NEWS: Witton Lodge Community Association launch Digit-All, tackling ‘digital poverty’ with a new electronic lending library

Words by Steve Sharma / Pics supplied by Witton Lodge Community Association

From Monday 24th August, isolated and vulnerable Erdington residents will be able to access essential support services thanks to an innovative new project being rolled out by Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) – Erdington Local can reveal.

The Perry Common based organisation is launching Digit-All – its own IT lending Library – to provide older residents and others in need of digital literacy support with the tools, skills, and knowledge they need to engage online.

Paul Tse, Flourishing Community Development Officer at WLCA, explains how COVID-19 has heightened an already pressing concern around digital literacy.

As a result of the lockdown, a significant number of the services and activities which older residents are dependent on have moved online,” he said.

The levels of digital poverty in Erdington were already quite high but this situation has seen even more adults become marginalised, unable to access the support they need. This puts them at greater risk of isolation, poor mental health, and mobility difficulties. Our project seeks to redress this imbalance and prevent such suffering.”

Work being delivered by the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce and Witton Lodge’s employment and skills and health & wellbeing teams, has identified a number of people in urgent need of digital literacy support. Digit-All will address the three main areas of concern which have been identified – a lack of IT facilities, a lack of connectivity, alongside confidence and capability.

We have purchased a range of portable IT equipment including laptops and tablets that will be available to lend to isolated, vulnerable adults,” added Paul.

As part of the service offer, we will also be providing users with a free data plan (and/or wireless dongles) to enable individuals to connect to the Internet where they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to.

Digital skills training will also be available to help older adults learn how to use their devices and interact with others through platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook or Zoom.”

Funding for the project has been acquired through the Erdington Neighbourhood Network Scheme – one of Birmingham City Council’s constituency-based networks, established to enable engagement with and investment in community assets which support older people to lead independent and connected lives.

Councillor Paulette Hamilton, Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care, said: “Neighbourhood Network Schemes have been set up to reduce isolation and improve social connectivity and wellbeing at a local level and in particular to support our older and more vulnerable citizens, keeping them active and engaged within their own localities.

The evidence of work carried out by organisations like Witton Lodge during the COVID-19 lockdown reveals that many of our older adults either do not have access to information technology that could help them be more in control of their lives, or do not have the confidence and ability to navigate the Internet to search for information and services that can help them remain independent.

Digit-All is a proactive response to digital poverty that has become more apparent during COVID-19 across our communities.  I am excited and look forward to seeing the service develop and being rolled out across Birmingham’s neighbourhoods,”

The project, as a prototype, launches from Monday 24th August – with those already identified as being in urgent need of support the first to receive laptops and tablets.

Following this initial trial period, the scheme Witton Lodge Community Association are looking to roll out Digit-All to a wider audience across North Birmingham.

For more information and photo opportunities call Steve Sharma on 0121 382 1930 or email steve.sharma@wittonlodge.org.uk

For more on Witton Lodge Community Association, visit www.wittonlodge.org.uk

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OPINION: The Economic Impact of COVID-19 – A Birmingham View

Words by Ifor Jones – Head of Partnerships, The Pioneer Group / Picture of Birmingham skyline by Luke Matthews, profile pic courtesy of The Pioneer Group

As the economic impact of the COVID-19 lockdown has become clear with the threat of a tsunami of redundancies across the West Midlands I couldn’t help but reflect on what I experienced first-hand with the closure of MG rover first hand back in 2005 with 6,300 redundancies being made.

This had a profound economic and social impact on local communities which was mitigated by the action of the MG Rover Taskforce. I led the community support strand of the Taskforce which started with mobilising advice services to work in tandem with JC plus and the Learning Skills Council and progressed with a community regeneration programme supporting grass roots organisations and focusing on providing support for workers and the MG Rover community.

The following sets out the learning and the lessons which arose from this tragic time which I feel are very relevant to the potential impact of COVID-19 across the City.

In the lead up to COVID-19, statistics for the first quarter of 2020 confirmed Birmingham’s comparatively high unemployment claimant rate (9.3%) compared to other major English cities.

The figure had been relatively stable but began to increase during 2018 in the wake of benefit changes connected to the roll out of Universal Credit.

It is my assertion that, when considering the potential impact of COVID-19, we will see two distinct cohorts within the unemployment claimant count for Birmingham.

  • Longer term cases clustered in geographical hotspots or demographic characteristics such as youth unemployment, BAME groups and people with disabilities.
  • Those who have lost their jobs as an economic consequence of COVID-19, across a range of sectors and impacting on an even wider cross section of the working population.

A Precedent for What’s Next

In 2005, MG Rover at Longbridge closed with the overnight loss of 6,300 jobs. Further job losses in the supply chain pushed this figure to over 8,000.

