OPINION: Let’s make the ‘new normal’ OK

Words by Ed King – NOT NORMAL NOT OK / Pics by Callum Lees and Phil Drury

NOT NORMAL NOT OK is a campaign that challenges sexual violence – at live music events, clubs, pubs, and bars across country. As venues start to reopen, with gigs being booked and drinks being poured once again, campaign director Ed King calls for an end to ‘rape culture’ in the entertainment industry and beyond.

No one is ever ‘asking to get raped’.

It seems like an absurd sentence to say, but some still need reminding of this fact – no matter if someone is drunk or sober, quiet or laughing. If its late at night or if they’re wearing short fitting clothes. No one invites this monster in.

But sexual violence is such a systemic problem that we have coined an expression and granted it a place in the hallowed halls of society’s self-description. There is now ‘rape culture’. Like ‘gang culture’ or ‘knife culture’, although no one is ever accused of ‘asking to get stabbed’.

It’s prevalent too, dark stains across our social fabric. It’s all around us: at schools and universities, within the workplace, screamed at a stranger from the passenger side of a moving car. And as for the 45th President of the United States of America…

Rape culture trickles into nearly every facet of our society, influencing and excusing the sexual aggressors that hide behind its ubiquity.

It is destroying us; it is abhorrent. It won’t silently go away either, we need to first push it into the light and then out of the room altogether. And we need to do it now.

But how? Well, the vast majority of sexual violence is against women (and the vast majority of sexual aggressors are men) so let’s start there – to achieve any significant change the gender with the most blood on their hands needs to take some responsibility.

And if you want to jump in at this point and tell me that not all men are rapists, I know this. We all know this. It is a point that only distracts us from the ones that really need making. But yes, not all men are rapists. I hear your stamping feet. Now let’s get on with challenging those that are.

On a plus point, within the entertainment industry at least, there has never been a better time than right now – as lockdown restrictions are lifted and music venues, clubs, festivals, and licensed premises start open up and events creep back onto the calendar. Now is a golden chance for change.

We need it too. NOT NORMAL NOT OK launched in 2018, naming itself after a conversation I had with a local singer who had been groped by the man who booked her to perform – behaviour so familiar in the music scene around her that she felt it was almost ‘normal’, that people thought it was ‘OK’ to behave that way towards women.

(By the way, ‘groped’ in a legal lexicon is ‘sexual assault’ – here’s the official definition from the Crown Prosecution Service in case you think you’re too clever to end up in court:‘Sexual assault is when a person is coerced or physically forced to engage against their will, or when a person, male or female, touches another person sexually without their consent.’)

The point that spurned our campaign was that this kind of sexual aggression is not normal and not OK, all we needed after that was a logo.

But the roots of this violence come from an indoctrinated belief that it is simply part of human nature, that sex sells and lust compels. And whilst the most heinous of sexual violence crimes and carry a custodial sentence the rest are merely out-takes from someone’s own personal Carry On film.

So, let’s jump back to those terrible two words and clarify the clarion call that follows them: no one is ever ‘asking’ to get ‘raped’. And no matter how funny you think your actions are, or how ‘harmless’ the ‘bit of fun’ is in your head, it’s not. So, stop.

Find another way to impress your mates and a better way to talk to women. Because with enough clandestine endorsement this behaviour segues neatly into national news alongside words like ‘tragedy’ and ‘victim’.

Mercifully though, the answer is quite simple. Respect others. Be certain about consent. Remember that intimacy is a privilege, not a right or expectation.

And just because you think you are unthreatening, or funny, your actions – to a stranger or someone within your own peer group – can be interpreted as aggressive.

Then remember that each of us is an example to the world around us. So, be a good one.

Let us put an end to the quickfire terms so readily describe the darkness – there should never be a ‘culture’ of ‘rape’, something so inexcusable should not have something so convenient to hide behind. And if you’re still stuck then repeat the name of our campaign: sexual violence is NOT NORMAL and it is NOT OK.

Ever.

For more on the NOT NORMAL NOT OK campaign, or for advice and support if you have been affected by sexual violence, visit www.notnormlnotok.com

NEWS: Erdington MP survey reveals “worryingly” high number of care home staff refusing Covid-19 vaccine

Words by Adam Smith

A “worrying” amount of care home staff in Erdington and Kingstanding are refusing to have the Covid-19 vaccine, a recent survey has revealed.

