The work of Dave Swingle
I came to work in Acocks Green in November 1986 as the Youth & Community Worker at Fox Hollies Forum, Greenwood Avenue. Two years later we bought a house in Acocks Green and also became residents of the area and members of the local community, using the local schools, shops and leisure facilities.
Our normal Saturday morning shopping trip now takes an eternity, as being known to many residents and shop keepers means we have to stop and talk to the familiar faces we meet on our way, much to the dismay of our children.
In 1986 Fox Hollies Forum, as a local Community Centre, offered a wide range of activities for both young and old: Pre-school playgroup, Junior Clubs and Youth activities and Social clubs for older people.
During my time at Fox Hollies Forum, our activities have widened to provide and develop areas of work which now go beyond the Centre’s work and into the wider community.
In 1987, two local residents, Eileen Pritchard and Sue Connolly, came to see me expressing their concerns about an elderly neighbour, who they felt was in need of 'some kind' of social support. Their neighbour was physically disabled and isolated within her own home. After I had made a series of telephone calls to Social Services, local day care centres and luncheon clubs without any success, we began to throw around the idea of starting our own Luncheon Club at Fox Hollies Forum for elderly people who were housebound, disabled and socially isolated, and who lived in the area. Time went on and despite promises from the local Social Services department to show us how to set up and run such a club, no real help was forthcoming.
In frustration, Eileen and Sue decided to start a Luncheon Club for their neighbour and other local residents. So off we went, not having a clue in the world on how to cater for large numbers of people, how to deal with individuals’ disabilities, toileting or other personal problems. We managed to loan a mini-bus from Bromford Church and a local resident, Tony Pownell, agreed to drive.
Within no time at all we were catering for 18-20 elderly residents every Friday. Preparing and cooking enough meals each week proved to be an on-going nightmare! We were using a smaller than normal old domestic cooker, household pots and pans and a mish-mash of plates, dishes, cups and saucers which were begged, borrowed and acquired from the local community.
On-going problems with transport was one of our main concerns. The mini-bus that was being loaned from the other side of the city was unsuitable for the range of disabilities we were coping with and was constantly breaking down. This meant we often ended up ferrying our members back and forth in private transport.
Volunteer helpers came and went, but Eileen and Sue continued to keep the club going. Val Dalton, the then Caretaker at Fox Hollies Forum, gave amazing help, preparing food, laying tables and generally helping out as needed. Frustration with the problems over transport continued, but still we managed to bring the elderly into the club. As the relationships developed between the members and volunteers, we became more determined to keep the club going.
At one point we suspended Luncheon Club because we hadn't got a volunteer driver to bring our members backwards and forwards each Friday. One of our members, Frances Reece, a 95 year old from Broomhall Crescent, had a son who rang me to find out why his mum hadn't been bought to Luncheon Club. He was rather irate on the telephone, launching into "just how bad these Council services were and how much his mother was dependent on Social Services to improve the quality of her life".
Explaining that our Luncheon Club wasn't run by Birmingham City Council's Social Services Department but by a dedicated group of local volunteers, the gentleman, Roy Reece, changed his attitude and immediately offered to help us as a volunteer driver. Not all went smoothly for Roy during the early days of volunteering:
"Going back to my very early days when I was not 100% sure of what I was doing - in the first ambulance we had to remove seats to get wheelchairs in and of course these had to be fastened down with special clips to stop them moving while you were driving. Well, I did all that and thought everything was fine, having cleverly got three wheelchairs in at one go. What I did not know was that I had fastened all the clips incorrectly and nothing was secure. Now that was fine until I moved off, then disaster, I had what is commonly known as the domino effect. The three wheelchairs went over one after the other, tipping each person in the air. There was complete and utter silence for a minute or so, then blind panic. None of these people were lightweights and I had got to get them upright one at a time. This I eventually did and everything and everybody was alright. I expected the ladies and gentlemen on the ambulance to be furious, a lot of these aged people had very little sense of humour - nothing of the sort, even the people involved thought it was funny and the whole ambulance was laughing. I don't think they were laughing so much at the incident, I think they were laughing at me. I was trying so hard to be efficient and I was making nonsense of the whole thing".