However, a significant number of workers were able to retrain to change their careers; undertaking academic vocational training. A report indicated around 4,000 (63%) of former MG Rover workers found new, mostly full-time, work. Approximately 25% of these workers were earning more with over 50% of them earning less.

Strong partnerships were key to the management and mitigation process, especially in relation to the social and economic impact of such a significant plant closure.

In a two-year period, I witnessed a shift from crisis management to sustained economic and social strategies for recovery. At the heart of this was a collaborative approach coordinated at different levels, from the very local in Longbridge and Northfield to across the city, region and nation as a whole.

My engagement through a localised team in the City Council was to co-ordinate the initial crisis response regarding advice and community support delivered in partnership with agencies such as JobCentre Plus and The Learning Skills Council. This was complemented with the support of organisations across the voluntary and community sector and, most critically, the MG Rover communities themselves.

Mobilising a response to administer change at pace was critical, as was building relationships with the workers and MG Rover to ensure engagement with and wider community buy-in.

The lessons that were learned, that can help us deal with the anticipated fallout of COVID-19 include:

  • mobilise interventions at pace working with both cohorts – existing and new claimants
  • get new cohort of unemployed into training and work as soon as possible
  • quickly intervene with training agencies and providers for re-skilling
  • ensure personal contact with individuals whether through advice and support or training
  • recognise importance of welfare advice and wellbeing services and administering benefits quickly
  • use opportunities for public service employers to take on and train former MG Rover workers, for example the city council created opportunities in youth, leisure and community development services
  • work in partnership – at regional, city and local levels – with public services, employers, community and third sector agencies
  • provide community support in the moment of crisis – e.g. helplines, social events, funding for holiday breaks
  • create a strategy for inclusive growth e.g. local area regeneration – Longbridge transitioned from a centre of economic activity of regional and national significance to an important local centre with a mix of new housing, retail, public services and some retained manufacturing.

Ifor Jones is Head of Partnerships at The Pioneer Group – for more on The Pioneer Group, visit: www.pioneergroup.org.uk

The Pioneer Group is a member of the Erdington COVID19 Taskforce, facilitated by Witton Lodge Community Association.

Established in April 2020, the Taskforce is a network of local organisations from a wide variety of sectors, working together to support people who have been adversely affected by the pandemic.

To access the online address book and database of local support services compile by the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce, visit: www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19/local/support

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OPINION: Black Lives Matter protest in Birmingham

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Chris Neophytou & Jobe Baker-Sullivan

As far as I’m concerned, the police in America might as well be a terrorist organisation.”

I was spellbound by the thousands of people who gathered in Birmingham for the Black Lives Matter protest. There were people of all ages and races. There were children, and even a few pet dogs. It was in response to George Floyd’s death – which has caused shockwaves in cities around the world. I was proud to be there for Birmingham’s show of solidarity.

Initially, it was a scary experience. On my way to Birmingham Library, where the speeches took place, I was handed a slip of paper from an organiser with ‘advice on arrest’. I became anxious as the crowds gathered momentum – lest we forget, there is also the possibility of being infected with coronavirus.

But the intention of this protest was noble.

People chanted in full voice: “George Floyd, remember his name!” organically, along with other slogans. There were signs containing anti-establishment messages, messages of hope – some tongue-in-cheek, some with wise quotations. The one that resonated with me was the powerful, ‘They want our rhythm not our blues.’ As a musician, I believe that a vast amount of popular music owes a lot to talented, pioneering yet anonymous, often intentionally uncredited, black musicians. And as a white musician, I believe we stole their music but we didn’t alleviate their sorrow.

By chance, I spotted some people I know from Erdington. Pastor Rasaq Ibrahim from the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) joyfully handed me a free face mask, before disappearing into the crowd to give more to strangers.

Feeling fully equipped, having brought my vinyl gloves and voice recorder, I joined the crowd outside the library to hear passionate speakers selected by the Black Lives Matter group using a portable PA, often doubled with a megaphone. It was only audible if you were very close to the action, but people were happy to start chants in their own pockets of activity. I caught most of the speeches, with various speakers commending the multi-ethnicity of the crowd, the fact that this protest cannot be the last, and getting the crowd to kneel as a gesture of solidarity.

The fight is not black verses white; the fight is not black verses Asian. The fight is not black verses any race. The fight is against racists,” one speaker sermonised, followed by rapturous applause.

A couple of hours later, we marched, from Centenary Square, along New Street, to protest symbolically in front of the Lloyd House Police Headquarters.

An acquaintance of mine spotted me in the crowd. Like all the following speakers, she is black and wishes to remain anonymous. She is from Castle Vale: “Everyone’s out here. Black, white, Indian. Fighting for the same cause. It’s like the most peaceful protest I’ve ever been to. The message is clear. All anybody wants to have is an enjoyable life, and some people are robbing them of that.

