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

NEWS: India Garden Restaurant gifts food parcels to over 60’s across Erdington

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Ed King

India Garden is a restaurant that prides itself on serving classic Indian dishes, specialties, and desserts.

Located at 992 Tyburn Road, India Garden Restaurant has been involved in catering for over 35 years – suppling large Council venues and supermarket chains, as well as operating their popular Erdington based restaurant.

But as the scare of COVID-19 was first hitting the country, the family run business began helping neighbours who were struggling to buy goods from supermarkets – using their own stock, alongside established links with their suppliers.

Now India Garden are delivering free food parcels to over 60’s in Erdington – packed with essential goods including hand sanitizer and loo rolls, as well as a hot meal from their own kitchens.

We’ve been here (in Erdington) for a long time and it’s the locals that have supported the business,” tells Shaan Deen, India Garden’s Operations Manager, “and we thought we’ve got to do something.

So, we thought, 60 plus, anybody, free of charge… we’re just going to give them food parcels with essential items – a hot meal, curry, rice, bread, and then all the hand sanitizers, loo rolls, baked beans… and whatever else we can. So that’s what we did.”

India Garden began telling existing customers about their ‘coronavirus campaign’ over the phone, but news of their good will soon gained a lot of attention on social media.

We threw it onto Facebook and it just blew up from there,” continues Shaan, “people started tagging, and we started getting lots of enquires. Genuinely they wanted to donate; I can give ₤100, I can give ₤50. And we said we don’t want your money, but we need the manpower – if you can come and help us deliver, then give us a shout.”

India Garden now have 72 volunteers helping them deliver care packages to around 211 people, with teams going out five days a week.

It wouldn’t be possible without the volunteers, from the local area,” continues Shaan. “People were saying ‘we only live up the road – we live in Castle Vale; we live on Paget Road…. And before we knew it, we’d gathered a lot of volunteers. I want to highlight that; the volunteers play a big part. They’re good people.”

The restaurant have also launched their ‘Tag a Hero’ campaign, encouraging social media followers to tag NHS workers – winning frontline staff a free, sumptuous, Indian meal, delivered to their door.

To find out more about India Garden Restaurant, who are still open for takeaway orders, visit www.indiagardenrestaurant.co.uk

Or visit the India Garden Facebook page, where you can ‘tag a hero’ and help NHS frontline workers win a free meal www.facebook.com/IndiaGardenBirmingham

LOCAL PROFILE: Jo Bull – founder of the ‘Erdington local community response to COVID-19’ Facebook group

Words by Terri-Anne Fell / Pic courtesy of Jo Bull

Jo Bull has been living in Erdington for 13 years. Since she was a teenager, she has been creating handmade cards which she sells to raise money for Erdington’s YMCA. Itching to be a part of her community, Jo volunteers as a peer lead for mental health service users in the area, encouraging vulnerable people to create friendships and gain creative skills they wouldn’t normally have.

When the COVID-19 lockdown began, Jo realised very quickly that services she and many others turned to in their hour of need would have to close – so she took to Facebook to look for an online community she could be a part of, to help in any way she could.

Noticing other areas in Birmingham had created response groups, Jo created the Erdington Community Response to COVID-19 Facebook group. Since its inception last month, the group has amassed over 600 members. Currently, the group has supported over 400 households and has 63 active volunteers.

Jo’s role in the group is to provide online support to people who need somebody to talk to, and she signposts to services she knows can help vulnerable people.

Erdington Local is proud to recognise and celebrate Jo Bull – a fantastic member of our community and a well-deserved Erdington Local Hero.

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EL: What’s your relationship with Erdington, how long have you lived/worked in the area?
Jo: I’ve lived in Erdington for 13 years; I live on Watt road and it’s the longest I’ve stayed in one place.  I moved here in 2007, just after theological college, where my first job was working in Erdington Job Centre for the Department of Work & Pensions. I remember noticing when I started working at the Job centre that almost all of my colleagues didn’t live locally. They all thought it was strange that I did!

