LOCAL Q&A: John Hodgkiss, Erdington Town Centre Manager

Pics by Connor Pope & Ed King

John Hodgkiss was appointed Erdington Town Centre Manager in August 2022, after his longstanding predecessor, Terry Guest, left the role. Responsible for delivering the Erdington Business Improvement District (EBID) agenda, and supporting the businesses that finance the EBID, the position stands between the retail community and local stakeholders and blue light services.

Now a year in post, Erdington Local caught up with John Hodgkiss to look back at the last 12 months and sneak a peek at the next.

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What have been the biggest challenges facing Erdington High Street?

Like every town centre in the county, the cost of living crisis has continued to cause uncertainty for retailers and shoppers on the High Street.

This all comes at a time when town centres are moving in a new direction in the Post Covid era, such as becoming a home for community projects and charities able to connect more widely with those who need help.

The biggest challenge facing Erdington High Street has proven to be the raising level of crime and anti-social behaviour. To really be able to continue growing footfall and attract inward investment, it is vital that we work hard to reduce crime which will in turn change people’s perception of Erdington High Street, enabling us to do so much more when marketing the town centre in the future.

 

And what have been the main highlights and achievements from your time as Town Centre Manager?

The main highlight has been working with some of Erdington’s great charity projects. I haven’t worked in a town before with such a strong community as in Erdington. There is so much great work going on out there. Erdington is most certainly a leader in this field, but more work needs to be done here in getting the word out about these organisations, not only to Erdington residents, but Birmingham-wide.

The Christmas, Easter, and Jazz & Blues Festival events were great fun, and they were opportunities to welcome visitors from outside Erdington and showcase the town.

Another highlight has been applying for and securing funds over and above what we receive via BID levy in order to pay for extra events this winter and to employ a second Street Warden to patrol the High Street.

 

We agree, especially the Jazz & Blues Festival gigs at Oikos – any more events like this planned?

We’re really pleased with how the Birmingham Jazz and Blues gigs turned out. Despite the awful weather, the town pulled together to make sure the show went on.

It was the first time that Erdington had taken part in the city-wide festival. The feedback was extremely positive with great attendance. We have already been asked to take part again next year, so let’s hope we can make it even bigger and better in 2024 and attract people from all over Birmingham to attend.

 

As we head out of summer and into autumn and winter, are there any seasonal events in the pipeline – over Halloween or Christmas for example?

Believe it or not, we have been working on Christmas for a few weeks now, recruiting community members and volunteers to help make Christmas in Erdington even bigger and better this year.

We were really pleased with the turnout for the switch-on last year, but we aim to improve in 2023 and put on a great switch-on as well as other events throughout December.

November and December are crucial times for retail, so we want to work alongside retailers to bring in as many shoppers possible, reminding local residents and shoppers further afield that they can get so much of their Christmas shopping in Erdington.

 

The EBID was reinstated for its next five year tenure a few months before you took over, do you feel it is making headway on its campaign promises – to tackle crime, encourage higher footfall, and promote Erdington to a wider audience?

These issues are still those that are the most important to deliver for Erdington during the lifetime of this EBID tenure and it’s very evident how these goals are ultimately linked, with a ‘knock-on’ effect on each other.

As mentioned, crime is still the biggest issue facing Erdington at the moment. By recently employing a new Street Warden, we hope to see a decrease in anti-social behaviour and crime, making full use of the Public Space Protection Order.

Through getting to grips with crime, we would expect greater footfall, bringing back those shoppers who have been concerned to visit the High Street more recently. At this time, it is vital that we continue communicating the positives about Erdington far and wide and encourage shoppers to revisit and enjoy Erdington Town Centre. Therefore, it’s essential that these three promises stay at the top of the list for delivery.

 

The EBID recently helped set up meetings between the retail community, local police teams, and elected officials, to draft a 10 point plan for the High Street – can you update our readers on this?

The formation of this 10 point plan dates back to February this year with a public meeting to discuss a way forward with the crime situation in Erdington. The latest meeting took place in May and the next I believe is to go ahead in October (later confirmed to be scheduled for 19 October).