Me personally, I feel like Black Lives Matter is inclusive to everyone as well. As far as I’m concerned, the police in America might as well be a terrorist organisation. The George Floyd incident was filmed, but it’s like, this has been going on for decades. This protest is saying, stop it. Just stop.”

I too had fear that this day would not remain peaceful, having seen the news of tear gas and looting in America. Trump’s response was to threaten to send in the army to cease the unrest, yet here in Birmingham I see an army of well-meaning citizens mobilizing to bring positive change.

One man, from Moseley, tells me: “As you can see, everybody’s behaving and respecting. Not many police officers. In general, I’m quite blown away because also, nobody with grey hairs like us! The majority of people are under 30. It’s mixed like hell mate! Proper mixed… It’s been an excellent day, a great day.”

We stopped our conversation to admire the marching crowd as it circled around Colmore Circus. Buses had come to a stand-still, and cars sounded their horns as they drove by in solidarity.

This is different from every other one [protest] because it’s worldwide. And it’s unfortunate that the people who commit the crime are telling other people to be peaceful!”

Another male I knew from Erdington was a little more sceptical of the speakers present at the protest: “to be honest, I think it’s just a façade. There was no direction on the mic in what they were saying. There were people on the mic saying: ‘if you’re not down with XYZ then you’re not XYZ’.”

Black Lives Matter itself as an organisation is not without its criticisms. It has been accused of being militaristic, police-hating, and has had a history of confrontation in the public domain – a prominent Black Lives Matter activist and writer, Shaun King, was banned from Facebook in 2016. Although King’s censorship was later redacted by the social media giant and labelled ‘a mistake’.

But whilst agitation can be seen as an important part in evolving debate, it can also lead to messages getting blown out of proportion in a media frenzy – a difficult balance no doubt Black Lives Matter, and many activist groups, will be all too familiar with. And if you need an example of how this can go wrong, just Google ‘Katie Hopkins’.

But the response to the George Floyd murder, for that’s what it is, has been the most recent flashpoint of a whole history of anti-human abuse. Black lives do matter, and as offensive as it is to even need an organisation to clarify that the conversation about race needs to be kept alive, by everyone.

And personally, from my corner of the crowd and community, it was important for me to be part of this historic event in my own city. And as a musician, and a human being, I can only pray that finally a change is going to come.

For more on Black Lives Matter, visit www.blacklivesmatter.com

Jobe Baker-Sullivan is an Erdington based musician and arts ambassador, leading the Erdington Arts Forum and the Active Arts Evenings of Creativity. For more on Jobe Baker Sullivan, visit www.facebook.com/JobeSullivanMusic

For more on the Erdington Arts Forum, visit www.facebook.com/groups/cafeartsforum/

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FEATURE: “I don’t think I would have survived the lockdown without my volunteering,” – Erdington local woman’s cry for more community support

Words by Steve Sharma / Pics courtesy of Erdington Local Community Response

A local woman helping an Erdington community support group to deliver food and essential supplies, and safeguard elderly and vulnerable residents, says volunteering has saved her life.

Donna Tone said her experience working alongside Mutual Aid Group, Erdington Local Community Response, has helped her to survive the lockdown.

At the start of Volunteers Week (June 1-7) the primary school worker is now urging others to follow her example and reap the ‘amazing’ benefits it brings.

“Should people volunteer? Absolutely,” she said. “Because you are not only doing good for others but for yourself too. My self-esteem and confidence have increased massively since I started volunteering and I’ve made some amazing friends and met some lovely people.e 

“At the beginning of the lockdown I felt very isolated with my family living far away from me – but my volunteering has changed that. I now feel uplifted as a person. I don’t think I would have survived the lockdown without my volunteering – it saved me.” 

Donna, who has spent the last three months helping to pack and distribute food parcels from a base in Ladywood, points to the collective efforts and unity of those working to support those in need.

“It’s like your own little community,” she said.

“One minute you’ve got these strangers standing behind you, the next minute they’re becoming your friends. 

“You just start talking to people and form connections, everyone is there to help each other, they are invested in the collective effort. Everyone is united.” 

Erdington Local Community Response was founded by local woman Jo Bull. It has been delivering hundreds of food parcels every week to homes across the district and supporting people through befriending services and via social media with information and resources shared on its Facebook page.

David Owen, who co-ordinates activity for the group, said the support it has received has been ‘eye-watering’ but with certain lockdown measures now being eased and people returning to their day jobs, volunteers are needed to sustain the help that’s being delivered to people.

“The take up of volunteers in Erdington has been immense with over 70 people giving up their time to pack, shop and deliver for those in need,” he said.

“But as these people return to work, we need a new wave of volunteers to get us through the weeks and months ahead. 

