Local Lifesaving Club Takes The Plunge

Oak Park Lifesavers Walsall Wood
Instructors Simon Muller and Claire Llewellyn with Andrew Marlow (11), Lewis & Esme Weavill (10) and Hollie Cleveley (12)

A popular swimming club has taken the plunge and re-opened its doors after months of uncertainty.

Oak Park Lifesavers, based at Oak Park Active Living Centre in Walsall Wood, has taught scores of young people the basics of water safety. With a current membership of around forty people aged between six and eighteen, the club temporarily suspended its activities in March last year.

As well as developing skills in the water, members learn and practise basic first aid including CPR, the recovery position and how to treat bleeding, choking and shock. The dangers of open water are made clear and stamina is developed as well as rescue techniques both in water and on land. Members have the opportunity to challenge their skills and knowledge in local competitions.

Although lifesaving activities were put online for those wishing to partake, the members were keen to return to the pool. To comply with current safety guidelines the 1 ½ hour sessions have been split into two 45-minute sessions with members split into two bubbles accordingly.

Organised booking and changing systems ensure safety and spectators are no longer allowed. Coloured bands are placed on bottles so rescuers and casualties know which end to use, all equipment is sanitized before use, and rescues take place at a 2m distance.

Claire Llewellyn, Senior Instructor, said: “The lifesavers are all very glad to be back and the parents are happy with the new process as well. Membership has many benefits including developing new skills and learning to stay safe near open water. It’s a huge boost to the health and wellbeing of all lifesavers.”

The information in this article was received before the current lockdown. Please contact Oak Park Active Living Centre for details of when they are re-opening.

The Five Best Hidden Walks In The Local Area

Walsall Magazine
Holly Wood Nature Reserve, Great Barr

The Five Best Hidden Walks in the local area by SMALLHOUSEBIGTRIPS

Correction: This article was updated on 29 March, 2021 to clarify that much of the area of Great Barr Hall is privately-owned and cannot be accessed by the public.

As the New Year kicks in, resolutions for a healthier year begin. How about burning off your Christmas treats and starting 2021 walking around some fabulous local, hidden gems.

We at SmallHouseBigTrips have you covered with some of our personal favourites. But sshhh – remember, it’s a secret!

Great Barr Hall, Sutton’s Drive, B43 7BA

A hidden gem that even we didn’t know about until lockdown in March 2020. Much of the grounds of the Great Barr Hall estate is privately-owned with no public right of way. However, Sutton Drive and the land situated to the East of Sutton Drive are beautiful, public open spaces.

Holly Wood Nature Reserve, Whitecrest, B43 6EA

Enter the nature reserve through a magical gate where you will be greeted with 5 hectares of mixed broadleaf woodland and wet meadow. Trees to climb, a stream to paddle in and the largest blanket of bluebells in spring.

Park Lime Pits Nature Reserve, Rushall, WS4 2HH

A former limestone quarry in the woods, this woodland walk has a rope swing over one of the two clear pools, horses, walking trails and plenty of streams for little ones to paddle in.

For nature lovers, there are over 300 species of plants and it is the home to over 100 species of birds.

Cuckoo’s Nook and The Dingle, Walsall, WS9 0PQ

Cuckoo’s Nook is an ancient woodland over 400 years old full of acidic loving trees like holly, oak, birch and alder, winding picturesque paths and a sea of bluebells during spring. Step into The Dingle part of the walk and you enter an area surrounded by hawthorn, ash, beech and elder trees.

It is the perfect place to learn about geology as you enjoy your walk,through the woodland flowers, by the babbling Longwood Brook running next to the path.

There’s a rope swing and little bridges for children and keep your eyes out for the wishing tree which is decorated beautifully throughout the year. Recently it had Christmas lights, tinsel and other decorations.

