NEWS: WLCA Chief Officer Afzal Hussain appointed Deputy Lieutenant for the West Midlands

Words by Steve Sharma / Pics by Ed King

Afzal Hussain, Chief Officer at Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA), has been appointed as a Deputy Lieutenant for the West Midlands.

The role comes in recognition of his work and contributions to communities and social enterprise in Birmingham and across the region. He is one of six new Deputy Lieutenants with backgrounds ranging from education, entrepreneurship, homelessness, and music.

A royal appointment, the Deputy Lieutenants participate in civic, voluntary, and social activities within the lieutenancy.

Afzal will support The Lord-Lieutenant of the West Midlands, Mr John Crabtree OBE – the Queen’s personal representative in the county – in a number of ways including attending on Royalty during official visits, representation at citizenship ceremonies, supporting the armed forces of the Crown, and encouraging charitable and voluntary work and local initiatives to benefit the community.

“I am honoured to have been appointed a Deputy Lieutenant for the West Midlands,” said Afzal.

“Our many citizens, community and voluntary organisations play a vitally important role in the life of our region and I look forward to promoting and encouraging this further.’

During the pandemic, Afzal convened the Erdington (Covid 19) Task Force and the North Birmingham Economic Recovery Task Force, which have supported thousands of residents and vulnerable groups to access health and wellbeing, housing, employment, training, and enterprise support services.

Afzal is also an active member of several Boards in Birmingham and the West Midlands, providing experience and insight in community-led approaches to tackle deep-seated challenges, as well as capitalising on opportunities that unlock and nurture talent.

Prior to running WLCA, his previous roles include Director of Coventry New Deal for Communities and Deputy Chief Executive of Aston Pride NDC – where he worked with the board, local government, community leaders, and senior officers to successfully re-establish and manage the £54m multi-partnership initiative tasked with regenerating one of Birmingham’s most deprived wards.

In his role as WLCA Chief Officer, Afzal was also a key part in the multi million pound regeneration bids for Erdington High Street and continues to work with local stakeholders at sourcing further investment opportunities.

Working alongside NHS Property Services, WLCA were further responsible for the new Health and Wellbeing Hub that took over the old walk-in centre site on Erdington High Street. WLCA are also developing plans for an ambitions Enterprise Hub at the old Erdington Swimming Baths.

With the Commonwealth Games coming to Perry Barr in July/August – and satellite events held across the region – the recently appointed Deputy Lieutenants for the West Midlands will also support the city in delivering this premiere sporting event.

“The West Midlands is this year welcoming visitors from throughout the world and the West Midlands Lieutenancy is committed to supporting and representing every community in the County,” said Mr Crabtree.

“As the second largest lieutenancy in England and Wales and home to nearly three million citizens, the enthusiasm and additional reach of the new Deputy Lieutenants will complement the great work of my existing Deputy Lieutenants.

The West Midlands Lieutenancy comprises Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton. It was established in 1974.

For more on the West Midlands Lieutenancy visit www.wmlieutenancy.org

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

NEWS: Erdington Task Force sets a new manifesto of constituency wide support as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted

Words & pics by Ed King

Established in response to coronavirus, the Erdington Covid-19 Task Force was set up to support people during the pandemic – reaching thousands of vulnerable and isolated residents with food, essential supplies, financial advice, health and wellbeing activities, and further support services.

Now as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted and communities across the world are looking at life beyond the pandemic, so is the Taskforce – dropping the coronavirus moniker and exploring how it can continue to support people across Erdington.

Renamed the Erdington Task Force, the collective of local stakeholders has issued a new manifesto, with housing, education, employment, and regeneration at its core.

Continuing their duty of care for the vulnerable, isolated, and elderly, the Erdington Task Force want to carry on providing what many have found to be essential support services – finding whilst Covid-19 restrictions are being lifted, people across Erdington are still suffering from the impact of the virus.

To help deliver this programme of support, Erdington Task Force mobilises a squad of almost 250 volunteers to carry out tasks and activities across the constituency.

Chair of the Erdington Task Force is Afzal Hussain, Chief Officer of Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA). Mr Hussain told Erdington Local:

“The Erdington (Covid-19) Task Force provided a crucial and rapid response to the pandemic.

