingstanding, and Castle Vale, I care about the issues that affect you and our community. Here are some of the things I have done in the past month:

I recently hosted a meeting with Simon Foster, the Police and Crime Commissioner, Chief Superintendent Richard North, local traders, and officials from Birmingham City Council. 

We discussed the ongoing issues of crime and antisocial behaviour on Erdington High Street.

Importantly, they heard concerns from our traders, recognising the need for more robust measures to enhance security and enforcement, and the need to work more closely to combat crime in the area.

I was also approached by traders on Slade Road who raised concerns about issues they were experiencing, including theft, antisocial behaviour, and the presence of sex workers. I empathised with the challenges facing local traders and will be following up on their concerns and working towards a constructive solution. 

I recently participated in a National Day of Action for Safer Streets to prevent road accidents, injuries, and deaths. As part of this effort, I’m backing the campaign to reduce speeds to 30mph on local roads. I would urge everyone to have their say by taking part in the consultation – please do get in touch if you want to know more. 

Despite 13 years of Conservative cuts to policing, I will not give up on fighting crime and antisocial behaviour in our area. I will keep working to secure the resources we need to keep our community safe. 

For more on Paulette Hamilton MP for Erdington visit www.paulettehamilton.org

NEWS: Stockland Green church asks members to pray and fast for ‘apostle’ after manslaughter arrest following death of a man in his 60s

Words by Erdington Local editorial team

A Stockland Green church where a man reportedly died during a baptism has cancelled meetings and events this week – whilst asking members to pray and fast for the ‘apostle’ at the centre of ongoing manslaughter investigations.

Life Changing Ministries, Slade Road, has become the focus of international attention after a man in his 60s died in a small outside pool at the address on Sunday 8 October.

It is reported a baptism was taking place and was being live streamed on the group’s Facebook page – with a picture being widely shared online following the incident.

West Midlands Ambulance Service attended the scene and tried to save the man, named on the church’s Facebook page as Robert Yap.

West Midlands Ambulance Service confirmed: “We were called at 1.42pm on Sunday to a medical emergency at a private address on Slade Road in Stockland Green, Birmingham. Two ambulances, a paramedic officer and a critical care car from Midland Air Ambulance attended the scene. Upon arrival we found a man.

“Ambulance staff administered advanced life support to him but unfortunately, despite the best efforts of ambulance staff it became clear that nothing more could be done to save him and he was confirmed deceased at the scene.”

The story made headlines across the world this week, being picked up by media outlets across the UK and several Christian websites in America and Africa.

But whilst police investigate the tragedy, several posts have appeared on the Life Changing Ministries Facebook page inviting members to join in three ‘Powerful Days of Prayer and Fasting’, running from Tuesday 10 to Thursday 12 October.

A post made on Tuesday 10 October further stated: “URGENT ANNOUNCEMENT!! APOSTLE CHERYL REID – BARTLEY IS URGING ALL MEMBERS TO JOIN WITH HER IN THESE THREE (3) DAYS OF INTENSE AND DEEP WARFARE, PRAYER AND FAST FOR THE MINISTRY, FOR APOSTLE (HERSELF) AND FOR OUR FAITHFUL MEMBERS!!!”

Other posts made by the church’s Facebook administrators include a near hour long message to camera made by Ms Reid-Bartley, under the heading: ‘Our Beloved Brother, Robert Yap of Life Changing Ministries, Birmingham, England has went Home to be with the Lord.’

The post also quotes 2 Corinthians 5:8 (King James Version): ‘We are confident I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.’

Following the social media messages, Life Changing Ministries received several messages of support from members of the church.

Markita Davis Humphrey posted in the comments section: “Always lifting up LCM and Apostle Cheryl and LCM sons and daughters and our families.”

Keisha Riley added: “We will continue to fast and pray Apostle, we’re in this together, we appreciate and love you.”

However, other people criticised the lack of prayers for the man who died.

Donna Francis said: “…none of this people praying for the family of this man what died, all u on praying for the apostle who went to heaven and come back because she did not like up there, and leave the man because he like what he see madness all you stop it this man family is grieving.”

Whilst Mai VaDhikondo posted: “Well life changed really quickly for the apostle, I wonder if she saw this one in her many revelations. Pray for the man who died please!”

Hannah George added: “Who’s praying for the family of the man who died if u don’t mind me asking.”