The EBID has been involved by offering to take details of crime from retailers on the High Street due to the wide-spread observation that they are unable to get though the 101 non-emergency number to report crime.

We were also very keen to help with the provision of a ‘pop-up’ police surgery, providing an essential point of contact for those affected by or concerned about crime on the High Street.

We are still waiting on updates on progression with these projects, which is why we felt it necessary to do what we could in the private sector, by seeking extra funding to employ another Street Warden to help alleviate the worsening situation right now.

We will continue to apply for extra funding where we can ‘step-up’ what the EBID is able to do in order to achieve lower crime rates in Erdington.

 

You have a strong history of working with BIDs in London and the West Midlands, do you feel they work well with other local stakeholders – such as the Council and police?

BIDs can certainly work well and closely with other stakeholders, but it is important to clarify that BIDs are here to provide services over and above what public sector organisations are funded to provide.

The EBID brings in just over 100k per year, so we’re working hard at the moment to apply for as much extra funding as possible to deal with the crime situation and make sure that we also deliver the projects outlined and voted for in the business plan. Unfortunately, we are unable to ‘pick up’ funding shortages of others.

 

You mentioned to Erdington Local before that you were keen to establish Erdington High Street as and LGBTQ+ ‘safe space’, can you tell us any more about this ambition?

This came up in response to the report that there was a lack of grass roots LGBTQ+ support in North Birmingham and the fact the team at the Recovery Foundation had launched an LGBTQ+ support programme, ‘Rainbow Minds Matter’.

Together, we want to highlight the fact that Erdington is safe and supportive of the LGBTQ+ community by highlighting the safe spaces throughout the High Street. This is a project we will be working on in the near future to get the message of diversity and inclusivity across.

 

Are there any other aims for the EBID in the next twelve months?

Looking at the next 12 months, tackling crime will continue as a priority, evaluating the improvement on the High Street over this time.

We will continue reporting on the many positives regarding Erdington Town Centre, enhance our events programme, and increase a higher percentage of shoppers from outside Birmingham.

Another important aim is to attract new retailers, both national and independent into Erdington Town Centre.

 

If you could wave a magic wand and change any aspect of Erdington High Street overnight, what would you want to see when you woke up in the morning?

I would love to see Erdington as leading the way in what a quickly evolving British town centre looks like. So many town centres are in a transition period at the moment due to many external and economic pressures not experienced to this extent before.

The exemplary community projects are here in Erdington already, so an ambition would be to have an Erdington Community Hub with a home on the High Street, to bring together as many opportunities and assistance together for the community together in one place and the perfect way to shout about everything Erdington!

For more on the Erdington Business Improvement District visit www.erdingtonhighstreet.co.uk or visit the EBID Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ErdingtonTownCentre

(Ed’s note: This LOCAL Q&A was first submitted to Erdington Local before the announcement of any Section 114 notice issued by Birmingham City Council.)

OPINION: Making Erdington High Street a safer and more exciting place to visit

Words by John Hodgkiss, Erdington BID & Town Centre Manager

Our focus this summer has been to tackle both retail crime and anti-social behaviour in Erdington Town Centre.

We are delighted to welcome a new Street Warden to Erdington. They will be working closely with the existing Warden, John, patrolling the BID area to improve the current crime situation in Erdington which in turn will allow us to attract future inward investment into the Town Centre.

By concentrating on safety and security in Erdington and tackling this problem now will enable us to welcome new visitors to the High Street, as well as welcome back those who have not visited for some time.

By putting the fundamentals such as crime reduction in place, we can actively try and attract both new independent and national retailers on to Erdington High Street. It will also mean that footfall will increase as a result, making Erdington a far more positive economic prospect for investment.

With £19,000 extra funding secured this month, we will use this effectively to promote and market Erdington over the winter and festive season, with events to attract regular and new visitors alike.

If you have any suggestions on what events you would like to see hosted by the BID this winter, then please contact the BID on [email protected]

We look forward to hearing from you! 

For more on the Erdington Business Improvement District visit www.erdingtonhighstreet.co.uk or visit the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/erdingtonBID

(Ed’s note: This column was first submitted to the Erdington Local newspaper on 4 September, before the announcement of a Section 114 notice issued by Birmingham City Council.)