Shockingly 67% of 30 care homes in the constituency questioned by Jack Dromey MP had staff who have decided against having the life-saving jab.

One home reported 23 out of 25 staff refused the vaccine, including the manager. In another 75% of staff turned down the chance to be vaccinated.

The reasons for refusal show widespread misinformation about the vaccine’s side effects including fears of fertility problems or the jab being poisonous.

Mr Dromey said: “The results of my latest care home survey reveal worrying levels of vaccine uptake amongst care home staff.

“The fact that so many staff in care homes across Erdington are refusing the vaccine is deeply concerning. There is a significant risk posed to care home residents in particular who, for one reason or another, are unable to be vaccinated.

“What is also concerning is some of the reasons that were given for refusing the vaccines. Myths such as the vaccine is ‘poisonous’ and it ’causes infertility’ were both quoted in the responses, despite these being comprehensively disproven. Those who are responsible for sharing these dangerous myths should be utterly ashamed of themselves.”

The UK’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty believes care home staff have a “professional responsibility” to have the vaccine.

Government ministers are discussing whether to make the vaccine mandatory for NHS and care sector staff but unions including the GMB have warned against the idea.

Three of the UK’s biggest care home owners, Care UK, Barchester and Advina Healthcare, are insisting staff have the jab and from now on will only hire people who have been vaccinated.

Mr Dromey’s survey also revealed problems with PPE equipment not getting through to care homes seem to be solved.

Currently only three local care homes currently have current Covid outbreaks. – two with one member of staff affected, but another has seven staff and 14 residents currently battling the virus.

Mr Dromey also praised local care home staff for their bravery over the last 12 months.

He said: “Throughout the pandemic I have been in regular contact with Erdington’s care homes, including three surveys of all 47 local care homes. I have heard first-hand the extremely difficult challenges that staff and residents have faced.

“What has shone through over the past 12 months is the dedication and commitment of care home staff to the residents they care for. I know how hard they have worked, and they have gone above and beyond to provide the very best care in extremely difficult circumstances.”

He added: “I’d like to pay tribute to all care home staff across Erdington for their heroic work.”

For more information on the COVID-19 vaccines direct from the NHS visit www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-vaccination

NEWS: Community shocked over sudden death of Kingstanding singer songwriter

Words by Adam Smith / Pics approved for use by Tina Phillps

The sudden death of a popular Kingstanding singer songwriter has left his community shellshocked and sparked a wave of online tributes.

Family, friends, fellow musicians, and Blues football club fans posted their favourite memories on social media of Darren Phillips who recently took his own life.

The 52-year-old had been a stalwart of the Birmingham music scene for more than 30 years. He started his musical career as a left handed drummer aged just 16 and appeared in numerous bands.

He switched to guitar in 1999 and also penned lyrics as well as singing vocals for bands including The Hungover Stuntmen. He and Robb Swadkiss formed rock outfit Geezer in 2005 and enjoyed success touring across the country and performing at Liverpool’s legendary Cavern Club.

In recent years Darren was releasing music and performing as Jack the Biscuit.

Kingstanding club promoter George Hadley was “gutted” by Darren’s sudden death.

He told Erdington Local: “Darren was what made Kingstanding, Kingstanding. He’d always take time for a chat and ask how I was. He was a really nice guy who was talented too, he was a singer songwriter who had success and was always interested how my promotion Sum Cellar was getting on.

“He was a real family guy too and we are all gutted for his family. These lockdowns have been so tough for so many people and seeing the amount of people in Kingstanding and beyond who have posted on social media has shown how loved he was.”

Darren’s wife Tina, whom he had three sons and four grandchildren with, pleaded with those suffering with mental health problems to confide to loved ones.

She said: “I have lost my best friend my world my rock. The best husband, dad and grandad in the world. I can’t believe I never had an inkling what was going through his mind. I would like to thank you all for your heartfelt messages I am absolutely heartbroken.

“Darren would be overwhelmed with all the kindness. Good night God bless my darling I will love you forever. Please all remember mental health matters just talk, if only Darren had I wouldn’t be writing this now.”

Darren’s beloved Birmingham City Football Club paid tribute to him during their home match against Swansea City on Friday 2 April.

They projected his picture on the big screen with the message ‘Singer Songwriter, Bluenose and Friend. Keep Right On Darren and Keep Rockin With All the Other Stars in Heaven. RIP.’