Sot’s Hole Nature Reserve, B71 4DE

A fabulous circular route starting at Sot’s Hole Nature Reserve, walking through the ancient woodland, looking at wooden statues and various species of plants, leading through to Sandwell Valley Farm seeing cows and horses, before following the path all the way round back to the car. Fields, woodland and kissing gates. Make for some perfect exploring.

If you would like to follow our adventures, you can find us on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter

Beacon Farm: A Slice of Rural Life

Great Barr MagazineNestled at the foot of Barr Beacon is a place that could be described as Aldridge’s ‘best kept secret’ – but it is a hidden treasure that more and more people are discovering.

Beacon Farm, off Beacon Road, has been in the Lilwall family for generations, rearing cattle, breeding pigs and growing produce for local people. Peter Lilwall first took over the farm 35 years ago, after his uncle passed away.

“The buildings were derelict, but Peter spent three months living in a caravan on the site, repairing and rebuilding the place and getting it up and running,” says his wife, Pauline.

“We’ve spent the last 22 years extending and improving the farm to create what it is now.”

The result is a thriving working farm that also supports a number of businesses on the site, selling everything from restored furniture to bicycles – but it’s the farm’s own butcher’s shop that has developed a following of loyal customers who are willing to travel miles to buy quality, farm-reared meat.

“We rear cattle on the farm and breed pigs too – all fed on grain that we mill ourselves – which means that the meat we sell in our butcher’s shop is incredibly high quality,” Pauline said.

“Most of our trade comes from word-of-mouth, and people keep coming back once they have tried our produce.”

The butcher’s shop sells meat products, black pudding, bacon, pork pies, fresh eggs and pork to die for.

The farm also has a popular grocery business, selling vegetables grown on the site alongside fresh produce brought in daily from wholesalers.

The COVID pandemic has had a positive effect on the farm’s trade, bringing new interest in quality food.

“During lockdown our trade in the butcher’s shop trebled,” Pauline said, “and now we find we have retained a lot of those new people.

“I think a lot of people didn’t want to queue in supermarkets to buy their food and, if you compare our meat to what you might buy in a large supermarket it really is superior. So I think the lockdown changed people’s shopping habits in a good way.”

Those changing habits have also introduced a new kind of customer to the delights of Beacon Farm.

“We have always had a lot of older customers – some have been coming here or 20 years – but we are now seeing a lot more younger people coming here too,” Pauline said.

“Young people these days care so much about what they eat, and I think they can see that the food we sell here is high quality.”

Throughout the pandemic, the farm has stuck to all the strict guidelines laid down by the Government, following hygiene rules, restricting the numbers of people in the shops at any time and practising social distancing.

All of this has been carefully overseen by staff who pride themselves on friendly, welcoming and homely customer service.

“People have been very understanding,” Pauline said, “they have been amazingly supportive.”

Perhaps the most unusual thing about Beacon Farm is its location – a slice of rural life right on the doorstep of the urban West Midlands.

The couple’s two sons live in Sutton, while their daughter lives in Little Aston.

“I think we get the best of both worlds living here,” Pauline said. “If I look out of any of our windows, the view is trees and countryside, but at the same time we are just a short drive away from Aldridge, Walsall, Sutton and Birmingham.

“I suppose that’s why people are often so surprised when they first discover us. We quite often get a new customer who says: ‘you know, I’ve lived around here all my life, and I had no idea this farm was here!’”

Thanks to the quality food they produce and the recommendations of loyal customers, it seems more and more people are discovering the secret of Beacon Farm.


Tackling Loneliness Locally

Aldridge MagazineTackling lonliness locally is difficult in a normal year. The onset of winter, dark evenings and Christmas are when many people, especially the elderly, feel loneliness and isolation most acutely. Before the Covid pandemic research was already showing that loneliness and isolation was on the rise.  Now as we enter another national lockdown the impact on the health and well-being of the elderly is incalculable.

