NEWS: Newly elected West Midlands Mayor wants people “to be proud of Erdington High Street”

Profile and campaign pics supplied by Birmingham Labour

Newly elected West Midlands Mayor Richard Parker wants to improve the fortunes of Erdington High Street and for people “to be proud” of the once bustling retail hotspot.

Labour’s first ever West Midlands Mayor won an incredibly tight election against the Conservative and two time elected Andy Street, but now he just wants to get on with the job.

Mr Parker has plans to introduce new policies and innovations to attract businesses to high streets like Erdington’s across the region, which will encourage residents to shop local and invest in their retail community.

He told Erdington Local: “I want people to be proud of Erdington High Street again.

“We will utilise new powers from a Labour government to bring empty shops on our high streets back into use and to help businesses to set up – in partnership with Business Improvement Districts and councils via a range of measures such as compulsory purchasing orders, ‘meanwhile’ uses, and flexible business rates.”

He added: “I want to establish a new Local High Streets Taskforce to ‘innovate and regenerate’ empty shops and to identify derelict sites that can be put back into use.

“We will establish an empty property register for our high streets and a proactive introductions system, which will work with partners to search for occupiers and promote empty spaces.”

The former business consultant and Price Waterhouse Cooper partner is also a big fan of market stalls as a way of revitalising high streets and has pledged to establish a new fund to help support market traders across the region.

Erdington Business Improvement District has itself been exploring plans for a new market to be held on the pedestrianised area by the Co-op supermarket.

Anti-social behaviour is also high on the list for the new West Midlands Mayor, and whilst his office lacks the powers of the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) – which would have been absorbed by the Mayor’s office if it had not been recently blocked in the High Court by the PCC Simon Foster – the newly elected West Midlands Mayor Richard Parker wants to fight the scourge of anti-social behaviour and the impact it has on communities.

Mr Parker added: “I will work with the Police and Crime Commissioner, councils, faith and community groups, and West Midlands Police to make the streets of Erdington, Kingstanding, and Castle Vale safer.

“Anti-social behaviour blights the lives of many people and we know that having visible policing out on the streets tackling crime, gathering intelligence, and cracking down on anti-social behaviour is essential to making our communities safer.

“We will guarantee town centre patrols dedicated to their areas.”

For more on West Midlands Mayor Richard Parker visit www.facebook.com/RichardParkerWM

NEWS: West Midlands has its first Labour Mayor as Richard Parker wins by narrow margin

Pics sourced from candidates and Erdington Local archives

The West Midlands has a Labour Mayor for the first time.

Labour candidate Richard Parker narrowly beat the two-term Conservative Mayor Andy Street, the only man to previously hold the role after winning the first contest in 2017.

Due to a recount and technical difficulties, the announcement at Birmingham International Convention Centre was delayed by over seven hours.

This was also the first time the Mayoral election was decided by the First Past the Post voting system, unlike the second preferences style poll in previous elections.

But once the final results were verified, Labour’s Richard Parker clinched 225,590 votes to the Conservative’s Andy Street’s 224,082 votes – in an astonishingly close result.

Independent candidate Akhmed Yakoob, who Erdington Local was amongst the first to profile in their race for West Midlands Mayor, was the clear third place choice – clocking up 69, 621 votes.

Reform UK’s Elaine Williams came fourth with 34, 471 votes.

Coming in fifth was Gravelly Hill resident and Green Party candidate Siobhan Harper-Nunes, who earned 31,036 votes.

Ms Harper-Nunes fought a fierce campaign without major backing or finances from her national party, and previously told Erdington Local she believed “just running is winning” as it allowed her to place what she felt were important issues on the agenda.

To read a full our LOCAL PROIFILE with Siobhan Harper-Nunes, click here.

The Liberal Democrats came in last with Sunny Virk convincing 12,176 people to put a cross next to his name.