Former bandmate Robb Swadkins said: “Massive thank you and well done to Birmingham City FC for doing this at last night’s game. You did yourself and Darren proud.”

A GoFundMe page has been launched to help Darren’s family to pay for the funeral which raised more than £350 within 24 hours.

A memorial party is being held at the Sack of Potatoes Saturday, June 26 at 4pm, everyone is welcome.

To donate to Darren Phillips fundraiser visit www.gofundme.com/f/funds-for-darren-phillips-funeral-and-his-family

If you have been affected by issues surrounding mental health contact Bimringham Mind at www.birminghammind.org or call (0121) 262 3555

FEATURE: A home or a prison? How domestic abuse has spiralled during life under lockdown

Words by Adam Smith

(First published in the Erdington Local newspaper – March ’21 edition)

The increase in domestic abuse has been one the most disturbing consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. As lockdown restrictions are eased, and the country prepares to go back to the ‘normal’ we knew before, Erdington Local looks at how violence and aggression in the home are damaging the lives of hundreds of local people.

Domestic abuse rose by 45% in Erdington last year and now accounts for around 25% of all crime committed in the constituency.

Officers are now trained to spot tell-tale signs of abuse and if possible, help the victim. As well as prosecute the abuser which is a big difference from the 1970s when the law was unable intervene between a married couple.

However, lockdown meant victims had the double blow of being forced to spend even more time with their partner, whilst routes to safety and support were blocked by being unable to leave the house and even have private phone calls.

Experts who have been helping Erdington women escape violence since 1980 are keen to stress the lockdowns have not created domestic abuse but exacerbated an existing problem.

For more than 40 years Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid (BSWA) has provided practical escape routes for abused women and children, last year its 220 staff and volunteers helped 7,800 victims.

The charity’s fundraising manager Anna Fawcett told Erdington Local: “Prior to COVID-19 we would rely on face-to-face meetings with victims to unpick what they had been through, from eye contact to body language we were physically there for women.

“But like everybody else we had to change how we help people, whether it be through intercoms or WhatsApp messages, but we are still making a huge difference. Demand for our services has gone up in 12 months, but during the first lockdown we were quieter than expected.

“We soon realised people could not phone us if their partner was in the house so we introduced a chat facility to the helpline which made a big difference.”

Women’s Aid provide advice, counselling and crucially a housing service so women and children will not be homeless if they do successfully leave an abusive domestic situation. BSWA run seven refuges across the city, the locations are secret to prevent violent partners tracking women down, and demand is always high.

Anna said: “For every one room we have, seven or eight women need it. When one becomes available they are free for a matter of hours before being taken.

“COVID-19 is not causing domestic violence but it has heightened it due to the restrictions. But the police are doing a great job trying to prosecute offenders.”

The causes of domestic abuse are entrenched in society and Anna believes although attitudes have improved there is still a long way to go.

She said: “One in four women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime so it will not be fixed overnight; the fact rape prosecutions are at an all time low shows how much work needs to be done.

“In the early 1970s police could not even intervene between a married couple, but perhaps with the Domestic Abuse Bill now in the House of Lords women will finally get equality. We need to keep talking about domestic abuse because our sisters, wives, and daughters are the victims.”

One Erdington mother of two, who now lives in an East Midlands town after her relationship ended violently last year, wanted women suffering in silence to know help is available.

She said: “Lockdown turned my volatile relationship into a living hell because my fella lost his job and could not go to the pub, so we spent more time with each other than we ever had.

“I suddenly realised I was trapped; I couldn’t phone my friends, sisters, or anyone without him knowing. I forgot to clear the search history on the computer and when he found out I’d been searching for hotels and hostels he snapped.

“He fractured my collar bone and broke my pelvis. But waking up in hospital meant I finally could get help, I never went back. The advice and support I got from my hospital bed with just my phone was incredible, it meant I could leave him and take my children too.”

She added: “I shudder to think what would have happened if I had stayed, but Women’s Aid and the police made me realise I was not alone. Loads of women have gone through the same trauma and come out the other side safe and well.”

Tragically, many victims do not escape their tormentor. In the last ten years at least two women every week have been killed by current or former partners in England and Wales, according to the Office for National Statistics, and 30 men die each year in similar circumstances.

Domestic abuse is also one of the main causes of homelessness. Birmingham City Council and Women’s Aid worked together to create Home Options which matched the expertise of BSWA staff and housing officers to ensure domestic abuse victims would not end up on the streets.