“So, if anyone out there, who lives in the North Birmingham area, can spare some time to help our group over the coming weeks we’d really love to hear from them. Please email me at: erdingtoncv19@gmail.com” 

Erdington Local Community Response is a member of the Erdington COVID19 Taskforce – a network of local community organisations and individuals working together to support the district’s vulnerable, isolated and at risk during the Coronavirus pandemic.

The Taskforce is facilitated by Witton Lodge Community Association. Chief Officer, Afzal Hussain, commented: “Volunteers are the lifeblood of organisations like ours and their efforts across the constituency in support of organisations like Erdington Local Community Response has been truly inspiring. 

“We have also benefited from their incredible and selfless work in getting food parcels packed and delivered to the most vulnerable members of our community during the lockdown.

“Without their support a lot of the work that has been achieved would not have been possible. We are all very grateful to every single one of our amazing volunteers.”

To visit the Erdington Local Community Response (to COVID-19) Facebook group, where you ask for help and support during the coronavirus crisis – or offer your services as a volunteer, visit www.facebook.com/groups/625073991557017

A directory of all Erdington COVID19 Taskforce organisations can be found by visiting: www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19-local-support

Volunteers’ Week runs across the UK from 1st to 7th June – for more information, visit www.volunteersweek.org

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FEATURE: Death and social distancing – the grief of funerals during lockdown

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Ed King

The UK’s funeral industry is estimated to be worth around £2billion annually, with an estimated 4,000 directors conducting 600,000 funerals each year at an average of £3-5000 per service. Britain’s death economy is big business.

But honouring the dead is also paramount for people’s mental health and society’s social fabric – a respectable funeral is a helpful step in the grieving process, allowing people to say goodbye to loved ones whilst offering the emotional sanctuary of a traditional service.

During the COVID-19 crisis, however, funerals have taken on an even more sombre tone, as death tolls rise whilst places of worship across the country have been closed to stem the spread of the virus – building a backlog that has seen some funerals held weeks, even months, later than normal.

Along with the Government restrictions being imposed on funerals of all faiths, whatever your beliefs the COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed the way this vital part of human society is carried out.

As someone who would play the church organ at funerals pre-coronavirus, sometimes three times a week, I was interested in exploring the drastic changes people now face during this important part of the grieving process.

It feels like their bereavement is suspended,” says Father Simon Ellis, the parish priest at St Margaret Mary’s Church on Perry Common Road, who has officiated over six funerals since the start of lockdown – unable to make two, as he was recovering from coronavirus himself.

It’s been agonising… It feels like people have said, you go, I’ll stay at home. The overwhelming thing I’ve heard is that ‘they deserve more’… Normally there would be 50, 60, 150 people at the church or the crematorium. Now we can only have six,” the maximum number of mourners allowed, at that time, according to Birmingham City Council.

And if someone has died of COVID-19,” continues Father Ellis, “people are not permitted to see their loved ones in the funeral parlour. They’re not permitted to touch the coffin. It’s something that will have people struggling with their mental health.”

The Government guidelines have been put in place so that ‘mourners and workers involved in the management of funerals are protected from infection,’ according to the .Gov website. But this has caused anguish for many families, with some having to make tough decisions about who attends the funeral of a loved one and who does not.

But despite the hardships during lockdown Father Ellis has noted, “generally families seem to be sticking to the rules… All the families have been saying there will be something at a later date – whether that’s a memorial mass, a memorial service, or something followed by a proper reception. There are plans for the future.

I feel genuine sorrow for people. Whether they’ve lost a person through COVID-19 or some other reason, they’ve been hurled into this new world…

It is very hard to experience this extra burden people are carrying. But it’s also remarkable how resilient and high-spirited people are being.”

The coronavirus crisis has also seen ingenuity, as people embrace digital platforms to combat the widespread physical restrictions. “Perry Barr Crematorium did have a system where they could relay the service outside,” tells Father Ellis – explaining a shift in how the funeral is conducted which allows more people to gather outside of the chapel area.

Some funerals are also being livestreamed for the benefit of those who can’t be attend in person, and Father Ellis has taken on the challenge: “[livestreaming] has always happened, but now there are more people are involved. What you’re trying to do in the service, which I’ve never done before is start at the beginning of the service is saying ‘if you’re following remotely, you are most welcome, we are thinking of you’. It’s just something to say, ‘we know you’re there.’”

But for all those who are grieving during the coronavirus crisis, it has been a whirlwind experience; as if losing a loved one wasn’t difficult already, not being able to have a conventional funeral has been a great shock to many mourners.

Steve Lafferty, who lives on Lambeth Road in Kingstanding, lost his brother, Charles, on the 4th April after a seven year battle to cancer. Under normal circumstances, there would have been a ‘receiving in’ ceremony the evening before the funeral, wherein the coffin of the deceased remains in church, St Margaret Mary’s, overnight.