NEWS: Erdington BID enlists second Street Warden to tackle crime on High Street

Words & pics by Ed King

Erdington Business Improvement District (EBID) has enlisted a second Street Warden to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour on Erdington High Street.

Camran Montgomery-Ashiq is already getting on with the job, patrolling the retail district alongside existing Street Warden, John Lynch – with both men managed by longstanding local firm, Euro Guard Security.

Familiar with the problems facing Erdington’s retailers, Camran has family directly affected by the shoplifters and anti-social behaviour turning so many shoppers away.

“My brother is one of the managers on the High Street,” told Camran. “He introduced me to John (Lynch) who told me about the role and the company (Euro Guard Security) and I was interested.

“It’s life, people are going to shoplift and we’re here to stop them. But hopefully we’ll get the High Street back to how it used to be.”

Seeing two Street Wardens on Erdington High Street will be a welcome sight to many local retailers and residents. It also gives long needed support to John Lynch, who many regard as the only real defence against crime on the High Street.

“It makes me feel safer,” admits Lynch, “because I don’t get any support from the police. Now when it does get into a situation, I’ve got someone to back me up.”

Fulfilling part of the mandate that got the EBID re-elected in November 2021, the extra Street Warden is one step both the Erdington BID and Euro Guard Security are taking to turn the tide of criminality in the area.

Euro Guard Security Operations Manager, William Byrne, told Erdington Local: “First and foremost it was important to get another Street Warden along with John, due to the high risk in Erdington with things that are going on.

“The whole point of brining the wardens onto the (High) street is to make everybody’s environment a safer place to work, and a safer place to be in. Hopefully, if we can bring some of that to the High Street we may then increase the footfall which will in turn benefit the shops.”

And with many of retailers relying on them in the absence of more police presence, Byrne recognises “having the Street Wardens is an integral part of keeping Erdington safe.”

John Hodgkiss, Erdington BID and Town Centre Manager, added: “From the beginning of this year the (EBID) board recognised that crime and anti-social behaviour was one of the biggest – if the not biggest – issues facing Erdington Town Centre. So, back in February we started consulting with BID levy payers and the public, and we realised that we really needed to do something to tackle these major issues.

“It’s great to now have Cam on board to enhance all the great work that John (Lynch – original Street Warden) does, and to have support and help for him.”

“It’s (crime on the High Street) basically one of our biggest problems; we want to improve inward investment into Erdington Town Centre, we want to increase footfall, we want to bring new retailers in, and one of the only ways that we’re actually going to do this is if we tackle the crime issue and start getting the positives in.

“The BID essentially a private sector organisation, and our levy payers are paying over and above on their business rates to pay for these enhanced services (Street Wardens).

“But it would be nice to have some extra help from the public sector.”

For more on the Erdington Business Improvement District visit www.facebook.com/erdingtonBID

FEATURE: Erdington retailers are losing thousands on “lawless” High Street scourged by shoplifters

Words by Ed King / Pics by Ed King and Studio Creativity

Erdington’s retailers are losing thousands every week as the “lawless” High Street is scourged by shoplifters, many of whom are repeat offenders known to local law enforcement.

“It’s every day,” tells Karen Leavy, store manager at Peacocks on Erdington High Street. “The ones that we know of it could be up to two or three times a day. Then there are one’s that we don’t know of, going to the back of the shop and detagging stock. They are an everyday occurrence as well.

“From 2019 up to last year it’s improved, but we’re still losing about £250 a day.”

Karen’s family have worked in retail for many years and are no strangers to shoplifters, or an underwhelming response from local police teams.

“I previously worked at the Peacocks in Stechford,” continued Karen, “and we had somebody who was shoplifting constantly. He went to court, got a slap on the hand, then he started coming into this store (Erdington) and doing it here.

“They can spit at us, they can kick out at us, they can call us all the names under the sun, but we can’t do anything to them. And he’s literally got away with thousands of pounds worth of stuff.

“I’d given the name to the police, and I’ve never heard anything about it since. My mum worked in the this store many years ago and she got punched full force in the face by a shoplifter, and nothing was done about that.”