Birmingham City Council cabinet member for housing Councillor Sharon Thompson branded the new approach a success.

She said: “The Home Options is the first of its kind in the country and has demonstrated a valuable and much needed initiative, providing a specialist approach and ‘pathway’ for women and children at risk of, or experiencing homelessness due to domestic abuse.

“Domestic abuse is a complex and serious issue, both nationally and locally here in Birmingham, and remains one of the leading causes of statutory homelessness. It has a profound and long-lasting impact upon the safety, health, and wider life chances of women, children, and families; which can often lead to further crisis such as homelessness and financial exclusion.”

Inspector Haroon Chughtai, who decides the police’s priorities for Erdington, promised abusers who used the pandemic’s unique circumstances to their own advantage would feel the full force of the law.

He said: “Like all major events it (COVID-19) has brought both the best and worst out in people.

“For me, the worst is the perpetrators of domestic abuse who have taken advantage of the restrictions and made life unbearable for their victims. We will continue to everything to bring them to justice.

“Domestic abuse is a 45% increase which equates to around 800 extra victims. It is an abhorrent crime which we are determined to continue tackling and it is one of our top priorities.”

He added: “We have also started a pilot scheme in Kingstanding which takes a more enhanced approach at repeat offenders.”

The stereotype of domestic abuse is a husband emotionally and physically attacking his wife but there are many other scenarios which create victims.

Men have traditionally found it hard to admit or report their female partner abused them. Parents attacking their children, teenagers attacking parents or siblings, are also domestic abuse – as are altercations between same sex partners in the LGBTQ community.

The only way to eradicate the problem entirely is if everyone in society tries to stop it, from neighbours reporting violent incidents to employers offering employees help if they turn up to work with a black eye or bruises.

Kingstanding PCSO Meg Skelding wrote to residents about spotting domestic abuse and how to help.

She said: “Support a friend if they’re being abused, let them know you’ve noticed something is wrong. If someone confides in you, there is more information on how to support them.

“If you are worried someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse, you can call Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline for free, confidential support, 24 hours a day on 0808 2000 247.”

She added: “But if you believe there is an immediate risk of harm to someone, or it is an emergency, always call 999.”

If you have been affected by domestic abuse of violence, you can call Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline 24 hours a day on 0808 2000 247 or visit www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk

For more on Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid visit www.bswaid.org

For more from Refuge visit www.refuge.org.uk

NEWS: Police ‘need answers’ as community mourns tragic death of Erdington teenager in hit-and-

Words by Adam Smith

The tragic death of an Erdington teenager after a hit-and-run accident has sparked a massive outpouring of grief this week.

Liam Mooney died on Tuesday and within 24 hours more than 150 people raised £3,500 for his devastated family and countless tributes were posted on social media sites by teenagers upset by the tragedy.

Liam suffered head injuries when the moped he was a passenger on was hit by a silver car on Monday night at 7.20pm on Rocky Lane, Perry Barr. West Midlands Police, who confirmed Liam was from Erdington, are searching for the driver who left the scene after the collision.

Liam’s family paid tribute to the 16-year-old, who was a familiar face on the Topcroft estate, in a statement, they said: “Liam was a bit of a joker and had a brilliant sense of humour.

“He was also so caring at times. He had not long became a uncle and loved his niece so much. We are so heartbroken and never thought this would happen to us.”

They added: “Liam was not just loved by his mom, dad, sisters and brothers but his nans, grandads, aunties, uncles and cousins. He will be sadly missed by everyone.

“Fly high our beautiful little angel. We love you so much, sleep tight. We will all be together again one day.”

Liam Llewellyn, from youth outreach charity Urban Devotion, worked with Liam and his friends on the Topcroft estate for six years.

Liam told Erdington Local: “Liam was a big character and his loss will create a big hole which will not be filled.

“He was a full of fun and the life of the party, he was always happy to see us and we loved him for the way he was. He was very faithful to his friends and they will be hurting now. ”

Liam, aged 31, added: “As an organisation we have known him and his family for ten years, our motto is ‘Community Transformation – One Life at a Time’ and getting someone like Liam onside is what we are all about because he was so well known in the area.

“It is no surprise to see so many young people speak out about what a great person he was.”

Family friend Chelsea Kelly launched a GoFundMe page called Liam’s Funeral Fund on Wednesday which raised £3,500 in 24 hours.

