OPINION: A view from the Vale – Cllr Ray Goodwin

Words by Cllr Ray Goodwin (Castle Vale Ward, Labour)

It’s been a busy few weeks on Castle Vale.

Work is about to start shortly on Filton Croft and by the time you will have read this we will have held our Crime and Community Safety Summit.

A lot has been said over the last few weeks about politicians not listening to the communities they represent, but one of the things I have done over the last two years has been open and accessible to residents – this is why my regular estate walk abouts are so important, it means I can talk to residents to listen to their concerns and issues and deal with them straight away where possible.

My commitment is to continue to do this and talk to as many people as possible on a daily and weekly basis and discuss what matters to them most, Castle Vale!

I want local democracy to be at the heart of everything I do, and this is the best way to do this. I see residents on a daily basis for appointments. But, also, I hold a monthly advice surgery for residents as well.

Whilst over the last two years a lot of good things have happened – including securing a new bus route to the fort shopping centre.

There is now, however, more to do, and I will be leading the charge to the West Midlands mayor that there is a train station and that station is called ‘CASTLE VALE’.

For more from Castle Vale Councillor Ray Goodwin visit www.facebook.com/thisiscastlevale 

OPINION: A view from the Vale – Cllr Ray Goodwin

Words by Cllr Ray Goodwin (Castle Vale Ward, Labour)

Castle Vale is a community rich in talent with good and decent people who look out for each other – and this became really apparent over the last few weeks with the high-profile incident on Castle Vale High Street. 

It is because of the amazing community that Castle Vale is resilient and will bounce back bigger, better stronger.

However, I won’t be resting on my laurels and I will be making sure Castle Vale is getting the best deal possible. I will be holding a ‘Crime and Community Safety Summit’ on the 18 May 2024 at Greenwood Academy from 1.30pm onward.

I will be inviting a representative from the Police and Crime Commissioner’s office, the West Midlands Mayor’s office, and the Erdington MP Paulette Hamilton. The Pioneer Group housing association has already agreed to attend.

My biggest ask is that we reopen a visibly present police station.

The Pop-Up Police Station is great, but it’s not enough. We need to ensure that the incident that occurred on 5 April on the High Street is an isolated incident, and that we do more to not only tackle crime but to deal with the issues that lead to crime.

I won’t be taking no for an answer, and I won’t allow Castle Vale to be treated like second best.

I will stand up be counted and do what needs to be done to represent this amazing community.

For more from Castle Vale Councillor Ray Goodwin visit www.facebook.com/thisiscastlevale

OPINION: A view from the Vale – Cllr Ray Goodwin

Pic supplied by Cllr Ray Goodwin (Castle Vale Ward, Labour)

I spent a few minutes reflecting on what to say, so here goes; I was hugely humbled to be elected in May 2022 as councillor for Castle Vale.

I promised to work tirelessly to get the best deal possible for Castle Vale, and in the period since May 2022 we have some big achievements – these include:

  • Securing the funding to rebuild Filton Croft Play Area and have a new park, shortly to be installed
  • Securing further funding to renovate all the parks on Castle Vale
  • Hold a fortnightly Pop Up Police Station
  • Campaigned for and secured the 64 Bus service that now runs to the Fort, Erdington High Street, and ASDA Minworth
  • New traffic crossings and road resurfacing – most notable by Sainsburys at Castle Vale and Innsworth Drive have been resurfaced.
  • Monthly Advice Surgeries
  • Weekly estate walks abouts to meet residents and understand their issues

This is just a small flavour of the achievements since May 2022. However, there is much more to come.

I will not be sitting on my laurels; I will be continuing to work hard and fight for Castle Vale – starting with the proposed train station. If the train station is located on Castle Vale, then it needs to be called Castle Vale and nothing else. And I will not be taking NO for answer.

I have said it once and I will say it a million times, Castle Vale is a rich diverse community full of amazing residents and organisations. Not only is it the best of what Birmingham is, it represents the best of all of us and this country.

So yes, I am and will always be deeply proud and humbled to be elected to represent Castle Vale.

For more from Castle Vale Councillor Ray Goodwin visit www.facebook.com/thisiscastlevale

COMMUNITY ANCHORS: Partnership and collaboration in the face of adversity

Words by Simon Wilson, Chief Executive Officer – The Pioneer Group

There have been some scary headlines about the City Council’s need to serve what is known as a Section 114 notice and while I would not seek to downplay the seriousness of the financial challenges Birmingham now faces, there is a commitment to protect core services and work is underway to set out a recovery plan.