There were 4,757 rejected ballots in the Mayoral elections, compared to 23,000 in the Police and Crime Commissioners election which was announced earlier in the day and saw Labour’s candidate Simon Foster re-elected.

The results from both elections, held on 2 May, mean this is the first time since the West Midlands Mayor and West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) offices were created that the same political party holds both offices.

However, the result in the race for West Midlands Mayor could have been a more conclusive for Labour without the impact from independent candidate Akhmed Yakoob – who galvanised communities across the West Midlands who felt anger over Sir Keir Starmer’s stance on refusing to call a ceasefire in Gaza last year.

Mr Yakoob won his third place through on a prominent social media, anti-Labour, pro-Palestine, George Galloway backed campaign, that only began four weeks ago but was helped by experienced ex-Labour councillors and members.

However, one the votes were counted, and recounted, the job of West Midladns Mayor and Chaor of the West Midlands Combined Authority went to Labour’s Richard Parker. After being declared the next West Midlands Mayor, MrParker said: “This is the most important thing I will ever do.

“This week people voted for the person and the party. They recognised that a Labour mayor can make a positive difference in this region.

“I believe a Labour Mayor working with a Labour Government will get this region back to its best again.”

Acknowledging his party’s massive loss of trust of the Muslim community, who voted for Mr Yakoob in unprecedented numbers for an independent candidate, Mr Parker further pledged to: “Build back trust within the Muslim community.”

Offering warm words to his vanquished opponent, he added: “Andy Street. You’ve led this region through a number of great challenges.

“You deserve credit through building up the combined authority into the powerhouse it is today, through the economic shocks and for leading this region when it came out of covid.

“I absolutely believe that whilst our politics are different, Andy, we both have the best interests of the West Midlands at heart.”

Mr Street responded: “I wish you all strength and wisdom as you take over the reins.

“It has been my honour to serve and to lead this place for the last seven years. I hope I’ve done it with dignity and integrity and I hope I’ve bequeathed to Richard a combined authority – and indeed a role – to which young, aspiring leaders will want to aspire one day.”

Whilst the delayed results to the count were coming in, there was frustration online as the West Midlands Combined Authority live election stream cut out after a day of gaffes, glitches, and technical difficulties which meant viewers could not see the speeches of Mr Street, Mr Yakoob, and other candidates.

However, after the final count was in Mr Yakoob told Erdington Local: “This has been an incredible four weeks. Imagine if we had started three months ago, we started with what people called was just a TikTok campaign.

“Well, we got nearly 70,000 votes and almost lost Labour what should have been an easy victory.

“Thanks to everyone for voting, I believe I got more young people registered and voting than any other candidate.

“Thank you for everyone in Erdington who supported my campaign, we had plenty volunteers from Erdington, and it looks like a lot of voters too.”

An official poll card for government elections and a UK photo driving licence as prove of identity.

Mr Yakoob added: “You wait till the General Election; I will be back.”

The next General Election is set to be held before January 2025.

The turnout for the West Midlands Mayoral election was 29.8% across the West Midlands, and in Birmingham it was 28.5 per cent.

For more on Richard Parker visit www.facebook.com/RichardParkerWM

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: New life for Erdington Baths

Words by Afzal Hussain – Chief Officer of Witton Lodge Community Association

After almost six years of perseverance and the tireless support of our community and stakeholders, we were delighted to finally secure the £4million needed for the first phase of works that will breathe fresh life into the former Erdington Baths.

The Baths are almost a century old, and have stood empty since they were closed in 2014. Many residents have already shared their treasured memories of growing up and visiting the Baths with family and friends, and I’m certain we will hear many more as the project develops.

With work expected to start later in the year, the first phase will see funds invested into the overall fabric of the building to restore the roof, undertake essential repairs, create a main reception area, and convert the pool hall into a co-working space, studio pods, events and community space.

Situated between Erdington Library and the Erdington Skills Centre, it is a great opportunity to create a Learning, Skills and Enterprise Quarter in the heart of Erdington.