We’d have liked him (Charles) to go to church first, to St Margaret Mary’s,” explains Steve, “for the overnight, and then the service… then the funeral mass, in the church, then up to the crematorium for a little service there.

We’d have had the hymns in church… he wanted certain songs, his kids wanted certain songs, so we’d kept them for the crematorium. But because we couldn’t get to church we give them the songs that they wanted, that my brother wanted, to go out there.”

Part of a strong Scottish family, Charles Lafferty had many mourners wishing to pay their final respects. But with the numbers of attendees restricted, the family he left behind found themselves – like many across the country – having to make some difficult logistical decisions.

He had six grandchildren, so the eldest grandchildren were to go,” tells Steve, crunching the numbers usually reserved for a wedding planner – Sandwell Crematorium, where Charles was cremated, are allowing a maximum of 10 mourners at each service. “Then his three children, his three brothers – his son’s partner, she came. But then my wife came, my other’s brother’s wife came…”

They were quite good actually at Sandwell, they gave us a link,” continues Steve – explaining the digital streaming service Sandwell Crematorium were able to offer, “because I’ve got relations in Scotland and all that there, and they said the link was very good as well.

They give us a code to put in – they set it up straight away, then told us – in a few weeks time – to just click here and it will automatically go through. It was really good. Where the camera was you had the coffin, the priest, the people that were there… it was really, really good.”

For Charles Lafferty, his funeral was to be well and widely remembered – despite all the coronavirus roadblocks now in front of a regular procession. But fortitude deserves fanfare, and whilst working within the Government guidelines the family were still able to say goodbye in their own way.

I went down to the undertakers, Unwins on Rough Road,” explains Steve, “they said look Mr Lafferty, with the circumstances we’re in you can only have this, this, or this… no cars, only a hearse. And because we’re Scots we had a bagpiper performing.

So, what we did… where I live on Lamberth Road… I told all his friends to come, but they must keep social distancing all along the road. Don’t go to the crem, but do it along the road outside my house – and then the bagpiper played him up to my house.

The three bothers and his family there, we walked in front and others walked behind, all the way up. Then they stayed outside my house for about five minutes for anyone who wanted to come up to touch the coffin – it was the only time anyone was allowed to touch the coffin – then I went down in front… You had the bagpiper, me, the lady from Unwins, and the coffin then followed me down the road and we were off to Sandwell (Cremetorium).

I can’t knock Sandwell, and I can’t knock my undertakers down the road, especially under the circumstances. They were very, very good.”

For more information on how ‘births, deaths, and ceremonies’ are being conducted across Birmingham during the coronavirus crisis, visit www.birmingham.gov.uk/info/20016/births_deaths_and_ceremonies

For Government guidelines on ‘managing a funeral during the coronavirus pandemic’, visit www.gov.uk/covid-19-guidance-for-managing-a-funeral-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic

For more from Unwins Undertakers, visit www.urwinsundertakers.co.uk

For more on St Margaret Mary’s Church, visit www.birminghamdiocese.org.uk/st-margaret-mary-perry-common

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NEWS: Online services safeguard Erdington resident’s mental health

Words by Steve Sharma / Pics courtesy of Witton Lodge Community Association

A new online support service aims to safeguard the mental health and wellbeing of elderly Erdington residents during the coronavirus lockdown.

The weekly support group sessions, delivered by Witton Lodge Community Association, are tailored to provide engagement and encourage positive coping mechanisms for people who are isolated and vulnerable as a result of the pandemic.

Held every Tuesday from 3-4pm, using video conferencing tool Zoom, participants are invited to share their stories and experiences with each other – to boost their sense of community and connection. Each session carries a particular theme, with content supplied and delivered by qualified physiotherapist Sonia Kumar.

Covering topics such as health, personal grooming, diet and exercise, upcoming sessions will be addressing issues such as: sleep hygiene (26th May), osteoarthritis (2nd June), osteoporosis (9th June), persistent widespread pain (16th June), diet and exercise (23rd June).

People can take part in the weekly sessions with Witton Lodge Community Association by logging onto Zoom using the following link: https://bit.ly/2Zm0Pt8

Wellbeing Officer at Witton Lodge, Fauzia Begum, said the weekly meetings are crucial in helping people to cope with current circumstances.

The impact of COVID19 is something which affects us all but for the elderly and vulnerable – particularly those people with underlying health conditions – the consequences can be devastating,” she said.

For someone who is suffering the effects of poor health and living in isolation, time spent in the company of others can make such a positive difference.

Our support group is to help people cope with life during the lockdown and encourage them to undertake activities which can boost their mental and physical wellbeing.”