Roy Reece soon became involved in the activities in the community, driving for Luncheon Club, playing Santa Claus at Christmas and more recently, being the Chairperson of the Fox Hollies Community Association.
The lesson for me being, just because you are working with the elderly, housebound or disabled people, remember that their sons and daughters, relatives and neighbours are probably more than willing to help out in the community. Remembering to ask is the key.
Doreen McSherry, one of our original Luncheon Club members and the mainstay behind the weekly organisation of its members recalls with fondness:
"Having been with the Luncheon Club on Fridays for 14 years, I helped to organise different activities such as Bingo and a Raffle to help the Forum's fund in a small way. We also had Coach outings in the Summer and were involved with Christmas entertainment and other variety occasions etc. Everyone looked forward to Fridays. It is a pity it had to close".
Sat in my office on a bright spring morning, Eileen Pritchard and Sue Connolly arrived and announced that because of the continuing frustration with the transport problems, they were "going to raise the money to buy our own mini-bus, with a tail lift and access for disabled people". Taking a step back I tried to explain that they would need to raise in excess of £20,000 and that this was way beyond our abilities. Eileen and Sue said that they didn't care how long it took and that they were going to raise the money. And so we embarked on the marathon task with an endless round of fundraising events - sponsored football games, bed pushes, raffles, barn dances, balloon races and an indoor all night fishing competition.
Sheila Baldock, one of our fundraising volunteers recalls:
"When raising money for the ambulance, there was friendly competition between myself and Sue Mitchell. We spent hours at different locations around Acocks Green selling tickets for balloon races etc., sometimes in fancy dress. Fox Hollies Leisure Centre was one of our favourite selling points and Sue and myself fought over potential customers, each trying to outsell each other. Not many people escaped our sales pitch".
February 1991 saw the arrival of our own brand new 15 seater community ambulance, complete with a welfare conversion giving us full access for people with disabilities.
Community Association Registered Charity
As funds began to grow, the residents decided to look at ways of generating further funds and it was decided to start Fox Hollies Community Association, a registered charity (No.701230). This, it was hoped, would enable us to collect further donations from charitable trusts and legalise our on-going fund raising.
The Community Association continues to function as a small registered charity and raises funds for a variety of community activities in the Acocks Green and Fox Hollies area.
As well as local fund raising, we continue to receive donations "in kind" as well as making more formal requests for financial support from local businesses and charitable trusts. A second replacement community ambulance has now been purchased and the charity has raised in excess of £500,000 towards activities for the elderly, children and youth provision in the Acocks Green area.
Fox Hollies Environmental Centre
Much of my work in Acocks Green has been based around developing practical solutions that would benefit the area and involve local residents, children and young people. Another major project was the development of the Fox Hollies Environmental Centre at the side of Fox Hollies Forum. Having been involved in the development of the "City Farm" movement in Birmingham, the establishment of the Environmental Centre seemed to be a practical solution to what had been an on-going problem.
At weekends, when the Fox Hollies Forum was closed, groups of young people descended onto the ground at the side of the Community Centre to play football. This became a constant irritation to the Centre neighbours with footballs going over into gardens, bad language and general rowdiness, causing an on-going problem to local people. Each Monday morning I would arrive at work to be greeted by a series of telephone calls and letters of protest from local residents complaining about the young people’s weekend activities.
Convincing residents that using the land for a more positive purpose would prove to be a real challenge. Whilst they didn't want the local youth using the land as a football pitch, they were less than convinced that animals would survive the "attentions of local children and youth".
A series of meetings with local residents were held to discuss ways of using the land in a more satisfactory way, the main criterion being to reduce the problems at weekends, but still retaining the land for community use. After much discussion and visits to other 'City Farms', it was agreed to look into the possibilities of establishing an Environmental Centre. A community architect drew up the plans, planning permission was agreed, a small group of residents to manage the project was formed and the Fox Hollies Community Association (Charity No.701230) agreed to raise the finances.
The main supporter of the project was George Webber, a retired man who lived opposite Fox Hollies Forum. He almost single-handedly took on the construction of the Centre, laying pathways, building fences, digging the garden and constructing the stables.
The Environmental Centre was officially opened in March 1990 by the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Councillor Fred Chapman.
