NEWS: UK’s community organisations get a sneak peak of Witton Lakes Eco Hub as energy saving example

Words & pics by Ed King

Delegates from the Locality Convention in Birmingham have been getting a sneak peak at the Eco Hub in Witton Lakes this week, as a national example of energy saving construction and community focused regeneration.

On Wednesday 17 November the first open viewing was held of the renovated Park Keepers House at Witton Lakes, which has had over £1m invested to turn it into a new ‘Eco Hub’ – in a project led by Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) after an asset transfer from Birmingham City Council.

A special bus brought representatives in from the conference for a guided tour, before the team behind the development presented the concept and construction of the Eco Hub – with an open Q&A about how to apply similar models to projects nationwide.

Attended by community organisations from across the country, the Locality Convention is the largest community sector event in the year – with delegates looking for inspiration for new concepts, campaigns, and designs.

Anoushka Deighton from the Architectural Heritage Fund told Erdington Local: “I thought it was a really inspirational vision of what you can do when you let a community organisation take over a disused building and turn it into something for the whole community.

“The way they really thought about the construction and made sure that was environmentally friendly was very positive, alongside getting input from local people and using their knowledge.”

Afzal Hussain, WLCA Chief Officer, said: “Today we wanted to showcase what local communities can do practically, on the ground, for themselves, which will make an impact to address the climate crisis – but also really helps people with everyday costs, the costs of living.

“To make the kind of big impact we need both the pledges from governments, and we need things on the ground very practically.

“That’s how change happens, and we think, equally, grass roots action can and will play a huge role in addressing the climate challenges – but also looking at positive and creative ways of bringing people together.

“So, it (environmental awareness) becomes something you do, something you enjoy with your family and friends and have fun doing it. Look at the surroundings here (Witton Lakes), it’s beautiful.

“The delegates are primarily from organisations like WLCA; they are community associations and community trusts, some agencies as well – there are some stakeholders from the combined authority, so it’s important they see this.

“The community organisations will recognise the challenges of managing assets and community buildings, but in many ways they’ve come here because they want to know that it can be done. “

An asset transfer from Birmingham City Council to Witton Lodge Community Association, the transformation of the 100 year old Park Keepers House at Witton Lakes has been designed by Axis Design Architects – using energy saving techniques and materials to reduce its carbon foot print during both the construction and maintenance.

A Wolverhampton based firm, Axis Design Architects have been spearheading ecologically focused construction across the West Midlands – working with local councils and housing associations.

Rob Annable, Director of Axis Design Architects, explained what the driving force behind the Witton Lakes Eco Hub project was: “Sustainability, and the discussion about services and the resources the building will provide in relation to ecology and health and wellbeing.

“So, the building is dubbed the ‘eco hub’ but not just because of architectural construction issues but also because it will be connected to health and wellbeing, and ecology based activities with the landscape here in the park. So, it’s all those topics combined.

“You could look at it as a benchmark, but I would be fairly humble about that in terms of trying to set a realistic benchmark with what’s possible with funding support from an organisation like Witton Lodge Community Association.

“We haven’t tried to construct or build an experimental project that spends a lot of money on brand new, cutting edge technology – the products, the materials, and operational benefits of this project are as much about trying to set a bar that is achievable for other clients, contractors, and the building sector generally.”

Set to open before the end of the year, the Witton Lakes Eco Hub will run a programme of community and ecologically focused activity – building on the work already being done with the Velvet Community Orchard and other community outreach projects from WLCA.

Once finished, the Eco Hub will help local residents find ways to ‘enhance and encourage the potential for environmentally sustainable lifestyles,’ whilst also acting as a social centre.

On the WLCA website, it further states the Eco Hub will ‘also include the creation of a hydro-power facility on the lakes, sustainable food growing, healthy eating, environmental management responsibility and a range of linked, sustainable living options addressed through community engagement, advice, and practical projects.’

Rob Annable added: “We call it ‘the eco hub’, but for me the reason it’s an ‘eco hub’ is for that long list of landscape and environmental based activities being programmed here.

“Yes, the architecture and the construction seek to reduce carbon emissions, through embodied carbon and operational carbon, but its primary benefit will be health and wellbeing issues around environment, landscape, and ecology.”