Community action and support groups have been quick to provide a range of services during the national lockdown, such as access to food and financial advice. But the longer the physical and social distancing restrictions stay in place, issues surrounding people’s mental health are becoming an increasing concern.

Sourced and supported by The Erdington Coronavirus Taskforce, a portfolio of organisations are offering support services for mental health across the constituency – including facilities from the NHS across Birmingham and Solihull.

Details of all organisations can be found in the Erdington Local COVID-19 Local Support address book and database, hosted on the Erdington Local website.

To find out what support services are available to Erdington locals and residents, visit www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19-local-support/cat/mental-health/

To find out more about Witton Lodge Community Association, visit www.wittonlodge.org.uk/

 

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FEATURE: Witton Lodge Community Association connects an isolated community via popular social media platforms

Words & pics by Ed King / Video by Paul Withers – Erdington Local Broadcast Unit

As part of their ongoing outreach activity during the coronavirus crisis, Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) are using social media platforms to reach out to people across their community.

Running support sessions via WhatsApp, Zoom, and Facebook Live, a team of trained support specialists are offering online advice on a range of social concerns – including health and wellbeing, employment, financial advice, and mental health, during self-isolation.

As part of the rolling programme, running weekly from Monday to Thursday, a ‘Health & Wellbeing support group’ meet via Zoom every Tuesday between 3-4pm. Whilst a special ‘Furlough Scheme Information session’ meet every Wednesday, also via Zoom, from 11am to 12noon – offering advice to people who can no longer leave the house to work.

Further sessions offering ‘Employment Support’ and ‘Social Interaction’ meet every Thursday, via Zoom between 10-11m and via WhatsApp between 11am and 12noon respectively. There is also a special session called ‘Coronavirus Myth Busters’ run every Tuesday, accessible between 10-11am – again, via Zoom.

All interactive online support services being offered by WLCA can be found on their website, under the ‘COVID19’ tab on the main menu.

With the country on lockdown, the Internet has given community support centres such as WLCA an immediate tool to reach those in need – whilst staying self-isolated and following the social distancing guidelines issued by Public Health England.

About three weeks ago we established our digital World of Work and Wellbeing platform,” explains Iram Fardus – WLCA’s Business Development & Performance Manager, “and through that we are currently supporting our Erdington residents with their health and wellbeing, employment, and housing enquiries.

As an organisation we also understand that people might need help with benefits and financial enquires – so we encourage anyone and everyone to get in touch with us; as an organisation, if we (WLCA) can’t support them then will be able to put them in touch with someone who can.”

Using social media already established in people’s day to day life, the hope is that the familiarity with these platforms will encourage more members of the community to get in touch.

We thought most of the residents would already be connected with platforms like Facebook, Skype, and WhatsApp,” continues Fardus, “on top of that, residents don’t need to pay anything for it… they are free to use and most of the residents already have access to them or they already have accounts.”

But the doors of social engagement swing both ways, and once a week Witton Lodge Community Association’s Employment & Engagement Officer, Dellano Lewis, runs a specially tailored ‘Topical Information Session’, or ‘Live Social’, though the Facebook Live platform. The aims of the interactive online sessions are to both listen to, and direct, the concerns from people across the area.

During these times it’s about thinking of different ways we can communication with the community,” explains Lewis, “with these Facebook Live sessions it’s all about connecting virtually. Now everyone’s at home, we have to tap into a different energy, a different frequency. Live Social is all about sharing positivity, sharing information that people can get through Witton Lodge Community Association.

We’re also connected with a lot of other partners who are working in the Perry Common community, within the Erdington area – so any form of information an individual may require, or want access to, they can get that through Witton Lodge.”

But during these times of social fracture, where tight knit communities such as the one in Perry Common are being forced apart, there are many dangers facing an increasingly isolated community. Finance and employment are certainly pressing concerns, but the mental wellbeing of local residents is also being addressed during the Witton Lodge ‘Live Social’ sessions.

It’s vital (to be connected), it’s something that’s really needed in these times,” tells Lewis, “to have communities and organisations that can offer that kind support – that can reach out to someone who’s self-isolating, to reach out to someone who’s lonely…

It doesn’t matter about background or age, or anything like that; to know that there’s people out there, organisations out there, that can support you during these times – even virtually, over the phone, via Skype, Zoom, any kind of digital platform, is very important.”

Interactive support sessions via social media at Witton Lodge Community Association

Full details of all online support sessions being delivered by Witton Lodge Community Association – and how to access them though the various social media platforms used – can be found via the organisation’s COVID-19 web page at www.wittonlodge.org.uk/covid19-news-information-and-resources/

 

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NEWS: Funding of up to £10000 now available for projects to support Erdington’s older residents during the coronavirus crisis

Words by Steve Sharma

Grants are now available to Erdington organisations delivering COVID-19 support services for older residents.

