I visited project in 'diverse' Birmingham area where locals are proud despite unwanted headlines

-Credit: (Image: Birmingham Mail)
-Credit: (Image: Birmingham Mail)


It’s quiet and serene as I make my way to the health and community centre in the heart of Ladywood - but inside the building, there’s a small team of volunteers hard at work preparing boxes and food donations. They are the individuals who make up the innovative project known as Incredible Surplus, which intercepts food and other usable materials that would otherwise be thrown away from places such as supermarkets and restaurants.

They then provide them to people and community organisations across Birmingham on a ‘pay as you feel’ basis, covering areas such as Kings Heath, Winson Green and Solihull. Margaret Murray, the Ladywood lead at Incredible Surplus, tells me the project was set up to help those in need and now supports a range of people, adding that anyone can find themselves needing a bit of help.

The boxes are filled to the brim with an array of different food and drink products during my visit, while perhaps more unexpected items such as a buggy had also been donated. The initiative also helps people achieve food hygiene certificates; grows fresh fruit and vegetables; and provides a sense of community for many Ladywood residents, who Margaret says are treated with kindness.

READ MORE: Birmingham campaigners make urgent demand to council over 'lifeline' service

“People get a friendly welcome,” she said. “We know lots of people’s names now - there’s always new people but most people we know by name.

“We are all just in our own heads sometimes but just saying ‘good morning’ or ‘how are you doing’ - that can be quite important, as well as showing a level of respect to people". As grimly seen in other areas of Birmingham and across the country, it remains a tragic fact that there are residents in Ladywood who have found themselves being dragged into poverty.

However, Margaret says the positives of being part of the “diverse and rich community” should not be overlooked either.

“People are proud of being from Ladywood,” she said. “Cost-of-living, rising fuel prices - that is putting a strain on people but that is affecting all communities.”

Incredible Surplus does make it clear to those attending the food distributions that they are not a food bank and they are expected to contribute however they can to the success of the project, whether that’s by donating money, time or skills.

Ladywood Health and Community Centre
Ladywood Health and Community Centre -Credit:Alexander Brock

“The food and items we rescue have value and it costs us to collect them,” the initiative’s website says. “We have vehicles, a warehouse, utilities, insurance, training costs… we can only offer things to those who can’t afford to give us much, if those who can, recognise the value of what we’re doing and give us what they can afford.”

With the general election around the corner, candidates running in the Ladywood constituency have been busy speaking to residents about the changes they would bring to the area. “I do think the government, local authority and NHS needs to be based in the community,” Margaret tells me.

“People need to feel like they’re being listened to". She added that she felt it was important that Incredible Surplus keeps a visible presence in the community in the future.

The general election candidates standing in Ladywood can be found below. Details of their pledges can be found on their party manifestos/websites.

  • Zoe Challenor - Green Party

  • Lee Dargue - Liberal Democrat

  • Shabana Mahmood - Labour

  • Shazna Muzammil - Conservative

  • Akhmed Yakoob - Independent

  • Irene Yoong-Henery - Reform UK

Top row left to right: Green Party's Zoe Challenor, Liberal Democrats' Lee Dargue and Labour's Shabana Mahmood. Bottom row left to right: Conservative's Shazna Muzammil, independent Akhmed Yakoob and Reform's Irene Yoong-Henery. -Credit:Richard Townshend Photography/Anthony Devlin/Getty Images
Top row left to right: Green Party's Zoe Challenor, Liberal Democrats' Lee Dargue and Labour's Shabana Mahmood. Bottom row left to right: Conservative's Shazna Muzammil, independent Akhmed Yakoob and Reform's Irene Yoong-Henery. -Credit:Richard Townshend Photography/Anthony Devlin/Getty Images

Earlier this year, councillor John Cotton, leader of Birmingham City Council, argued poverty levels in Birmingham showed the “shocking reality of 14 years of Conservative rule”. The government said around the same time in January that it was committed to levelling-up “every corner of the UK"

A spokesperson continued it had invested billions to support community regeneration projects, connected 25.7 million premises with gigabit broadband and added that over 50 per cent of England is now covered by a devolution deal. “We have halved the number of people on low pay with increases in the National Living wage and thanks to above inflation increase to tax allowances, we have also saved the average earner over £1,000 a year since 2010,” they continued.

They went on to say the country suffered “two massive global shocks” - the Covid pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, both of which sent economic shockwaves across the world.

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