For more on the Eco Hub from Witton Lodge Community Association visit www.wittonlodge.org.uk/our-projects/environmental-projects/our-environmental-projects

For more on Axis Designs Architects visit www.axisdesignarchitects.com

NEWS: Housing boost for Erdington as Witton Lodge CIC becomes official Registered Provider

Words by Steve Sharma / Pic of refurbishment supplied by WLCA

Hundreds more homes could now be refurbished and built across Erdington, as Witton Lodge Community Interest Company (WLCIC) has successfully become a Registered Provider.

The official status will allow the Perry Common based WLCIC to apply for funding to refurbish derelict properties, as well as to build new affordable and social housing – helping to address the city’s ongoing housing crisis.

According to the Birmingham City Council, Birmingham is facing a population increase of around 156,000 people by 2031 – leaving a housing shortage of nearly 90,000 homes.

Gareth Hopkins, Homes and Assets Manager for Witton Lodge, said: “Achieving Registered Provider status enables Witton Lodge CIC to progress its housing development aspirations.

“There are currently around 17,000 housing applicants on Birmingham City Council’s waiting list (May 2021) and over 9,000 empty properties across the city (August 2019)

“Homes England (the national government agency for development and regulation of affordable housing) has a national funding pot to address the housing shortage.

“By becoming a Registered Provider we can now apply directly for funding to develop and manage properties.

“We can now pursue the refurbishment of even more empty properties, those which have become a blight on local communities and can cause issues such as anti-social behaviour.”

Before/after refurbishment by WLCIC

Witton Lodge Community Interest Company was formed in 2015 as a subsidiary of Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) to progress housing and community asset development goals.

WLCA is a charity with a successful track record of community-led housing and capital asset development across North Birmingham – established by local residents in 1994, in response to plans to demolish the Perry Common estate.

Since then, WLCA have built and manage 187 properties, as well as developing other community assets such Perry Common Community Hall and Perry Common Library.

The Association organises and delivers a rolling programme of community support and engagement activities – tackling issues from employment and digital poverty to health and wellbeing, many of which became crucial lifelines during lockdowns.

WLCA are also currently running special employment support services from Perry Common Library as part of the Ignite Aspirations initiative, to help people over 29 get back to work after Covid.

Chief Officer, Afzal Hussain, said: “We’re delighted that Witton Lodge CIC has achieved Registered Provider status. The team and Board have worked hard to get us to this stage, however, in many ways the real work starts now as we know there is huge demand for good quality, affordable homes.

“Another important feature is the ‘community-led’ element, where we are able demonstrate that there is a different model to developing new housing, which works with the grain of local communities.

“The work of the CIC will also complement the charitable activities of the Association which provides health, employment and community support services to hundreds of local residents.”

For more on Witton Lodge Community Association visit wwwwittonlodge.org.uk

NEWS: Careers Fair from Compass Support at The Sanctuary 18th August

Words by Ed King

Compass Support are organising a Careers Fair on Wednesday 18th August, being held at The Sanctuary on Tangmere Drive in Castle Vale.

Free to attend and open to ‘candidates from all backgrounds, experiences and education levels’, the Careers Fair will run from 10:30am to 2:30pm – offering direct pathways to local employers, as well as help and support with key vocational skills.

Compass Support have lined up a team of professional employment advisers, who will be on hand throughout the event to talk and walk people through skills such as CV writing and how to do well in interviews.

They will also be offering more direct employment support, such as on the spot job searches, work experience placements, volunteer opportunities, and links to local employers.

The Careers Day will also offer access to digital courses in IT, Maths, and English.

Anyone interested in attending can simply turn up on the day or contact Compass Support by emailing employmentadvice@compass-support.org.uk or phoning (0121) 748 8111.

A spokesperson from Compass Support told Erdington Local: “Happening this week at The Sanctuary, our local Careers Fair is a chance for people to speak with employers and training providers about opportunities available.

“We are also offering support with employability skills to help people progress into their ideal field of work – offering the support you need today for the success of tomorrow.

“There will also be one to one support tailored to the individual’s needs, including CV writing, job searches, training and employment all under one roof.”

With a longstanding history of helping people find employment and become work ready, Compass Support has close ties to the retail and care sectors – alongside strong relationships with large employers such as the NHS.

Compass Support also offers employment help and skills training through regular job clubs, computer clubs, and the Get Healthy Get Working programme – alongside the Ignite Aspirations initiative, delivered with Witton Lodge Community Association.

As part of The Pioneer Group, further employment support can also be found through the Place2Work project – being delivered across Birmingham with the Birmingham Anchor Network.

