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.

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.

OPINION: A message from Paulette Hamilton, MP for Erdington

Words and pics supplied by Paulette Hamilton MP

I hope everyone in Erdington, Kingstanding, and Castle Vale enjoyed the Easter break and could spend some valuable time with your family. Easter is a time of hope, renewal, and joy – a time for us to come together, reflect on what matters most.

This spring, it was heartwarming to see our communities come together for Easter, Eid, Vaisakhi and Passover, sharing festivities and traditions, and strengthening the community spirit that makes our area so unique.

These important bonds extend to our amazing local organisations, as was evident during my recent visit to Erdington Court Bowls Club. There, I had the pleasure of congratulating them on receiving the Shared Prosperity Fund from Witton Lodge Community Association.

This grant has funded a new bowls-friendly wheelchair, ensuring that bowling can be accessible to even more members of our community. This is a testament to the power of local organisations working together for the common good.

It’s this spirit that makes me incredibly proud to call our area my home and reminds me of how my own journey began, working as a district nurse in Kingstanding to serving our community as a governor at Yenton Primary School.

But there are so many unsung heroes in our community who work tirelessly, to help others and it is in that spirit that I would like to celebrate this Easter.

I will be finding unsung heroes across Erdington, Kingstanding and Castle Vale and telling them how much they mean to me. Why don’t you do the same.

For more on Paulette Hamilton MP for Erdington visit www.paulettehamilton.org

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: 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.

FEATURE: Eco Together in Erdington, inspiring environmental action across the city at Witton Lakes Eco Hub

Words Ed King / Pics by Ewan Williamson

On 27 January 2024, the Bath born and Birmingham adopted Eco Together project celebrated a year of inspiring independent environmental action in and around Erdington – including a specially designed ten week course at the Eco Hub with Witton Lodge Community Association.

Erdington Local went to watch Eco Together cut the cake at the Witton Lakes ecological and community hub – and to hear how the Erdington held course has started a ripple effect of change across the city.

“…people have the power to create the change. It’s just the law of numbers; there’s way more of us.”

The room is full – of both people and passion. But also hope and ambition. Eco Together has been running courses across Birmingham for a year, brought to the second city by Stephanie Boyle – a retired clinical psychologist who found Eco Together whilst researching climate change online.

Starting in Bath, Eco Together works on a micro effecting macro approach, encouraging ‘small groups of friends, neighbours or colleagues’ to come together and realise the ‘powers’ they have in tackling climate change and environmental issues. And at this special anniversary celebration the energy in the room is palpable.

The Eco Hub, located at Witton Lakes, a converted century old gatekeeper’s cottage with ecological issues literally at its foundations, hosted the longest running Birmingham based Eco Together course – evolving the standard five week open platform programme into a special ten week series of workshops and group discussions.

Developed by Stephanie Boyle from the open source material offered by Eco Together, the extended course was commissioned at the request of Witton Lodge Community Association, who also built the Eco Hub. A group of about nine local residents met up every week to discuss environmental issues and to look beyond the bigger picture and ask what they, as individuals, could do to make change.

“It made me feel confident that I could do something,” explains Pauline Brown, who attended the Eco Together course earlier in the year. “As an individual you care about the climate and pollution, and you try and do your best, but you feel like you’re just a little isolated person trying.”

Campaigners worldwide, especially when dealing with worldwide problems, often cite those first few steps as the most daunting.

“But when it came to the (Eco Together) course I was with others who were interested,” adds Pauline, “and those ‘powers’, that’s what really got me – how you can communicate, your advocacy, and talk about it (environmental issues) to other people fires you up with ideas… you bounce of each other.”

“It was useful as a way of discussing what options are available to you as an individual,” adds Nettes Derbyshire – who attended a five week programme run with Shakti Women in Birmingham City Centre.

“I mean, there are things that I knew. But it really challenges you to say ‘well what are you going to do about that?’ and look at what little difference you can make – and to actually go away with something each week and say ‘I’m going to try and do that’.

“(The course) really opened my eyes to my own advocacy, and how you really can shout at the people to do things and really encourage the Local Authority, or whomever it is, and just keep on picking at it until they get it… and hope that they do.”

The ‘powers’ are the main tenet of Eco Together, and like every good collection of cornerstones there are four of them: lifestyle, communication, community, and advocacy.

Started by Sarah Grimes – who graduated with Distinction from Oxford University after reading Environmental Policy and who has worked in, around, and against local government for over 25 years – Eco Together uses these ‘powers’ to galvanise the strength of the individual and to show the simple steps one person can take to chip away at worldwide wall of ignorance and inertia.

Cleaning behind your fridge, for example, saves significant home energy use. It’s hard to think of anything more immediate and simple, but also exponential. Eco Together came from the Transition Bath project that saw around 500 households ‘cut an average of £570 from their annual bills and 1.3 tonnes from their carbon footprint,’ – and that figure of 500 households started with one.

Not bad for a community led charity, and one that proved so effective it started to grab the attention of Councils and Local Authorities across the county.