Tackling Lonliness Locally

In September 2018 Age UK published their report on Loneliness in Later Life. Follow this link to access the report https://www.ageuk.org.uk/latest-press/articles/2018/october/all-the-lonely-people-report/

Two of the main findings were firstly, there will be a predicted 49% increase in the number of over 50s suffering from loneliness by 2025/2026. Mostly because people are living longer.  Secondly, the research found the risk of being ‘often lonely’ is much higher among people who are widowed, do not have someone to open up to, or are in poor health.

A couple of years ago Walsall Council held a meeting for local residents. The over-reliance on the internet as a source of information was identified as an issue.  At The Pioneer and Great Barr Gazette we agree. If you are not on the internet or IT savvy, this can lead to feeling isolated and cut off from the rest of the world. Yes, we do have our website, but we are passionate about our printed community magazines. We know our magazines provide a life-line of information for many of the elderly residents of Aldridge, Walsall and across our area.

Covid-19 has made 2020 a horrible year.  The cancellation of clubs and events. The day care services provided by organisations such as the Stan Ball Centre in Bloxwich, disrupted. Many of which have only just re-opened, has been a grave cause for concern. People, especially the elderly and those caring for others, rely on these activities for companionship and support.

Help Is At Hand

We believe it is our mission to inform and involve everyone of all ages, but especially the elderly, in what is going on in our local community. Throughout the Covid pandemic we have published articles on many local support groups. Such as Linking Lives Aldridge and Making Connections Walsall and how they have adapted to deliver their services either on the phone or in Covid-safe ways. We’ve also promoted community groups such as the Anvil Chorus in Great Barr and The Aldridge Shed to name but two.

The Community Support organisations in our local area have been outstanding in reaching out the vulnerable and elderly. Here are a few organisations you can contact for help. You can always phone us on 01922 660022 and we will signpost you to someone who can help you.

Linking Lives Aldridge – a befriending service offering friendship and support across Aldridge. Email Aldridge@linkinglives.uk or call 07307 865973

Making Connections Walsall – aiming to address loneliness and social isolation and other issues you may be facing. To discuss or make a referral ring 0121 380 6690

The Stan Ball Centre – a community centre for older and vulnerable adults operated by the local charity Bloxwich Community Partnership. Call 01922 403351

The Aldridge Shed – a UK initiative for people from all walks of life to come together to pursue their interests and hobbies. www.aldridgeshed.co.uk or contact Barrie on 07985 188256

If you are feeling lonely please do not suffer in silence, reach out to any of the organisations above and the many others in our area, some are listed on our Communities Directory.  And to all local residents look out for each other and especially the elderly at this challenging time.

Yours locally

Editor Great Barr Gazette

Aldridge Shed Is Back In Business

Aldridge ShedAldridge Shed has opened its doors once more, albeit with Covid restrictions in place.

The Shed is part of a UK initiative which sees people from all walks of life coming together to pursue practical interests and hobbies.

Community and individual projects are undertaken with members sharing tools, skills and resources whilst enjoying the friendly social environment.

The thriving group from Aldridge meets on a regular basis to design, construct and repair various items, mainly from wood but also from other materials.

The Shed is currently open on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday with two sessions per day.

Attendance is currently by booking only so for more information visit www.aldridgeshed.co.uk or contact Barrie on 07985 188256.

The New Chapter

Walsall Wood LibraryDo you remember what it was like the first time you visited a library as youngster – the rows upon rows of books with colourful covers?

Using your local library used to be a part of growing up, where you were introduced to the joys of the written word. With budget cutbacks and changes in reading habits, the traditional library is under threat – but a pioneering project in Walsall Wood is planning to change all that.

Called ‘The New Chapter’, a new community-based library is now taking shape thanks to the efforts of a team of like-minded volunteers.

Based in a former dance studio opposite the Baron’s Court Hotel in Walsall Wood, the library will be the latest addition to a venue which is fast becoming a new community hub for the area.

