Substance Abuse – Tackling the Real Problems of Selly Oak

As a Birmingham resident for almost two years now, I can’t help but find that not enough is done to tackle recreational drug use in the city. Although the problem exists in Edgbaston as well as a number of other areas of Birmingham, I am going to talk mainly about Selly Oak, where I currently reside and where a large number of our students live. It is an issue that, I find, has often been overlooked and swept under the carpet rather than being prioritised. For all the highs that can be offered with these substances, there is potential for serious, long-term, negative impacts on your health. In Selly Oak, illegal, recreational drug use is discreet, but widespread. Access to drugs is unbelievably easy and not enough is done to tackle this in our community.

Cannabis use, in particular is quite popular with a lot of students of Edgbaston and Selly Oak, as well as some permanent residents of Selly Oak. But other drugs such as cocaine, ketamine, MCAT, and MDMA are also just a phone-call away. And if that number is engaged? Well there’s about ten other numbers you can try. I guess this blog-post is really a call-to-action for local MPs Steve McCabe and Gisela Stuart, as well as local Councillors, the West Midlands Police, and the University of Birmingham Guild of Students to work together and seriously tackle the issue. Matters such as recycling, burglary, and even poor broadband service are generally prioritised in Selly Oak, and understandably so, but why not drugs?

The negative ramifications that drug use can cause are serious and sometimes irreversible. Whether that be damages to your mental health, your physical health, or even just the increased likelihood of bad things happening when you’re intoxicated, in the long term, substance abuse just isn’t worth it. And financially, take it from an economist, none of this stuff is actually worth the prices that they are sold at; the reason they are priced so high is because they are illegal. The money would be better spent on clothes, books, or even food rather than blindly investing money with questionable characters. A lot of extremist groups and terrorist groups are known to be funded by narcotic drugs trade – another reason right there to tackle the issue.

A lot of people take drugs though in Selly Oak, even people you wouldn’t normally suspect, and it is a very tough problem to tackle, of course it is. However, I am only going to suggest one method for these community powers-at-be to use, and that is to educate students about the negative effects of drugs. In my view, education is often a remedy to a lot of the world’s problems and I think education in this situation could do a great deal of good. Ideally, I would like there to be termly anti-drugs campaign weeks at the University as well as public information campaigns in Selly Oak. A lot of people won’t pay attention, sure, that is to be expected, but even if one or two people are turned away from substance abuse, it would be worth it. As it is now, there simply isn’t enough being done.

This isn’t an exaggeration or an over-dramatisation of the issue, it’s real and it’s happening. I want to make it clear, however, that this isn’t any kind of moral judgement on my behalf, no one is perfect, and I am certainly no angel myself. It is a serious issue in Selly Oak though, and I am positive that the problem is replicated in other areas of Birmingham. In schools, children are educated about these sorts of issues, and rightly so, but at University, where students are most exposed to the problem, there is next to nothing in terms of education and campaigning. Substance abuse can have short-term, medium-term, and long-term negative effects on individuals, and I guess I hope that the local council hopefuls, our Parliament representatives, and our upcoming Guild of Students Officer Team prioritise this issue in the coming years. Even if helps just one person.

By Areeq Chowdhury, Secretary-elect.


Local elections: our candidates

As we all know, the London mayoral election is quickly approaching. The two front-runners, and perhaps the candidates who are of most importance to us Labour lot, are well known: Ken Livingstone, the famous collector of lizards, and Boris Johnson, the living incarnation of a 15th century duke.

However, whilst these candidates have received plenty of media coverage, it remains that others have been pushed into the background. So what I want to – very briefly – highlight, are a couple of local council candidates in Birmingham.

BULS has, in the last year, been very active in the local area. Last year, Edgbaston council candidate Dennis Minnis lost by only 21 votes. This year, he is standing again, and BULS has been behind him 100%. A few weeks ago, a few of us went out on a Saturday to talk to local residents with Dennis. As we were walking down Charlotte Road (not too far from the Vale), Dennis told us that in the early 1990s, he won a large redevelopment fund for the street. Before, he said, there were partially deserted and dilapidated high rise buildings. These tower blocks are now gone, and the street looks entirely different (there’s even a nice playground there, where Catie Garner, our incoming Chair, got very distracted with the shiny swing sets). Dennis is incredibly passionate about his local community, and this is just one example of the astounding work that he has done in the past.

