2024 is a significant year for Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) as we celebrate our 30th anniversary, and what a remarkable 30 years it’s been. From a local Resident’s Association, hastily formed to take control of their own destiny, growing into a renowned community landlord with 200+ homes and a dynamic Community Association that holds people and places at the heart of everything it does.

The story of WLCA from 1994 to 2024 is nothing short of incredible and there is one person that has been instrumental throughout these years, weaving her way through each chapter with foresight, dedication, perseverance and sense of adventure. Let us introduce you to Linda Hines, MBE, Resident Director/Chair of Witton Lodge Community Association.

A lifelong resident of Erdington, Linda’s life changed in 1989 with a letter from Birmingham City Council advising her (and many other local residents) that the structure of their homes was failing and in need of significant renovations. The homes in question were called “Boot” houses, named after the builder, Sir Henry Boot who produced an estimated 50,000 houses between the end of World War I and the start of World War II. Due to a shortage of bricks, boot houses were built using precast reinforced clinker columns during construction, however structural tests in the 1980s revealed significant deterioration in the concrete.

The letter, along with further correspondence from the council, offered the Boot House residents a deal, for those who owned their house, to sell their homes to the council on the proviso they would be renovated to a good standard and rented back to the families. However just 12 months later, Birmingham City Council made the devastating decision to demolish the Boot Houses due to the financial cost of the renovations. Within 24 hours, a group of residents joined forces to form a Residents Association and forge a way forward to protect their best interests as well as those of the wider community.

In 1991, Linda, a shy young woman, dedicated to caring for her disabled husband and children made the fateful decision to join the Resident’s Association. This simple act helped Linda find her voice, confidence, and unlock her unwavering passion for community.

Taking inspiration from the Stockfield Community Association in Acock’s Green who, facing similar issues to the Boot Houses, were managing the redevelopment of their estate, the determined residents of Perry Common felt confident that they could do the same, and they did not disappoint. Taking advice and inspiration from the people of Stockfield, in 1994, with eight representatives from the Residents Association becoming founding directors, Witton Lodge Communication Association was born. Over the course of the next 20 years, with mortgages agreed, they built a range of high standard homes, or as Linda says “Homes good enough for our moms! Everything we did was built with this ethos and if we felt we had achieved that, it was a job well done!”

The Directors of Witton Lodge Community Association put their heart and soul into the redevelopment of each area, prioritizing the voices and needs of their tenants every step of the way. By actively listening to feedback and implementing it into future stages of development, they communicated a clear message that their residents were heard, valued, and supported.

Linda says of that time “It really was amazing what we achieved. I believe there are gems in every day, and we’ve had many of them over the years. We learnt as we went along but always trusted our instinct that residents knew what was best for our own community. There were so many wonderful achievements over the years, and we celebrated every single one. Of course, it was a huge undertaking with lots of lessons learnt, but the sense of pride and unity we cultivated made every challenge worth it.”

In 2010 they acquired Perry Common Community Hall as one of the first community asset transfer from Birmingham City Council, renovating it to create a vibrant community hub that offered a wide range of weekly clubs and events. The hall now acts as the main office for WLCA, complementing their three other venues operating across the area, Sycamore Court, Witton Lakes Eco Hub, and Erdington Health & Wellbeing Hub.

Over the years WLCA continued to grow and develop and in 2012 a pivotal move was made to recruit key staff to help drive the organisation forward into a new era. This included the appointment of Chief Officer Afzal Hussain who, with Linda by his side, has been at the helm for twelve years, successfully growing WLCA into the dynamic community organisation it is today.

Currently, the Association owns and manages over 200 homes for social and market rent, fostering close relationships with tenants to ensure their needs are met. Additionally, WLCA envisioned, built and manages Sycamore Court, a purpose-built Independent Living Scheme comprising 40 self-contained apartments. This innovative facility not only offers residents comfortable living spaces but also provides direct access to communal facilities, promoting independence and community engagement.

Excited to bolster their holistic approach through new environmental endeavours, WLCA, in partnership with the local community set their sights on the old parkkeeper’s cottage in Witton Lakes Park as an opportunity for redevelopment and the creation of a much-needed environmentally focused community facility.

Acquiring the cottage through a Community Asset Transfer from the Birmingham City Council, the Association embarked on a journey to transform the space and despite challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, the team persevered with their vision, opening Witton Lakes Eco Hub in April 2022 ensuring its energy needs are sustainably met using air-source heat pumps and solar energy.  (The beautifully designed hub boasts a large hall, meeting rooms, a community café, outdoor classroom, and cycle hub, all designed to serve the diverse needs of the community). The Velvet Community Orchard in the grounds of the Eco Hub serves as a testament to community collaboration, where local volunteers grow produce for the benefit of all. Through innovation, perseverance, and community spirit, Witton Lakes Eco Hub stands as a symbol of progress and possibility, enriching the lives of residents and fostering a sustainable future for generations to come.

Beyond bricks and mortar, WLCA offers a range of flourishing community services designed to support the local estate and the wider community of North Birmingham. From employment and skills programs to health and wellbeing initiatives, every service is tailored to meet the diverse needs of residents, ensuring that no one is left behind.

“We are ordinary people doing extraordinary things” says Linda. “I made the decision many years ago to commit my time as a volunteer. I speak my mind and challenge people – respectfully of course and it gets results. I will never promise something I can’t deliver, and I expect others to do the same. What we do matters, and the people matter, and we must always keep that at the forefront of any decisions we make.”

Linda’s emergence as a community figurehead in Erdington means she is in demand to lend her voice to important discussions around the power of community. She was recently asked to be a member on the Community Wealth Commission developing the ‘Unleashing Community Ownership’ report, an insightful and thought-provoking document that, if followed, will do much to unlock the huge potential of community ownership and power across the country.

Linda expressed her pride as a Commissioner, “I was so proud to part of this much-needed conversation and resulting report. Community ownership will support individuals to have a voice and a stake in their living environments. This approach not only fosters individual empowerment but also contributes to the overall growth and sustainability of communities.”

WLCA’s mission is to cultivate vibrant, thriving communities where every member feels valued, supported, and empowered to contribute to the collective well-being. Linda’s story serves as a testament to the transformative power of community engagement, and it fuels  commitment to creating a better future for all.

The most recent feather in Linda’s cap includes the significant announcement that the former and now derelict swimming baths in Erdington has received the green light to be transformed into a state-of-the-art Community & Enterprise Hub, with £4m investment secured to allow work to start later this year. Linda alongside Chief Officer Afzal Hussain and the team at WLCA worked tirelessly to plan and get this much-needed project over the line and to say it will be a game changer for Erdington High Street is no understatement.

As Linda said about this decision that was announced on 20th March 2024, “Perseverance and fun are underrated but it’s what we do. It’s all about the long game for us, things take time, but you must always have faith. We’re all on this journey together and it all works out in the end.“ Never a truer word said.