8/30/2015

BALSALL HEATH FORUM

Balsall Heath Forum
History
Balsall Heath was a white working class neighbourhood close to the centre of Birmingham. Its residents lived in back to back terraced houses. But it was a cohesive and strong community.
Then the planners got to work, knocked 30% of the houses down, built some high rise blocks and broke up the old community. Many residents moved to outer ring council estates, leaving space for newcomers from the West Indies, Africa and the Indian sub-continent. The newcomers were isolated and lonely. Crime and prostitution spread until by 1980 over 450 prostitutes and 30 pimps dominated the street corners.
Balsall Heath’s name became associated with blight, decay & depression. Anyone with ambition left. The area hit rock bottom.
 A few who stayed behind resolved to make a difference. At first, they asked the authorities to improve their quality of life. But, the answer which came back was: “Sorry. It’s all too bad. There’s nothing we can do. If you don’t like it, move.”
Many of those who could afford to move did so. But, of those who stayed behind, at first a few, then more and more resolved to try to make a difference themselves. It wasn’t easy and there were not quick fixes.
It has taken 25 years to re-build a new community in place of the old one. Today, there are 20% white people, 20% black, 60% Asian. But, they know and support each other, & have faced down and got rid of street corner prostitution. House prices are rising. People want to stay. The area is green, clean and desirable.
The modern story of Balsall Heath tells the tale of recovery, of moving from blight to brightness. This web-site tells that story, and describes the transformation of Balsall Heath. It explains how others can do likewise.

Balsall Heath Forum
Twenty five years a go, a few intrepid people formed a ‘Building a Better Balsall Heath’ campaign. The leading lights included representatives from a Mosque, Anglican and Methodist churches, and a voluntary organisation. They were joined by a Trades Unionist and half a dozen residents.
Together, they made progress in changing the image of the area, forming and representing the local voice to ‘the powers that be’, helping organise a mid -summer carnival, starting & contributing to a community newspaper.
They achieved a number of successes and eventually decided to become a Company Limited by Guarantee and to be called the Balsall Heath Neighbourhood Forum.
In 1992 the first elections to the Forum’s executive were held. Today, out of a population of 15,000 with 9,000 of voting age, some 1,000 are members and 600 take part in the annual vote. There are 12 resident elected members, 6 residents who represent voluntary and faith organisations and 4 who are co-opted.
 In 1992, there were no employees. All the efforts of the Forum were voluntary. But, so much needed to be done – rubbish and graffiti moved, crime reduced, more people volunteers to be recruited and supported – that it was decided to raise the funds to recruit and manage staff. Today, the voluntary elected committee employs 16 people.

Today, the elected executive, its staff and members undertake these 5 functions:

1. They represent the neighbourhood to itself  and to its statutory service providers.
2. They build the capacity of residents to help themselves to create Social Capital.
3. They deliver some services, in particular safety, environmental and youth    involving ones.
4. They employ a Neighbourhood Manager to help the community and its service providers to join their action up and manage the neighbourhood more effectively.
5. They Guide other Neighbourhoods along the road to recovery and disseminate best practice.