NEWS: Witton Lodge Community Association officially launch ‘phase one’ of new Enterprise Hub

Words by Ed King / Pics by Joe Marchant

On Thursday 18 July, Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) officially launched ‘phase one’ of their new Enterprise Hub, transforming the old Erdington Baths into a community workspace and entrepreneurial hotspot.

Attending the launch were local partner organisations and stake holders, representatives from local community groups and religious bodies, recently elected West Midlands Mayor Richard Parker, and Birmingham City Council Leader John Cotton.

WLCA hope the ambitious development, which will give Erdington entrepreneurs a place to take affordable office space or utilise hot desk facilities, will not only breathe life into Erdington’s High Street but “futureproof” the cherished swimming baths from private sale or development.

Once complete, the creative centre will also house a crèche and onsite play area – giving professionals with young families and a place to work from whilst meeting their childcare responsibilities.

There are further plans for the Enterprise Hub to house a community café, and an outdoor area for street food markets, music, arts, and community events.

The development has been four years in planning, with talks beginning before the Covid pandemic and continuing through the city’s financial crisis.

Despite the global health crisis and Birmingham’s own fiscal meltdown, WLCA have continued to push through with the project – recently securing £2m from the West Midlands Combined Authority and £2m for Birmingham City Council to bankrolling ‘phase one’.

The money now on the table will guarantee the Enterprise Hub will open with the office space, hot desks, community café, and the majority of its planned facilities – with a further £2.5m needed to add the additional resources to complete the overall plan.

And whilst Birmingham City Council is looking at assets it can sell to address its multi-million pound financial crisis, the highest ranking politician in the city has confirmed the £2m coming from the Council coffers for the Witton Lodge Enterprise Hub is guaranteed.

Speaking to Erdington Local at the official launch, Council Leader John Cotton confirmed: “That (£2m) was agreed in July of last year through a Cabinet report and was subsequently signed off through our Section 151 processes that we’ve got in place during the current financial challenges

“So, that money is accounted for and allocated.”

Standing with Cllr John Cotton as they toured the development site, Witton Lodge Chief Officer Afzal Hussan explained that “even with a fair wind” the Enterprise Hub will take a couple of years to fullyopen.

And that they were “always looking” for the further £2.5m investment for the final plans, with the money coming from Birmingham City Council and the West Midlands Combined Authority, after over four years of planning the Enterprise Hub in Erdington is now a reality.

He added: “We now know the building will be open, and I think that’s the gamechanger. With the £4m we will be able to preserve the building and restore the roof. We’ll be able to create a café, open it up to the public, and really convert the pool with the co-working spaces and the pods.

“So, that means the project works as it stands.”

For more on the Witton Lodge Enterprise Hub visit www.wittonlodge.org.uk

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: New life for Erdington Baths

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: WLCA nominated in Community Inspiration Awards 2023 – voting open until 30 June

Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) has been shortlisted in the Community Inspiration Awards 2023 for the Environment Champion Award, which recognises an individual or organisation that has been helping to make positive improvements to the environment.

Voting closes on 30 June, with the winners to be announced at a special award ceremony held on 8 September.

To vote for Witton Lodge Community Association in the Community Inspiration Awards 2023, click here.

The Community Inspiration Awards is an annual event organised by Community Foundation, to celebrate and recognised the ‘outstanding contributions made by members of the community, staff from public sector organisations, charities, and businesses whose efforts have made a positive difference and has inspired others.’

Afzal Hussain, WLCA Chief Officer said “We are absolutely delighted to be shortlisted for the Environment Champion Award in the Community Inspiration Awards 2023.

“This nomination means so much to all our team and volunteers and we would be grateful if you could spare a minute to cast your vote for Witton Lodge Community Association!”

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

To vote for Witton Lodge Community Association in the Community Inspiration Awards 2023, click here.

FEATURE: Memorial service for late Erdington MP Jack Dromey and Stockland Green Councillor Penny Holbrook

Words by Ed King / Pics by Mohammad Ashraf, Ed King, and WLCA

On Saturday 14 January, a memorial service for Erdington’s late MP Jack Dromey and Stockland Green Councillor Penny Holbrook was held at Six Ways Baptist Church.

Organised one year and one week after Jack Dromey death, the remembrance event was attended by community representatives, political peers, and members of the public – alongside friends and family of the two “titans” of local politics.

Hosted by Reverend Gerard Goshawk, minister at Six Ways Baptist Church, the first tribute was spoken by Erdington’s current MP Paulette Hamilton, who began by saying: “Before you go forward you have to look back and give honour.”