EL: If you could shout about something in Erdington so loud the whole of Birmingham could hear, what would it be?               
Jo: Eden Café. It’s my favourite.  They are fab. They’ve been open for about three years and are attached to the YMCA. It’s just a really nice place to visit and to be a part of. I always have a latte, and any day they have good cake is my favourite day! They are friendly and have quite a few regulars who like me have various issues and disabilities. They are good at getting to know their people and catering to all of our little quirks.

EL: In your spare time, you’ve been creating handmade cards. How long have you been doing this for?
Jo: I’ve been making cards since I was a teenager. I’m 42, so I started nearly 30 years ago as I got really frustrated with finding the perfect card in the shop. I’d open them and find they’d say things inside that had nothing to do with the person I was sending it to! I thought because I can’t find what I want, I’d just do it myself. They sell my cards in Eden Café, and the profits from sales go to the YMCA.

EL: Whilst the UK is in lockdown, you’ve set up the Erdington Local Community Response to COVID-19 Facebook Group, what made you want to set up the group?
Jo: As the UK went in to lockdown I realised everything I was a part of in the community would be stopped, which made me feel absolutely devastated and lost. I thought to myself that people in Birmingham are going to need a way to talk to each other, people were setting up local COVID-19 groups and someone asked me if there was one in Erdington. There wasn’t, so I made one.

EL: Did you anticipate the group would gain the traction it has?
Jo: I wasn’t expecting people to join. To start off with I just added people I knew from the day centre and gave the link to a few people who were asking for it. For the first two days I was the only one posting anything; I was a little bit gutted so I went away for a few hours and when I came back to the group there were 30 people wanting to join, it was like the cavalry coming in. I didn’t know who they were, and they didn’t know me, we all just wanted to help.

EL: How have you managed to keep the support consistent as the group has grown?
Jo: As the group was growing, I realised I couldn’t be the only admin. I didn’t know if my mental health would hold out and if I got sick I didn’t want to leave people on their own in the group. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have all the other admins.

EL: In the group you’ve said you mostly provide online support for people who may be struggling with their mental health, why did you decide to take on this role?
Jo: At the day centre, I volunteer as a peer lead for mental health service users. So, I worked out with the other admins that it was OK for anyone to chat with me if they needed an emotional offload.  You never know who you are coming in to contact with when on deliveries and you may meet really vulnerable people and not know what to do.

I’ve spoken to people who have been really suffering whilst in lockdown, and people have come to the group saying they don’t know whether they’ll be able to get through this. I’ve found I’m able to signpost people to organisations that will be able to help them easily and I’m great at being able to motivate people.

EL: Speaking of motivating people, you’ve been using your handmade cards to spread joy to volunteers in the group. One of our writers received a card and it was so lovely!
Jo: I seem to be chief card maker for the group,  I’ve already given cards to people who have helped me personally during lockdown, but David (Owen) had the idea of sending every volunteer a thank you card and I did 23 cards – one for every active volunteer at the time.  I thought my hand was going to fall off, I wrote a proper message in all of them. They are all working hard and they deserved a handwritten personalised thank you.

EL: As the person who created the Erdington COVID-19 Community Response group, do you think other organisations in the area are doing enough to help the fight against coronavirus?
Jo: I think it is phenomenal that people are able to do anything; however much we do I think there will always be something that still needs to be done, we can’t fix everything. I would say, are we all going to bed having done what we can today?

If we focus on what we are doing and what we have done, rather than what can be done, then we are likely to help more people. We do what we can, and not what we can’t. As long as I know people are getting help, I’m happy.

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

Alternatively, you can get in touch with Erdington Local via phone or email and we will forward your details to the Erdington local community response to COVID-19 Facebook group.

For all our contact information, visit www.erdingtonlocal.com/contact-erdington-local

FEATURE: Rugby dad tackles COVID-19 lockdown – Erdington Rugby Club player and patron, David Owen, is ready to ‘ruck’ n roll with community response to coronavirus

Words by Keat Moore / Pics courtesy of David Owen

Erdington local, David Owen, has been a star player when it comes to community response to the COVID-19 lockdown – which has left many residents housebound and anxious about how they’re going to access food and supplies.

David (37), who works as a Data Analyst for National Express, leapt into action after seeing a post on Facebook calling for volunteers – as part of the ‘Erdington local community response to COVID19’ group set up by another Erdington resident, Jo Bull.

