COMMUNITY ANCHORS: Your Voice, Your Vote

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

At Witton Lodge we’re delighted to support the recent launch of ‘Community Voice’, a new community-led initiative that enables residents from across Erdington to have a real say on local issues and opportunities.

Together, we want to connect with those who are passionate about their community, including those ‘less heard voices’ eager to shape and deliver local services and improve their neighbourhoods.

Community Voice welcomes people from all backgrounds and will work hard to reflect the makeup of our local communities from across Erdington and North Birmingham.

We already know there is huge appetite, interest and expertise and Community Voice will help to amplify this.

Now, there is also the small matter of a general election. Our right to vote was hard-won through the tireless efforts and sacrifice of many, so please do exercise this right, and vote.

I was also reminded of sacrifice, during the recent D Day commemorations, when we heard moving accounts from our veterans about how British, Commonwealth and Allied troops made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedoms.

Your vote is your voice, and it holds the power to influence the decisions that affect local lives, shape our communities and determine the future of our country.

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

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

NEWS: Warren Farm Urgent Treatment Centre “temporarily relocating” to Erdington High Street

Words and pics by Ed King

Warren Farm Urgent Treatment Centre (UTC) will be “temporarily relocating” to Erdington High Street, healthcare bosses have announced.

From Tuesday 11 June, the Kingstanding facility, which supported local residents with immediate medical issues, will be “fully operational” from the Erdington Health and Wellbeing Hub – a few doors down from The Church Tavern and opposite Lloyds Bank in Erdington Town Centre.

After relocating to Erdington Town Centre, NHS bosses have also told the newly located facility will be renamed the North Birmingham UTC.

Warren Farm UTC is being closed after it was discovered panels in the roof had been constructed with Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC), posing a serious health risk to both staff and patients.

David Melbourne, Chief Executive of NHS Birmingham and Solihull, said: “The decision to move the Urgent Treatment Centre is not one which has been taken lightly, but I want to emphasise that this is a temporary relocation.”

He added: “We are in the very early stages of a review of the provision of all six UTCs operating across the city and borough, and will be seeking the views of our communities to ensure provision meets the needs of our patients and families.”

But in a strange twist of fate, the new home of the Warren Farm UTC is the old home of the Erdington UTC, which was shut down in 2020 and relocated Stockland Green despite widespread protest from local residents and elected officials – including Erdingotn’s previous MP Jack Dromey, who passed away in January 2022.

And whilst residents in Erdington Town Centre may be pleased to see the return of an Urgent Treatment Centre back on the High Street, people living in Kingstanding are still unsure what immediate medical facilities, if any, they will have in their area.

This has led to protests and petitions by both Kingstanding residents and politicians, akin to those that followed the decision to close Erdington’s UTC.

However, a spokesperson for the NHS added: “No decisions about the permanent location of Warren Farm Urgent Treatment Centre will be made without a full engagement process, which will provide the local community with opportunities to share their views and experiences.”

Recently elected Kingstanding Councillor Clifton Welch (Conservative) further told Erdington Local: “I have been clear that Warren Farm Urgent Care Centre must be retained long term.

“The current building has structural issues which need to be repaired, but I have already met with the local NHS with Cllr Robert Alden (Erdington, Conservative) to consider possible ways to save the services locally.”

He added: “I understand there will be a consultation later in the year and I will be doing all I can to ensure that in North Birmingham we retain the Urgent Care Centre in Kingstanding and the Walk in Centre in Erdington.”

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: Reflections and renewed focus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: Building community scaffolding with Witton Lodge Community Association

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: …and finally from 2023

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

NEWS: Councillors rally support for Warren Farm Urgent Care Centre as threat of closure looms

Words by Erdington Local editorial team / Pics by Ed King

Kingstanding residents have been urged to show how much they value the Warren Farm Urgent Care Centre after the NHS admitted it could soon close for good.

Situated on Waren Farm Road, by the colloquially known Concker Island, the NHS operated centre is open 365 days a year and has taken the strain off local hospitals for decades, but a recent inspection deemed the building “substandard”.

Kingstanding and Oscott Councillors have been informed the Urgent Care Centre, which stopped accepting walk-in patients about three years ago – according to staff – could close in a matter of weeks. However, staff at the facility were unable to confirm if the closure was imminent.

Oscott Councillor Barbara Dring (Labour) told: “We need Warren Farm Urgent Care Centre to stay open. The service is so important to this side of the city. Everyone who uses it needs to tell the NHS how important and beloved the centre is. We cannot lose another wonderful facility and only say how great it is after it is gone.”

She added: “Warren Farm Urgent Care Centre also plays a pivotal role helping the vulnerable and disabled in the community who it appears are not always considered in decision making. It has long been a community lifeline for so many.”

Kingstanding Councillor Rick Payne (Conservative) has also demanded “talks with the Trust” after hearing about the centre’s imminent closure.

A spokesperson for NHS Birmingham and Solihull said: “No decision has been made at this point. However, Warren Farm Urgent Care Centre in Kingstanding is currently housed in a building which is of a sub-standard quality, with significant patient safety concerns arising as a result.

“It’s important to us that our patients receive the best possible care in the most appropriate and safest facilities, which is why we are working through options for the future of the service.

“Over the coming weeks, we’ll be talking to patients and staff about any proposals in order to ensure the service can adapt to meet the needs of its local population and teams.”

The possible closure of the Urgent Care Centre Centre comes amid widespread concerns about local GP surgeries being overloaded and appointments with doctors becoming harder to obtain.

Elsewhere, the locally loved walk in centre on Erdington High Street closed its doors during the coronavirus lockdowns – eventually renaming the service as the Erdington Urgent Treatment Centre and moving to the Stockland Green Primary Care Centre in October 2020.

The High Street facility did reopen as the Erdington Health and Wellbeing Hub in December 2010, offering a range of free to access support through both drop in and pre-booked sessions with trained advisors – run by Witton Lodge Community Association.

From 2000 to 2010, under the Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown respectively, the NHS opened more than 230 walk-in centres across England.

But the facilities have been steadily shutting their doors, with the health regulator Monitor finding over 50 have closed since 2010 – with further research by the not-for-profit political-activism organisation 38 Degrees finding a further 44 are no longer seeing patients.

Originally planned to improve patient access to primary care, the NHS walk-in centres have ‘stirred debate’ within the healthcare sector over their cost effectiveness sand use of resources – according to Monitor.

However, the facilities have proved generally popular with local residents and users, offering an alternative to often overburdened GP surgeries.

One local patient, David Smith, complained: “I have given up trying with my doctors, they say phone up at 8am and the line is always engaged.”

For more on Warren Farm Urgent Care Centre visit www.warrenfarmurgentcarecentre.nhs.uk

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: The power of community

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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