Complex projects such as these are only possible with the support of many stakeholders – our community, local businesses and partners. We want to thank Birmingham City Council and West Midlands Combined Authority for investing in the project.

We are particularly appreciative of the Council’s leadership for taking this brave decision, especially as it deals with its financial challenges. Mayor Andy Street continued to back the project even against the backdrop of three failed funding bids to government.

The late Jack Dromey and more recently Paulette Hamilton MP have been huge advocates, and Cllr Robert Alden has been on this journey with us right from the outset. Thank you!

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

Witton Lodge Community Association is a key partner in the Erdington Local COMMUNITY ANCHORS programme, supporting independent local and community journalism.

NEWS: Criminal defence lawyer with family in Erdington to stand for West Midlands Mayor

Words by Edington Local editorial team / Pics supplied by Akhmed Yakoob

A criminal defence lawyer with family in Erdington is a last minute candidate for the upcoming mayoral elections, standing as an independent on 2 May.

Akhmed Yakoob is a director at Maurice Andrews Solicitors, based in Hockley, and offers defence counsel to people charged with crimes from bank fraud to murder. The strapline on the Maurice Andrews website reads: ‘There is a defence for every offence’.

Mr Yakoob is also a prominent social media figure in the region, with 122k followers on Instagram and 596 followers on X (formerly Twitter).

He also has 176.2K followers on TikTok where he offers no holds barred legal advice. One of his online videos on the popular platform, ‘Two things you can’t be arrested for’, has received over 600k views.

But the latest mayoral race hopeful believes he can offer the region fresh leadership and an alternative to the main political parties who he feels “speak for no-one”.

Mr Yakoob grew up in Aston and now lives in Aldridge, but has close family in Erdington on Burcote Road – just off Tyburn Road. 

He says he has seen first hand the “pain” that successive Conservative governments have brought with their austerity agenda and cuts to services such as the police force and social housing.

He told Erdington Local: “For 13 years the Tories have had power and places like Erdington have felt the pain that has brought.

“Crime has gone up in the West Midlands and people want change.”

Mr Yakoob also has personal experience of how HMOs can adversely impact a residential area, as they have in Gravelly Hill, Stockland Green, and elsewhere across the Erdington constituency.

He said: “I grew up in Aston, but as I have four children I had to move out because of the amount of HMOs in the area… which I know the people of Stockland Green and Erdington also suffer the consequences of.”

He added: “They (HMOs) ruin an area, drug dealing goes up, and I just did not want my children to grow up around that.

“As Mayor I will do everything I can to stop HMOs ruining residential areas.”

The last candidate to announce his campaign to become West Midlands Mayor and Chair of the West Midlands Combined Authority, this is the first attempt at running for elected office for the 36-year-old father of four.

However, his Twitter profile reads ‘Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Ladywood Birmingham’ – referencing the seat currently held by Shabana Mahmood MP, who recently faced protests from her own constituents after abstaining on a vote calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Mr Yakoob believes his candidacy will also be a direct threat to the Labour Party, who he feels have taken the South Asian vote “for granted” and will be “scared” of his bid for Mayor.

He has also received the backing of prominent politician George Galloway, who won the Rochdale by-election in March on a pro-Palestine platform – standing for the Workers Party of Britain.

On his campaign brochure Mr Yakoob has also referenced the conflict in the Middle East, stating ‘LEND GAZA YOUR VOTE’ and encouraging people to support his bid for Mayor on 2 May.

Inside the leaflet, the first two campaign pledges are for “unashamed support” and “aid” for people in Gaza, with the troubled area of Kashmir – fought over by India and Pakistan – also referenced.

In a recent tweet, George Galloway vocalised his endorsement for Mr Yakoob in his bid to be West Midlands Mayor.