Following the initial response from emergency services on Sunday 8 October, West Midlands Police were notified about the tragedy and officers and have arrested a woman in connection with the death.

A spokeswoman for West Midlands Police confirmed: “A woman has been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter after a man in his 60s died in Erdington on Sunday.

“A post mortem examination will be carried out in due course to establish the cause of the man’s death, while detectives carry out enquiries into the circumstances surrounding his death.

“A 46-year-old woman who was arrested in Birmingham has been released on police bail while enquiries continue.”

The case continues.

BACK TO SCHOOL: ‘Ambitious’ Stockland Green School impresses Ofsted inspectors with ‘tenacious’ approach to safeguarding

Words & pics supplied by Stockland Green School

Staff and students at Stockland Green are celebrating after inspectors praised the school as a place where “leaders care deeply about pupils’ well-being”.

Ofsted inspectors, who visited the site in Slade Road, Erdington, on 14-15 February, confirmed that Stockland Green School remains a ‘good’ school, and praised it for its “family approach”.

They also praised safeguarding and wellbeing measures at the school, which is part of the respected Arthur Terry Learning Partnership.

Head of School Rebecca Goode said: “We were delighted with this Ofsted report, as we really saw the inspection as an opportunity to showcase our school, to show the inspectors the very best of our team and our students, and help them understand the journey we are on as a school.

“The report talks about us as a ‘family’, and how we really care for our children and about our safeguarding work being ‘tenacious’ – because we are very driven as a team to ensure that our children get the very best in all aspects of education.

“However, it’s not just about grades and results – it’s about ensuring that we give the very best to our young people.

“We always want to ensure that the children have the belief to be whatever they want to be, and that ultimately they become fully rounded citizens who are going to contribute positively to the community.”

According to the Ofsted report, pupils at Stockland Green are happy, and say that they feel safe.

It said: “This is because leaders care deeply about pupils’ well-being and they make sure that staff know pupils well.

“When bullying occurs, pupils say that teachers help resolve the issue quickly and make sure that it does not happen again. Leaders have ensured that the school’s values of ‘aspire, believe and achieve’ are shared by all staff. This has created an environment where there are high expectations about how and what pupils will learn.”

Inspectors said the school’s leaders actively promote pupils’ wider personal development.

It said: “Well-being weeks linked to lessons provide a range of valuable experiences that help make learning real. Most pupils take part in extra-curricular clubs or activities.”

The school was also praised for creating an ambitious curriculum for all pupils, including those with Special Educational Needs.

It said: “Teachers have secure subject knowledge, and they know their pupils well. They create purposeful learning environments for all pupils, including those with SEND. Teachers also use a range of routines to help pupils learn.”

On safeguarding, the report said staff were motivated to prioritise wellbeing.

It said: “Staff morale is high, and they are proud of the role they play in pupils’ education. Leaders make sure that safeguarding is of the highest priority for staff.

“They provide regular training and updates. Staff are vigilant, and quick to report any concerns they have. Leaders are tenacious, and they follow up all concerns raised.”

Headteacher Marie George said: “I’m delighted for Mrs Goode, her team, the students and the community that Stockland Green has been recognised in this way.

“It’s a great achievement, especially when you consider the impacts of the pandemic, which were compounded in our own community, around Stockland Green.

“The school’s response has been to make sure that our children have a safe place to come to, that they are loved and cared for, and get an ambitious curriculum, which was also recognised by the inspectors.

“By taking that caring, ambitious approach, we give our children real life chances, to ensure that they are equipped to go on and meet the demands of the world around them.”

For more on Stockland Green School visit www.stockgrn.bham.sch.uk

**If your school would like to be part of Erdington Local’s BACK TO SCHOOL pages then please email edking@erdingtonlocal.com – with the name of your school in the subject box.**

BACK TO SCHOOL: Erdington MP declares Stockland Green School at the ‘heart of its community’ during special visit

Words by Gary Phelps / Pics supplied by Stockland Green School

Erdington’s MP has declared Stockland Green School at the “heart of its community” after a special visit to meet students and look around the site.

Paulette Hamilton went to the Slade Road school, which is part of the Arthur Terry Learning Partnership, on Friday, 27 January, and was given a tour of the facilities, popping into lessons along the way to speak to pupils and staff.

The Member of Parliament also listened in on a hard-hitting presentation by reformed criminal Gary Williams, of the Precious Lives project, which warned of the dangers of crime and knives.