For more employment advice and access to services from Compass Support email employmentadvice@compass-support.org.uk or visit www.compass-support.org.uk/our-services

For more on Get Healthy Get Working visit www.compass-support.org.uk/our-services/get-healthy-get-working

For more on Ignite Aspirations visit www.compass-support.org.uk/our-services/ignite-inspirations or  www.wittonlodge.org.uk/our-projects/jobs-skills/ignite-aspirations

For more on Place2Work from The Pioneer Group visit www.pioneergroup.org.uk/place-2-work

NEWS: North Birmingham Economic Recovery: Jobs and Skills Fair – to be held online 17th June

Words by Steve Sharma / Pic supplied by WLCA

On Thursday 17th June, the North Birmingham Economic Recovery: Jobs and Skills Fair will be held online – giving people across Erdington and beyond information about opportunities from some of the region’s biggest employers.

The event will be held live on Zoom from 10:30am on 17th June, featuring representatives from HS2, Commonwealth Games, IM Properties, and South & City College Birmingham.

To join the North Birmingham Economic Recovery: Jobs and Skills Fair simply log on at: http://bit.ly/jobsfairnber

Presentations from these organisations will give local job seekers the chance to hear about current employment vacancies, recruitment and training schemes while small and medium size enterprises can learn about opportunities for business development and growth.

Starting at 10.30am, the Fair will be delivered into two sessions.

The first will showcase employment opportunities while the second will invite participants to join breakout rooms where they can talk directly to the featured organisations as well as employment coaches.

Afzal Hussain, Chief Officer at Witton Lodge Community Association, which facilitates the North Birmingham Economic Recovery Task force, said: ” This unique partnership is creating jobs, procurement and skills opportunities and connecting these to local communities and businesses in North Birmingham.

As we emerge from the pandemic, it is essential that we reinvigorate the local economy and the Jobs Fair is one practical response that will aid job recovery locally.”

The Fair will also feature the official launch of the Business, Employment Support and Training – BEST web portal.

Afzal added “The portal has been designed to give residents direct access to task force partner employment, business and training opportunities. Support will be available for those requiring help to access or apply for opportunities.”

Erdington MP Jack Dromey said: “The North Birmingham Economic Recovery Plan will be vital if our community is to bounce back from the challenges of Covid. Unemployment was already high before the pandemic, now it stands at double the national average.

“It is clear that action is needed, and this plan will bring a range of organisations together to support those who are seeking work to learn new skills and to find sustainable employment.

“We have a range of fantastic local organisations that are rooted in the local community, by working together I know we can tackle the scourge of unemployment and provide renewed opportunities for people across North Birmingham.”

The Jobs and Skills fair takes place on Zoom from 10.30am to 12 noon on Thursday June 17th. People can join the event by simply entering the link: http://bit.ly/jobsfairnber

 For more information about the Jobs Fair please call Jobeda on 0121 382 1930 or email: Jobeda.shahed@wittonlodge.org.uk

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

Q&A: Ruby Begum – Employment & Skills Tutor at Witton Lodge Community Association

Unemployment is one of the most damaging footprints left by the coronavirus crisis, with thousands of people losing their jobs and employers across the country having to sack staff or even close down their businesses for good.

In response, local organisations agencies such as Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) are offering support services and employment training – initiatives that will help people get back to work, such as improved IT skills and access to digital technology.

Erdington Local caught up with Ruby Begum, Employment & Skills Tutor at WLCA, to find out how they can help people looking for a new job.

___________________

EL: Can you tell us a bit more about your role and responsibilities at WLCA?

RB: My role at Witton Lodge is to support and help people who are looking for work, and that’s where I provide one to one support and within a group setting.

Here at Witton lodge, we do a range of courses to help people back into work – for example, we offer customer services, CV writing, preparation for interview techniques and digital skills training.

 

EL:  WLCA launched a training and support program to get people more confident with digital skills back in October, can you tell us more about these classes?

RB: The IT classes were introduced as we had identified – especially during lockdown – how people were struggling to keep in touch with their loved ones on digital apps like Zoom, WhatsApp, Facebook etc., because they didn’t have the digital skills to do so.

There were also a lot of services that had started to offer sessions via these apps, which meant that for those people who did not have the skills to use them they would be missing out on them. This was also a barrier for many people in the community in the job market where they were not confident to type up CVs, or to look for jobs on the Internet.

 

EL:  Is it face to face; can people access the sessions remotely such as through Zoom or social media platforms?