We will support this effort. We have looked at the areas of funding we receive from the local authority and have not identified an immediate impact to services our tenants and residents receive.

As an anchor organisation we have always sought and had a strong working relationship with the City Council and a range of partners in our core communities – working closely with tenant groups, charities like Spitfire Services, faith groups, community groups and schools.

We worked together to help people through the Covid-19 pandemic and are taking the same approach to helping those most vulnerable and in need of support through our Cost of Living Task Force.

Of course this latest news is a worry and the Council will face some tough decisions as it starts to balance its books but our services will continue through CVCH and Compass Support. We will continue to work in partnership supporting other organisations, working together and getting out of the way when others are best placed to deliver in our communities.

I know when things get tough our community responds, Spitfire Services rescued and now run Castle Vale Library and swimming pool and CVCH runs – and is investing in – the Castle Vale Stadium.

We will work with whoever we need to in order to protect the facilities and services our communities hold dear.

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

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

 

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

ELECTION NEWS: Erdington MP hopeful Paulette Hamilton and Labour Deputy Angela Rayner visit Spitfire Services on Castle Vale

Words by Jasmine Khan / Pics by Claire Taylor

On Thursday, 3 February, Cllr Paulette Hamilton was joined by Labour Deputy Leader, Angela Rayner, at Spitfire Services on Castle Vale High Street – to find out about the issues facing people on the ground who support their community on a daily basis.

Spitfire Services is a Castle Vale based charity providing ‘a range of welfare information, support and advice services’ – as well as operating local facilities including Castle Pool, Castle Vale Library, The Meeting Place Café, and the Upcycle shop and showroom.

Cllr Hamilton has been recently confirmed as the Labour candidate for the upcoming Birmingham Erdington by-election and remarked on how volunteers and staff at Spitfire Services are “like a big family.”

She told Erdington Local: “What we’ve seen on the (Castle Vale) estate, and in wider Erdington, are the aftereffects of the pandemic. Inequalities have been exacerbated.

“On certain parts of Castle Vale, you live nine years less than you would in Sutton Coldfield. I have got to fight for people locally and what their needs are.”

“The Castle Vale area has felt neglected over the last three years. The issues they (Castle Vale residents) have talked to me about on the door are HMOs and Exempt Housing. Not so much anti-social behaviour, but also waste and fly tipping in the area.

“They’ve seen their shopping bills get bigger and are also talking about gas and electricity and the rise that’s happening there.

“They’re working class and they’re worried about how they’re going to cope.”

Labour’s Deputy Leader, Angela Rayner, who joined Cllr Hamilton on Castle Vale, added: “It’s amazing to see the work of Spitfire Services.

“It’s bittersweet. I’m still grieving the loss of Jack (Dromey), as I’m sure many of the people of Erdington are as well. But to see the community come together in the way that they have, and the legacy of supporting each other, it’s humbling.

“What Jack stood for is looking out for each other…its lovely to see that the community are there for each other when they need it. That, to me, is what the working class are all about.”

A practising nurse for 25 years, Cllr Hamilton was made Mental Health Champion for Birmingham City Council in 2013 and Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care in 2015.

During earlier stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, she returned to nursing to help deliver vaccines to local people.

She added: “I felt it was so important for us to not just talk about it, but do it. That’s why I’m really upset and annoyed with the government.

“In the mist of Covid we saw an enormous amount of people’s mental health effected. (If elected Erdington MP) I would start to challenge and look at (mental health) legislation, and work with other politicians to ensure mental ill-health goes down.”

But some local voters are concerned that another Labour MP might not be able to hold their ground and fight for Erdington’s interests with the wider City Council.

When Cllr. Hamilton was asked whether she would be able to effect genuine change in Erdington, as a Labour MP in conjunction with a Labour Council, she said:

“I’ve lived in Erdington for the past 35 years. I’ve raised my five children here. I’ve worked as a nurse in the local area, in Warren Farm. I’ve been a governor in the local school; I’ve worked with voluntary organisations.

“Because I’m so local and I absolutely understand the needs of the community, I’m best placed, at this moment in time, to represent the community at a national level in Parliament.