Finally, she sat down in the school library to be grilled by Stockland Green’s student leaders, who asked her about life as an MP, her background as a nurse, her family, and the importance of education.

They also told her about their work for Red Hand Day on 12 February, which is part of an international campaign against the use of Child Soldiers.

Mrs Hamilton said: “It has been a fascinating visit to Stockland Green – the thing that struck me as I was shown around was just how quiet the school was, how well behaved the children are, and how they seemed to be absorbing the information they were being taught in the classrooms.

“I also thought the presentation by Precious Lives was absolutely brilliant. Gary, the young man who was speaking, just held the attention of the whole room – because he was clear, concise and passionate, and I really think the students could identify with what he was saying.

“He had a very important message, and I think it’s great the school invited him to speak.”

Mrs Hamilton said she had been impressed by the student leadership team too.

She added: “I thought the student leaders were fantastic. Their questions were well thought-out, they presented themselves well and the subjects they asked me about were quite hard-hitting, so I couldn’t just give a one word answer.

“I’m hoping that through my answers they’ve got to know a little more about me, and the work of an MP.”

The MP also praised the school for its efforts to connect with the community it serves.

Mrs Hamilton told: “I’ve lived here for 35 years and so I know the area and its people well, and the incredible sense of community there is here.

“I think Stockland Green School is a perfect example of that community spirit, because the school doesn’t just care about what happens inside the classrooms, it cares about what happens in the children’s homes too.

“It’s a school that’s right at the heart of the community, and I saw that during my visit.”

Stockland Green Head of School, Rebecca Goode, said: “We were so grateful to Paulette Hamilton for making time in her busy schedule to come in and meet our students and see what goes on in our school.

“She was really interested to find out more about how we reach out to the community, and impressed by the Precious Lives presentation that was also happening when she visited.

“The students leadership team also really enjoyed getting to spend time with her and ask her questions. They even got her autograph at the end.

“Our school is about supporting our children to be safe and to make positive life choices, to be active members of their community and contribute positively when they are adults.

“Visits like this are really valuable in helping the students understand that they are part of a broader community, as well as showing them what they can achieve if they work hard.”

For more on Stockland Green School visit www.stockgrn.bham.sch.uk

NEWS: Safer Streets host Community Litter Pick and Fun Day in Stockland Green

Words & pics by Ed King

The Safter Streets team are organising two events across March and April, hoping to bring local residents together whilst making Stockland Green and cleaner and safer place to be.

On Saturday, 26 March, people are invited to take part in a special Community Litter Pick – starting at the Highcroft Centre from 10am, with free cake and coffee for anyone taking part.

The community clean up is being held following an ‘all out day’ on Friday, 25 March  – where Birmingham City Council  workers will tackle the waste left by illegal fly tipping, with locals following up the next day.

Safer Streets hope the combined two day effort will make a real impact to an area of Stockland Green blighted by dangerous street waste and uncollected refuse.

Community Partnership Manager Ned Crosher-Markwell, who delivers the Safer Streets project in Stockland Green on behalf of The Pioneer Group, said: “It will be great to get the community together to do something positive, help our neighbours and our environment and take pride in our neighbourhood.

“Stockland Green is filled with lots of wonderful people who care passionately about their home, it seems fitting that we come together to try and make that home a little nicer for everyone.

“Hopefully with a combined effort between the Council and community can start to turn the tide and remind people why they should love their street.”

Safer Streets is a Government funded initiative that brought £423,000 to Stockland Green, to help tackle street level crime, anti social behaviour, and to provide residents with home security equipment.

Money was also made available from the Safer Street fund to support community projects and action groups in the area.

The nearly half a million pound pot of money was secured following after a joint application from Birmingham City Council and the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, Simon Foster.

Earlier in March, the Safer Streets team have been distributing free home security and crime prevention kits to local Stockland Green residents, living on and around Slade Road, including personal alarms, home security support, and items to combat vehicle theft.

Then on 16 April, Safer Streets are also hosting a special Fun Day, delivered in partnership with The Pioneer Group and West Midlands Police.

Ned added: “It is a day where you can meet your local policing team, learn a little about safety but also have some fun and entertain the kids.

“We will have a bouncy castle, face painting, and a chance to win some sweeties. We also hope to have a visit from the Fire Service with their fire engine and an opportunity for local community groups to have a stall and promote their causes.”

