COMMUNITY ANCHORS: Reflections and renewed focus

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

Whilst we know there is always more to do, usually at this time of the year we take a moment to reflect on the impact that we have made. This is important on many fronts, and not least to recognise the contributions of our many volunteers, local groups and partners who make our work possible.

Over the past year our five hubs had over 18,000 visits, providing vital community spaces for our residents to seek support, advice or simply connect with others.

We also awarded more than £450,000 to local groups, showcasing our dedication to empowering community organisations. These funds will make a significant difference in addressing the needs of our community and help to create local infrastructure that will serve us well in the future.

Additionally, we secured £4 million to kickstart the much-needed redevelopment of the former Erdington Baths into a dynamic enterprise hub for budding entrepreneurs and a new community centre to be proud of.

We also supported over 3,000 households through our B:Can Energy Advice partnership, saving each household an estimated £380 annually, easing financial burdens for our residents whilst also contributing to environmental sustainability.

As we pause for reflection, we are immensely proud and grateful for the dedication of our 18 volunteers, whose commitment to volunteering embodies the DNA of our Association.

Their efforts have positively impacted hundreds of fellow residents across all our sites, showcasing the power of community support and collaboration.

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.

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: The impact of Council cuts on our communities: and what we can do

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

Like many of you, we have seen the degree and shape of the Council’s funding and service cuts, and they are devastating. At Witton Lodge Community Association, we are deeply concerned about the impact that they will have on our most vulnerable communities. Local charities, groups, foodbanks, and networks are doing their very best, but are being overwhelmed by a tsunami of demand.

As the Council grapples with its financial crisis, we know that budgets are not just numbers – they represent lives, hopes, and the very fabric of our community. Following a decade of austerity, we are particularly concerned about further cuts to Youth Services and Libraries – they are the frontline of providing support, education, a sense of belonging, and safe spaces for our young people.

We know local charities and support networks play a critical role, and these funding cuts mean that unfortunately, some will go under, whilst others will struggle to maintain the already ‘frayed safety net’ that many vulnerable people rely on.

But, as we did during the pandemic, we will be stepping up to the challenge. We have already distributed over £250,000 to local groups to provide essential support services and will redouble efforts to strengthen local networks to attract further resources.

We have urged the Council to work with us and local partners to protect local assets. At Witton Lodge we have a successful track record of doing this – Perry Common Community Hall, Witton Lakes Eco Hub, and Erdington Baths (our latest venture), are some examples of this. But it is not just about buildings, it is about local voices and services – designing and delivering services differently to meet the needs of our communities, and ensuring the Council gets value-for-money.

Our community and city’s recovery relies on us pulling together, taking action, and advocating for change that works with the grain of communities.

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.

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: Building community scaffolding with Witton Lodge Community Association

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


 
The first weeks of 2024 seem to have passed in a blur. Although still early in the New Year, there have already been some notable highlights.

First, we are thrilled to welcome a number of new volunteers who have joined our existing colleagues and are already making incredible contributions. We were also delighted to support 31 local groups and organisations with grant funding to deliver a wide range of services, which we are confident will make a huge difference across Erdington. We will shortly be publishing details of these projects, so do look out for them.

Off the back of this success, we are seeking to work with trusted local groups to establish Digital Hubs across Erdington, where residents can access computers and online services, as well as support to gain new skills.

As many of you will know, Witton Lodge Community Association was setup in response to a housing crisis, and over the past 30 years worked hard to transform Perry Common. But we know there is more to do, and in recent years we have been purchasing empty properties, refurbishing, and making them available to local families.

Many of our residents are still struggling with cost-of-living pressures, which is why our Advice Services, Health and Wellbeing projects, and Job search are so vital, and in demand. We believe this ‘community scaffolding’ will hold us in better stead for the inevitable tough times ahead.

Our approach, at its heart, remains as it did all those years ago… working with and alongside our communities, listening, and harnessing their knowledge and experience to develop services that deliver results.

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.

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: A 2024 wish list for Castle Vale Community Housing

Words by Simon Wilson, Chief Executive Officer – Castle Vale Community Housing


 
I didn’t write to Santa as I am sure he had enough on his plate but if he had any influence on the state of social housing my wish list would probably look something like this:

First and foremost, whatever the outcome of this year’s General Election (and I think it will be this year) whoever is elected the need for a ‘long term plan for social housing’ as advocated by the National Housing Federation would be top of my list.

We don’t need more arbitrary targets (that never get hit) on building of more homes but actual delivery. We need to see social housing as a bedrock of lifting people out of poverty and improving life chances, reducing the strain on health and social services. I’d like to see this as a national mission and one we can play our part in.


 
For those who live in social housing times are not set to get any easier in 2024. While inflation looks to be reducing, let’s remember that simply means the rate of price increases is slowing not coming down.