“I’ve been a local counsellor for 17 years. With the current council, you have just got to talk and negotiate with them. I believe I’m best placed because I know the services well; I know what the community wants, but I also know how the council provide it.

“So, I am best placed to go in, challenge and work with them (Birmingham City Council) to get change for Erdington.”

Deputy Labour Leader, Angela Rayner, further commented: “I think Paulette will be a massive asset to us (Labour Party), because she has a long history of helping her community. She has worked in the NHS. HMO’s, housing and inequality – those things are her bread and butter, and she comes with a wealth of experience.”

“The Parliamentary Labour Party would learn a lot from Paulette. Not only will she raise things for the people of Edrington. But I’m sure my constituents in Greater Manchester will do well from Paulette being in Parliament.

“I hope the people in Edrington give her a resounding victory.”

Maggie Whitehouse, who volunteers at Upcycle, told Erdington Local: “I’m thrilled with Paulette (running for Erdington MP) because she’s on our wave length and she’ll keep traditions alive.”

Whilst Castle Vale Library Manager, Ian Bingham, added: “Paulette (Hamilton) will be a massive asset to the Erdington constituency and the Labour Party hopefully. She’ll carry on the good work that Jack started.

“Meeting Angela (Rayner), she’s so down to earth. It was humbling to meet a politician that’s in touch with grass roots.”

Erdington will vote for its next Member of Parliament on Thursday, 3 March.

At the time of writing, the current candidates who have declared their intention to contest the seat are Cllr Paulette Hamilton (Labour), Cllr Robert Alden (Conservative), Dave Nellist (Trade Union and Socialist Coalition), and Michael Lutwyche (Independent).

For more on Paulette Hamilton visit www.birmingham.gov.uk/councillors/49/paulette_hamilton

For more on Spitfire Services visit www.spitfireservices.org.uk

LOCAL PROFILE: Judy Tullett

Words by Jobe Baker-Sullivan / Pics by Ed King

Working in housing for 50 years, Judy Tullett is currently the Community Support Officer for Spitfire Services, Castle Vale.

Known for her work with the social enterprise Upcycle Birmingham and the profitable asset management transfer of Castle Pool, Judy has managed a portfolio of successful endeavours.

Erdington Local caught up with the prominent project manager to find out what inspired her community focus.

Judy was born in the historic town of Bodmin, Cornwall, and graduated from Swansea University with a degree in economics and social sciences.

In 1973, she moved to Birmingham for a course with Birmingham City Council in Housing Management Training.

“It wasn’t as common in those days for a woman to go to University,” remarked Judy. “I worked in environmental health, at a depo, all various different divisions of the housing department. It was a really good grounding.”

After working for Birmingham City Council, Judy did a stint at Tamworth Borough Council’s housing department but soon became “quite frustrated with the local authority set up” – moving to a job with the housing association Trident Group. There she worked on many projects, establishing the first ‘youth foyer’ in Birmingham, a type of housing for people aged 16-25.

“I always think if I didn’t work for Trident I wouldn’t get to work on so many exciting projects,” told Judy. “In your working life – and I’ve been working 50 years – you come across inspirational people.

“I had a role model in an inspiration chief exec at Trident called Nick Morton. I learned so much from him about risk and project management, how to develop something from nothing. He used to say to me ‘if you talk about something long enough, often enough, it will happen’”.

Judy’s role in housing led her to work alongside the Home Office on a special project to support Birmingham’s older Chinese community: “The home office had established there were loads of older Chinese people who could no longer live with their families, that now needed to have supportive elderly accommodation.

“I met amazing people, had to do all sorts of research, getting involved with Chinese networks in Birmingham.”

Working across cultures was something Judy developed a knack for, finding herself in a pivotal role supporting Japanese Toyota engineers who moved to the UK in the mid-90s.

“Japanese people have a completely different culture to the Chinese,” remembered Judy. “We had to learn things that would make the development successful and create an environment of trust. They would call me ‘Judy-san’.”

Judy’s other passion in life is swimming. Erdington Local featured her work with Castle Pool in an article last August, exploring the local authority asset transfer that turned the failing council run swimming baths into a ‘national success story’ run by local residents.

Judy herself is a swimming instructor and she has travelled to competitions in Cyprus, Dubai, France, Tenerife, Spain, and Malta. Judy became a grandmother in March and is looking forward to “teaching our Sienna to swim when she is old enough.”