For more information on the Safter Streets Community Litter Pick or Funday email saferstreets@pioneergroup.org.uk

ELECTION NEWS: Secretary of State for Education outlines additional “£3000 tax free” for new Erdington STEM teachers, whilst on campaign trail with Conservative MP candidate Robert Alden

By Erdington Local election news team

During a visit to Erdington on Friday, 11 February, the Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi MP, told Erdington Local:

“What I’m trying to do is make sure that where we need additional teachers, like Erdington, in subjects like STEM, we actually say: ‘Look, in your first five years as a new teacher, we will give you an additional £3000 tax free, if you move to Erdington, to help us on this endeavour.”

He added: “To deliver a great education you need great teachers, so another thing I’m doing is half a million teacher training opportunities, so anyone reading this who wants to become a teacher come forward. We have the best teacher training opportunities in the world, in my view.”

On the campaign trail with Conservative MP hopeful Robert Alden, the Tory frontbencher was speaking about his strategy to support education after the Coronavirus crisis – during a visit to the colloquially known Ghousia Mosque on Slade Road, Stockland Green.

Keen to see Robert Alden “join him on the green benches,” Mr Zahawi urged local voters to support the Erdington Ward councillor as he makes his bid for Erdington MP on Thursday 3, March.

The Education Secretary went on to promise that every child will have access to a tutor via The National Tutoring Program.

He told: “We’ve listened to schools, and we’ve put in almost £600 million allowing schools to access their own tutors and I want every parent to ask their schools – are you getting that tutoring for my child when they need it?”

Cllr Robert Alden, who also the leader of the Birmingham Conservative Party, wanted the once Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for COVID-19 Vaccine Deployment to see first-hand the impact of the mosque’s outreach work and local support programmes.

Alden explained: “I want to thank the mosque for all they’ve done during the Covid pandemic, supporting the local community.

“They’ve done a brilliant role here, making sure the community was looked after during one of the worst events in our lifetime.”

Nadhim Zahawi MP added: “I know from what I’ve been hearing today that it was this congregation here, this leadership who made a real difference to people’s lives and the wider community.”

But education was a clear conversation point throughout the visit, a subject “close to my heart” for Mr Zahawi, with Cllr Alden emphasising the importance “everyone gets that chance to get on in life.”

Robert Alden added: “That’s what we’ve seen from the government, they’ve invested over 8 million, just in the last year, in pupil premium funding locally. We need to make sure that no one is left behind as we recover (from the pandemic).

“I know from my own experiences as a school governor locally, just how important it is that you have that family atmosphere in a school, that community feel.

“That’s what we very much do where I’m a governor, and that’s how I’d almost want to be as a Member of Parliament – making sure that we as a community take all the children with us, to give them the best education possible.”

While praising the British education that he had received as an 11 year old immigrant “who couldn’t speak a word of English”, the Education Secretary warned: “That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be complacent, we should improve.

“That’s what Bobby (Robert Alden) is going to do, to help deliver that, if people elect him as their Member of Parliament.”

Erdington has a diverse community, and its new Member of Parliament will need to be a strong voice in Westminster for people from a range of ethnicities and cultural backgrounds.

When asked about issues of Islamophobia within the Conservative Party, specifically Conservative MP Nusrat Ghani’s recent resignation, the Education Secretary said:

“There is no room for islamophobia in the Conservative Party.

“There are, sadly, in society, incidents of racism and Islamophobia. I suffered from it when I was a kid at school. But we’ve got to make sure that wherever it is, we stamp it out.”

Cllr Robert Alden echoed his message: “There is no place whatsoever, for Islamophobia, both in the Conservative Party and wider society as a whole.

“What I’ve tried to do as a local councillor for the past 16 years is really reach out to all communities, to be able to support them, to make sure they have a voice and to get them the help that they need.”

Addressing both the issues of education and community cohesion, Imam Ghulam Rasool added: “I think if you look at the moment faith is very vibrant, so I think an agreed syllabus for young people should be in place, plus in those places where they aren’t providing GCSE RE, they should be inviting faith leaders.

“We need to build a sense of cohesion and get the community understanding to build tolerance and to break down any kind of intolerance.”

Erdington will elect its next Member of Parliament on Thursday, 3 March.