For those in low paid work and on fixed incomes the price of their ‘basket of goods’ will continue to be challenging and The Pioneer Group is committed to playing our part through our cost-of-living taskforce in 2024. Some economic relief would be on my list!

Last but by no means least I want us to deliver on our own list of actions in the year ahead – we don’t need a man with a white beard to deliver on our promises – we will build more homes, we will invest in our existing homes and we will continue to provide a top class repairs service and charitable services through Compass Support.


 
I know people will be worried about the plight of the City Council – I am too – but we will do our bit in making sure we fight for and work in partnership to protest and deliver housing and estate services into our core communities that our tenants, residents and service users need.

I wish all you a very happy and prosperous 2024 and look forward to sharing more about our work in these columns in the year ahead.

For more on Castle Vale Community Housing visit www.cvch.org.uk

For more on The Pioneer Group visit www.pioneergroup.org.uk and for more on Compass Support visit www.compass-support.org.uk

Castle Vale Community Housing, The Pioneer Group, and Compass Support are key partners in the Erdington Local COMMUNITY ANCHORS programme – supporting independent local and community journalism.

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: Looking forward into 2024 with Witton Lodge Community Association

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


 
I suspect many of us will be looking ahead to 2024 with mixed emotions. Community workers, volunteers and organisers tend to be optimistic by nature, who combine deep purpose with fairness and justice to affect change in their neighbourhoods.

We know that there are many positive things to look forward to, however, we also know that it remains a very difficult time for many local residents. For organisations like Witton Lodge Community Association, this means providing a safety net to support some of our most vulnerable, as well as acting as a springboard to nurture local talent and support people to fulfil their potential.

We are also redoubling our efforts to demonstrate that when public agencies like the Council, NHS or the West Midlands Combined Authority work with the grain of communities – when they reach into neighbourhoods, and listen… genuinely listen and engage, then not only do they achieve better results, but they also get better value for money, reduce frustration and improve trust and satisfaction.

It’s in this spirit of collaboration that we will be further strengthening our own relationships with local groups and public bodies to help improve lives and livelihoods in Erdington.

Now given the time of year, many of you will have made or in my case ‘recycled’ previous New Year’s resolutions. Do pop into one of our hubs, take a look at our website, or call us to see how we can support you.

And remember, if you’re looking to develop new skills, make friends or give back to your community then volunteering may be perfect for 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.

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: …and finally from 2023

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


 
As we approach the festive season, many of us will celebrate, spend time with our loved ones and take a well-earned rest. In recent times, community spirit has been tested and emerged even stronger.

It is evident at this time of year, as so many people look out for each other, whether that is their neighbour or someone they know who may be on their own. Others volunteer and support so many good causes to make life better and a little more special. 

It is this sense of community that guides the work of the Association, gives us hope, and motivates us to do better. Reflecting on the past year, so many things stand out. First, it is important to acknowledge that cost-of-living pressures have and are still affecting many families.

Against this tough backdrop, the Erdington Wellbeing Hub continues to provide much-needed advice and support from the former walk-in-centre on the High Steet. I’m also pleased that we have been able to purchase and refurbish empty properties for local families in housing need.

The Witton Lakes Eco Hub celebrated its first anniversary and has exceeded all expectations – it is a great meeting place where you can also get advice on small changes that will save money on your energy costs and help to protect the planet; you can get healthier through numerous activities that cater for all abilities, or you can simply come along to enjoy the outdoors.


 
Perry Common Community Hall remains our ‘anchor’ where anybody can turn up – whether that be for support or to volunteer for a cause that they’re passionate about. On that note, I am delighted to welcome our new volunteers who will complement the existing team and make a huge difference to community life.

From the entire Witton Lodge team, we wish you a happy and peaceful Christmas and New Year.

(This column was written for initial publication in the Erdington Local newspaper – published on 8 December.)

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.

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: The power of community

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


 
I am sometimes asked what difference community-led organisations really make? Especially given the scale of today’s challenges, such as, the cost-of-living crisis. Events recently held across Erdington start to shed some light on this.

In Wyrley Birch we celebrated the first birthday of Witton Lakes Eco Hub.  It is a shining example of how over many years, local residents and volunteers overcame huge obstacles, and with grit and determination helped to create this wonderful community facility.

Once the site of a derelict building and a rubbish dump, it is now a thriving community hub where residents can enjoy a drink or join in a wide range of activities. Local school children are learning about the environment and a network of community partners will provide advice and practical tips to reduce energy use and fuel bills.

In contrast, a community meeting held at Six Ways Baptist Church regarding HMO’s & exempt accommodation raised serious concerns from residents on issues including crime, antisocial behaviour, and safety. There was palpable anger amongst residents.