Since 2010, policing budgets across the West Midlands have been slashed by Government cuts, with the region losing a reported £175m and 2000 police officers – around 25% of those in active service, and over 50% allocated to community policing.

In a recent meeting organised by the Erdington Business Improvement District (EBID), at the request of the Erdington MP Paulette Hamilton, Sargeant Simon Wheeler encouraged local retailers to report every crime to get more officers allocated to the area.

But many local shops still struggle. Karen continues: “I’ve given the information to the police, but it means I’m off the shop floor… I can be on the phone for 45mins to an hour trying to get through.

“One person off that shop floor could allow three of four shoplifters in the shop. I physically can’t do it; I literally can’t leave the shop floor.”

Even for retailers with dedicated shop security the battle is still steeply uphill. At the other end of the High Street, the Coop supermarket is just as plagued by shoplifters as Peacocks, suffering the same pattern in repeat offenders.

Coop manager Ben Hall told Erdington Local: “We haven’t got police presence on the High Street and that’s just enticing criminal behaviour. We get a lot of shoplifters in here and I think it’s rather lawless on the High Street at the moment.

“There was a shoplifter who came in over the space of a week and a half, and stole about £500 worth of bottles of spirits.

“Finally, we caught the man in action, stealing, and we detained him and rang the police. Martin (security guard) went through all the correct procedures, logged it with the police and got a crime reference number, and burnt off all the CCTV footage.

“Then the policeman came and said there was nothing they could do.

“We understand how hard it is for the police, but my staff come in and work their socks off – they go above and beyond for the business. The police should be doing the same thing.”

Like the Coop and Peacocks, to many retailers more police presence on Erdington High Street seems to be the answer. But in the shadow of austerity and with a city to patrol, the argument continues over available resources.

And stuck in the middle is Erdington Street Warden, John Lynch – employed by the EBID, who also provide a radio system for local shops to warn each other of offenders. Having worked on Erdington High Street for years, John is a familiar faced deterrent to many shoplifters in the area.

“It’s got to the point where shops have stopped reporting thefts because they know nothing will come back from it,” tells John, who keeps receiving calls through his radio.

“Like with Peacocks, there was one guy who was robbing them every Sunday – they knew his name, they’ve got CCTV, they reported it, but they’ve never heard anything back to this day.

“Then we had a member of staff who was assaulted in Farmfoods, who was punched in the face. They knew the offender; they knew his name. The man who was assaulted has never heard anything back about that at all.

“The police say people aren’t reporting crime, but they are reporting crimes – they’re constantly reporting crimes, and all they get is a crime reference number, it’s logged, and they never hear anything after that.

“I know the police are busy, but they should focus on the more serious crimes on the High Street,” continues John. “I’m getting complaints on a daily basis about all the drug dealers outside Iceland, so that needs to get looked into.

“And when you’re talking about assault, large thefts, and continuous thefts, those people do need to be dealt with as they’re causing a major problem.”

John has also been the victim of assault, with one man breaking a restraining order to come back to Erdington High Street to steal – having only been out of prison for one week, after serving time for previously assaulting John and a police officer.

“I reported it to the police,” tells John, “the burglary offence and the breach of the restraining order… and to this day I’ve heard nothing back. The store’s heard nothing; I’ve heard nothing.

“They had CCTV footage. All the evidence was there, somebody said they would come and take a statement, but I heard nothing more about it. This was around October last year.”

But despite the imbalance of crime and punishment, there is still a communal desire to see significant change – with a ransacked police force and beleaguered community ultimately wanting the same thing. Law and order.

Plus, existing local legislation such as the Public Space Protection Order (PSBO) can be used to great effect.

Erdington Local recently witnessed officers PC Stiles and PC Bird deescalate a potentially violent clash, using the threat of a fine through the PSBO to remove an aggressive woman from the High Street.

As the offender stormed off, she shouted back at the officers who had successfully moved her on: “that’s why I don’t like coming here.”

Many feel regular communication and information sharing between police, the Street Warden, and the retail community would also go a long way – helping to send a message of ‘no tolerance’ to crime on the High Street.