RB: The face-to-face delivery is available on Mondays and Tuesdays in the mornings and via zoom or WhatsApp in the afternoon on the same days. My lessons are tailor made according to the learners needs, so it’s a very flexible program to access for them.

 

EL:  How many people are currently engaged on the program at WLCA – and what age ranges have you found are using the service?

RB: We have had a very good response from delivering the IT Sessions and we are receiving new referrals every week – the majority of learners have been older adults, however recently we had referrals from people younger who want to take up basic IT training.

 

EL: Talk us through your approach to teaching IT skills, what would be the standard introduction at the WLCA IT support sessions?

RB: I like to apply the VARK model of teaching. As a teacher, I develop the sessions in different learning styles of visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic styles to adapt to the learners needs.

An example of an introduction to my sessions would be an icebreaker of an activity to get the learners comfortable and give them a chance to get to know each other. I will also guide my learners through the aims and objectives of the program – what to do and what to expect – and discuss any concerns or expectations from the learners.

 

EL: What are you trying to achieve with the sessions, what would be a ‘win’ for those attending?

RB: My aim is to support people in the community to become more aware of modern technology, which is much required now especially with the continuous lockdowns that take place. It is to help people become confident in using IT skills so they can become more independent in their daily lives.

For example, there is so much that they can do if they know how to use a laptop or a modern device: online banking, booking GP appointments online, learning new skills, and much more.

We have already witnessed success stories from some of the learners that have attended as they have now progressed on to attending our Internal wellbeing classes via Zoom.

 

EL: Do people need to have any previous experiences with technology to attend?

RB: No, absolutely not… the course is open to all ages and is completely free of charge. All we require is the learner’s motivation to learn.

 

EL: In your role as Employment and Skills Tutor at WLCA, how important is it for people to be IT literate when looking for work?

RB: I think it’s very important for people to become IT literate especially now. This is due to a lot of companies having interviews via Zoom, training for jobs is mostly conducted via Zoom also.

I have recently had a lot of referrals for people who have become unemployed due to this pandemic and who did not have to use any IT in their previous roles – for them the IT sessions will help to break barriers in finding employment.

 

EL: How about in their personal lives, especially during the recent lockdown and social distancing restrictions?

RB: The IT sessions were also developed to help people during lockdown to stay connected with their friends and families by learning how to use smart devices and connecting with others.

Most of my learners are very isolated with limited or no families. For them it’s been really tough in the last few months and the IT sessions have helped to connect to other support services online. For example, we have had success stories of people getting into volunteering, attending wellbeing sessions on Zoom and making new friends.

 

EL: Do you think new technology can come with its downside, are there negatives to the increasing reliance and use of IT when looking for work?

RB: No, I don’t feel there is any downside if I’m honest. I think we are living in modern times and everything is moving forward to digital, so now is the right time to learn IT skills that will benefit the community to become independent and more confident around digital skills when looking for work.

 

EL: The term “digital poverty” is often mentioned, relating to people who may not be able to afford or access the relevant IT.  Can you tell us about the Digital -All services at WLCA?

RB: At Witton Lodge we have a great service called the digital lending library, this is a service where we have secured funding for tablets and laptops to help break barriers for people in the community around IT skills. The service is available for people either wanting to learn IT skills for work or to help develop IT skills to be able to use other services.

We offer tablets and laptops on a loan basis to help people get back into work. For example, we have identified that in the community there are a lot of people who cannot afford to buy laptops or tablets in order to do job search or apply for jobs. To help break this barrier, we offer the IT sessions and the devices on a loan agreement between the client and WLCA.

 

EL: What could be done on a larger scale, not just by WLCA, to address the deficit in access to IT and digital platforms?

RB: I would like to hope that most of the community organisations out there have noticed the gap for IT skills. It would be a good idea if community organisations could focus on securing funding around re-skilling the people of the community to develop IT skills.

This will help to break so many barriers for people – for example, improving confidence building and becoming more independent, accessing other services, being able to do things for themselves rather than relying on others. We are fortunate here at WLCA, that we are able to provide these services to the community.

For more information on the IT training at Witton Lodge Community Association, which is funded through the Erdington Neighbourhood Network Scheme, please call Ruby Begum on 0121 382 1930 or email her at Ruby.Begum@wittonlodge.org.uk

To find out more about the services and support offered at Witton Lodge Community Association, visit  www.wittonlodge.org.uk

NEWS: Story Wood School help Witton Lodge break world record for largest holly wreath

Words & pics by Ed King

On Friday 11th December, children from Story Wood School helped break the world record for the largest holly wreath – building the giant decoration around The Ring in Perry Common.