 
I’m not certain a strong, local community anchor will have prevented the problems from arising, however, I am confident that these issues will have been raised earlier, with options and possible solutions explored with stakeholders. Maybe this will provide the impetus to create a strong local voice.

At Witton Lodge Community Association, we are huge advocates of communities playing a leading role in shaping their neighbourhoods, and believe more decisions should be taken locally. We continue to make the case for this, and take our message to national and local politicians.

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: A message from Paulette Hamilton, MP for Erdington

Pics supplied by Paulette Hamilton MP

Erdington is my home. It’s where I have lived for more than 35 years, raised my children and where my husband opened his first business. So, I was incredibly proud to show Lisa Nandy, the Shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities the brilliant work local people have been doing in our area.

We visited Witton Lakes Eco Hub in Perry Common to celebrate its 1st Anniversary. Lisa was absolutely amazed, and praised what she saw; local people coming together to work with our communities, and create a small paradise in the heart of Erdington.

We have many local community groups across Erdington, Kingstanding and Castle Vale. They work day in, day out to improve our neighbourhoods, despite getting little help from the Government, who earlier this year rejected Erdington’s £11million Levelling-Up bid.

But how can the Government help? Whilst interest rates rise and local people face an annual mortgage payment increase of £1,900 this year, the Tory Government have been distracted by their on-going civil war.

The Privileges Committee found that Boris Johnson deliberately misled Parliament when he was Prime Minister, broke the rules, and was complicit in a campaign of abuse and attempted intimidation of the Committee. Instead of making his case to the people in his community, who put their trust in him, he chose to quit and run. The country now faces four more by-elections, costing taxpayers £100,000’s in a cost of living crisis.

Whilst the Tory soap opera continues, people in our community and across the country are desperate, and deserve a Prime Minister and a Government that they can trust, and who would always have their best interests at heart.

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

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: Local residents send out over 300 presents through WLCA Christmas Gifts Appeal

Words by Ed King / Pics supplied by Witton Lodge Community Association

Over the festive season, local residents sent out over 300 presents to families and children in Perry Common – donated and distributed through the Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) Christmas Gifts Appeal.

To help fight the hardship many have been facing this year, and to help every child in Perry Common wake up to a gift on Christmas morning, in November last year WLCA began asking friends and neighbours to clear out their cupboards and donate unwanted or forgotten toys.

Donation boxes were established at the Witton Lakes Eco Hub, Perry Common Community Hall, Sycamore Court, and the Health and Wellbeing Hub on Erdington High Street – with kind hearted people from all across Erdington leaving good-as-new toys and gifts.

Local groups also joined in on the seasonal charity drive, with members of the Slimming World club that meet twice a week at Highcroft Community Centre also donating ‘anything they could spare’ to the Christmas Gifts Appeal.

Staff from WLCA and a team of local elves (volunteers) then set about wrapping everything in time for Christmas Day and delivering the presents across the Perry Common community.

In total, over 300 gifts were sent out to families – including boxed games for children, cuddly toys, and clothes to keep you warm over the winter months.

One local woman and grandmother, Jane Gaskin, donated over 20 gifts to the Christmas Gifts Appeal, with people responding by recognising her goodwill as “a Christmas miracle” and how she “always have had a heart of gold”.

Her daughter, Naomi Smith, added: “Well done mom, I’m glad you have been able to help some families who may need it this Christmas, and that the cupboard under the stairs is no longer a death trap of toys waiting to bury me and the cats!”

Jane Gaskin responded: “I don’t know about Christmas miracle I just don’t think kids should go without and if I can help I will.”

Over the festive season, the team at WLCA also put together 100 ‘Winter Warmer packs’ to help older residents fight the fuel crisis and stay safe and warm this winter – as well as organising a special ‘free festive lunch’ for local volunteers, in partnership with the Aston Vila Foundation.

WLCA further supported Wilson Stuart School as their pupils made a special visit to the Witton Lakes Eco Hub to get into the festive spirit by decorating the community centre’s Christmas tree.

A spokesperson from WLCA said: “We would like to send a massive heartfelt thankyou to EVERYONE who donated toys and gifts to our Christmas Gift Appeal.

“We have been overwhelmed with the kindness of local residents whose generosity will allow us to bring festive cheer to families and children in need.”

Steve Sharma, WLCA Communications and Marketing Coordinator, added: “The generosity of local residents supporting our Christmas Gifts Appeal has been overwhelming. Thanks to them, families who are struggling will wake up with gifts for their children on Christmas Day. It really does showcase community spirit at its best.

“Our volunteers have also been magnificent, putting the Winter Warmer packs together and distributing them to the elderly and vulnerable.

“A special mention must also go to pupils from Wilson Stuart School who visited the Witton Lakes Eco Hub to decorate our Christmas Tree and did such a brilliant job.”

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