The 12 candidates contesting the Birmingham Erdington seat are: Cllr Paulette Hamilton (Labour), Cllr Robert Alden (Conservative), Dave Nellist (Trade Union and Socialist Coalition), Lee Dargue (Liberal Democrats), Michael Lutwyche (Independent), Jack Brookes (Reform UK), Siobhan Harper-Nunes (Green), Thomas O’Rouke (Independent), Mel Mbondiah (Christian People’s Alliance), Clifton Holmes (Independent), David Laurence Bishop (Militant Bus-Pass Elvis Party), The Good Knight Sir NosDa (The Official Monster Raving Loony Party).

For more on Cllr Robert Alden and the Erdington Conservatives visit www.erdingtonconservatives.org.uk

EXPLOITED: Erdington Councillor Robert Alden warns selective licencing is a ‘blunt tool’ against the ‘toxic’ rise in Exempt Accommodation

Words & original photography by Ed King

Erdington Councillor Robert Alden has called selective licensing a “blunt tool” in tackling the “toxic situation” caused by Exempt Accommodation in Birmingham, as it “simply displaces the problem to other parts (of the city).”

In a letter written to the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (LUHC) Committee on Friday, 28 January, the Erdington ward representative and Leader of Birmingham’s Conservatives called for “the ability to impose city wide selective licensing before severe problems appear”, warning anything less would leave officials “forever chasing the issue around the city.”

28 January marks the last date for evidence submissions to the LUHC Committee, who are currently leading an inquiry into Exempt Accommodation – following widespread reports of how the supported housing loophole is manipulated by providers.

Cllr Alden’s letter also offered a further list of solutions to the LUHC Committee’s Exempt Accommodation inquiry, including reforms to the UK’s planning laws and benefit system to stop “perverse incentives for unscrupulous landlords to offer this type of accommodation”.

He further suggested “the provision and development of supported housing” should be “the remit of local councils, based on a duty to assess local need” – giving priority to “those who cannot remain in their local area due to exceptional circumstances (e.g., escaping domestic violence)”.

Cllr Alden’s concerns over Exempt Accommodation are mirrored by many across the community, people who have watched the suburbs they grew up become shattered and hostile.

And whilst the problems may lie heavier from one postcode to another, fears are the systemic ills will only continue to spread.

Estelle Murphy from Short Heath Residents Action Group explained: “There are a lot of issues surrounding HMO’s and Exempt properties. The dire conditions people are forced to live in and the effects to the surrounding area can be extremely distressing and stressful to all concerned.

“My worry is that unless legislation is changed, what is one area’s problem today, like Stockland Green, will be another area’s problem tomorrow. Once one area becomes blocked to them (Exempt Accommodation providers) they just move somewhere else.”

Exempt Accommodation began in 1995, identifying local housing for tenants needing ‘care, support and supervision’ – from people on bail to those escaping domestic violence – that could bypass existing rent regulations.

The legislation opened up the commercial market to offer shared social housing, but also allowed private landlords to jump over the Housing Benefit restrictions and charge a surplus to the Local Authority – who would in turn seek reimbursement from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

In Birmingham, Exempt Accommodation providers have been found to charge over £200 per week for a tenant living in accommodation Birmingham City Council would cap at £50-100.

Recognising the cost implications of the current system in his letter to the LUHC Committee, Cllr Alden further added:

“In Birmingham the average Local Housing allowance shared accommodation rate is £57.34, the social housing general needs average weekly rent for Birmingham is £95.05 yet the Birmingham average exempt housing rent is around £200 per a week and they are able to charge this by simply providing one hour of unregulated support a week.

“With 22,000 individuals in Birmingham currently placed in exempt accommodation, this is a cost to the treasury of £228.8m per year just in Birmingham.”

Alden’s letter continues to challenge a “a lack of cooperation between local authorities”, which has seen people from other cities moved into Exempt Accommodation in Birmingham – often exacerbating neighbourhood issues over crime, infrastructure, streets safety, and litter.

He states: “Exempt accommodation, as currently operated, serves neither its users or local communities well. It also fails to deliver value for money for the taxpayer with all the associated problems driving up costs across different public sector organisations.

“Existing planning laws and problems with the Benefits system combine to create a toxic situation where local neighbourhoods are becoming unrecognisable, with rising crime and ASB and loss of family housing whilst trapping ex-offenders and drug users in a vicious cycle and increasing pressure on public services from the police to waste collections.”