She said: “Sadly we lost Liam to a tragic bike accident, he’s leaving behind his mom, dad, brothers and sisters and so many friends that will forever miss him

“Liam, also known as ‘Dennis the Menace’ touched every single heart of every person that ever met him, he was the most polite, pure hearted young boy you could ever meet and anyone that did have the pleasure to meet him is truly blessed.”

Frances Carey praised Liam’s kind nature, she said: “Such a wonderful boy who looked after my grandson who had just moved into the area.”

Detective Inspector Adam Jobson appealed for information about the driver who rammed the moped Liam was a passenger on.

He said: “Liam was a teenager and should have had his life in front him.

“This is a devastating time for his family and they need answers about what happened on Monday night.

“We really need to speak to the car driver so they can tell us what went on and help us piece together the full circumstances. It’s imperative we hear their side of the story.”

A police spokesman said: “If you were in the area at the time and saw what happened, or perhaps have dash-cam or cycle-cam footage, we’re keen to hear from you and would urge you to get in touch.

“You can send us a message via live chat at www.west-midlands.police.uk 8am – midnight or call 101 anytime. To remain 100% anonymous please call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

“Tell them what you know, not who you are. Please quote log number 3771 of 22/03/21.”

To donate to Liam’s Funeral Fund on the GoFund me platform visit www.gofundme.com/f/xhb7d-liams-funeral-fund 

LOCAL OPINION: How a community came together and made themselves heard

Words by Estelle Murphy – Short Heath Fields Trust / Pics by Ed King & Estelle Murphy

12 months ago, Estelle Murphy joined a growing campaign to Save Short Heath Playing Fields, a beloved green space in Erdington that Birmingham City Council had earmarked for a housing estate.

A year later, as Short Heath Fields Trust prepare for a meeting with Councillor Ian Ward and the heads of planning, Estelle tells Erdington Local how “picking a fight” with the council can change your world, forge friendships, give you grey hair, frustrate you beyond reason, and fill you with pride.

This time last year I would never have dreamed of picking a fight with Birmingham City Council, but these are strange times we are living in.

When the council decided to build on Short Heath Playing Fields, ignoring alternative brown field sites, our community were outraged. Many generations have spent their childhoods on those playing fields and wanted them kept safe for those yet to come.

Modern day life has seen my community drift apart. Rarely looking up from their own worries to say hello, overcrowded HMO’s, unemployment, and families unable to make the choice between heating or food. My community has been tired and fractured.

But a small group of people decided to stand up for right, against wrong. The fight to stop the council building on Short Heath Playing Fields began with a chance encounter of myself and Stephen Hughes, which within an hour grew – adding a few of our neighbours and galvanising into Short Heath Fields Trust.

Fellow campaigners and I got front row seats as we watched our community break and mend itself all in the same breath. Tempers had snapped, and the playing fields became the final nail in the coffin. Our community had watched their way of lives, and neighbourhood, slowly erode – and frustrated people, sick of being ignored, stood side by side, straightened their backs, found their voices and roared. Together as one.

We are nowhere near the end of the fight to save Short Heath Playing Fields, but we do now have a “seat at the table”, a phrase used by Jack Dromey MP. We have had to learn new skills, write proposals, meet councillors, spend hours researching documents, deeds, and legislation.

Staring at laptop screens into the small hours, day after day. It really is like being in a maze; dead ends, wrong turns, blocked pathways, feeling hopelessness, frustration, and despair. I have got lost only to find myself coming back round another corner. I have cried. I have screamed. All because I have stepped into a world where I do not understand the rules of the game.

But then I open my door, step outside, and realise this is not just my fight. It has shown me that the kind of people who step up and stand shoulder to shoulder with you, who fight as hard as you, each in their own unique way, still exist. This is a community fight.

And this fight bought a community together. From the HMO tenants to their neighbours and pensioners, people have picked up litter, cleared overgrown pathways, and cut back brambles. They now laugh, joke, and work together again.

I have seen a young family living in an HMO grateful enough to ask those clearing the entrances to sign small wooden hearts for their new-born son, then proudly bring him to meet the community who organised a Halloween pumpkin hunt on the playing fields.

I have seen OAP’s picking up extra toilet rolls (when we all went mad and emptied the shelves_ leaving them on a young family’s doorstep. There are now families cooking an extra meal every Sunday, to make sure someone alone has something warm inside them.