Organised by Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA), the festive feat took three days to complete – with over 60 local residents and community volunteers joining the Year 5 pupils in the world record breaking Christmas celebration.

Measuring a staggering 358.3m in circumference and 136.1m in diameter, the giant wreath was made of holly branches from Sutton Park and Christmas decorations donated Birmingham City Council.

Circling the public playing area and green space that sits between Rosedale Road and Branford Road, the mammoth task was operated under social distancing and Covid safe conditions – with people working in bubbles along separate sections of the fencing.

Measured by independent adjudicators and Erdington Councillor Robert Alden, the final count was filmed live – with the evidence now being sent to the Guinness Word Record organisation for its official endorsement.

To date, the record for the largest Christmas wreath has been held by D Presmec Dolge Njive from Volicina, Slovenia.

Completed on 1st December 2013, the pine, cypress, and grape vine wreath measured 316.82m in circumference and 100.85m in diameter – over 35m smaller than the Perry Common record breaker.

Bringing together people of all ages, from 9 to 99 years old, the Perry Common endeavour was a loud and proud community celebration – putting a positive full stop at the end of a year that has kept many friends, neighbours, and loved ones apart due to the coronavirus crisis.

Across Erdington, people are mirroring the spirit of Witton Lodge’s record-breaking wreath – with initiatives such as the Light Up Christmas campaign, by local charity Active Arts, encouraging people to end the year with a bright smile.

Debbie Bates, Heath and Wellbeing Lead at Witton Lodge Community Association, said: “We’ve been thinking about lots of things to help celebrate Christmas and bring some Christmas spirit to everyone in the community. It’s been a horrendous year… but it was important that we still did something to bring the community together.

“We came up with the idea to put a Christmas tree in the centre of The Ring and inviting members of the community to decorate the tree with messages, wishes, and hopes.

“From that idea sparked a conversation with John Porter from Sutton Park, who was cutting down holly, and we came up with the idea between us all to decorate The Ring.  

“We’ve had volunteers, children from the local schools… we’ve had so many people come out.

“People walking their dogs, just wanting to take part and have a little conversation. They’ve said how pretty it looks; how lovely it is. How fabulous it is to have The Ring decorated and how nice it is to be part pf Perry Common.

“Isolation has been so difficult for so many people. The lovely thing is people have come back out (of their houses) to have a look and be part of this, to do some of the weaving. So, it’s been building people’s confidence to come back out into the community.”

Part of the independent adjudicating team, Erdington Councillor Robert Alden joined the festive feat to mark off segments and calculate the final size of the record-breaking wreath.

“It’s almost been like taking part in a Christmas movie, you’ve had the community come together all behind this idea that Witton Lodge come up with – it’s been brilliant,” Councillor Alden told Erdington Local.

“It’s been incredible to see the children come out and take part too – they have been here all week giving up their spare time to come and take part in this record-breaking attempt. You’ve seen the whole community come together. It’s what Christmas is about, particularly in this year.

“What this is showing is the community in Perry Common; you’ve got this wonderful community who want to come together. 

“We’ve seen people who haven’t been willing to come out of their houses for months take part, because they felt they could be part of the community again in a safe way.”

With one week left until they break for the winter holidays, the children from Story Wood School were excited to bring back some festive cheer to the community.

“It’s been amazing,” said the Year 5 pupils who were putting the final branches on the world-record breaking wreath. “It’s been fun watching the whole Ring turn into a massive holly wreath.”

And whilst the year has been a challenging one for the local school children, when asked if they were feeling more festive after decorating This Ring the answer was a resounding “YEEEEAAAAHHHH.”

Central News also tuned up to film the record-breaking wreath in Perry Common, talking to local residents who helped build the giant decoration – watch the video below:

Witton Lodge Community Association organise record breaking holly wreath in Perry Common – Central News 11.12.20

For more on Story Wood School, visit www.storywood.bham.sch.uk

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

NEWS: Community comes together to celebrate the completion of the Maplin site mural

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Ed King

Ed’s note… this is a community story; the Erdington mural is a community endeavour – many local groups and individuals played a part in this beautiful project. We are focusing on the community.

For this article, Erdington Local was invited to a group photo opportunity – as organised by the project’s steering group. Our aim was to follow up from our original story and document the spirit of unity that the project reflects – understanding the individuals featured in article (or group photo) are not the only people involved.