About to reach the age of 70, Judy explains she has no intention of stopping: “I did try retirement when I was about 65. It wasn’t for me. I found it a difficult challenge. I empathise with people who retire and then think ‘oh, what happens next?’”

In her work for Spitfire Services a lot of Judy’s tasks revolve around Upcycle Birmingham – a charitable initiative set up “to solve the conundrum of people who wanted to get rid of household goods and furniture, and to help poorer families who had just moved to the Vale who didn’t have those things.”

Having been based at Castle Vale Business Park from inception, Upcycle has since moved to St Gerard’s old social club building.

One of the downsides of working at an Upcycle is supressing the inner hoarder. “It is a danger at working in these sort of projects that you take things home you don’t need,” Judy admits.

“We received a Georgian-style side table, painted by one of our volunteers. I thought I’ve got to have that; it would fit nicely in the hall with a few family photos. Although I am under strict instructions from my husband who says: ‘don’t start bringing any more stuff home.’”

Lockdown was difficult for Upcycle as they couldn’t take a lot of donations, having to sanitise and quarantine those that they did.

But as restrictions ease and places start to open again Judy has two words to get the business back up and running: ‘sales’ and ‘donations.’ And never one to rest for too long, Judy’s next mission is to set up a community café from Upcycle which is looking to open in July this year.

“We get regular customers that come in every day,” told Judy. “I can’t wait until they can have a mooch, and then have a brew.”

For more on Upcycle visit www.upcyclebirmingham.org.uk

NEWS: Upcycle Birmingham launches new showroom in the heart of Castle Vale

Words & pics by Ed King

On Monday 3rd August, Upcycle Birmingham launches its new showroom – selling second hand furniture and household goods at ‘an affordable price’, whilst raising money for community projects and support services on the Castle Vale estate.

Taking over the old St Gerrards community hall, Upcycle Birmingham has moved its large furniture facility into centre of Castle Vale – relocating from its previous premises on the Castle Vale Enterprise Park, situated off Park Lane.

With a sister shop on the local High Street, which sells smaller household items and clothes, Upcycle Birmingham now has all of its public operations right in the heart of Castle Vale – within easy walking distance of each other, as well as the estate’s main shopping and social hub.

We set Upcycle up about six and half years ago,” explains Judy Tullett – Community Services Coordinator at Spitfire Services – who created and operate the social enterprise, “with funding from the end of the Endowment Trust – legacy funding from the Housing Action Trust.

It was always people’s vision that there would be a place where we would not only sell good quality second hand furniture, but where people could volunteer and come in and have a gossip as well. And that’s exactly what it’s turned out to be.”

By being in the centre of the estate, we can attract more people,” adds Ray Goodwin – CEO at Spitfire Services, “and we’ve done a lot of learning – we looked at selling more online, but unless you specialise in antiques and high end stuff it just doesn’t work. Do what you do and do it well.”

Opening in January 2014, Upcycle Birmingham is a ‘thriving furniture recycling business that helps people transform their homes with low cost, high quality goods.’

The Castle Vale based social enterprise, run diligently by a team of around 26 dedicated volunteers, sources unwanted stock – donated by local businesses and residents. The items are then cleaned, polished, and presented to the public at a significant saving.

But quality is key, with Upcycle Birmingham only accepting and reselling items that are still fit for purpose and in good condition. Erdington Local used the Castle Vale based social enterprise to furnish its newsroom – buying desks and office equipment that would have cost ten-fold from a branded retailer.

I went it to research a story and came out with a van load of desk and tables,” admits Ed King, Editor-in-Chief of Erdington Local. “I usually buy bits of office equipment from a reclamation yard in Digbeth, but the quality at Upcycle Birmingham was a different level.

Before I had finished talking to the staff and arranging our interviews, I’d bought a thick glass topped desk to replace the wooden one I’ve been working from.

It’s beautiful, in great condition, and cost me £20. To buy it new you’d be looking at around £300 minimum. Upcycle Birmingham saved me a small fortune.”  

Upcycle Birmingham have also ensured they are protected again coronavirus, sterilising all new items and placing them into a 72hr quarantine – ensuring no trace of COVID-19 could be passed on through a sale.

Both the showroom and High Street shop also operate under Government guidelines to combat the spread of coronavirus, implementing social distancing measures and hand sanitiser points for all customers.

Because of the lockdown we’ve had lots of new donations,”  tells Sue Spicer, a local resident and volunteer who has worked at Upcycle Birmingham since it opened.