“Members repurposed existing and developed new services to support our communities by mobilising hundreds of volunteers and co-ordinating vital food distribution and support activities to thousands of vulnerable residents across the constituency.

“The pandemic highlighted and exacerbated deep-seated inequalities, especially poverty and economic hardship, health inequalities and digital exclusion.

“So now is the right time to refresh our partnerships and create a new settlement, which recognises and celebrates the central role of the refreshed Erdington Task Force in the life, prosperity and future of the constituency.”

Comprised of local charities, support organisations, community champions, and politicians, the Erdington Task Force is a collective of local stakeholders who have deep rooted relationships within the constituency.

Facilitated by WLCA, the Erdington Task Force also has organisations including Active Arts, Spitfire Service, The Pioneer Groups, Bethany Foodbank, Erdington Community Volunteers, Urban Devotion, West Midlands Police, and The Active Wellbeing Society as members – establishing a network of support from Castle Vale to Kingstanding.

The Erdington (Covid-19) Task Force was established in April 2020, to support the constituency during the coronavirus pandemic.

To read the new Erdington Task Force manifesto in full visit www.wittonlodge.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Erdington-Task-Force-Community-Manifesto-2022

NEWS: Local support worker ‘braves the shave’ to raise hundreds for Macmillan Cancer Support

Words by Ed King / Pics supplied by Debbie Bates

As many people got glammed up ahead of a last minute New Year’s Eve reprieve, one local support worker was shaving herself bald – raising well over a thousand pounds for Macmillan Cancer Support.

On 28 December, Debbie Bates decided to ‘Brave the Shave’ and have her long flowing locks lopped off for charity, generating over £1300 in sponsorship and donations for the national cancer support organisation.

Debbie’s long brown hair, which reached far down her back, was further donated to The Little Princess Trust – a UK based charity providing free real hair wigs to young people who have lost their hair after cancer treatment or other illnesses.

Click here to make an online donation to Debbie Bates’s Brave the Shave campaign, accepting contributions until the end of January 2022.

Debbie, who is a qualified social worker and the Health and Wellbeing Development Manager for Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA), was spurned to shave off her hair in respect of family members who have died of cancer – including her own mother, Shirley Reynolds, who passed away tragically young aged only 38.

Shirley Reynolds would have celebrated her seventieth birthday on 28 December, the day that Debbie decided to ‘brave the shave’ and have her hair cut off for the cancer charity – surrounded by friends and family at The Royal Oak pub in Kingsbury, Tamworth.

Debbie told: “Brave the Shave was a very personal and emotional experience for me as my mum had beautiful long hair which ‘fell out’ due to chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

“The most humbling thing about the experience was listening to stories from so many friends and colleagues who have also lost loved ones to cancer.

“Having them share their memories and listening to their experiences is something that will stay with me forever.”

Shirley Reynolds

At the time of writing, Debbie Bates had raised over £1380 for Macmillan Cancer Support – smashing her original target of £500, with people from across the community donating and showing support via Debbie’s official Brave the Shave page on the Macmillan website.

Debbie O’Connor posted: “Such a fabulous thing to do Debbie and for such a worthy cause! You’re mom would be so proud. Hope you’ve got your woolly hat ready! Sending heavenly birthday wishes.”

Chantelle Holmes added: “It’s exactly what is says on the tin ‘Brave’, not many people could or would do it. You really are one truly inspiring woman.”

Brave the Shave is an annual fundraising initiative organised by Macmillan Cancer Support, one of the UK’s leading cancer charities.

Launched in 2015, the yearly shear has generated over £22.7 million in sponsorship and donations – a fantastic fundraising figure that could pay for 140 Macmillan nurses for three years.

Like many cancer charities, Macmillan is heavily reliant on  sponsorship and  donations to fund its staff and services.

Debbie Bates’s Brave the Shave campaign will be taking donations until the end of January 2022.

To make on online contribution to Debbie’s Brave the Save campaign visit www.bravetheshave.macmillan.org.uk/shavers/debbie-bates

For more information on Brave the Shave visit www.bravetheshave.macmillan.org.uk

NEWS: High Street Health and Wellbeing Hub sees ‘huge response and demand’ from local residents

Words & pics by Ed King

Launched at the beginning of December, the new Health and Wellbeing Hub on Erdington High Street has already seen a “huge response and demand” from local residents.