The Facebook group currently has over 600 members and has become a de facto hub for those seeking or offering support to the Erdington community during the coronavirus crisis. And thanks to the efforts of David and Jo, as well as their team of nearly 60 active volunteers, they’ve already helped over 200 people.

Erdington Local contacted David to find out more about the man nicknamed ‘Mr. Erdington’, and how he’s getting on.

“I feel like a kid with his finger in the dam, to be honest,” admits David, “but we’re doing well, and our volunteers are doing an amazing job”. Given the uncertainty around how long the coronavirus lockdown could last, let alone the pandemic, it’s not surprising he feels apprehensive.

At the time of writing, the Erdington local community response to COVID19 Facebook group has 57 volunteers – all members of the community who just want to help. Each evening, David posts an update to the group and gives special thanks to his ‘Angels of the Day’; whether it’s collecting hundreds of sandwiches or delivering a single bottle of Calpol, these volunteers are going that extra mile to perform small miracles of community-spirit when people need each other the most.

David also has fronted £200 of his own money to ensure everyone, even those who can’t afford much, don’t go without. “I’m not too concerned about the money at the moment,” tells David, “we can sort that out after, but right now people need food and that’s more important” – although he wishes he had more money to cover all of the volunteer’s expenses, even though they haven’t asked for any compensation.

All of the volunteers pay for the groceries out of their own pockets and give the receipts to David so he can transfer the money back to their bank accounts, a system that also works as a deterrent for those who would try to take advantage.

“We’ve had a few chancers, but not many. And once they know I’ll be checking their details and that everything we do is cashless, they don’t respond, ” David takes safeguarding seriously after reports from other parts of the city that vulnerable people have been defrauded by those pretending to be volunteers. “I know a lot of people in the area already, and you get a feel for who the dodgy ones are. But honestly, we haven’t had to deal with anything like that,” and whilst he doesn’t have the means to perform DBS checks, David does the best he can to ensure the group’s volunteers are who they say they are by verifying their addresses and identities via the electoral roll.

David and his volunteers are even happy to make shopping trips multiple times a week for the same individual, if needed. “I do have to tell people that we’re not going to do a weekly shop,” explains David, “they have to limit it to three days’ worth of supplies, and not £90 weekly shops, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to carry on.”

The Active Wellbeing Society, who have been appointed by Birmingham City Council to help coordinate and distribute food supplies across the city, are also supporting David and his efforts – which he says has helped manage the increasing demand and need from the community: “TAWS have been brilliant, they have loads of food from across the city and they’ve got people prepping and packing hot meals and we deliver them.”

“I’ve always been rubbish at being idle,” David responds when asked what inspired him to get involved, “and I’m a big believer in community spirit, especially in Erdington.” He’s no stranger to rallying for a cause either, having campaigned and fundraised for the Erdington Rugby Club. It was brought back from extinction through David’s efforts and the generosity of the local community, going from strength to strength, even replacing the changing rooms with a donated double-decker bus (nicknamed Rugger) kitted out with showers.

But the biggest surprise for David has been discovering how many organisations work in Erdington to support the community, “I’ve never really been exposed to these kinds of organisations because I’m all about the rugby club, but it’s really reassuring to know that they’re out there trying to make a difference.”

He’s also been touched by how quickly he and the other volunteers have built relationships with the people they support, “it’s lovely, we’ll call ahead to let them know we’re on the way with their shopping so they can pick it up from the doorstep, and when we get there they’ll be in the window with a big grin, giving us all a wave.”

David’s also got big plans for when the lockdown is over, “I’m going to throw a big party for all of the volunteers and for everyone we’ve supported. All of us have made friends that we didn’t have before, and I want to celebrate that and the community-spirt that I always knew Erdington had. I don’t want us to go back to being strangers.”

To visit the Erdington local community response to COVID19 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

Alternatively, you can get in touch with Erdington Local via phone or email and we will forward on your details to David Owen and the the Erdington local community response to COVID-19 Facebook group.

For all our contact information, visit www.erdingtonlocal.com/contact-erdington-local/