But we have to isolate all items for three days before we can touch them. Everything is stored at Spitfire House before we can sterilise it and bring it over to the shop.”

Established and operated by Spitfire Services, with initial investment also coming from The Pioneer Group – though its Employment and Enterprise Trust Fund – Upcycle Birmingham first opened its doors in January 2014.

But as with many of the social enterprises supported or run by Spitfire Services, including Castle Vale Library and Castle Pool, Upcycle Birmingham is as much about community as it is about commerce – providing more than just a reasonable price for the people it serves.

It’s more of a community hub being here,” continues Sue Spicer, “if you didn’t have a car you had a long walk to get to the old place.

It’s good that were more local now. And it’s good for families, especially with things like children’s clothes… we call it the boutique on the high street. 

But the big thing is the sense of community – people come in and have a natter, they don’t’ always have to be buying something.

Before coronavirus and the lockdown, if someone came in and they looked like they needed a friendly face, we’d invite them to sit down and have a cup of tea and a chat.

And the kids love to come in and have a mooch after school too, with their parents or grandparents. We can’t do that as much at the moment because we’re only allowed limited numbers in the shop.”

In six and a half years, Upcycle Birmingham has become a firm fixture on the Castle Vale estate – now accepting 120 tonnes of stock each year and selling quality items to hundreds of households. Hopes are that the more central location of its new showroom will allow them to reach even more residents.

Celebrated and championed by the Erdington MP, Jack Dromey, the Castle Vale social enterprise also receives regular visits from its member of parliament.

There are homes throughout Erdington with residents who could not afford to furnish them,” tells Jack Dromey MP – after visiting the new showroom before they opened their doors to the public.

Thanks to Upcycle, these families can be proud of where they are bringing their children up. A remarkable organisation led by the inspirational Judy Tullett, Upcycle takes what local residents no longer want and gives it those who need.” 

To learn more about Upcycle Birmingham, visit www.upcyclebirmingham.org.uk

To learn more about Spitfire Services, visit www.spitfireservices.org.uk

FEATURE: Castle Pool – first to open, last to close. The national success story of Castle Vale’s local swimming centre

Words & pics by Ed King

From 6am on Monday 27th July, Castle Pool will be back in business – making it the first of Birmingham’s swimming centres to reopen since the coronavirus crisis and national lockdown. But the four lane, 25m long pool has a bigger story to tell – a fantasy to an increasing number of local sports facilities across the country. Staying open.

Inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth II in November 1981, Castle Pool has been a health and leisure haven for people across the Castle Vale estate for nearly 40 years – used regularly by residents, schools, and swimming clubs.

Now adorned with social distancing signage, public sanitation points, and staff specially trained to manage the pool in accordance with guidelines from Public Heath England, the Farnborough Road facility is hoping for a quick and safe return to the “50,000 swims a year” they hosted before lockdown.

But life in the lanes at Castle Pool has not always been as confident or as certain. Back in 2012, Birmingham City Council had earmarked the pool for permanent closure – following a citywide evaluation of council run services that would see a swarm of facilities shut down for good.

However, the people of Castle Vale fought fearlessly to save Castle Pool – in a campaign started by local resident Amanda Cutler, that became the Castle Vale Pool Users Group.

My son swam here for years, he swam here since he was four years of age,” tells Amanda, who now works at Castle Pool as the Pool Support Officer.

He was doing lessons at the time, then all of a sudden someone said the pool may be closing. So, I started a petition – I went all round Castle Vale and got over 20,000 signatures. I didn’t know where to go with it but the Labour councillor at the time, Lynda Clinton, helped from there on.

There were a lot of pools closing down and this is the only facility on the Castle Vale estate for children. We were teaching children how to swim, for free. And we didn’t want that to stop.

My son has now become a swimming teacher and a lifeguard here. So, it’s created jobs too. But swimming is a life skill; everybody needs to know how to swim.”

Enlisting the further support of the Castle Vale based support agency Spitfire Services, the Castle Pool Community Partnership charity was formed in 2014 – allowing campaigners to get the checks, balances, and bank account in place for Birmingham City Council to agree an asset transfer. On 16th January that year, the responsibility of running Castle Pool was put directly into the hands of people who live and work on the Castle Vale estate.