Operated by Witton Lodge Community Centre (WLCA), in partnership with NHS Property Services, the Health and Wellbeing Hub offers social support over issues from employment and finance to healthy eating and general wellbeing.

Opening its doors on 1 December, the Health and Wellbeing Hub took over 196 Erdington High St – a building left empty after the Walk-In Centre moved to Northcroft Hospital early this year.

With services running from Monday to Friday, the Erdington Health and Wellbeing Hub offers a range of free to access support – through both drop in and pre-booked sessions with trained advisors.

Debbie Bates, Health & Wellbeing Development Manager at WLCA, told Erdington Local:

“This opportunity; in partnership with NHS Property Services has enabled us to reach and support more local members of our community.

“Since we opened the doors we’ve seen a huge response and demand for non-clinical Social Prescribing services, with a constant stream of people coming in for advice and support.

“Having an additional accessible Hub in the heart of the community; on the high street, will enable us to continue our work with NHS, GP’s, Adult Social Care and our partners to go some way in meeting demand.

“Money, housing and employment are still big concerns, with our benefits advice sessions and housing drop in services on Mondays, Job Club on Tuesdays, and Employment and Skills workshops on Thursdays seeing a lot of interest.

“But often people are looking for more emotional help and a room of friendly faces, which is where our Wellbeing Support, Domestic Violence Support Group and Carers Support sessions on Mondays come in, with additional services being offered around healthy lifestyles in the coming months.”

Primarily based in Perry Common, Witton Lodge Community Association has been delivering social and housing support since being established in 1994.

WLCA also have a proven track record of taking over Council assets the city could no longer run, such as Perry Common Library.

WLCA are also close to completing a new ‘Eco Hub’ at the former park-keepers cottage at Witton Lakes, turning the century old building into ‘a venue which supports, educates and promotes sustainable living… to enhance and encourage the potential for environmentally sustainable lifestyles.’

After successfully launching the Erdington Health and Wellbeing Hub, WLCA have further plans to convert the disused Erdington Swimming Baths into an Enterprise Hub.

Speaking to Erdington Local at the Health and Wellbeing Hub launch, WLCA Chief Officer, Afzal Hussain, told:

“We’re delighted to be in the building and working with the NHS Property Services team, they’ve been excellent.

“They’ve helped to refurbish the facility which means we can come in and start to provide the services – services that are needed now and will be needed in the coming months as people feel some of those pressures associated with the cost of living.

“We’re approaching winter, and the difficulties associated with the pandemic, but also helping people with advice and training, upskilling, and finding work. So, there’ll be a range of services we’ll be providing from here.

“We’re really pleased to bring this building back into use for the community and for local residents, having a Hub right on the High Street is really important. And also, I think it’s a sign of our commitment moving forward to Erdington Town Centre.”

Charlotte Jarvis, Senior Portfolio Optimisation Manager, NHS Property Services, added: “It has been a complete pleasure to work with Witton Lodge in delivering this space.

“Through our social prescribing programme here at NHSPS, we provided the space and then refurbished it to fit the needs of Witton Lodge.

“I was delighted to be invited to the opening today and see not only the space in real life, but also the colleagues and volunteers who deliver the services and most importantly the residents of Erdington who will benefit from this space. I look forward to coming back to see how it develops to continue to support local PCN’s and its patients.”

Also attending the opening were Erdington Ward councillors Robert Alden and Gareth Moore.

Councillor Alden said: “It’s great to be here at the Erdington Wellbeing Centre opening, and Witton Lodge have done a brilliant job at setting this up and running.

“I think we’ve all seen with Covid how important it is to be supporting people’s social and mental health, as well as their physical health.

“In terms of the future, going forward, with the building being empty this (Health & Wellbeing Hub) is the solution to getting it used.

“And it’s really good that once again Witton Lodge have stepped in to help support Erdington and the surrounding area when perhaps other public services have stepped back.”

Councillor Gareth Moore added: “This will be a valuable lifeline for the local community who, sadly, like many people, have suffered through the pandemic.

“So, hopefully the great work what Witton Lodge has been doing in the area will be amplified through this Hub.”

The Erdington Health and Wellbeing Hub is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm. For details on available support please call 0121 827 6295.