He posted: “The only choice for #WestMidlandsMayor @Akhmedyakoob1”

Mr Yakoob told Erdington Local: “I am delighted to have got the endorsement of George Galloway. He is a man who stands against injustice and I am proud to have him at my side.

“He will be coming to Birmingham to campaign by my side.”

He added: “The main political parties speak for no-one, that is why I am standing to be a voice for the voiceless.

“Of course Labour are scared that I am standing, for generations they have took the South Asian vote for granted.

“George (Galloway) showed in Rochdale Labour cannot count on the South Asian vote and my election will further prove that point as we head into a General Election.”

As a criminal lawyer for Maurice Andrews, Mr Yakoob and has represented defendants from across the city.

When asked how he can promise to cut crime whilst also making a living representing people charged with serious offences, he said: “I love my job. And I believe everyone in this country deserves a fair trial.

“And I also believe in the rehabilitation of offenders, as their lawyer during a trial I am often the first person to see someone make the decision to change their ways, whether they are found guilty or not.

He said: “Crime keeps on going up and our court system cannot cope after so many cuts.”

Mr Yakoob also founded his own gym in Walsall called Pound 4 Pound which encourages youngsters to swerve street violence.

He said: “The motto of our gym is ‘Gloves Up, Knives Down’ and I see how knife crime wrecks lives.

“I want to save youth centres and employ more youth workers but in Birmingham they are closing them down and cutting youth worker jobs.”

He added: “I urge young people to register to vote so they can back me on 2 May.”

Also running for West Midlands Mayor are Richard parker (Labour), Sunny Virk (Lib Dems), Siobhan Harper-Nunes (Greens), Elaine Williams (Reform) – alongside incumbent Mayor Andy Street (Conservative).

For more on Akhmed Yakoob click on the links to follow him on Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), and TikTok.

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

Words and pics by Erdington Local editorial team

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEWS: Responsibility for crime fighting strategy in Erdington to stay with Police and Crime Commissioner after courts reject Home Office appeal

Words by Erdington Local editorial team / Pics by Ed King

The responsibility for a strategy to fight crime in Erdington and across the West Midlands will stay with the Police and Crime Commissioner’s (PCC) office, after the Court of Appeal rejected a Home Office appeal which would have seen the role taken over by the West Midlands Mayor.

On Friday 22 March, judges at the Court of Appeal denied legal requests made by the Home Office that countered a previous High Court ruling, made earlier in March, blocking the Government from amalgamating the PCC’s office into the West Midlands Combined Authority’s portfolio.

The argument presented by the Home Office was that the Mayor’s office could be more effective in supporting a crime strategy, alongside their other roles and responsibilities across the region.

However, the legal battle began when Labour’s incumbent PCC for the West Midlands, Simon Foster, challenged the Home Office over their decision to combine the roles – arguing the required consultation had not been honoured and repeatedly calling the move a “hostile takeover.”

At the time, Mr Foster said: “The Mayor’s hostile takeover of PCC powers represents nothing more than his own personal vanity project and it is in no-one’s interests, save that of the Mayor. I am concerned that this hostile takeover will mean more cuts, more chaos and more crime.”

He added: “This is a matter that is entirely of the Mayor’s own making. I have repeatedly advised him against this shocking waste of taxpayers’ money. The Home Secretary and the Mayor are more than happy to spend taxpayers’ money on legal costs when it suits them.

“The people of the West Midlands will be rightly concerned that the Mayor’s cynical, divisive, unnecessary and undemocratic power grab, that has never secured a local democratic mandate in the West Midlands, would waste up to a shocking £3.5 million.”

England and Wales saw the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) in 2012, following campaign pledges made by both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to reform policing procedure in the 2010 General Election.

Mr Foster was voted as PCC for the West Midlands in May 2021, retraining the role for Labour since it first came into being in 2012.

However, last November the Home Secretary, James Cleverly, agreed with requests made by the West Midlands’ Conservative Mayor, Andy Street, for the West Midlands Combined Authority to absorb the PCC’s responsibilities – which became possible following the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act passed in 2023.