The success of the project was based on the positive involvement of local people. It was not a matter of producing a purpose built Environmental Centre, it was a Centre which slowly evolved over a long period of time as finances became available. Its construction by local people gave the Centre a firm foundation with the local community, local children and young people, together with other residents who could see that it was the result of their own labour, whether in terms of fund raising or their own direct labours in its construction.
The Environmental Centre now houses goats, chickens, birds, rabbits and guinea pigs together with a small range of smaller animals. The garden area provides opportunities for local school children to grow their own flowers and vegetables. It is used by local schools as an educational resource and offers activities during the school holidays.
Over the years the Environmental Centre has housed a pot bellied pig which came to be a small loveable addition to our livestock, only to grow into a larger than life, full size pig requiring regular doses of suntan lotion during the summer months. Goats have been born on the farm, watched by an audience of amazed residents. It also housed an ageing pony for a period of time.
The question always asked by visitors to the Centre is "what about vandalism?" and we can honestly say that over the 15 years of the Centre’s life, vandalism has been minimal and never aimed at the animals and far below the vandalism the area generally suffers from. This we feel with confidence is a result of the way the Centre was constructed by local residents and constantly maintained and cared for by people from the surrounding area.
Acocks Green/Fox Hollies Community Council
Acocks Green has always been a thriving area with a variety of community groups running a wide range of activities and clubs for residents. In 1993, a small group of us came together with the aim of forming a Community Council to represent the area.
Myself, together with the Minister at Acocks Green Methodist Church, Rev. Clive Fowles and Jeremy Walker, Minister from the Elim Church, felt that Acocks Green and Fox Hollies failed to attract local authority and government funding which would help to alleviate the problems the area faced. It was viewed by Politicians and by City Officers as a green suburb of Birmingham, butting onto the Solihull boundary and having mature horse chestnut trees and green verges hiding away the large council housing estates and the inherent problems its families were facing.
The establishment of a Community Council as an umbrella organisation made up of voluntary groups, which could act on behalf of the area, we felt would help to raise the profile of the area and the problems we were encountering.
In July 1993 a small group of community representatives came together to draw up a “Statement of Intent”. This was that:
1. The Community Council would bring together representatives and individuals from a wide range of local associations and organisations, both voluntary and statutory, to promote an interest in the welfare of all residents in the Acocks Green/Fox Hollies area.
2. The Community Council would provide a platform to raise local issues affecting both specific groups and the residents of our area as a whole.
3. The Community Council would not just be a talking shop. It would aim to get things done by identifying common issues, bringing resources and ideas together and putting pressure on those responsible for providing the solutions.
4. The Community Council would raise the profile of the area by various means.
5. The Community Council would aim to improve communications between community groups and the statutory officers.
With this as our starting point, we embark on canvassing the wider community to discuss the notion and find out other groups’ feelings.
On 30th September 1993, an open meeting of all interested parties was held at Acocks Green Library to launch the Community Council. The minutes of the meeting record: "Response to setting up a Community Council was positive from residents, people seemed to appreciate that more could be achieved by groups working together", and so the Acocks Green/Fox Hollies Community Council was started.
In those days, the area was split into two halves by the Warwick Road. To one side was the Acocks Green ward and the other side was the Fox Hollies ward. The Acocks Green/Fox Hollies Community Council was to represent what it regarded as the natural neighbourhood and incorporated half of each of the two wards.
Out of the work of the Community Council in their early years came the establishment of Stockfield Neighbourhood Forum, later changing its name to Acocks Green Neighbourhood Forum. Regular community lunches were held, which developed opportunities for groups to meet and discuss issues together. The planning and running of two huge Community Conventions (October 1995 and March 1996), which attracted over 130 local people and considered a range of issues affecting the area, were also high points in the Community Council’s work.
The Community Council continues to function and has been an important focus for the Birmingham City Council's move towards "Localisation and Devolution".
Acocks Green Carnival
In 1973, the first Acocks Green Carnival took place. The event cost £30 to stage and made a loss of £30. Activities in 1973 were based around Fox Hollies Forum on Greenwood Avenue, and despite losing money on its first efforts it was decided to continue with the event. 2005 will see the 32nd year of Acocks Green Carnival and it continues to be the major community event of the year.