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

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

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

OPINION: The Economic Impact of COVID-19 – A Birmingham View

Words by Ifor Jones – Head of Partnerships, The Pioneer Group / Picture of Birmingham skyline by Luke Matthews, profile pic courtesy of The Pioneer Group

As the economic impact of the COVID-19 lockdown has become clear with the threat of a tsunami of redundancies across the West Midlands I couldn’t help but reflect on what I experienced first-hand with the closure of MG rover first hand back in 2005 with 6,300 redundancies being made.

This had a profound economic and social impact on local communities which was mitigated by the action of the MG Rover Taskforce. I led the community support strand of the Taskforce which started with mobilising advice services to work in tandem with JC plus and the Learning Skills Council and progressed with a community regeneration programme supporting grass roots organisations and focusing on providing support for workers and the MG Rover community.

The following sets out the learning and the lessons which arose from this tragic time which I feel are very relevant to the potential impact of COVID-19 across the City.

In the lead up to COVID-19, statistics for the first quarter of 2020 confirmed Birmingham’s comparatively high unemployment claimant rate (9.3%) compared to other major English cities.

The figure had been relatively stable but began to increase during 2018 in the wake of benefit changes connected to the roll out of Universal Credit.

It is my assertion that, when considering the potential impact of COVID-19, we will see two distinct cohorts within the unemployment claimant count for Birmingham.

  • Longer term cases clustered in geographical hotspots or demographic characteristics such as youth unemployment, BAME groups and people with disabilities.
  • Those who have lost their jobs as an economic consequence of COVID-19, across a range of sectors and impacting on an even wider cross section of the working population.

A Precedent for What’s Next

In 2005, MG Rover at Longbridge closed with the overnight loss of 6,300 jobs. Further job losses in the supply chain pushed this figure to over 8,000.

However, a significant number of workers were able to retrain to change their careers; undertaking academic vocational training. A report indicated around 4,000 (63%) of former MG Rover workers found new, mostly full-time, work. Approximately 25% of these workers were earning more with over 50% of them earning less.

Strong partnerships were key to the management and mitigation process, especially in relation to the social and economic impact of such a significant plant closure.

In a two-year period, I witnessed a shift from crisis management to sustained economic and social strategies for recovery. At the heart of this was a collaborative approach coordinated at different levels, from the very local in Longbridge and Northfield to across the city, region and nation as a whole.

My engagement through a localised team in the City Council was to co-ordinate the initial crisis response regarding advice and community support delivered in partnership with agencies such as JobCentre Plus and The Learning Skills Council. This was complemented with the support of organisations across the voluntary and community sector and, most critically, the MG Rover communities themselves.

Mobilising a response to administer change at pace was critical, as was building relationships with the workers and MG Rover to ensure engagement with and wider community buy-in.

The lessons that were learned, that can help us deal with the anticipated fallout of COVID-19 include:

  • mobilise interventions at pace working with both cohorts – existing and new claimants
  • get new cohort of unemployed into training and work as soon as possible
  • quickly intervene with training agencies and providers for re-skilling
  • ensure personal contact with individuals whether through advice and support or training
  • recognise importance of welfare advice and wellbeing services and administering benefits quickly
  • use opportunities for public service employers to take on and train former MG Rover workers, for example the city council created opportunities in youth, leisure and community development services
  • work in partnership – at regional, city and local levels – with public services, employers, community and third sector agencies
  • provide community support in the moment of crisis – e.g. helplines, social events, funding for holiday breaks
  • create a strategy for inclusive growth e.g. local area regeneration – Longbridge transitioned from a centre of economic activity of regional and national significance to an important local centre with a mix of new housing, retail, public services and some retained manufacturing.

Ifor Jones is Head of Partnerships at The Pioneer Group – for more on The Pioneer Group, visit: www.pioneergroup.org.uk

The Pioneer Group is a member of the Erdington COVID19 Taskforce, facilitated by Witton Lodge Community Association.

Established in April 2020, the Taskforce is a network of local organisations from a wide variety of sectors, working together to support people who have been adversely affected by the pandemic.

To access the online address book and database of local support services compile by the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce, visit: www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19/local/support

FEATURE: Witton Lodge Community Association reaches out to local residents – as part of the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce

Words & pics by Ed King / Video by Paul Withers – Erdington Local Broadcast Unit

A special Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce has been set up in response to the coronavirus crisis, with Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) reaching out to local residents with food parcels and support services – outreach activity mirrored by community hubs and support groups across the constituency.