Ms Hamilton was a long standing friend and political colleague of both Penny Holbrook and Jack Dromey, recanting the last time she spent with the former – walking dogs around Brookvale Park, an area in the late councillor’s Ward of Stockland Green she had championed and helped regenerate.

“I told her, look at all you’ve done here – look at the swans, the trees, the bushes,” continued Hamilton. “Our last conversation was so positive. As we go forward, she (Penny Holbrook) has left her own footprints for us to follow.”

Ms Hamilton continued to celebrate the life of Jack Dromey, a man she “absolutely adored” and would not “pretend to say I can walk in that man’s shoes. Jack was a doer, he brought people together. You could not tell Jack ‘you can’t do that’.”

Her final words were “honouring” both Penny Holbrook and Jack Dromey, saying: “thank you for your hard work and rest in peace.”

Ifor Jones, Head of Partnerships for The Pioneer Group, was next up to speak – praising the “strong champion” he had first “crossed paths” with whilst fighting to save the Jaguar Land Rover Castle Bromwich plant.

Mr Jones continued to celebrate the once union man turned politician, using an aphorism those that knew Jack Dromey would have heard him say many times before: “nothing short of remarkable.”

Celebrating the life and work of the well loved and long serving Stockland Green Councillor, Jones surmised the “privilege” of working with Penny Holbrook by stating: “Penny was a force to be reckoned with.” A sentiment echoed throughout the service and by many who knew her.

Recently elected Castle Vale Councillor Ray Goodwin, who had a “good and firm friendship” with the “double act” of Penny Holbrook and Jack Dromey, humoured about the first time he met the former and how “she put the fear of the man upstairs in me… she absolutely knew what she wanted.”

Then erstwhile Stockland Green Councillor Josh Jones, who represented the Ward alongside Penny Holbrook and worked closely with Jack Dromey, talked about the loss of “two people very close to me,” recanting stories from the campaign trail and how both would “go out of their way to help you.”

Next was a tribute from Abdul Latifin, who was rescued from Afghanistan by Jack Dromey and his office after the Taliban took control back of the war torn the country in 2021.

Mr Latifin paid his respects to his “close friend” and “global figure”, before celebrating the impact made by the “two great personalities” being remembered.

Local virtuoso Jobe Baker Sullivan, who runs Erdington Arts Forum, then performed the specially written ‘Jack Dromey Jig’ which had been penned for the MP’s memorial a year ago – joined by an ensemble of musicians.

Next to speak was Andy Winmill, current Director of Urban Devotion – a local faith based charity who work with young people across Perry Common and the Erdington constituency.

Mr Winmill joked that whilst “politicians aren’t always the most popular people”, over a year later there was still the desire and support to celebrate Cllr Penny Holbrook and Jack Dromey MP.

He continued by praising the “tender-hearted” Holbrook and how neither prominent political figure were “defined by their politics.”

In one of the most touching moments in the service, Mr Winmill reminded those present how Jack Dromey would call truce on the political battle and “collaborate to get things done” – possibly best represented by his de facto leadership of the the Covid 19 Task Force during the coronavirus pandemic.

“How we are going to honour their (Penny Holbrook and Jack Dromey) legacy,” continued Winmill, “is to build something together for Erdington,” ending his tribute to a heartfelt applause from the mixed faith congregation.

In an almost perfect representation of this bi-partisan sentiment, Birmingham Conservative Leader and Erdington Councillor Robert Alden stood up next to speak – a man who was often at the opposing end of the political spectrum to both Penny Holbrook and Jack Dromey but vocalised how “tragic” it was to “lose two titans of local politics.”

Mr Alden then celebrated the “passion Penny felt” which “came across in every conversation” he had with the late councillor, who was one vote away from becoming Council Leader in 2015.

“It was always about ‘what can we do to help’,” continued Alden, “what was best for local residents. Politics never came into it… she is so sorely missed.”

Turning his attention to Jack Dromey, perhaps Alden’s most immediate political rival for many years, the Birmingham Conservative Leader praised “his passion, fighting for worker’s rights” and how “Jack always put solidarity of workers first.”

Mr Alden, who had politically walked into the lion’s den to pay his respects – alongside his fellow Erdington Councillor Garth Moore – ended by saying: “to the family and friends (of Penny Holbrook and Jack Dromey), God bless you and God bless Erdington.”

Crossing back over the aisle, further respects were paid by current Stockland Green Councillors Amar Khan and Jane Jones – with the former remembering how Penny Holbrook would often “pop in” to his home and became “a good family friend.”

“It is a great honour and privilege to say a few words,” continued Cllr Khan. “Both will be forever missed and I know they are both watching from heaven. God bless their souls.”

