West Midlands post-lockdown recovery groups acclaimed

Winners of competition to help boost communities announced.

The winners of a Dragons Den-style competition to help local communities build back better have been announced.

In February, the West Midlands Combined Authority launched the Community Recovery Innovation Challenge, which offered anyone with innovative ideas to help local areas recover from the effects of the pandemic support, worth a total of £55,000.

Out of over 130 entries the three winners have been announced and each will receive up to £15,000 worth of tailored support to help them take their project to the next stage of development.

Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands said: “Whilst we know how critical it is to get our region’s economy motoring again and get people who have fallen out of employment back into work, we must also make sure that communities are at the heart of our post-pandemic recovery. That’s why we launched the Community Recovery Innovation Challenge to help support some of the best ideas, and we have been incredibly impressed by some of the plans people have to support their local communities.

“Congratulations to our winners and the twenty runners up who are all developing exciting and innovative ways to support their communities recover from the effects of the pandemic, and I look forward to seeing all these projects develop over the coming weeks and months.”

The successful projects were chosen for their potential to address at least one of twelve categories including debt, domestic violence, mental health and support for grassroots culture, art and sport.

One of the three winning projects is husband and wife duo Mandeep and Prabs Johal (pictured) of Wolverhampton who are planning a series of pop-up neighbourhood fitness hubs in the city’s parks and green spaces to tackle low levels of physical activity. Wolverhampton has the lowest level of activity across the West Midlands and the project aims to tackle this threat to health.

Prabs said: “Our project aims to empower local communities to live healthy and active lifestyles and increase access to fitness activities within small neighbourhoods, overcoming barriers of people having to travel out to fitness centres.

“We are passionate about societal transformation and with the funding we aim to deliver projects that see local communities thrive – especially as we build back from the pandemic.”

Also winning a package of support is Baby Aid Birmingham, a baby bank which operates like a food bank by providing emergency support in the form of essentials such as baby food, clothes, toiletries, and equipment. BAB set up at the start of March 2020, due to the pandemic, but as the need is still high, they are looking to expand their service.

The third winner is the Birmingham Playhouse who propose to run a programme of storytellers in-residence in early years settings. The project aims to support the bridging of the attainment gap which has been increased by Covid due to the disruption to children’s development in early years settings.

In addition, twenty runners up will receive awards worth £500 each to support their projects. The winners and runners-up were all invited to an innovation masterclass to help them figure out the next steps in turning their ideas into reality. The masterclass was organised by the Combined Authority in partnership with Power To Change, which supports community businesses in England, and started with an opening statement from the Mayor.

Ailbhe McNabola, director of policy at Power to Change said, “We’re delighted to be hosting this masterclass to support so many innovative groups to take action in their local area. Community action has been at the heart of tackling the pandemic, and it’ll be at the heart of the recovery because local people know what is most needed.”

The competition is one of the activities being organised by the West Midlands Recovery Coordination Group, which was formed in June 2020 to address the wider social and community issues arising from the pandemic and to identify the steps towards recovery. In November 2020 the group produced a Community Recovery Roadmap following input from communities. It set out the challenges faced by the region but also the imaginative ways that communities have started to build resilience during the pandemic. Many of the examples of good practice were immediate responses to the crisis, and some have the potential to help the region build back better in the long term.

Cllr Maria Crompton, WMCA portfolio lead for public service reform and social economy, and deputy leader of Sandwell Council said: “The pandemic has taken its toll on our region and our communities have suffered, but this competition will help empower our communities to boost our region. There have been some creative ideas put forward and I’m excited to watch their progress over the next few months.”

The twenty runners-up are:

Youth Enterprise, Birmingham
Unitopia, Solihull
The Garden of Hope, Coventry
Savitri 2021-2, Birmingham
Refugee digital inclusion, Wolverhampton
Reading with Confidence, Birmingham
Play Attention, Birmingham
Phoenix Inspiration -Young Writer’s Development Programme, Walsall
Online Music Resources, Solihull
Nourish Social, Solihull
Friends of Georges Park, Birmingham
Empowering the next generation through the arts and mental well-being, Birmingham
Getting Through This, Birmingham
Core Skill, Birmingham
Community Orchard Project, Birmingham
Chatter Bus, Walsall
Bouncing Back Together, Birmingham
Birmingham Energy Initiative – Educating Energy, Warwickshire / Warwick
Aspiring Black Lawyers, Birmingham
#YourMindMatter- Be Mental Health Inclusive, Birmingham