“The whole thing came about because the Navy Cadets decided to take on this big unit for their meetings,” said 41-year-old Lee Wadlow, one of the people behind the project.

“It’s a fantastic space, which used to be a dance studio, and the cadets realised it was much bigger than what they needed, so we decided to open it up for more community groups to use, to make sure it was used to its full potential and help cover the costs.”

After the cadets got their new home ship-shape, they have welcomed all kinds of new users. It is regularly used by play groups, a gaming club, a karate school and even a Spiritualist medium.

There are plans to eventually get a licence to hire out the venue, which has a capacity of 180 people, for events. An application for charitable status could also be on the cards.

But the ground-breaking plan to create a vibrant new library at the site will be a big step in making it a true hub for the whole community.

“It’s something that is needed,” Lee said, “and the response we have had from the community has been incredible.

“Beverley Ricketts, who is one of the team on the Action Group behind the project, raised the point that some children don’t own any books or have easy access to them.

“Because of cuts to library services and school funding, children are less likely to experience books in the same way as previous generations, and we wanted to do something to put that right.

“But it’s also about creating a more vibrant library environment, which is more fun, active and less stuffy. We want to have visits by authors, popular characters and storytellers. Some local teachers have also said they would like to get involved to support children as they discover the books.

“And, of course, we will also be catering to adults and older people to provide the books they would like to read. We want this to be a library for everyone.”

After appealing for help, hundreds of books of all kinds have been donated. Brownhills company Laptop Trader has donated computers while Aldridge’s Best Bind have provided rugs for the venue. Volunteers are building bookshelves. The New Chapter, which only a few weeks ago was suggested in a meeting, is now coming together thanks to a huge community effort.

“We had our first delivery the other day of 600 books – really great quality books too – and members of the public have donated hundreds more,” Lee said.

“There’s a very determined team of people behind this who really want to see it succeed. We decided at the start that we would form an Action Group, not a committee, because we wanted to get things done rather than sit around talking about what we could do.”

Lee hopes the community hub and library will help provide an outlet for the energies of young people in the area.

“People often say that there’s not enough for young people to do these days,” he said. “When I was a kid there were youth clubs that you could go to, where you could do things for free, meet your friends and generally find a more constructive thing to do with your time than walking the streets.

“We really hope that all of this will provide Walsall Wood’s kids with somewhere they can go like that, whether it’s through the Cadets, the library or one of the other groups that use the site.”

Plans for Walsall Wood’s new library has already been noticed in other communities, and Lee believes the idea could be repeated elsewhere.

“The social aspect of a community library can benefit all kinds of communities, from places like Walsall Wood to small villages,” Lee said. “If The New Chapter works here then it could be rolled out anywhere. Who knows, pretty soon we could be working on Chapter Two!”

Get involved!

  • Pop in for a coffee and use our library/hub
  • Spare time? Volunteers are most welcome
  • Suggestions? If you have ideas for fund raising or how to include all areas of our community, we’d love to hear from you.

Contact Petty Officer Stroud 07594 284399

Perry Barr Trefoil Guild Rallies The Troops

Perry Barr Local Magazine
Member Beryl Bailey with some of the baby hats for City Hospital

Like other organisations and clubs, Perry Barr Trefoil Guild has been in lockdown since the middle of March.  Although they have not been able to meet, they have certainly been very busy.  Not many days in, they were asked to ‘rally the troops’ as an urgent call came for laundry bags for nurses.  Over 300 have been sewn, washed and delivered to Queen Elizabeth, Sandwell, City Coronary Care, Russells Hall, Good Hope, George Elliott, New Cross and the Women’s Hospitals – some even went as far as Scotland. Mask extenders were also made and sent to hospitals with some of these reaching as far as Canada.

The ladies have also been busy knitting and displaying NHS Rainbows, snowmen for a charity, twiddle muffs for Alzheimer patients, hundreds of baby hats for City Hospital Premature Baby Unit and finally, jumpers and jackets for a children’s charity.

