Tag: Community Lovers

Community Lovers Tour Of Birmingham: Emma Woolf – Friends Of Cotteridge Park

Cotteridge Park is the second stop with our guests from Holland and it was a beautiful day for a walk in Park, and weren’t the only ones to think so.

We arrived to find Emma Woolf of Friends of Cotteridge Park elbow deep in wood chippings in the Forest School with a group of girls from a nearby school.
Cotteridge Park

The Forest school is just one feature the group have introduced since they became involved with the park – You can read about that in their chapter here:

But essentially, Emma tells us, It’s all about forging partnerships with volunteers, local schools and the local community. Today in the forest school, Year 9 field volunteers have helped create a path around the area using wood chippings from the railway that runs alongside the site, Contractors were there over the weekend cutting back and chipping  the trees from over the tracks, “Can you chuck that over here?” Emma asked them, so they did and now it’s been put to good use.

Cotteridge Park

They’ve also been cutting back the willow to make archways along the paths. The girls, Emma notes, like the craftier stuff and the boys, who usually come along to help Sunday mornings, like the heavier work like turning compost. Wendy, one of the other volunteers at the park, remarked of the paths the group were creating, the girls do curved lines the boys would have done straight ones.

Cotteridge Park

Working Together

We run the park in partnership with the local authority. They own it and they deal with the day to day upkeep so we can innovate. For instance one project is around outdoor excersize. Adults and children working out together in the park … this works on all levels but most of all because there is no funding for pretty green spaces but there is for health. Parks are outdoor gyms, we can keep people healthy and make our groups sustainable by applying for grants for things like walking groups, running groups etc…

Cotteridge Park

We have 20 volunteers who help out regularly, but in addition to that we have 700 on our email list and different people get involved at different times. They are more likely to come along if it’s something they’re interested in and that’s ok. We’d rather they come an do a bit of something they like, be that weeding or building, than feel obliged to do something the don’t like and not want to come back again. in addition to these volunteers and our daily visitors, 5000 come annually to COCOMAD and we make the whole event free as far as possible.

Involved community

Cotteridge Park
Not everyone likes what we do, Some people think us working here brings people in and in turn causes anti social behaviour, but we think the opposite is true. Having people here using the park deters ASB and on the whole the community are proud of the park as they’ve done it themselves.

Even the kids get involved with things like litter picking and we hold regular spray paint workshops that they attend, decorating the park for themselves so we have very little problems with graffiti.

The pride the community have in their park really showed when we had our Green flag judging – the place had never looked so tidy, everyone was out in force picking up rubbish and making sure we looked our best.


(Paraphrased from the questions and answers with the visitors)

How does the partnership work out?

A. It’s been nothing but positive, we have a really good relationship with our park manager. We have a good understanding of their position, they’re restricted by funding so can’t do it all, but we can get them to support us. We can fund-raise and apply for funding to make things happen where they can’t and that works for all of us.

For instance the land for the Forest school we bought for £7000, £4000 raised by collections. £3000 donated. We bought it and then handed over the ownership to the local authority for the people of Cotteridge.

What do you fund-raise for?

A. Everything needs funds, be it the tennis courts need relaying, or for new the benches. Then there’s the festival we apply for grants, ask local business and have buckets in the park.

Is this your full time job?

A. No I’m a volunteer, it takes up time  – but it’s a break away from my day job and I enjoy it. I get to play outside all day, in my wellies. I probably spend up to 2 days time working on the park, but I’ve now become involved in a city wide network “Birmingham Open Spaces Forum” which involves and supports other groups and that takes up some more of my time too.

Cotteridge Park

Community Lovers Tour of Birmingham: Tom Baker – Loaf

Loaf is the first of our stops today and the first thing you notice walking in is the smell – it’s delicious. The smell of bread breaking coupled with the warmth ovens and the mismatched furniture welcomes us and the 11 guest from Holland. .

They are in the UK to explore the emergence of civic economy, what it means to individuals and communities. It is a diverse mix of , writers, civil servants and researchers – It is also some of the groups first visit to Birmingham and we greeted them in typical British style….with a cup of builders tea.