Established as the pandemic reached more critical levels for the UK during March, the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce is a ‘collaborative approach and co-ordinated effort’ involving many of the constituency’s community groups and care providers – alongside Jack Dromey MP, Councillor Robert Alden, representatives from Birmingham City Council, and further political and community figures known in the area.

Speaking directly to Erdington Local about the coronavirus crisis, Jack Dromey MP says: “The COVID-19 crisis is the most serious moment in our country’s history since World War II. The sheer scale of what is happening – and its social and economic impact – is frightening. But at a moment of crisis, it is crucial that community and country stand together.

As the crisis deepened four weeks ago, we moved to establish the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce to bring together those who can make a difference – to sustain our community and our citizens through these dreadful times.”

Chaired by Afzal Hussain, Chief Officer at Witton Lodge Community Association – who have been working in Perry Common since 1994, the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce has already begun a series of outreach activities focused on delivering vital public support and tackling the immediate issues effecting people across the area.

Following a call to arms to local residents and businesses, Witton Lodge Community Association have been receiving donations of food and essential goods which they are redistributing directly to households in their local community – adhering to the safety guidelines issued by Public Health England.

With a growing number of volunteers – working as parcel packers, drivers, administrators, and phoning locals residents to check directly on their wellbeing – the team at WLCA are delivering over 60 care packages those most vulnerable on Tuesdays and Fridays, alongside a daily schedule of further deliveries to the wider community.

“The absolute priority has to be welfare and safety… so people having those essential supplies,” explains Afzal Hussain.

“We already have residents, families, and individuals that we know need this support, so we’ve started with those. We are now having referrals; people are calling us, councillors and social workers and others are referring people to us, so we’ve mobilised our staff and volunteers to go and make sure those deliveries happen. We’ve scheduled those in so there are regular delivery slots a couple of times a week to do that.”

Responding to a health crisis such as coronavirus, a virulent disease that’s effecting countries and citizens around the world, takes a level of community action beyond that of WLCA’s usual support programme. But many in Erdington have already risen to the challenge, as the impact from coronavirus continues to dominate headlines, hearts and minds across the globe.

“We’re trying to reach out to those who can’t access basic provisions,” tells Marie Benjamin – Volunteer Co-ordinator at WLCA. “It’s vital right now, without support there could be people out there suffering a lot.”

Other issues highlighted by local residents are employment, financial support and advice, as well as the health and wellbeing concerns from being in prolonged self-isolation.

To effectively tackle these growing problems, the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce has been building a database of organisations called the Erdington Assets Register – with companies from Bromford Fish Bar to Birmingham Mind offering their time and resources to help deliver these important support services.

“The response has been amazing,” explains Debbie Bates – Health and Wellbeing Transformation Lead at Witton Lodge Community Association. “It’s been a collaborative approach and co-ordinated effort across Erdington, working to ensure people in the community get the help the need at this critical time.”

But as the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK continues to rise, alongside the death toll, there is still much more that needs to be done – by both Witton Lodge Community Association and the wider Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce.

Organisations are being encouraged to sign up to the Erdington Assets Register, strengthening the database of private and public sector groups that can provide support. Whilst individuals can make a significant difference by offering their time, energy, or donations of food and essential goods to the growing community outreach programme.

Volunteering is really important,” continues Afzal Hussain, “if there are supplies and food, we’ll happily take those. I think what I would say to groups and organisations who are there, who want to work together, is to come forward – we will add them to that emergency (Erdington) Asset Register.

We’re using that as the live platform; people can add their details, let everyone know what’s going on, what services they’re providing, and importantly they can collaborate with others in their neighbourhoods and communities.”

For anyone wanting to find out more about the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce, or to add their organisation to the Erdington Assets Register, please contact Witton Lodge Community Association on (0121) 382 1930 or email afzal.hussain@wittonlodge.org.uk

Organisations can also add their names directly onto the Erdington Assets Register, operated as a live platform and database, by clicking here.

People can also contact Witton Lodge Community Association though their website or social media, with full details found at www.wittonlodge.org.uk