I have seen my community stand together in the middle of Storm Eric, protesting the council’s refusal to cut the grass on the playing fields, when we asked for the space to be cleared so we could be outside safely in the middle of a pandemic. They were armed with handheld gardening tools determined to do it themselves if they had to.

Now I can’t walk down the street without being asked: “how are we doing” or “any news?” Despite how hard it has been, we have got through it together, and will continue forward together because we are a community. It is inspiring to see and humbling to be a part of.

And I have learned that when you ignore people for long enough, they come together to stand up, to be counted, and to make themselves heard.

For more on the campaign to Save Short Heath Playing Fields, visit www.shortheathfieldstrust.godaddysites.com – or click here to visit the ‘Save Short Heath Playing Fields’ page on Facebook.

NEWS: Excitement as new FIFA gaming advert filmed in Erdington

Words by Adam Smith / Pics by Ed King

Erdingon is going to be the star of a brand new FIFA computer game advert after Brookvale was chosen for a filming location.

Set against the imposing backdrop of the M6 motorway, the advert was filmed on the football pitch in front of the Magnet Centre earlier this week – overlooked by flats in Dunlin Close.

FIFA computer game campaigns are seen across the world and can cost large amounts of money to make.

In a previous advert for the global sporting brand, producers Pulse Films have enlisted Hollywood director Yann Mounir Demange and footballing superstars Eden Hazard, Jadon Sancho, and Raheem Sterling.

During the filming, which saw the production crew on site between 10am on Wednesday until 2am on Thursday, some Brookvale residents were offered £20 to keep their lights on at home – adding to the urban skyline of the advert.

Susan Bicknell, who has lived on the estate for 17 years, told Erdington Local: “There were six huge lorries and a massive crane with a spotlight pointed at the pitch where players kept on replaying one move, so it was a bit of excitement on the Brookvale.

“They paid five of us £20 to keep our lights on throughout filming and I was told they were filming an advert for a FIFA computer game, they liked the location because of the Magnet Centre.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the advert when it is on television.”

Panikos Panayiotou, who runs a foodbank from the Magnet Centre, saw the advert being filmed.

He said: “They rented the whole centre out for a day and it was great to see them filming.

“This is not the first time the centre has been used for a location, Steven Spielberg was here filming Ready Player One a few years ago.

“It’s funny the whole world gets to see the Magnet Centre but a lot of people who live near by do not know what goes on here.”

The Midlands Greek and Cypriot Association purchased the Magnet Centre from the G.E.C in 1984 and it now boasts St Lukes Orthodox Church, a Greek shop and café, and a community school.

Pulse Films location manager Alistair Vlok was tight-lipped about the advert, although it is believed it will be seen on television in a matter of months.

In a letter displayed on the flats in Dunlin Close, the production team explained: ‘the scenes we are filming involve a foot team playing a football match at night.’

The notice went on to offer a point of contact for any concerned residents, reassuring Erdington locals all activity ‘complies with the government’s guidelines on managing the risks of COVID-19.’

SPORT: Erdington UFC star Leon ‘Rocky’ Edwards back in the Octagon – looking at a win to clinch the title shot

Words by Adam Smith

Erdington MMA star Leon ‘Rocky’ Edwards is headlining the UFC Fight Night at the UFC Apex in Vegas on Saturday 13th March (GMT) night, after being promised a spectacular performance will give him a world title shot.

Edwards had four fights cancelled in the last 20 months due to COVID-19 so is raring to get into the Octagon against Belal Muhammad.

With a total of six fights on the card, the UFC Fight Night will be live streamed on BT Sport 1 from 10:30pm (GMT) on Saturday 13th March. Edwards is expected to enter the Octagon at around 4:30am (GMT) on Sunday 14th March.

Despite the disappointment of missing out on headlining UFC London against Tyron Woodley last March, and seeing three fights against Khamzat Chimaev cancelled, Edwards believes he is now stronger than ever.

He said: “It was disappointing when Woodley it got cancelled but I thought ‘you know what, let’s use this time to improve my skills and my mindset’.

“I’ve had a year and a half in the gym, out of training camps, and my overall game is so much better – my grappling, my wrestling, my striking.”

Edwards contracted coronavirus in December but insists he has had no long-lasting effects.

He said: “I lost a lot of weight, 6kg. I lost my appetite for food; my smell and my taste went.