As the pandemic continues to impact life across the constituency, the Erdington Neighbourhood Network Scheme (NNS) is calling out to groups who could provide vital services for the over-50s.

To apply for funding, which can range from micro grants of up to £2000 and up to £10000 for larger projects, organisations are being asked to contact one of two local community service organisations – acting as gatekeepers for the wider Erdington NNS.

If based in Perry Common, Kingstanding, Erdington or Stockland Green, groups should contact Witton Lodge Community Association – based at Perry Common Community Hall.

Whilst groups working in Castle Vale, Pype Hayes, Gravelly Hill or again Stockland Green, should contact Compass Support – the charitable arm of The Pioneer Group, based in Castle Vale.

Since the launch of Erdington NNS in September 2019, more than a dozen groups have received funding to deliver activities and provision – helping reduce isolation and boost wellbeing among the district’s older generation.

But with the social distancing regulations imposed around coronavirus, as many venues that house social engagement and group activities close their doors due to the pandemic, there is concern that residents who are vulnerable and in need of help are not being reached.

Groups are invited to apply for funding to establish activities and support services which benefit the health and wellbeing of older people living in Erdington,” explains Debbie Bates, Health and Wellbeing Lead at Witton Lodge Community Association. “In addition to these services, gaps have been identified in activities and provision in a few specific areas where urgent support is needed. 

We are appealing for organisations who could deliver COVID-19 support services and invite organisations who are able to help, to get in contact and apply.”

Addressing a range of social and care concerns for older residents, the Erdington NNS funding wants to support groups who challenge issues including health, wellbeing, bereavement, and domestic violence – alongside anti-social behaviour and the effect it can have on the wider community.

People can become isolated in many ways,” explains Sarah Powers, Health & Wellbeing Team Leader at Compass Support, part of The Pioneer Group, “it could be through the loss of a spouse, declining health, illness, disability or caring responsibilities, discrimination, prejudice and cultural isolation. We understand that chronic loneliness is not only horrible to experience day in, day out, but left unaddressed it can have a devastating effect on a person’s health and wellbeing.

This grant is a fantastic opportunity to better connect people and deliver meaningful outcomes to older, local residents. Whether the project provides access to emotional support or community engagement, all bids are welcome to help people aged 50+ to lead independent, happy and healthy lives.”

To find out more about the Erdington Neighbourhood Network Scheme (NNS), visit https://wittonlodge.org.uk/new-network-scheme-boosts-erdington-residents/

If you run a group in Perry Common, Kingstanding, Erdington or Stockland Green, and want to apply for funding from the Erdington NNS, please email Debbie.bates@wittonlodge.org.uk

If you run a group in Castle Vale, Pype Hayes, Gravelly Hill or Stockland Green, please email: Donna.ebanks@compass-support.org.uk

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NEWS: Witton Lodge Community Association delivers key support services online

Words by Steve Sharma / Pics by Ed King

To counter the impact of the lockdown imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) is now delivering its key support services online.

People who need help, advice, and guidance around employment and health & wellbeing can now access a range of WLCA’s services, tools, and resources via platforms like Facebook, Zoom, and WhatsApp.

Employment and Engagement Officer, Dellano Lewis, launched the new era with a Facebook Live session.

This has now been complemented by regular WhatsApp group employment support sessions, Employment Support workshops on Zoom, and Health & Wellbeing Zoom Support Group meetings.

Full details about the online resources and services Witton Lodge Community Association are delivering can be found via a dedicated COVID-19 page on the WLCA website, alongside details of the Erdington Emergency Assets Register – a wider list of businesses and volunteer groups offering support during the coronavirus crisis.

Iram Fardus, Business Development and Performance Manager for Witton Lodge Community Association, said it is vital people still have access to services and provisions.

“The circumstances we find ourselves in make it even more important that we reach and connect with people to give them the support and information they need,” explains Fardus.

“While these are unprecedented times people’s needs remain a priority for us and we know from the conversations we’re having with clients that having access to support services is absolutely critical right now.

“Knowing there is someone out there you can talk to, who can help you, is a massive boost for people who would otherwise be cut off from the support they are dependent on.

“And while the focus is on service delivery around employment and wellbeing, it’s just as important – in the current climate – to offer people the chance to connect and engage with others.”

For details of all online workshops, sessions and group meetings being delivered by Witton Lodge Community Association – and how to access them – please visit the organisation’s COVID-19 web page at www.wittonlodge.org.uk/covid19-news-information-and-resources

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FEATURE: Saturday night cabin fever – how Erdington musicians are coping in the coronavirus lockdown

Words by Jobe Baker Sullivan / Pics courtesy of individual musicians featured

Lampstands, sofas and surprise appearances from family pets – the new performance stages for musicians as they stay at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Requesting songs from Alexa or re-runs of Glastonbury just aren’t the same as the live-spirit that comes from a craftsman with their tool – a musician and their instrument.