Shopping Bags, lunch bags, bead bags have also been sewn, along with reflection for many, sewing ‘Fleeting Moments’ birds to celebrate John Taylor Hospice 110 years.

And the ladies’ skills don’t stop there. Seeds, plants and vegetables are being grown in many gardens whilst others are just enjoying the lovely sunshine and being out-of-doors.

“This is just a small contribution Perry Barr Trefoil Guild has made during these past few weeks and has been linked into our STARS Trefoil Challenge, with many near completion of their 25 clauses,” said Chairperson Wendy Brown.  “But, most of all, the Guiding spirit has shone through all of our 31 members, albeit helping others, or themselves, and always supporting each other.”

The Dads In Charge Of Lockdown Lessons

Walsall Community
Rob, Isabel & Toby Pearson Get To Grips With A Construction Project

Philosopher George Santayana once remarked that ‘a child only educated in school is an uneducated child.’

With lockdown removing most children from the classrooms, home schooling has been the ‘new normal’ for many.

“Opportunities to learn surround us in everything we do – it doesn’t just happen in school,” explained Head Teacher Helen Wright.

“Give a child your time and attention and they will learn and remember more than they will ever in the classroom.”

Parents across the country have risen to the challenge and we catch up with a couple of local dads in charge of lockdown lessons.

Rob Pearson swapped his day-to-day job as a building maintenance systems engineer for teacher when schools closed down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
His daughter Isabel, who attends Park Hall Infants Academy, enjoyed daily lessons from dad, while his school teacher wife Cassie continued her day job.

As well as the 3 Rs, Rob and Isabel enjoyed regular nature lessons – signing up for a five-week bird-watching survey with the British Ornithological Trust (BTO) and planting flowers and tracking them as they grew.

There was also plenty of play-style learning to help keep Isabel’s three-year-old brother Toby occupied, too.

The pièce de resistance for Rob was the science lessons – making different paper aeroplanes and measuring how far they fly, and building a wind turbine out of tin cans.

“I’ve been wanting to make one for a couple of years and as we had the chance to do it, we made it one of our projects,” said Rob, who was placed on furlough in April.

“Isabel helped where she could, with the gluing, looking at the instructions, and holding the pole in place, but I did the cutting and twisting the blades because the edges were sharp. It’s still in the garden now and looks great. I’ve enjoyed doing it for the past few weeks.”

It was DIY and science that Stuart Webb’s children enjoyed when he supervised their lockdown lessons.

The Aldridge dad of two, who works as a service manager for Walsall Council’s leisure services department, worked throughout the lockdown period, but was able to do the lessons when he took annual leave.

Martha, aged eight and in year four at Cooper & Jordan School, and her brother Henry, who is 11 and in year six at the school, have spent most of their time being supervised by their mother Kelly, who works at Bloxwich Leisure Centre as swimming instructor and receptionist.

But Stuart, who admitted he felt guilty about not being able to dedicate the same time to doing lessons with his children because of working, he ensured he did his bit on his days off.

His favourite project? A challenge from the school to create something from marbles – with his children, they collected old timber from the garage and other bits and bobs to make a pinball machine, which worked brilliantly, he said.

“We came up with the idea and they both did the sawing, drilling and hammering to make it – the kids absolutely loved it,” he said.
In fact, Martha enjoyed woodwork so much she enlisted Stuart to help her make a birdhouse from offcuts of wood.

Stuart also enjoyed a wind power science experiment that the children were asked to do at home, with cardboard, string and a hairdryer.

“We’ve also been on plenty of walks and bike rides, while Henry has been able to practise some cricket as the nets opened at Aldridge Cricket Club,” he added.

Aldridge Fire Cadets: Sparking A Connection

Aldridge Fire CadetsYoungsters with a burning ambition to learn about life as a firefighter are being offered the opportunity to take part in special six-month courses.