Planning for the next year starts immediately after each year’s Carnival and a band of dedicated volunteers undertake the task. Great pride is taken by the Committee in organising each year's event. Today it costs well in access of £7,000 to stage the event. This is just for arena events, marching bands, toilets, marquees and all the expenses of the day. It does not include the time and efforts of the volunteers on the organising Committee. Carnival is now self financing although we do rely on sponsorship from local agencies.
Carnival has changed over the years, and whilst at its highest it was a week long festival, it now has become a one day event. This is in part due to the increased costs of the events and the limited time the volunteers can give.
Carnival still starts with a street procession involving marching bands, floats and walking entries. The main carnival site at Acocks Green Recreation Ground on Westley Road is where you will find charity stalls, kiddies fun fair and events for the family, a main arena event and a football tournament for local young people.
Carnival has become a family and community day of celebration of all that is good in Acocks Green. 150 local organisations are represented on the day, varying from Cubs and Guides to schools, churches and other voluntary groups, and, weather permitting, a crowd of 10,000 people are attracted to the event. There is ample opportunity to meet up with friends and for local groups to get together to continue laying the foundations and building on the future of Acocks Green.
John Mudway wrote a report on the 1999 Carnival in St Mary's Church parish Magazine:
" After a quick snack of egg and chips, I left home and headed for the distant music and booming voice of Carnival. The ordinary recreation ground had been transformed into a place of fantasy and fun. Ladies in gay coloured skirts, men in loose buttoned shirts, promenaded in the lazy afternoon sunshine, drifting from event to event, gathering to various side-shows and stalls. Quick shouts of children with painted faces who darted around and between us.
After applauding the entry of the Carnival Procession, a very splendid event, I was drawn towards a pungent smell of fried onions and sizzling gobbets of meat. A large pork bap quickly followed the egg and chips. I then strolled on until I came to the St. Mary's stall (easily the noisiest in all the Carnival), where I purchased a sizeable sponge cake. I had intended we would share this for tea, but as I didn't have a large enough pocket in which to stow it, I thought it best to eat the thing there and then - delicious.
I turned my attention to the main arena. First of all I attended the Ninestiles School Band. I found their music very enjoyable and soothing (I had begun to feel a bit queasy for some reason). Then it was time for the Mounted Games. After several friendly appeals by our excellent MC, Mr Ian Sandy, various impromptu football games were abandoned and the players were united with their parents, on the safe side of the enclosure ropes. Into the arena came several teams of spirited ponies, all mounted by young but obviously experienced riders. The teams galloped and swerved about the arena at breathtaking speed in an exciting series of competitions.
No sooner was this event over it seemed, then it was time for the Fox Hollies Forum Line Dancers - children. Several dads were persuaded to join in and did very well. Then came the Acocks Green School of Dance. As I watched these graceful dancers, so lithe, so light of foot, so slim, I hugely regretted my ever expanding waist line, and vowed to lead a more spartan sort of life henceforth.
The theme of this Carnival had been 'All Creatures Great and Small'. There had been so much to do: the Six a Side Football Competition, Dog and Cage Bird Shows, The Flower Show. I had browsed through the marquee of the Acocks Green Local History Society, watched, with other children the disgraceful Mr Punch, tried my luck on the 'Wheel of Fortune'.
The organisation of this annual show must be an enormous task. May I thank all those, especially the Carnival Committee, who have worked so hard to make this Acocks Green Carnival such a success. I look forward with great anticipation to Carnival 2000".
Acocks Green Traders Association
The Acocks Green Traders Association came about as a result of the Carnival. For many years, Carnival has been dependent on the support of the local shopkeepers in the "Village". In 1999 I asked three of the local shopkeepers to help us judge the Carnival procession floats.
Ian Jeffries of Jeffries Hardware was one of these judges. His father, Ron, started the Hardware shop in 1970 and had supported Carnival with donations and taking out an advert in the Carnival programme and also watched the procession as it went past his shop over the years. Ian had never actually been to the Carnival site. Inspired by what he saw on Carnival day and how the different community groups were working together to improve the area, I, in the name of the Community Council, helped him establish the Traders Association for shopkeepers in the village.
Ian is now an active Carnival Committee member, using his skills to organise the procession. He represents the Traders on the Community Council and is the driving force behind the Traders involvement in the "Village" Christmas lights.