Most local police forces are represented by a Police and Crime Commissioner, but since the change in legislation last year, London, Manchester, and West Yorkshire have all devolved the powers of the PCC to the regional Mayor’s office.

But in what could be seen as an overtly political move, to take regional policing powers away from the Labour Police and Crime Commissioner and transfer it to the Conservative Mayor, has created frustration on both sides of the aisle.

Richard Parker is the Labour candidate for Mayor and if he beats Andy Street in the elections on 2 May, he will now be in the position of having fewer powers due to a Labour PCC’s legal challenge.

A Labour source told Erdington Local: “Simon Foster’s legal challenge was the last thing we needed.

“It has confused the optics of the election. We are favourites to win the mayoral election so it is not about Mr Street but about the office of Mayor.

“And if we win it feels like we have shot ourselves in the foot before starting on our first day.”

The source added: “Simon (Foster) had a good run as PCC, especially as he was a Corbyn man who stayed long after the party had changed, and sometimes you should just accept time’s up.”

Erdington Local met with West Midlands Mayor Andy Street on Thursday 21 March, at his first public address on his re-election campaign – held at Stockland Green School on Slade Road.

When asked about the challenge made my Mr Foster over the region’s police and crime responsibilities being moved over to the Mayor’s office, he said: “This should have been straightforward. Mayors in London, Manchester, Leeds, and soon Sheffield, all have the powers of the PCC now. However, we have got ourselves into a process which involves a legal battle.

“I have no interest in processes, I just wanted to get on trying to cut crime in the West Midlands because the PCC has around for 12 years and obviously does not work because crime has gone up.”

He added: “I am deeply disappointed with Simon (Foster) for legally challenging the Home Office decision. This is not my legal case, or appeal, the Home Office lodged the appeal. And now we are all in the courts hands, but it is no way a done deal and I am confident they could win.

“People are worried about crime. This would have made sense in the battle against crime in the West Midlands. The mayor, just like in London and Manchester, is in the best position to deliver policies in fighting crime.”

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

Words and on location pics by Erdington Local

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: Social Economy Cluster launches at Witton Lodge Community Association

Words by Witton Lodge Community Association

On 24 October Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) were delighted to welcome the Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, to officially launch the Social Enterprise Cluster.

Part of a £2 million support package through the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) using unspent Commonwealth Games money, this initiative has been created to help level up some of the region’s most disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

The Cluster is being led by key social businesses in all the Combined Authority’s seven constituent council areas of Birmingham, Dudley, Wolverhampton, Walsall, Sandwell, Coventry, and Solihull.

Each organisation will receive seed funding to help them develop plans to identify specific projects that will improve the local area and act as a springboard to bring in further investment.

Witton Lodge CA was co-funded by Power to Change as the first local cluster and is now joined by a dynamic mix of social businesses including CWCDA, iSE, Colebridge Trust, SWEDA, Access to Business, and Provision House, all of whom have excellent experience in developing and supporting their respective communities.

This is a valuable opportunity to learn from each other and create a sustainable eco-system for social organisations and their communities to flourish.

Afzal Hussain, Chief Officer at Witton Lodge Community Association, said: “We were delighted to welcome everyone involved with the Social Enterprise Cluster to Witton Lodge for the launch of this fantastic initiative. This investment will give us the much-needed resources to do the job we are trying to do, to improve the local area and economy to generate wealth and retain it in our communities.

“It’s a great opportunity for the community to decide what’s right for us, and help create change that makes a real, tangible difference.”

The WMCA’s Social Economy Growth Programme is being funded by the WMCA’s Commonwealth Games Legacy Enhancement Fund, which was established in response to the Games coming in under budget.

Following discussions with the Mayor and the WMCA, the UK Government agreed to invest the £70 million underspend back into the region to enhance the legacy of the Games and ensure the benefits continue their positive impact for years to come.