Another candidate who I would like to quickly mention is Elaine Williams, the council candidate for Harborne ward. Unlike Dennis, she has never been a councillor before, but is by no means any less passionate. I met Elaine last October, and have been out campaigning for her ever since. Recently, she wrote in Harbone Local News about the local elections ( On page 15, she talks about the work she has done in the last few months for Harborne. One point she highlights concerns the sale of the Clock Tower on Harborne High Street, a former local community centre. In short, the grade II listed building was in need of repair, and the local Tories commissioned the erection of scaffolding on the building. Along with James McKay, the only Labour councillor in Harborne, Elaine found through an FOI request that the scaffolding cost around £12,000 a week. They then subsequently found an alternative quote of £2,000 a week, which was ignored by the Tories. Within no time, the debt quickly amounted to around £800,000. Recently, the centre was sold for £100,000, effectively meaning that £700,000 of local taxpayers’ money was lost. As James said in a radio interview, you’d be hard pressed to find a flat for £100,000 in the centre of Harborne, let alone a grade II listed building.

It’s also worth having a look at this – – to see more about the work she’s done regarding the Clock Tower (scandal). 

As one of the most talked about issues in Harborne, Elaine has been at the forefront of the debate. Like Dennis, she has been passionate about local issues, and would no doubt do a fantastic job as Harborne’s second Labour councillor.

This is my first blog, and as boring as it might be, I really wanted to highlight this issue. Whilst other political issues like the London mayoral election and the Birmingham Mayoral referendum are at the forefront of the news, dedicated individuals like Dennis and Elaine are hardly talked about. Of course, I’m not surprised, but I wanted this rant to provide some needed attention to our local candidates. It’s easy for these candidates to be lost in the political mix, but with the local elections dawning on Thursday 3rd May, I wanted to quickly show that councillors can make a difference, and that these candidates will make a difference if elected.

By Ed Gilbert, Vice-Chair-elect

The Last Chapter for Libraries?

It was reported this week that our dear PM performed yet another U-turn (to add to the ever-growing list, which includes forests, school sports and even getting Larry the Cat) on the proposal to close a local library in his Witney constituency by Oxfordshire County Council, as reported in this week’s Independent on Sunday.

Not only is this flagrant hypocrisy given the closure of libraries on which local communities depend up and down the country, it is also ‘pork-barrelling’ of the lowest kind and an example that we are not in fact “all in this together”. The prospect of libraries being closed by local authorities who are facing savage cuts is deeply depressing – I, like so many other young people, relied on my local library for computer access growing up, but more importantly I was regularly able to borrow up to ten books at a time (some regrettably I forgot to return), discovering chuldren’s favourites like Jacqueline Wilson, Roald Dahl and Mark Twain in the process, alongside history books and encyclopaedias.

Not only is it divisive and running directly against the government’s intentions to mend our apparently ‘broken’ society, it is morally wrong to target the cuts on the poorest, the elderly and most importantly children, who have no vote and no say in how resources are allocated. Priorities have to be made, but library closures cannot even be justified on crude market terms, because they are still being used widely and are a lifeline for so many. It seems that the local lending library could be nearing its epilogue if we do nothing about it, with disastrous consequences for childhood literacy and social mobility.


Dick Knowles

Sir Dick Knowles, former Labour leader of Birmingham City Council, died yesterday at the age of 90.
Dick was leader of the Labour Group from 1984 to 1993, and brought in many of the changes which saw Birmingham get back on its feet and feel the sense of pride in itself that many regarded as lacking throughout the country but especially in Birmingham during the mid 1980s.  Dick took over the leadership of the council at a time when much of the country and especially areas like Birmingham were on their knees, with average unemployment throughout the city of 25%, rising to 50% in some wards.  Despite a lack of support from the Thatcher government, the Labour administration, under Dick’s leadership, pushed forward plans for the ICC, undoubtedly planting the seed for the vast regeneration that Birmingham City Centre has enjoyed over the last 10-15 years.
Dick lived with his wife, Anne, in Bartley Green, the Birmingham City Council ward for which I was candidate last year.  Even at the age of 90, Dick’s drive and enthusiasm never ceased to amaze me.  He and Anne embodied what it means to me to be a member of the Labour Party – the true spirit of comradeship, and the tremendous will to fight against the nasty side of politics that we see all too often in Birmingham.  Even at the age of 90, Dick could still stuff envelopes faster than I could deliver them.
As a true comrade (who would address you as such, and never flinch when you returned the compliment, as so many of today’s Labour Party members might), Dick will be sadly missed, and Birmingham University Labour Students conveys its most deepest sympathies to Anne and the family.

Love Selly Oak? Become a Community Warden!

One of the Guild’s great sucess stories from the last couple of years has been its community warden scheme. This pioneering initiative has seen a number of students appointed to address the problems faced by the population of this highly dense student area, and to improve the sometimes strained realtions between students and permanent residents.

 This year the scheme is exanding and the Guild are looking for twelve new wardens to take the scheme forward. If you want to make a difference in our community and give something back to Selly Oak check out the job description and apply!