“It’s amazing, absolutely amazing,” tells Sarah Grimes – after thanking the Birmingham crowd for their involvement over the past twelve months and their ambitions for the next. “And what it shows to me is that the format can adapt to lots of different circumstance and lots of different ways of working.”

Sarah continues: “Initially it was thought of being just a neighbourhood group, but here (Birmingham – Eco Hub) it’s been run as a course, it’s been run by community groups, by organisations, with staff.

“And that shows that the main tenant of Eco Together is the ‘powers’. So, this is a slightly different framing to how we’re used to thinking about environmental issues, and thinking my powers go beyond the ability to choose one product over another product – they actually go into what do I do with the communities I’m in. What do I do, as a citizen, to represent to politicians and businesses. And whether or not I talk about climate change.

 “All of those things are things you can do to make an impact, and that principle can really be used with any issue and with any group of people. And that’s what happening here, which is so exciting.”

It’s a simple premise, but it works. In Birmingham, for example, Eco Together is now being looked at to help support the city’s Net Zero agenda and cut its emissions down to ‘zero or as close as possible to prevent further temperature increases’ – beating the Government benchmark by two decades.

In less than twelve months a handful of people, attending free to access workshops in and around Erdington, have shown the city how it can be done. And the city took note.

“We were invited to a specific session about community action, I think it was about week five,” tells Stockland Green Councillor Jane Jones (Labour), who attended one of the workshops where the power of ‘advocacy’ was on the table – alongside her Perry Common counterpart, Councillor Jilly Bermingham.

“But we were really impressed,” Cllr Jones continues. “We saw the training manual and it was really thorough. I learnt loads just reading one part of it. It was excellent, and the turnout… there were so many people there as well, and they were really interested in the environment.

“It didn’t matter where you were on the scale of knowledge, it really opened people’s eyes. Some people knew absolutely nothing (about environmental issues) and started from scratch, then there were people with more experience and still got something out if it. I certainly did.”

Bringing truth to power can be notoriously tricky, especially when the problem at hand is such a worldwide issue and local government is, well, local. But can the approach from groups like Eco Together actually have an impact, can an individual’s advocacy on an issue tun the relevant responsible authority heads?

“We encourage (local advocacy) that’s why we have open advice bureau,” tells Cllr Bermingham, “because we’re encouraging people to come and talk to us and tell us their issues. I’ve had people come and talk to me about community garden and women’s groups… everything. And they’re the advocates coming to me and pushing their groups, and that’s important.

“It’s all the things joining up. None of us can do it on our own.”

Cllr Jones, never one to duck a tough question, adds: “Whatever the policies the Council have, we’re not always very good at following them through. So, we need keeping on our toes.”

Eco Together in Erdington, anniversary celebration at Witton Lakes Eco Hub / Ewan Williamson

For more on Eco Together visit www.ecotogether.info

For more on the Eco Hub and other projects delivered by Witton Lodge Community Association visit www.wittonlodge.org.uk

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.

NEWS: New Small Grants Programme could give Erdington community groups up to £10k support

Words by Erdington Local editorial team

A new Small Grants Programme could see community groups across the Erdington constituency get up to £10k support from government funding.

Launched in Erdington on 3 January and managed by Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA), the scheme aims to support local organisations and charities extend their existing reach and to encourage new projects.

Those wanting to know more are invited to attend a free workshop about the Small Grants Programme on 11 January, held at Perry Common Hall. For online directions to Perry Common Community Hall click here.

With sessions running from 11am to 7pm, the day will “provide full details of the fund, give help and advice as well as the opportunity to access face-to-face support with completing the grant application.”

Interested groups are asked to email WLCA Wellbeing Officer Fauzia Begum at [email protected] or to call (0121) 382 1930.

Aimed at community and voluntary groups across the whole constituency – including the wards of Castle Vale, Erdington, Gravely Hill, Kingstanding, Perry Common, Pype Hayes, and Stockland Green – the Small Grants Programme funding is available to help grow existing programmes and services, but also to encourage work that tackles issues around mental health, employment, community engagement, and environmental issues.

The specific “themes” that funding would be available for are outlined on the WLCA website as: Organisational capacity building, Community events, engagement and reach, Health and Wellbeing, Job, Skills and Enterprise, and Environmental Activities and Improvements.

A statement from WLCA further confirmed: “This new programme will build community capacity, capability, and networks in Erdington Constituency.

“Grants of up to £10,000 will be available to develop and deliver services for vulnerable residents and groups, and successful applicants will be encouraged to join local networks that share knowledge and collaborate on future opportunities.”

The Small Grants Programme is funded by the government’s UK Shared Prosperity Fund, a £2.6 billion pot of money to support ‘local priorities’ and ‘empower local leaders and communities’.

Launched in April 2022 by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the UK Shared Prosperity Fund is set to run until March 2025.

For more information on the Small Grants Programme, or to book a place for the workshops on 11 January, please email [email protected] or call (0121) 382 1930.