Every Thursday night, between 6.15 and 8.45pm, Aldridge Fire Cadets are put through their paces at Aldridge Fire Station under the gaze of former Watch Commander Andrew Dickson assisted by a small dedicated group of fellow volunteer instructors.

“To some of the young people, it can be quite a life-changing experience” he told Pioneer. “Parents sometimes comment on how much more confident, assertive and outgoing their children are after they’ve been on the course.

“But that’s because we teach them discipline and structure and expect them to take responsibility for themselves and their colleagues on the course. We even have a ‘no mobile phone’ policy, when they are here.

“It’s great to see how they develop new social skills over the time they are with us.”

There are 20 boys and girls currently on the course, aged from 11 to 15, who dutifully attend each week and support extracurricular activities.

The course has been running in Aldridge since 2008, initially under the auspices of The Young Firefighters Association and latterly rebranded as Aldridge Fire Cadets in line with the National Fire Cadet scheme.

After an initial three-month course proved a success it was extended to six months, and ever since hundreds of youngsters from Aldridge and the surrounding areas have taken part in a scheme which allows them to experience much of what real firefighters do every day.

“The cadets have their own room at the Fire Station and even their own road-worthy fire engine, which is an older one that is now no longer up-to-date enough for fire crews to use on the front line,” Andrew said.

Andrew, who is 60, retired from the brigade in 2010 following more than 33 years’ service. He has retained his involvement with the cadets and, having kept up his HGV licence, drives them to events in their fire engine.

Those events include appearances at carnivals and fayres, as well as providing support as parking marshals at places like Aldridge Transport Museum.

“We are always out and about helping to raise funds with car washing and bag packing,” Andrew said, “which really helps the cadets develop a sense of community.”

But perhaps the most challenging – and exciting – aspect of the course is the firefighter training that the cadets take part in.

“The cadets get a real taste of life as a firefighter,” Andrew said, “learning drills and how to use the hoses, ladders and pumps.

“Underneath the station is a tunnel that the firefighters use for breathing apparatus practice, and we have created some light-weight plastic sets that the children can wear so they can experience it too.

“They love the challenge of going into the pitch black and finding their way through the tunnel using touch only, wearing the apparatus and full mask.”

The cadets also act as casualties in major training exercises for firefighters.

But safety is the number one priority for the cadets whenever they are engaged in training of any kind.

Out on the yard, it is paramount that they are doing things safely,” Andrew said. “In fact, I purposely have a downtime for 10 minutes every week where they have time to have a chat and a joke around and socialise.

“That way we know that when it’s time to be serious and concentrate they are ready.”

Andrew is very passionate about the scheme, which he describes as ‘shaping young people for adulthood’.

“It teaches then teamwork, builds self-esteem, and also provides an NVQ qualification in Understanding Firefighting, so they have mini lectures and do a little workbook,” he explained.

The course is even set up to accommodate youngsters who do not read and write well, still allowing them to get the qualification and certificate.

At the end of the six-month period, the cadets have a Passing Out parade, where all their family and friends are invited, along with the Mayor of Walsall, and dignitaries from the Brigade. There is also an award for the best cadet on the course.

But perhaps the clearest evidence of the course’s success is the number of cadets who have gone on to become real firefighters.

“There are some that enjoy the six-month experience for what it is,” Andrew said, “and then others who actually develop a real passion for joining the brigade.

“I have had a few that have gone through the course, and then when they have reached 16, have been invited back to be junior instructors, then become adult instructors with me, and then applied to the brigade and become firefighters.

“I follow their pathway, and some of them that have done the course are well into their twenties now and serving as firefighters.”

It seems that while all of Andrew’s cadets are reshaped in some way by six months under his tutelage at Aldridge Fire Station, for a few the experience sparks a connection with firefighting that simply can’t be extinguished.

Further information:



Community Spirit: Alive and Kicking

High Heath Community Hub
High Heath Hub

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.”