Our Dutch visitors at Loaf

Tom started today introducing the story of loaf, talking about its birth from his house – that you can read about in his chapter:

But in short Tom used a model for starting Loaf called Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) – Loaf is the second bakery in the country to use this approach.

Tam Baker - Discussing the roots of Loaf

The “new” home of Loaf – 1421 Pershore Road, was formally a butchers shop, and the changing face of the High Street can be seen by walking down this section of the Pershore Road. A third of the shops are closed, or only open on short term leases which only open for 6 months.

Tom was determined to try and change this so opened his shop in the community that had supported him to start the regeneration of his High Street. The shop was renovated with the help of  a small brewery that was looking to invest in small food and drinks shops and the purchase of the equipment was funded by the sale of bonds in the community, the 6% interest on the bond is paid out in bread!

From the shop Tom runs his cookery school. As well as the original bread courses, there are also classes on pasta making, butchery, knife skills, foraging etc and the classes on offer keeps on diversifying.

Stirchley Stores

Next door to Loaf is a retail space that he’s given over as an incubation space for another local business – the local food cooperative. Stirchley Stores. They are totally reliant on volunteers to run the shop so Tom doesn’t charge them rent, in exchange for the use of the shop they sell Loaf’s bread.

The original members of the bread club (read the chapter to find out about this) and the investors collecting the interest on their bonds drop by the store for their bread and maybe do a bit of shopping ,  it’s also open to the public with the bread available for anyone to buy.

The shops opening hours are different to other conventional stores, adapting so that the bakers don’t need to work through the night and to the needs of the community. Stirchley is quiet during the day but often busy with commuters in the evening, the community soon got used to this change and the store is busy during the week. The only exception to this is Fridays and Saturdays, The bakers work through the night on Fridays so that the store can open on Saturday morning.

Loaf’s mission is to promote good food and healthy living in communities and build community through foods. They’re already reaching these goals, and have lots of other ideas for the future.

In the 3 years Tom has been running Loaf the small bakery movement has exploded , he loves being part of this and keeps in touch with other bakers across the country using social media.


(Paraphrased from the questions and answers with the visitors)

Did you have any problems with the government helping you start?

A. Yes, it was a slow process getting through planning, and they could do a lot more to help support local businesses anyway. We’ve created jobs and inward investment. If they were a little more forward thinking about working with grassroots business we could make a larger impact to the High Street than the big supermarkets can.

Did the council change their opinion when they saw the business?

A. Yes, individual officers have recognized the success and I’ve been invited to talk to their planning department.

Can you tell me something about the influence this has on the wider community?

A. A lot of people now say that when they are in the street or in the park they will recognise people because they see them here. People are making friends with their neighbours who have volunteered in the shop with them. Although there is still a split between the younger and older sides of the community.

It’s hard to know how we are perceived but we try and be as inclusive as possible and we’ve just made links with a local school to invite students and their parents into the shop once a year to see what we’re all about.

What are your plans to grow across Birmingham?
A. I’m not interested in the rest of Birmingham – this is very much a local project for me, My business, my home and my community are all tied into one and getting more important by the day.

We are looking to expand locally and are looking a business plan for a coffee shop on the High Street and my dream is to own a small holding, a farm to reconnect to the land and supply the shop.

Community Lover’s Guide to Birmingham – The Launch

Tonight we’re at ChangeKitchen  for the launch (as opposed to the non launch) a of the Community Lovers Guide to Birmingham –   It’s an opportunity for us to get some of the contributors together and thank them for volunteering their time and their words towards the book., have a few nibbles and some drinks.

You can buy a copy of the book here –  for those who don’t want an object chapters will soon be online.

Nick started the proceedings thanking everyone and introducing Tessy Britton , as really she is the inspiration for the Community Lovers Guide series after she put together Hand Made.

Also here tonight receiving  their copies of the book are Tom Baker from Loaf in Stirchley, Karen Strunks of the 4amProject which started in Birmingham, and Birgit Kehler of ChangeKitchen.

Other contributors who unfortunately couldn’t be here with us are:

Books are available to order now from Blurb, and every chapter will soon be available to read online.