As Ben at the Coop was quick to add, after highlighting the day to day issues that face his staff, his store, and the High Street at large: “I don’t want to seem like I’m just picking on the police.

“Albin (security) got assaulted by a shoplifter, and the police arrived within seconds and dealt with it fantastically. There also an officer called Dave, and he’s brilliant – I can’t sing his praises high enough.

“But if we can work together and get better police presence on the High Street… and it’s not just for the Coop, it’s for the whole High Street.

“We need to work together.”

ELECTION NEWS: Conservative big hitters celebrate ‘enormous potential’ in Erdington and push for ‘improved funding pitch’ to regenerate High Street

By Erdington Local election news team

With 100 days to go until the local elections on 5 May, Conservative Party big hitters have been celebrating Erdington’s “enormous potential” – with one leading cabinet minister calling for an “improved funding pitch” to secure millions for the High Street.

Following a special visit to Erdington, Conservative Party Co-Chair Oliver Dowden said:

“Seeing Erdington first-hand showed the enormous potential of this town centre – there is a huge range of shops with relatively few empty units, and some great independent traders generating footfall.

“So, there is a real opportunity here to build on what has been achieved by local businesses and the BID and secure a better future for Erdington.

“I was struck by the passion and vision that Cllr. Robert Alden has for the centre and there is no doubt he is a strong advocate for Erdington and attracting the investment that is needed.

“The Government is committed to Levelling Up communities like Erdington, and I look forward to an improved funding pitch being submitted, which could help unlock the High Street’s potential.”

Mr Dowden was on a tour of the constituency with Erdington Ward Councillor Robert Alden, who is also Leader of Birmingham’s Conservatives.

Meeting with local residents, campaigners, law enforcement, and the local business community, the visit was arranged to help understand the needs and concerns of people who live and work in Erdington, ahead of the upcoming local elections.

Erdington is also facing a by-election where local voters will decide the next constituency Member of Parliament, following the sudden death of Jack Dromey MP on Friday, 7 January.

Cllr. Robert Alden, who represents the Erdington Ward along with Cllr. Gareth Moore, is also a local resident and has been involved in many constituency campaigns – including recent applications for regeneration money from the Government led Future High Street and Levelling Up funds.

Whilst both bids were initially rejected, due to reasons that span the political divide, there is still hope a renewed application for the Levelling Up Fund could ultimately be accepted – which, if successful, could see millions invested into Erdington High Street.

Cllr. Alden added: “I was pleased to showcase Erdington’s potential to Oliver, a leading member of the Government. We have all been disappointed that the previous Council bids have not had everything we need in them, but we know what needs to be addressed.

“We have already met with the Council and the Department and are fighting to get the changes needed to successfully reapply in the next round.

“Regenerating Erdington will ensure that it has a secure future as a place that local people actively choose to want to come and spend their time.

“We are working positively with Government and West Midlands Mayor Andy Street who has been another supporter of Erdington, including calling it out as a priority in his manifesto.”

Mirroring the hopes and aspirations of the Erdington councillor, West Midlands Mayor Andy Street added:

“I am very struck by the strength of community support, including from organisations like Witton Lodge Community Association, the BID, and Cllrs. Robert Alden and Gareth Moore for regenerating Erdington.

“I’m committed to continuing to work with the local team in securing investment into Erdington.”

But on the High Street itself, there are people who see day after day the problems facing local shoppers and businesses. Erdington Street Warden John Lynch, who met with Oliver Dowden during his visit, told Erdington Local:

“There will always be a problem with shop lifters, and we do need to target the shop lifters – at the moment the police don’t often come out for shoplifters unless they’re violent and aggressive. Even then it’s a struggle.

“I would like to see more police presence on the High Street.”

Another local resident, who didn’t wish to be named, added: “If we’re not talking about shop lifting, then personally I think it’s the littering and dog fouling – people need to take more pride (in the area) – the High Street is for everybody to enjoy.”

But as sun follows rain, there was one positive note from Magdolena Gal – when asked what the biggest problem facing the thoroughfare was, she told: “I have no problem, I think the High Street is good.”