Everyone in High Heath, Walsall knows ‘H’. If they don’t, the chances are they know someone who has benefitted from his community-minded approach to life.
‘H’ – whose full name is Harjit Singh – runs the popular Nisa Local store in High Heath, Walsall, with his wife Jodie and two sons. Thanks to H, a new community hub has been helping bring local people together since Jan 2019.
The hub, which is based in one of the retail units H owns, provides a place for people to get together and plan local events with a committee meeting each week.
Forty-eight-year-old H first began to grasp the power of High Heath’s community spirit when, as a young shopkeeper, he bought out a larger competitor.
As he went through the accounts of his new acquisition, he realised that local people had been spending twice as much in his own smaller shop than in the bigger chain store. The ‘eureka’ moment came when he realised that this was because his shop had a friendlier, community feel.
“From that day on, I thought ‘I want to pay the community back,’” H said. “My dad, who was called Gurpal but everyone knew as Paul, had run the shop for eight years; but not very successfully. Sadly, he passed away in 1998, and I had to reluctantly give up my own business, as a market trader, to run the shop.
“In 2014, after 16 years of running the shop, I bought out the bigger chain store and had my ‘Eureka’ moment’. I went to a council meeting and, in memory of my dad, stood up and pledged £20,000 to help support community events in the area. But as the weeks went by, nothing came of it. The councillors didn’t seem to want to spend the money.
“Before I knew it, five years had flown past and I still hadn’t fulfilled the promise I had made in my dad’s name – so I just thought ‘I’ll do it myself’.”
“Me, my wife and a very close friend Dr Antonio FB set up a meeting about starting a hub, and waited to see who would show up,” H said. “Eight or nine people came along, which showed me that there was an appetite for the idea, and then the Townswomen’s Guild got involved and we haven’t looked back since.
“The Townswomen are amazing – I call them the wind beneath my wings!”
In true community style, the new hub was decorated by committee members volunteering their time. It was kitted out using generous donations from local companies including Steak, Rattle & Roll, Travis Perkins, D Gill and NV Roofing.
It helps provide company for people of all ages who feel isolated and lonely, while local youngsters use it to learn about local history. As a result, the hub has helped the different generations who live in High Heath engage with each other.
“My wife and I wanted to say thank you to the community, by creating a platform for them to use to benefit the community,” H said.
Now H is hoping that other small businesses will follow his approach.
“I have learnt that, as a small business, you have got to play to your strengths – so reach out to the community around you, the people who use your services. Big national companies just can’t do what we do. On a personal level, I have found it’s actually good for my mental health too.”
That can-do spirit is also improving the wellbeing of the community, through all kinds of activities.
Thanks to a great relationship with Ormiston Shelfield Academy, H has helped local school children who were struggling with discipline to link up with Birmingham City Boxing Club and Wildstar Boxing Club, to find a new direction and steer away from crime. In addition, a ‘tree jamboree’ with the school saw sapling trees given out to locals to plant. School children were also heavily involved with hub users who have helped clean up the neighbourhood with nearly a dozen litter picks. Coca Cola, one of the key sponsors of the national Keep Britain Tidy campaign, were so impressed by these clean-ups that they provided litter-picking equipment, gloves and high-viz jackets to the hub.
Loneliness is being addressed at the hub with regular friendship cafés, cinema clubs and knit natter/craft sessions. The Royal Mail also help deliver leaflets for these services, while South Staffordshire Water, Walsall Council and Aldridge-Brownhills MP Wendy Morton all use it to reach out to locals via regular surgeries.
Recent additions to the fast-growing hub are Adult Social Services, free CPR training, safety talks and free equipment from West Midlands Fire Service. The committee of High Heath hub is hoping that even more people in the community get involved and contribute.
“In nearly 30 years of trading, we see our community as an extended family,” H said. “I think the hub has shown that, in High Heath, community spirit is alive and kicking.”