Colors: Red Color

Midlands based Caitroina McCusker has been appointed as the national leader for education to the government leadership team at PwC UK, and brings experience of leading some of the largest digital transformation programmes in higher education institutions (HEIs) in the UK and globally.

With over 20 years’ experience as a business transformation consultant, Cat is at the forefront of PwC’s transformation projects within government and health industries working with major organisations across education, local government, central government, and the police.  Working at a global and local level she helps HEIs to reimagine their student and staff experience.

From aligning costs, to running and delivering large scale technology transformation programmes, Cat works with HEIs to identify and implement the right technology, people strategy and experience. In the last year Cat has been supporting universities across the UK to navigate the challenges of the pandemic - from prioritising mental health and wellbeing services for staff and students, to supporting them in reimagining a new online student experience, their people agenda and realigning costs to deal with huge changes to revenue and cash flow. 

One university providing additional mental health support to students and staff as a result of the effects of the pandemic is Aston University. The university is working with PwC to deliver mental health training to staff and students to help normalise the access to mental health support among peer groups.

Alec Cameron, vice-chancellor of Aston University, said: “We place a great deal of importance on the mental health and wellbeing of our students and staff at Aston. This past year in particular has been an exceptionally challenging time, but our Welfare Team has been working incredibly hard to meet the needs of our students.  Working with PwC has enabled us to extend our offering, giving our academic and professional staff skills to support our students and each other in this increasingly significant aspect of university life.”

Education leader at PwC, Cat McCusker, said: “Increasing concerns are quite rightly being raised around the mental wellbeing of students enrolled in Higher Education as a result of the pandemic. We have seen the focus by universities on the mental wellbeing of students growing for a number of years, however social isolation and reduced access to mental health support during the pandemic has exacerbated the issues facing students.

“Universities have had to react quickly and adapt the support mechanisms on offer to ensure these can be accessed by students on and off campus. PwC has been delivering mental health group training and e-learn sessions to our staff based across the UK. As a firm we recognise the importance of mental health advocacy, so we are building on our long term association with The Samaritans to produce a team activity for Aston University to roll-out with their staff and students.”

Quentin Cole, government & health industries leader at PwC, said: “I am delighted to welcome Cat to the government and health industries leadership team as our education leader. As we move forward from the pandemic, education will play a key role in the economic recovery of the UK as well as enabling the innovation and skills that will allow us to build back better for future generations. Cat brings a wealth of experience to support clients navigating the challenges the pandemic has brought to education, and at a time of rapid transformation for the sector.” 

Cat added: “The opportunities and challenges for HEIs are huge and the sector is at a tipping point. I am excited to be taking on the role as Education Leader at such a crucial time.  The return to education over the coming months will bring challenges for education providers, including the catch-up on missed education and addressing the inequalities the pandemic has exacerbated, such as digital poverty.  Tackling these will require a focus from the sector, business and government to minimise the impact of the pandemic on young people’s mental health and their future career prospects.

“I am pleased to be bringing new thinking to the higher education sector as organisations look to navigate the disruption that COVID-19 has brought and embrace new ways of working.”

Former Big Brother star Nikki Grahame has died. The TV personality had checked into a private hospital last month as she fought an eating disorder, and friends started a fund-raising page to pay for her treatment.

Grahame's manager confirmed she had died on Friday morning. "Please respect the privacy of Nikki's friends and family at this tragic and difficult time," he added.

The TV personality had checked into a private hospital last month as she fought an eating disorder. In a statement her manager confirmed that Grahame died on Friday morning. "Please respect the privacy of Nikki's friends and family at this tragic and difficult time," he added.

Former Big Brother presenter Davina McCall led the tributes, tweeting: "I am so desperately sad to hear about Nikki Grahame. My thoughts are with her friends and family xx she really was the funniest, most bubbly sweetest girl." Grahame, originally from Northwood in north-west London, took part in the seventh series of Big Brother in 2006. She became known for her tantrums, particularly in the Diary Room.

Grahame would often complain to Big Brother about the conditions in the house or fellow contestants, famously shouting "It's so cold," and, on another occasion, asking "Who is she?" after a new housemate joined the show. She was hugely popular with viewers, and was voted back into the house four weeks after she was first evicted. She subsequently finished in fifth place.

She recently said: "I hold fond memories of Big Brother, even though there were times where it looked like I was having a meltdown.

"Those meltdowns really were me, though. What you see has always been what you get - I can't be any other way." After her appearance on Big Brother, she won a National Television Award for most popular TV contender.

Grahame returned to the house in 2010 to take part in Ultimate Big Brother, the final series of the show to be broadcast on Channel 4. The show saw several popular Big Brother contestants from over the years return to take part in one final series, before it moved to Channel 5. Grahame finished in second place.

By this time, she had developed her career as a popular TV personality, and starred in her own reality TV series called Princess Nikki. She also guest-starred on programmes such as the Friday Night Project and as a contestant on celebrity editions of shows such as Pointless and The Weakest Link.