Watch Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street discuss the importance of social economy with Afzal Hussain, Chief Officer, and Linda Hines MBE, Resident Director/Chair of WLCA.

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

Witton Lodge Community Association is a key partner in the Erdington Local COMMUNITY ANCHORS programme, supporting independent local and community journalism.

OPINION: Why the NHS should be awarded the George Cross

Words by Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands / Photography courtesy of Andy Street 

As we continue the fight against coronavirus, May 8th has taken on a new significance – as the next date on which the lockdown will be reviewed.  Yet there is other celebration connected to that date – VE Day – which resonates with so much that is going on now.

The 75th anniversary of VE Day may have been disrupted by a new enemy, but it links us to a past generation who faced another great national test.

It was during World War Two that the George Cross was created, to reflect the courage of civilians who showed extraordinary bravery. I believe we are seeing that courage again today. That’s why awarding our NHS staff the George Cross provides appropriate recognition for their incredible efforts.

Recently I was honoured to join HRH Prince William to help officially open the NHS Nightingale Hospital at the NEC. Just a few weeks ago, this was an empty space. Now it is a fully-operational hospital with 500 beds ready to join the fight with COVID-19. It stands as a testament to what we can achieve if we pull together as one. It also represents the respect and gratitude we all feel towards our NHS staff.

The ‘Nightingale’ name above the door also perfectly embodies the driving principles of those who are on the frontline on this crisis – they are saving lives whilst demonstrating care and compassion.

The NHS, from the doctors and nurses on the wards, to the ambulance crews and paramedics, and all support staff, represents the very best of our society.

This crisis has shown, more than ever, the vital importance of a health service that is free at the point of use. Look around the world, at the disjointed approach produced by countries where private healthcare is prevalent, and you can see the true value of our single, united health service.

The nation’s weekly doorstep appreciation of the NHS – where millions of people applaud in support – is proof of the debt of gratitude we all feel.

The NHS reflects so much of the best of British society. The NHS is truly democratic, treating everyone the same. The personal gratitude expressed by the Prime Minister to the nurses and staff who oversaw his recovery from COVID-19 illustrates how the NHS is there for all of us.

The NHS also reflects of the diversity of our modern society. In the crisis, we see the young caring for the old, and we also see retired doctors and nurses returning to join the fight. We see NHS staff from all backgrounds and from across the globe helping the people of the UK.

Right now, the NHS is also hugely important to the health of our economy. As we try to protect business through the duration of the crisis, the NHS is a huge employer that simply keeps going.

Of course, as an institution, the NHS needs care and investment. Prior to the outbreak, the Government unveiled a huge programme of future investment, but now, as we fight this virus, our focus is rightly being placed on the here and now. Some areas are clearly not as good as we want – such as the continuing issue of PPE.

We see now, more than ever, how the NHS is the embodiment of British society. And it is the NHS staff, putting themselves at risk daily, who have become our modern heroes and heroines. That is why I believe the George Cross is an appropriate acknowledgment of the bravery we are seeing.

This is not a gimmick. These awards exist to allow us, as a society, to recognise those who have stepped forward in a time of need.

These are unprecedented times, but awarding this medal collectively, to thousands of people for their joint bravery, has been done before.

In 1942 The George Cross was awarded to the island of Malta by King George, so as to “bear witness to the heroism and devotion of its people” during the great siege they underwent in the early part of the Second World War.

Six years after Malta was awarded the George Cross, the NHS was born. Now, after seven decades of devoted service to the British people, our NHS staff now find themselves under siege too, from coronavirus. There is no doubt in my mind that this is their finest hour.

It is time to reflect the unique contribution to our society of the NHS, and the gallantry shown by its staff. The National Health Service has earned the George Cross.

Andy Street is the Mayor of the West Midlands. For more on Andy Street, visit www.wmca.org.uk/who-we-are/meet-the-mayor/