Cllr Jane Jones then remembered how “Jack never, ever stopped”, even checking in with his constituency office whilst sunbathing on holiday in Sicily, and how “Penny was totally dedicated… so kind and generous.”

The final words of remembrance came from Linda Hines and Afzal Hussain, respectively Resident Director and Chief Officer of Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) – a Perry Common born organisation with a longstanding relationship with both Penny Holbrook and Jack Dromey.

After an anecdote about the first time she met Jack Dromey, whilst standing in for a sick Father Christmas at Perry Common Community Hall, Linda Hines – who had not scripted or prepared her tribute – told: “I’m five foot, but I loved standing next to them (Penny Holbrook and Jack Dromey) because they made me feel 6 foot tall.”

Hines continued to remember “my friend” Penny Holbrook and the dog walks they too would go on around Brookvale Park. “We put the world to rights,” told Hines, “and everyone we passed would say ‘hello Penny.”

Recognition was then given to the late and well loved Perry Common resident and community activist Mary Harvey, who passed away in 2022 aged 100 years old and who knew both local politicians well. “She’s with them now,” quipped Hines, “telling them what to do.”

Closing the personal tributes to Penny Holbrook and Jack Dromey, Afzal Hussain expressed the widely felt “deep, deep sadness they’re not here” and how “there is still that sense of loss” over a year after both had passed.

“They created relationships,” continued Hussain, “they brought people together.

“They genuinely would make a difference. When you talked to them you felt they were really listening to you; you felt special and you could take on the world.”

Hines and Hussain then announced a new bursary for young people in Erdington called Ladders of Opportunity – set up in memory of Penny Holbrook and Jack Dromey, through equal investment from Witton Lodge Community Association and The Pioneer Group.

The memorial service was then brought to a close with a prayer from Reverend David King, minister at New Life Church in Erdington, who praised the “passion and diligence” of the remembered public servants.

Penny Holbrook was found dead at her Abbey Road home on Sunday 21 November 2021, aged 43.

Jack Dromey was found dead at his Erdington residence on Friday 7 January, aged 73.

Both will long be remembered for their kindness, compassion, and unflinching dedication to the people of Erdington. Rest in peace.

NEWS: WLCA Enterprise Hub development to get £795,000 from Birmingham City Council

Words by Ed King

Witton Lodge Community Association’s (WLCA) plans to redevelop the old Erdington Baths into a vibrant ‘Enterprise Hub’ are set to receive £795,000 from Birmingham City Council.

Announced today, the City will be allocating over three quarters of a million pounds from its Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) fund – to help repair the old public bath’s roof and allow WLCA to manage operations from the site.

The significant investment from Birmingham City Council follows a recent £2m commitment from the West Midlands Combined Authority, who pledged the money as part of its 2018 brownfield and housing delivery programme.

With further support from Birmingham City Council, the ambitious project – which would create jobs and opportunities for new business in the heart of Erdington – will be part a key of the revised Levelling Up Fund application which could bring millions to Erdington High Street.

As he approved today’s grant, Birmingham City Council Leader Cllr Ian Ward said: “For generations, the baths were a much-loved facility for the people of Erdington, and this is an important step in the efforts to give this historic building a new lease of life right at the heart of the community.

“I’m delighted we are working alongside Witton Lodge Community Association to transform the old baths building on Mason Road and this exciting project is a key part of the overall Levelling Up Fund bid for Erdington High Street, which will bring the community together, support local businesses and improve accessibility to wider employment opportunities for the residents of Erdington.”

Erdington MP Paulette Hamilton, who has worked with the City Council to develop the Erdington High Street Levelling Up Fund bid, added: “This funding is fantastic news. I hope it will kick start our plans for a brand new community and enterprise hub in Erdington run by Witton Lodge Community Association, who do amazing work locally.

“The new hub would bring enormous benefits for local people by providing employment opportunities, helping to develop skills and offering space for small businesses to develop and grow.

“The Council’s decision to help fund this project should send a message to Ministers about how committed we are to transforming Erdington High Street. We want to make the area a destination again, and now we need the Government to back our Levelling Up bid to make that a reality.”

Witton Lodge Community Association Chief Officer Afzal Hussain told Erdington Local: “We’re deeply grateful to the Council for its support and funding to kickstart Phase 1 works on the Erdington Enterprise Hub.

“The funding will enable us to refurbish the roof and entrance area and actively engage local residents, entrepreneurs and businesses to showcase and shape plans on the ambitious project.

“We have already secured funding from the West Midlands Combined Authority and with planning approval also in place, we’re now only waiting on the Government to approve Erdington’s Levelling Up bid. Fingers crossed!”

For more on the new Enterprise Hub visit www.erdingtonbaths.webflow.io

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: 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: 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