“I had two weeks off and went back to training, but I struggled with my lungs, I didn’t feel myself. My coach said: ‘you’re operating at 50% of the fighter you can be’.

“I’m back to normal now, my strength is back and my weight is back up.”

‘Rocky’ is on an eight fight winning streak and is ranked third in the world in the highly competitive welterweight division.

UFC supremo Dana White this week said Edwards will be “100% next in line” to fight champion Kamaru Usman if he wins spectacularly.

Edwards said: “If I put in a great performance, I can’t see where else I can go other than a title shot, I’m looking forward to showing fans I’m the best in the world.

“It would be proof to all the kids out there in Britain that you can do it. I spent all my time in Birmingham so it would be nice to show the kids you can reach the top by staying in England.”

Leon Edwards faces off against Belal Muhammad

For more information about Leon Edwards visit www.ufc.com/athlete/leon-edwards

For more on UFC from BT Sport, visit www.bt.com/sport/ufc 

LOCAL PROFILE: Vera Gilbert

Words by Jobe Baker Sullivan / Pics by Ed King

**Read our LOCAL PROFILE with Vera Gilbert in the March edition of the Erdington Local newspaper, out now**

Once viewed on television screens across the UK, Vera Gilbert is a former broadcast journalist and passionate Erdington activist. Previously working for newspapers and radio, alongside her career in TV, Vera has found a happy home supporting her local church and animating events and festivals in Erdington. Erdington Local took up the chance to relive some great moments with her.

Vera was born in St Vincent and the Grenadines, her home country made her “very happy – I still retain that atmosphere as my little heaven. That sense of community… We were poor, but the people were very loving, very kind.”

Vera moved to Birmingham during her primary school years, first living in Washwood Heath. She attended Hodge Hill Girls School in the 1970s.

Vera’s interested in journalism stemmed from her love of engaging with people. “To this day, I enjoy telling people’s stories. They were always a focus – and because they were a focus for me, it was a real privilege. I loved it. All the quirkiness, the different accents, the peculiarities.”

She studied her undergraduate degree at Birmingham Polytechnic, with her thesis concerning ‘Community Newspapers’. She was prodigious and noticed for her talents early on.

“I remember always having offers. I had an offer from the Evening Mail – I even got a front cover scoop for a local newspaper in Luton! I ended up at BRMB. Ed Doolan was there at the time – Les Ros was there. I was a reporter, sent out with a tape recorder, the old style, and I remember covering the Fireman’s strike.”

Vera continued to work for broadcast companies, including ITV and BBC. She went on to become a much sought-after freelance journalist, presenting content for Nationwide, a news and current affairs programme that ran between 1969 and 1983.

“It was excellent, doing pieces to camera. I did a lot of main stories and many ‘and finally’s. I remember doing something on a nudist beech… and I had to report a piece to camera… I won’t tell you how I managed it!”

Travelling the country in search of stories, Vera visited many places and met many people, including celebrities. One such celebrity was the popular English comedian Rodd Hull, best known for his mischievous hand puppet named Emu. Vera notes being very confused when first meeting him, with Rodd Hull’s material today relying on the same celebrity-embarrassing energy seen in the characters of Sacha Baren Cohen.

She recalled: “He had the bird, which I really saw as a prop. Then I started noticing that this bird was moving. I don’t know why, but I took it was real. If ever the bird moved, I would jerk.

“The bird started to get what I thought as ‘aggressive’ and I backed away – the bird came forward, and I ran and I was screaming! This was all on live TV. I was shouting ‘control the bird! Somebody come to my help!’ I didn’t realize that the crew was filming it all. There are some people that remember that to this day.”

But life in broadcasting was not all glitz and glamour, and Vera lived through a dark times in British history. Black Britons were subject to waves of racism, with slogans such as ‘no blacks, no dogs, no Irish’ cemented in the national mindset as an example of such intolerance.

Black women were likely to be only seen in lower paid jobs, as Vera comments: “Back then, as a black woman, the best job you could hope for was nursing, and not even the highest echelons of that.” Vera felt that she had to be “a role model – not like people speak as it now – but, as a black person, you felt you were putting the community on show.”

Vera stopped working as a journalist some 20 years ago but turned instead to her local area. She writes the newsletter for the Erdington United Reformed Church where she takes great pride in finding interesting stories and putting people’s good deeds on higher pedestals.