When previously run by Birmingham City Council, Castle Pool was operating at a phenomenal loss of £250,000. But following the asset transfer in January 2014, Castle Pool has turned a profit every year since – managed by a team of local residents and community workers.

If you were to ask me, why did they (Birmingham City Council) sustain a £250,000 loss and you didn’t,” explains Judy Tullett – Community Services Coordinator at Castle Pool – part of the
Spitfire Services charity family of services.

“The reason is… the model is, making use of the pool from 6am to 10pm seven days a week. Or as much of it as you can. Having a mixture of (paid) staff and volunteers, and actually using your staff in the best way you can.

Most of the time, it wipes its face,” continues Judy, “it makes a small surplus. Partly because it’s a charity and we can attract funding. So, that helps. But it’s more about the way you manage and deliver your swimming service.

if you take a typical day, because that’s the best way to look at it, early morning you’ve got club swimmers who swim at 6am – the swimming clubs are all accredited and they look after themselves. There’s an agreement in place but there’s sufficient trust for them to open up, look after themselves, lifeguard it themselves, leave it as they find it.

Then the staff will come in at 8am and prepare the building for the schools – in our case we have local schools start at 8:30am. We also have between 20-30 lane swimmers several lunch times a week, then by 3:30pn the schools have finished. This gives us a chance to clean up.

Then at 4pm we start the swimming lessons – there’s a baby learn to swim group, we’ve just water aerobics – and at 6pm the clubs come back in. Every evening, except for Saturdays, the pool is then occupied by clubs. We shut at 9pm or 10pm.”

With ergonomics and community at its heart, Castle Pool began to flourish – encouraging constant use from not only the residents of Castle Vale, but from clubs and schools across the city. And with regular swimming instructors and lifeguards, as well as offering exclusive use to schools and swimming clubs, the safeguarding of young and vulnerable users at Castle Pool was much firmer.

We now have 26 schools using Castle Pool,” explains Judy. “Many of them drive past other swimming pools to come to us. Firstly, because we’re affordable. Secondly, because we’ve had the same lifeguards and swimming instructors since we opened – and they’re all local people.

Thirdly, they have the pool to themselves – so they’re not sharing the pool with the general public. They have the changing room to themselves, so in terms of safeguarding it’s amazing. They know that when they walk though those doors they’re the only ones there apart from staff and volunteers.”

Castle Pool is reversal of fortune that could make parts of Birmingham City Council blush – not to mention other administrations across the UK that are selling land, bricks, and mortar to in an effort to raise funds. And whether you blame apathy or strategy, when the questions of heritage and health get raised the public conversation can be increasingly drowned out.

But the success of Castle Pool is also a welcomed inspiration – with the team from Spitfire Services travelling across the city to assist the asset transfer of Moseley Road Swimming Baths in Balsall Heath, that had been under serious treat of closure for over a decade.

I worked with them (Moseley Road Swimming Baths) for about 15 months in the end,” explains Judy. “They invited me over because I have a passion for swimming and water – and because I’d previously done an asset transfer so I understood the language and I knew the people from the council who would be passing the asset over.

They had a group called Friends of Moseley Road Baths and had campaigned tirelessly for about 10 years. But they (Birmingham City Council) brought me over and employed me as Development Manger to help with the asset transfer.

What we negotiated was a licence, initially, that would allow Moseley Road Baths trustees to build up more expertise and get to know the building more. So, that never shut either.”

Back on the Castle Vale estate, the staff at Castle Pool are busy getting ready for the early morning reopening – running through their standard checks, alongside the new COVID-19 criteria that are now essential.

And whilst there is still a lot to do, people are buzzing with enthusiasm – excited to reopen the swimming centre they fought so had to save six years ago. The mix of dedication and love is as palpable as the hot air rising off the water.

Everybody works hard here, everyone does more than what they are supposed to,” adds Debs Henry, or ‘the amazing Deb’ as she is known by her colleagues – as she cleans, opens, and closes the entire site on her own.

It’s because we love it. It’s not like a job really, it’s something you look forward to. It’s the best job I’ve ever had. I just keep everywhere clean and make sure everything is secure – but they’re all hard workers here.”

Although Castle Pool still has a few dark clouds looming on its horizon, requiring some much needed maintenance to the existing plant room – which encompasses the pool’s boiler and filter systems. Even with a firm pair of hands on the budget the work will take another £100,000, and that’s a lot of swimmers buying a lot of snacks from the vending machine.