Prior to finding fame on Big Brother, Grahame was an aspiring actress. She appeared as an extra in the BBC's EastEnders and played a footballer's wife in Sky One's Dream Team.

Grahame also appeared as a contestant on ITV's Blind Date and competed in the 2004 Miss Hertfordshire pageant. She continued her relationship with Big Brother, returning for 2015's ‘Time Warp’ twist on Channel 5, and made a cameo in the final series of Big Brother in 2018.

She also appeared as a "wildcard" housemate in the 2016 series of Big Brother Canada.

Grahame's battle with anorexia was well documented, and she released a book about her eating disorder in 2009. Last month, a fundraising page was set up, asking fans to donate towards her recovery. It eventually raised more than £65,000.

The page said the 38-year-old was in "a very bad way" and needed treatment in a rehabilitation centre. Several Big Brother figures including former winner Rylan Clark-Neal retweeted the appeal for donations. The page was updated to announce the news of Grahame's death.

"It breaks our hearts to know that someone who is so precious was taken from us at such a young age," it said. "Nikki not only touched the lives of millions of people, but also her friends and family who will miss her immensely."

Paying tribute to Grahame on Twitter, Clark-Neal wrote: "Thinking of [Grahame's mother] Susan and Nikki's close friends and family. A Big Brother Icon." TV presenter Paddy McGuinness added: "Definitely one of the stars from the glory years of reality TV. I met her a long time ago and she was a lovely girl. RIP young lady."

Channel 4 tweeted: We are desperately saddened by the tragic news about Nikki Grahame and our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with Nikki's family and friends." Big Brother Canada added: "Our hearts break for the loss of Nikki Grahame. Nikki will forever be a beloved part of the Big Brother family. Rest in peace."

She was 38.

Following his massive breakthrough debut single last year, Wes Nelson returns with another monster hit; the hugely anticipated follow up, ‘Nice To Meet Ya’ featuring rap star, Yxng Bane.
 
With its moody blend of Afrobeats, smooth R&B production and Wes’ infectious melodies, ‘Nice To Meet Ya’ feels like an instant classic; confident, effortless and ridiculously catchy. Written by Wes and produced once again by rising beatmaker, Ayo Beatz (Fredo, Young M.A, KSI), the track delivers on Wes’s promise both as a talented songwriter and vocalist. Featuring Yxng Bane, the East London star had written and recorded his parts within a day of hearing the track.
 
Wes says: "I wanted people to sing Nice To Meet Ya and just feel good about themselves, like 3 minutes of escapism! Especially with lockdowns we're all feeling a bit trapped and people are down, I just want people to get up and feel good."
 
One of 2020’s biggest singles, ‘See Nobody’ was written and produced during lockdown from Wes’ makeshift bedroom studio.  A Gold-certified hit in the UK and double Platinum in Ireland, the top 3 debut single has accumulated over 70 million streams globally, with over 38 million streams on Spotify and over 13 million video views. It also became an instant favourite amongst cultural commentators, musicians and attracted notable fans such as the likes of Anthony Joshua, Idris Elba, Stevo The Madman, Chip, Krept & Konan, Jay1, S1mba, Jae5, SL and many more.
 
A former undefeated champion Muay Thai kickboxer, semi-professional footballer and Nuclear System Design Engineer, music has always been Wes’ first love and his greatest ambition. After being gifted with a red plastic karaoke machine aged 3, he would perform to his family every Friday night and sing along to the Top Of The Pops’ hits of the day. As he grew into his teen years, he lacked the confidence to be open about his passion for music and instead focused on other interests. Last year, quarantine became an opportunity for Wes to return to his artistic craving: while others baked banana bread and binge-watched Selling Sunset, he took the discipline he learnt from Muay Thai and applied it to music. 
 
With his focus now fully on music who knows where the next chapter could lead. He has the desire – and potential to be one of the UK’s most successful R&B/Pop artists. Wes not only has the talent, but the focus, drive and discipline that such ambition takes,
 
“I know its not going to happen overnight, but consistency is key. The best artists are the ones who stay true to themselves; authenticity is everything to me and thats what will take me all the way.”

The acclaimed, award-winning Sonia Sabri Company, one of the leading contemporary South Asian dance and music companies in the UK based in Birmingham, has officially announced The Butterfly Project, a community dance partnership with Birmingham based Sähëlï Hub, a Social Enterprise charity dedicated to improving women’s health and wellbeing. It is widely known that dance is one of the best activities for keeping fit and plays a pivotal role in delivering positive health benefits including improved moods and cognitive skills, increased strength and agility.

Sähëlï Hub operates in three wards with the poorest health outcomes in the city with female populations who are the least likely to take up physical activity, or sport. The Butterfly Project will provide women, who would not normally have access to dance, a chance to step away from their daily lives, interact with other women from their community, build confidence, make friends, and help improve their physical and mental health.