“I love Erdington. I love the people. I want to do what I can to uphold the area.”

On March 26 at 7pm, Vera is organising an online event called ‘Truth to Tell’ which she says the purpose is “to have conversations where black people talk about their experience, for them to say why they feel supportive of Black Lives Matter and so that people know about racism.”

For more details on ‘Truth to Tell’ email: everyoneerd@gmail.com

LOCAL PROFILE: Lady Sanity

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Profile pics by Kristine Lakontra

From the Birmingham Music Awards to the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony on Australia’s Golden Coast, Lady Sanity has been performing her songs across the world. With a new single coming out at the end of February, Erdington Local talked to the Birmingham-based musical artist about her Erdington roots and global ambitions.

Lady Sanity has always lived in Erdington, attending Stockland Green School for her secondary education. Despite being passionate about music from an early age, Sanity told how “I have no musicians in the family – me being a musician was a little bit of a curve ball for everyone… Although my grandfather used to take out his harmonica every now and then.”

Her family did, however, expose her to many different musical genres – encouraging the artist to embrace a variety of genres in her own music. “My cousin was showing me Hip Hop over in America. My sister was listening to bands in the UK. Another cousin was listening to Indie and Rock music… A lot of the music I was listening to were fusions of rap.” Sanity even notes Linkin Park as being an early influence.

At aged 12, Lady Sanity got a guitar from Home Bargains – bought for her by her older sister, which was a “cheap, crappy guitar with nylon strings.” Sanity was self-taught, using ‘tabs’ – a type of musical notation system.

Sanity ‘went electric’ aged 14, which was also around the time she was performing her own original music. She fondly remembers her music teacher, Mr Scott, as “very much encouraging me to rap and play guitar…. I was quite a reserved and quiet kid at school!”

Lady Sanity is one of many great musical artists to have come out of Birmingham – producing music inspired by Jazz, Hip-Hop and Grime.

Having played at many venues and events across the city, including Handsworth/Hockley based urban festival The Flyover Show and the Shard End Park hosted Shardfest, Lady Sanity’s first major festival appearance was at Glastonbury 2016.

Sanity entered into a competition called ‘Glastonbury Emerging Talent’, which although she didn’t win, she benefited from immensely: “I was picked up by other bookers to perform smaller stages of the festival – I had three different slots during the weekend. It was an amazing experience”.

She also recalls performing as part of a Hip Hop conference called ‘New Skool Rules’ in Rotterdam, Netherlands. “There were people from America, Canada, UK,” told Sanity. “Artists who came from all around the world – it’s a great weekend to really jam and connect with people.”

A crowning moment for Lady Sanity was performing at the Gold Coast Australia-Birmingham handover ceremony for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, although it came as a surprise for the young artist. 

“I was asked if I was free for a couple of days. I went down to the Hippodrome for an interview and they said they had a gig for me – the Commonwealth Games gig! That was only the second gig that me and the band played together! They offered me a house-band but I wanted to keep my own musicians.”

Covid has been adverse for many musicians, making live gigs impossible – an important source of income for a touring musician like Lady Sanity. She estimates she had some “20-30 gigs cancelled” and numerous, potential last-minute requests unaccounted for: “I finished touring with Sound UK before lockdown, and I even performed with Pee Wee Ellis – he was James Brown’s saxophonist… Some gigs were postponed – I was supposed to tour Belgium.”

Nonetheless, Lady Sanity adapted to cyberspace, performing on many livestream gigs – including one facilitated by The Sunflower Lounge which she took part in “to support this amazing venue so it can stay open”. It wasn’t as enjoyable as the live experience, but for Lady Sanity it was still “good to get out to gig, although it’s not the same as interacting with a crowd”.

But the web is indeed worldwide, and during the coronavirus lockdowns Lady Sanity has “been in contact people around the world. I’m working with an Italian power ballad singer I met over the Internet… Now is the time I can sit down and work on EPs, because I’m not up and down doing shows.”

On a personal level, Sanity also believes the lockdown has allowed her to “slow down… It’s helped me be grateful for my life and family.”

Lady Sanity is now looking forward to a year of gigs-that-should-have-happened, as well as releasing her new single, ‘Love’ – coming out at the end of February 2021.

“It’s about the different aspects of love,” explained the Erdington born and raised artist, “your family, friends, and yourself.”

For more on Lady Sanity find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/OfficialSanity