Musicians want to keep the ‘food of love’ in constant supply, and live-streaming is helping feed the community.

Erdington Local caught up with three Erdington based musicians to see how their lives have changed since lockdown.

When she’s not in high profile business meetings or adventuring around Asia, Jo Baldwin (37) is usually gigging 4 times a week with her band The Jo Baldwin Project (JPB).  From pubs, bars and functions of all kinds, Jo’s weekends are often enthralling and exhausting. The JBP tend to perform rock and pop covers from the 1980s-present, and Jo singing for 3 hours with only short breaks.  

“Music has done wonders for my mental health” she says, her beaming, proud smile almost audible over the phone. Jo openly reminds audiences that she went through a dark time and that music was her constant companion.

Now she’s at home, she has found time for her three true loves: her black Labrador, Josie, her one-eyed Turkish cat, Emre, and her music. Her pets are enjoying the attention, and she’s always assured an attentive audience of two whilst in lockdown. Jo has taken to live-streaming regularly, and self-isolation has meant she has found time to work on her own original songs – and the band are finding it good fun working remotely.

But this is not enough to keep Jo occupied. She’s working from home as the key account manager for a pharmaceutical company and she’s gone the extra mile with her company’s “voluntary redeployment position” – she delivers medicine to patients, and she finds it a humbling experience. “Patients are telling me how happy they are. One was over the moon he didn’t have to catch two buses to the clinic.”

The next few weeks of self-isolation for Jo look positive. Sunshine and dog-walks, time for beloved music and to work on her album. She’s also now“into Tik Tok.”

For some, music is their full-time job. In the Chancellor’s speech on the 26th March, Rishi Sunak said:

I know that many self-employed people are deeply anxious about the support available for them. Musicians and sound engineers; plumbers and … through no fault of their own, risk losing their livelihoods.”

Perhaps this will have assuaged musician’s fears?

One such full-time muso is Reuben Reynolds (29), who before the lockdown, was in demand by schools and bands around the country. He spent his professional time teaching in Leicester and Brixton.

Like Jo, his weekends were dominated by gigs – he tends to back R&B artists, pop artists, gospel bands, and it’s not uncommon for him to be performing for 100s if not 1000s of people at concert venues.

So, what has Reuben been up to?

“I’ve been sleeping a lot more,” he proudly states over the phone. The odd hours musicians have to work – not just the gigs and the teaching, but rehearsals and preparing material, can often dominate their lives.

“I’ve found more time for study and rehearsal, as well as working on some recordings.”

Rueben has always used social media to share his beautiful music and advertise his incredible and varied guitar abilities, and he thinks “it’s important to share and connect” with people.

He seems pretty relaxed about his earnings, too: “I’ve been enjoying the lockdown!” he laughs, “initially, we’re just looking at the next few months wondering where the income is going to come from. But the Government seem to have plans in place.”

He explains that one of his schools are preparing for lessons on Zoom so they can continue to teach students following the Easter break, so he hasn’t escaped work completely.

It’s difficult to predict when this lockdown will end, but Reuben, like many musicians, would be devastated if the country is still in lockdown in August – prime festival season.

It’s saddening to hear of all the postponed-weddings and funerals with so few people attending, wakes are not an option. That also means putting the kibosh on musicians like Edwin Podolski (24) from Kraków, who now lives in Erdington.

He’s a violinist/violist who graduated from the Birmingham Conservatoire. He was in huge demand in orchestras, quartets and string-related music groups – and all bookings for his regular groups such as MAKK and Bollywood Strings have been cancelled or postponed. He was especially looking forward to a big concert in London this April, where he was top of the bill.

The lockdown has allowed Edwin to develop his creative side, arranging English folk tunes for string duo.

He’s been trying to teach his private students over Zoom, but he’s not a fan, “it’s so frustrating. The delay, the bad sound”. No replacement for real life!

Edwin’s been rather excited to find more time for exercise. Before lockdown, Edwin would attend a Muay Thai boxing group, although it’s difficult to train without a partner.

There are so many other people who work in the arts and rely on face-to-face business, as well as people who consume it and make these interactions part of their routine. Erdington MP, Jack Dromey has said: “after food and medicine, isolation will be the big issue – and I want the Arts to play a big role in it.”

All these musicians and art-types may yet have a role to play in the weeks to come. Music plays such an important role in human culture, and these Erdington musicians won’t let a pandemic stop them from creating art.

To find out more about the artists featured in this article, click here for more on The Jo Baldwin Projectclick here for more on Reuben Reynolds, and click here for more on Edwin Podolski.

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