Erdington’s neighbouring ward of Stockland Green is one of the most affected suburbs in the UK by Exempt Accommodation, with the number of citywide claimants reportedly doubling in the past three years alone.

Stockland Green Councillor Josh Jones had been working on a plan to tackle the Exempt Accommodation crisis with the recently deceased Jack Dromey MP, outlining “action points… back in the summer of 2020”.

He told Erdington Local: “Exempt Accommodation is not something that’s going to be solved easily. It needs to be attacked in multiple ways.

“There needs to be mandatory licensing for all rented accommodation, whether that’s in the private sector or registered social landlord sector.

“The housing regulator needs to staffed better than they currently are, there needs to be… in every region round the country, particularly where there are big cities, there needs to be an office with additional staff put there to properly regulate the sector.

“Too many people are looking at Exempt Accommodation in isolation, it needs a whole holistic approach to deal with it – it needs to look at the NHS, community policing, mental health funding, and housing in general. It needs to be a whole area and a whole sector approach.”

But the sharp end of the supported living stick is also hurting tenants, often leaving vulnerable people living dangerous accommodation.

A current Slade Road resident, who wanted to remain anonymous for fear their housing provider would evict them, told Erdington Local:

“I have a chronic health condition and was registered homeless, eventually being moved up to Birmingham from London.

“They (the housing provider) don’t care about the welfare of their tenants; they’re only interested in money. They get around £233 per week from me living here.

“We only get two hours of heating a day and there is a list of improvements that need to be done – including allowing a fire exit at the back of the building – that have not been looked at in months.

“Plus, there is a couple living here and the police have been called out several times over domestic violence. But they’re both aggressive.

“Sometimes I have to lock myself in my room; it’s not a safe place to live.”

If you have been affected by any of the issues mentioned in this article, we want to hear your side of the story – email: mystory@erdingtonlocal.com

NEWS: Erdington Labour and Kashmiri community host post-lockdown Eid Fair

Words by Ed King

On Saturday September 4, Erdington Labour and the constituency’s Kashmiri community will be hosting a post-lockdown Eid Fair.

Held at Highcroft Community Centre, Slade Road, Stockland Green, the event is free to attend and will run from 11am to 4pm.

Observers of Islam across the world celebrate two Eid events each year. Eid al-Fitr (or ‘little/sweet Eid’) is a three day festival marking the end of Ramadan in May. Whilst Eid-al-Adha (or ‘big/salty Eid) is a four day festival to celebrate Ibrahim’s obedience to Allah, starting on the 10th day of the last month in the Islamic calendar  which in 2021 would have been July 9 to 13.

This year, due to restrictions from the Covid pandemic, both Eid’s were celebrated within households and ‘bubbles’ – as many religious festivals were curtailed due to the spread of coronavirus.

But the chance to come together as a community, welcoming all faiths and backgrounds, has not been lost – with Erdington Labour and the Kashmiri community working together to host this special Eid Fair event.

Spearheaded by Naziah Rasheed, Erdington Labour’s BAME Officer, the Eid Fair will have a variety of food stalls, local produce, games, and fun activities for children – such as a bouncy castle and a face painting stall.

Naziah Rasheed told Erdington Local: “Since the Covid-19 restrictions were lifted in July this year , we decided to organise a belated Eid Fair for the local community in Erdington.

“Although it’s an Eid event, it’s not only for Muslims but for all faiths to celebrate together.

“The aim of the event is to bring all communities together to have a fun day out and also to promote local small and home based businesses, for them to display their products and services.

“We have food stalls from different cultures and cuisines including Moroccan, Afghan, Kashmiri, Indian a,nd East African to name a few.”

The recently appointed Edington Labour BAME officer is also keen to hear from Erdington’s BAME communities, with a recent survey sent out asking ‘to know the issues the BAME communities are facing’ so she can ‘work towards making change locally and nationally.’

An online version of the BAME survey can be found at www.jackdromey.co.uk/erdington-labour-bame-survey

Open to all faiths, backgrounds, and ages, the Eid Fair will be held at Highcroft Community Centre on Slade Road, Stockland Green – running from 11am to 4pm on Saturday September 4.

For more on Highcroft Community Centre visit www.highcroftcommunitycentre.co.uk

For more from Erdington Labour visit www.facebook.com/ErdingtonLabourParty