We appreciate there will have been those who were unable to attend, but we thank and recognise everyone who helped make Erdington that little bit brighter. 

The Erdington Mural project is complete. Having turned an “eyesore” of hoardings into a community-involved, professional art display, many of the artists and organisers gathered together for a celebratory (and socially distanced) photo for Erdington Local.

I think this is fantastic – it’s great!” praises Rob Gunnell, founder of Erdington Litter Busters [ELB], “it doesn’t just add colour, it supports a connection to the community – and it’s also saying, Erdington’s a good place.” Along with many other organisations, ELB assisted in ‘priming’ the site before the four commissioned artists set to work on painting on the boards.

Our contribution was to apply the white paint – the base,” explains Dawn Edwards, another ELB member, “then we cut down the overgrown branches and Birmingham City Council took away all the bags of greenery.”

The project was funded by Mercia Real Estate, the owners of the site, as well as Active Arts – via the Erdington Arts Forum.

Erdington Local covered the story of those involved with the project at its inception – and whilst the original impetus is somewhat contested, the final project is as vibrant a representation of community spirit as the artwork itself.

Erdington Local caught up with the four artists who were tasked with bringing the boards to life – each one taking a separate side for their original design. Whilst each artist is unique, each of them noted the positive feedback they received for their work.

I’ve seen a few pictures put up [on the internet] of kids standing in front of it,” notes Steve Allen, pleased with the social media pick up. Steve painted the ‘Welcome to Erdington’ side of the mural, which includes a big ‘thank you’ to the NHS and what is purported to be the coat of arms of Erdington.

I got a lot of positive feedback from when I was doing my painting,” echoes Abian Richards, responsible for the rather psychedelic take on Erdington’s Witton Lakes – featured on the small segment by York Road.

This was to celebrate Erdington’s many ‘green spaces’, with an interesting interpretation: “I chose to use blues, pinks and purples to get some vibrancy into the piece.”

The project proved to be an excellent incubator for local talent, with Keely Iqbal admitting “it was quite challenging because it was my biggest mural to date.”

She painted the striking ‘historical Erdington’ on Sutton New Road – complete with an image of a spitfire, a horse and carriage, Rookery House, and the esteemed Mothers nightclub.

Such a large undertaking was not without its challenges, as Keely continues: “I was painting and then it started pouring down with rain! All of the paint started running everywhere. It was so bad. I did all of this lettering – there was a delay, but I managed to catch up with it.”

It was even a learning curve for experienced artist Edward Thrush: “Fly posters are hellish – I hate them! I won’t use those again. There’s been a lot of maintenance!”

Edward created the eye-catching ‘It’s all Go, Go, Go in Erdington!’ piece on Summer Road, celebrating the various community groups in the local area. Edward especially praised how “the volunteers were amazing – they were really good help.”

Councillor Gareth Moore, who had been helping whitewash the boards – along with fellow Erdington Councillor Robert Alden – explains how the piece is “visually appealing and significantly improved the site in question given its prominent location.”

Likewise, Robert Alden tells how “it’s been a really great community project, pulling together people across Erdington. It’s celebrating our heritage, our history and the culture of Erdington.”

Erdington Local overheard Dawn Edwards from ELB prodding Sam Clark, a founder and current CEO of Mercia Real Estate, about some potential future projects on the land. Especially advocating for the intended retail space to have greenery.

This project is just an example of what the community can do in terms of improving the area,” Dawn reflects, “there was nothing on the boards and now there is that reflects Erdington. Watch out! More to come.”

Mercia Real Estate acquired the Maplin site following the closure, a spokesperson from the Birmingham based real estate and asset management company said:

Mercia Real Estate acquired the site in 2018 with a view to redeveloping the buildings into a terrace of convenience retail units.

Whilst this has been in planning we were approached by community leaders earlier this year who had expressed an interest in creating various murals on the site hoarding.

Wherever we invest we are always keen to engage with the community and in this case were happy to extend a donation to support the creativity of the various groups involved.”

For more on Steve Allen, visit www.nozzleandbrush.co.uk
For more on Abian Richards, visit www.facebook.com/faffabout
For more on Keely Iqbal, visit www.keelyiqbal.com
For more on Edward Thrush, visit www.elthrush.com

For more on Mercia Real Estate, visit www.merciarealestate.com
For more on Active Arts, visit www.activearts.wordpress.com

BACK TO: …work, with Dellano Lewis – Employment & Engagement Officer at Witton Lodge Community Association

Words by Dellano Lewis / Pics by Ed King

As the country takes its first steps out of lockdown – with people returning to their places of work, education, and leisure – Erdington Local has been asking for some simple steps to help us get back to normal.