But the locally run swimming centre, which has already fought its way back from the brink to become a national success story of community endeavour, is not backing down – with a fundraising strategy and programme of supportive events already in place.

If you were to ask me what is our No1 challenge is going forward,” tells Judy, “it’s not about recruiting volunteers or staff – it’s not about the use of the pool. It’s about making sure that our plant is fit for purpose.

“Our next big campaign, and we were part way through it before COVID-19, is developing a robust financial model to replace our boilers and filters

We’d got a plan in place; we’d had a boiler company come up and give us a very fair assessment of what we needed and what we needed to do… but it feels a bit like the Olympics, we’ve got to put that plan in place next year now – not this year.

And we want to do it all without closing, that’s important…. the actual fabric of the pool is good, but our main priority now is the plant room.”

Castle Pool is situated on Farnborough Road, Castle, Vale, Birmingham – and will be open from 6am on Monday 27th July. To find out more about Castle Pool, visit www.facebook.com/CastlePoolCommunityPartnership

To learn more about Spitfire Services, visit www.spitfireservices.org.uk

NEWS: Erdington Taskforce – ‘We’ll Be There for You’ music video reaches out to thousands across the constituency

Words by Steve Sharma, original photography by Ed King

A new music video promoting the work of the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce has reached out to thousands across the constituency – directing those in need to a database of vital support services.

Produced by Active Arts, the video is a reworking of the theme tune from the TV show Friends – tweaking the world famous title to ‘We’ll Be There for You’.

The Taskforce hope the ‘fun, catchy tune’ will encourage individuals and families who have remained ‘cut-off’ during the coronavirus pandemic to seek help and advice – promoting an address book of support services for finance, housing, access to food and essential items, employment, mental health, and more.

Afzal Hussain, Chief Officer at Witton Lodge Community Association, which facilitates Taskforce operations, said:

We are aware, from conversations that take place during our weekly Taskforce meetings, that there are people out there – isolated individuals – who are unable to access mainstream support.

There can be a number of reasons for this, such as a chronic long term health conditions, disability or poor mental health.

Throughout the pandemic, such people have remained cut-off from support services, have gone under the radar. But we are determined to not only reach these individuals but to give them the critical help and support they need.

We hope the video will stir people to help us identify anyone in their community who may be vulnerable and isolated.”

Comprised of several prominent and active community organisations, voluntary groups, public agencies, councillors, and volunteers – the Erdington Taskforce has so far raised over £450,000 to help local residents affected by the COVID-19 lockdown, alongside delivering almost 10,000 food parcels and over 7,000 wellbeing activities.

The online address book of support services has reached over 27,325 people, since first published by Erdington Local on 7th May – seeing over 2972 people engage directly through the newspaper, looking for essentials services and help throughout the coronavirus crisis and lock down.

The ‘We’ll Be There for You’ music video, performed by local artists as sourced by Active Arts, hopes to keep the message of community support alive – even whilst some lockdown restrictions are redacted.

We wanted to find an effective and fun way to communicate how people can get support locally,” tells Claire Marshall, Project Director at Active Arts and a member of the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce, “it has been inspiring to see how the different local agencies have pulled together to make a difference for people in need.

At Active Arts we have a pool of talented artists through the Erdington Arts Forum that we can draw on and the idea for ‘We’ll Be There For You’ flowed very quickly with these artists, supported by members of the Taskforce, getting behind the idea. As you can see it is a fun, catchy tune that gives a snapshot of what support there is.”

Singing lead vocals in the video is Sandra Daniels – alongside a backing track performed by local musicians Reuben Reynolds, Jobe Baker-Sullivan, and Paul Withers.

The ‘We’ll Be There For You’ music video also includes personal appearances from Erdington MP Jack Dromey and Birmingham City Councillor Robert Alden – alongside members from organisations like The Pioneer Group, The Active Wellbeing Society, Urban Devotion Birmingham, Erdington Community Volunteers, and Erdintgon Local.

The Erdington Taskforce is a fantastic initiative,” tells Sandra Daniels, “helping so many people in so many ways during what has been a very difficult time for many.

I was thrilled to get the chance to support them (with this project) and the work that’s being done.”

‘We’ll Be There for You’ – Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce

For contact information and details on the Erdington COVID-19 Taskforce, and to visit the COVID-19 Local Support database and address book, visit www.erdingtonlocal.com/covid-19-local-support