This article has been supported by the Erdington Coronavirus Taskforce – for a full list of local support services, visit www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19-local-support

______________

EL:  You are the Engagement and Employment Support Worker at Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) – tell us a bit more about your role and responsibilities?
DL: My role includes outreach activities, working alongside our partners such as DWP, handling paperwork related to registration, actively updating and monitoring client database, filing away documents, ensuring monthly reports are submitted to secure finances. Other duties include helping clients with CVs, job application forms, universal credit accounts, job searching, digital skills, helping to find suitable work, training and voluntary opportunities.

Prior to the lockdown I also conducted weekly employment related activities in groups, delivering weekly online sessions, operating the WLCA Instagram page, creating content using video software, supporting with other areas which increase the associations presence through live events such as (Track Friday). Building key relationships with local providers in and across Birmingham are also a part of my role. 

EL: How long have you been working in the community?
DL: This will now be just over four years working in the community. 

EL: How did you find your job?
DL: I had met Iram (Fardus – WLCA’s Business Development & Performance Manager) at the time and the opportunity came about to do some volunteering with the association around helping the youth. I was very interested in this, so I decided to take on the opportunity. Through volunteering I was then given a part time role leading to a full time position. 

EL: The coronavirus crisis has turned many people’s worlds upside down, how has it affected the people you work with through WLCA?
DL: Due to the situation a lot of people haven’t been able to cope with looking for work – another thing is the health and wellbeing of the client, if someone is not in the right frame of mind to look for work it will be difficult for them to move forward. Alongside that, clients have been struggling with I.T. – this has also been one of the major factors preventing people from accessing opportunities. 

EL: What are the most immediate concerns facing people over employment?
DL: Some of the immediate concerns from people are finances and health – a lot of people have lost jobs and a number of business’s have closed. 

EL: What are WLCA doing to address these concerns?
DL: The response from WLCA Team has been exceptional – this is including all the volunteers that stepped in to support. Our service had a slight change in delivery, making everything accessible online; clients who had an interest in accessing jobs during the lockdown were able to contact the employment team and receive this support.

Many families and individuals were feeling very worried, the prompt action and response from the team in delivering services related to food gave the residents and people in the community a sense of reassurance that someone is looking out for them.

Health & Wellbeing was also a major factor. With the lockdown, mental health was increasingly affecting a majority of people. Staying connected with those affected, especially the elderly, was very important as they were the ones who have gone months without seeing family, friends, or even outdoors. 

EL: For anybody looking for employment, especially during the coronavirus crisis, what simple first steps should they take?
DL: If you are currently looking for work one of the things to have ready is an active CV, this is like your plane ticket. The CV is the first thing an employer is going to see so make sure everything is correct and easy to read; ensure your work history, qualifications, and any type of work experience you have done is on the CV.

Alongside the CV, create a cover letter and indeed account once you have these begin to make a plan of action. Think about the type of job you want to be doing short term and the career long term. If you require some support with taking the next step or setting these things up give us a call for support (0121) 382 1930. 

EL: What about people who are having to self-isolate, are there any pathways to employment they could take?
DL: For those self-isolating, don’t feel discouraged – with online learning you can sure find something that interests you. Platforms such as alison.com, Future Learn, and Vision2Learn have a wide range of free courses you could do online to gain knowledge and even claim a certificate upon completing.

EL: How about people who are still in employment, but feel unsupported or uncertain about their workplace – what advice would you give them?
DL: If you are feeling unsupported or uncertain about your place of work, one of the first things would be to speak to your manager and let them know how you are feeling. Also check out the furlough scheme information on the Governement’s website in the event of becoming unemployed, you will be able to claim 80% of your wages through your employer.

Click the link for more information: www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wages-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme

EL: With lockdown restrictions being imposed again on certain pockets of the country, as speculation around a ‘second spike’ of COVID-19 grows, what preparation can people take – around employment?
DL: In relation to a potential second spike I think it would be a good Idea to develop some digital skills. Starting from the very basic, if you are more advance explore areas of work that require some computer device to carry out the role.

In various areas of work the role may require you to complete an administrative task, so gaining those skills from now will be really good. Create a plan of action, think about two or three areas of work you would like explore – it may not be computer related – go online and learn the fundamentals for those roles, the information is free and accessible.

Remember to take time out for yourself as well don’t feel too pressured into doing everything all at once. Exercise, try to have something healthy to eat, looking for work is a challenge but keep going think positive and stay active.

Full more from Witton Lodge Community Association, visit www.wittonlodge.org.uk

For more on the government’s Job Retention Scheme, visit www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wages-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme

This article has been supported by the Erdington Coronavirus Taskforce – for a full list of local support services, visit www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19-local-support

NEWS: Community art project transforms Maplin hoardings into a mural ‘to celebrate Erdington’

Words & pics by Ed King

On Saturday 15th August, volunteers from across Erdington kick started a new community art project – transforming the hoardings that have ring-fenced the old Maplin site into a vibrant mural ‘to celebrate Erdington.’

Over 20 local residents and representatives gave up the start of their weekend to help whitewash the 107 boards that surround the disused commercial site by Six Ways Island.

In huge display of community spirit, members from a wide range of local action groups worked across the morning and into the afternoon – preparing a blank canvas to be filled throughout the week by four Birmingham based artists.

Displaying the very unity that they want to celebrate, the mammoth task was completed by 1pm – aided by hard work and camaraderie from organisations including Erdington Litter Busters, Erdington Community Volunteers, Ahmadiyya Muslim Association, Witton Lodge Community Association, Urban Devotion, Good Gym, Erdington Arts Forum, and Active Arts.

Erdington Councillors Robert Alden and Gareth Moore, who helped the project get up and running, also rolled up their sleeves on Saturday – working alongside the collage of community groups to get the job done quickly and professionally.

The idea is to celebrate Erdington as a place to live,” tells Claire Westmacott – a member of the Erdington Community Volunteers group who were helping whitewash the hoardings.

When you drive through here, you are going to see this mural… it’s to celebrate the different areas of Erdington and what makes Erdington so good.

It’s the people, it’s the people getting together – you can see here the community spirit. It’s been brilliant… people have been asking what’s happening and saying that’s a brilliant idea.

“People passing by have taken notice of what we’ve been doing; it’s the community making improvements.”

Steve Allen – the first of the four artists commissioned – began his painting immediately, completing the front face of the mural by the evening on Sunday 16th August. Steve, aka Nozzle and Brush, is a local ‘mural and spray paint specialist’ who uses aerosol paints to create ‘one off artwork for bedrooms, walls, shop shutters, gym spaces and more.’

Further work will continue on the mural throughout the week, with local illustrator and designer Edward Thrush using the boards along Summer Road for a piece celebrating the volunteer groups that work in and around Erdington.

Keely Iqbal, an illustrator and fashion designer with a studio at The Custard Factory, is using the Sutton New Road side for an artistic exploration into the history of Erdington.

Whilst Abian Richards, a local artist who ‘works with an expressive mixed media style’ will be painting a special piece that celebrates the green spaces from across the constituency.

Organisers hope the full mural will be completed by Sunday 23rd August – hoping to see selfies and photos captured by members of the public across social media, tagging Erdington Arts Forum or one of the other groups.

Supporting this act of community spirit, Mercia Real Estate have financed the lion’s share of costs attached to the mural – fronting £2250 for the project, with an extra £750 added by Active Arts who have helped coordinate the artists commissions as part of their Erdington Arts Forum role.

Maplin Electronic Supplies went into administration in February 2018, closing all of its UK stores and putting it 2,500 strong work force into unemployment.

Since then, the site that looks out over Six Ways Island has been boarded up – sitting as both a public eyesore and an unpleasant reminder to the employees at the Erdington branch who lost their livelihoods.

Mercia Real Estate, the Birmingham based company who took over the land following the Maplin closure, said:

Mercia Real Estate acquired the site in 2018 with a view to redeveloping the buildings into a terrace of convenience retail units.

Whilst this has been in planning we were approached by community leaders earlier this year who had expressed an interest in creating various murals on the site hoarding.

Wherever we invest we are always keen to engage with the community and in this case were happy to extend a donation to support the creativity of the various groups involved.”

For more on Steve Allen, visit www.nozzleandbrush.co.uk
For more on Edward Thrush, visit www.elthrush.com
For more on Keely Iqbal, visit www.keelyiqbal.com
For more on Abian Richards, visit www.facebook.com/faffabout

For more on Mercia Real Estate, visit www.merciarealestate.com
For more on Active Arts, visit www.activearts.wordpress.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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