Sonia Sabri Company, an Associate Company at Birmingham Hippodrome, has an international reputation for presenting Kathak dance in a contemporary context, without diluting its integrity. The company perform professionally across the UK and run regular workshops in dance and music, currently presented online due to COVID-19.

Kathak is one of the major classical dances of India. Kathak, meaning ‘story telling’ originated from Northern India through a group of Nomadic Bards and is performed through mime and dance. A professional dancer will train between 10-15 years full time - Similar to someone training in Ballet.

Kathak is a classical dance form which requires years of dedicated training, time and lifestyle adjustments in order to become a Kathak Artist.

Wolverhampton born - Award-winning Artistic Director Sonia Sabri, one of the world’s leading Kathak dancers, recently appointed Resident Creative at CURVE theatre Leicester said: “We are really excited to officially announce the partnership ahead of International Dance Day on 29 April which aims to encourage participation and education in dance.  This year alone we have worked on project-based workshops reaching out to over 600 participants, many of whom feel vulnerable and isolated.

 

“At a time when women’s wellbeing and safety is much in the news, the announcement today platforms the company’s commitment to connect with more women, empower and support them through the arts and help them improve their lives, confidence and wellbeing.”

Shebina Gill, Sähëlï Hub Manager (Holistic Interventions Team) added: “We are delighted to be making this joint announcement during our 21st anniversary year.  We have developed a thriving community empowerment model which enables people from seldom heard and isolated communities in inner-city Birmingham to address long-term health disparities and social disadvantage. We provide innovative and culturally sensitive activities that focus on improving women’s holistic wellbeing.”

Sähëlï Hub have been successful at engaging local women through GP referral schemes and word of mouth. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, they have delivered a 'Befriending calls service’ and surveyed local women, adapting services to meet their needs.

Birmingham-based GP Dr. Prasad Gosavi added: “As a GP I have noticed a deterioration in people's mental health over the last year. In this situation dance can keep one physically, as well as mentally occupied. Being part of a dance class, even though it might be online, does give a feeling of belonging and helps social interaction with others. Dance is an excellent physical activity and with the current restrictions on our movements it can be an excellent way to keep physically fit and enhance our mental well-being.”

 

Following consultation with female participants during lifting of restrictions, Sähëlï Hub created over 240 bubbles of outdoor physical activity groups in green spaces, offering COVID-19 secure activity that maintained safe social distancing. During the third lockdown the Sähëlï Hub offers weekly morning, afternoon and evening calls including the Sähëlï team zoom with women sharing the tools learnt from The Butterfly Project. 

Feedback from women has been that they feel safe to re-engage socially and become active again. Hospital Healthcare Assistant, age 69 said: “I finish my shift at the hospital and connect via zoom with Sähëlï Hub nearly every session, I need the company and I love the topics, it makes me feel young, participating with all ages and keeps me mobile.”

It is the aim of Sonia Sabri Company to deliver The Butterfly Project on a yearly basis reaching communities far and wide. Currently, with many community buildings unable to reopen, and no face-to face workshops allowed, Sonia Sabri Company has spent time providing basic Kathak dance training for session leaders from Sähëlï Hub in order to continue to help them engage with participants during lock down.

Sähëlï Hub trainees use these skills to develop sessions to lead movement workshops online individually with women from other groups and the local area. 

 

Following further easing of lockdown restrictions in England and Wales, learners are being encouraged to practise driving with a professional instructor when driving lessons restart in both countries on April 12.

Car driving tests will restart on 22 April to give learners the chance to practise with a professional instructor and make sure their skills are up to standard before attempting a test.

Private practice with an accompanying driver from within a learner’s household has been allowed on non-essential journeys since 27 March in Wales and 29 March in England.

DVSA Chief Executive Loveday Ryder said: “I know the suspension of tests and lessons has been incredibly hard for learners and many are keen to take their test now, but it is important that candidates are properly prepared and don’t rush to take it.

“With more than half of candidates failing, and demand currently extremely high for tests , learners should only take their test only when they are confident they can pass. This will help them to avoid a lengthy wait for a retest and help us by not adding to the backlog of tests.

“We are doing all we can to provide as many tests as possible and I know that it will be frustrating for some time. We are sorry for any inconvenience but please bear with us as we start getting our services back to normal.”

DVSA is using a phased approach to safely restart testing:

  

·         29 March - riding lessons and Compulsory Basic Training restarted 

·         29 March - bus lessons and tests restarted

·         12 April – theory tests restart for all candidates – including Approved Driving Instructor part 1 tests

·         12 April – motorcycle tests restart

·         12 April – car driving lessons restart

·         12 April – lorry lessons and tests restart

·         12 April – minibus lessons and tests restart

·         22 April – car driving tests restart

·         22 April – driving instructor testing and standards checks

To help increase the number of tests available for learners, DVSA is:

·         Offering more tests outside of normal working hours, including weekend and bank holidays.

·         Ensuring all dvsa staff who are qualified to perform driving tests are doing so, such as senior managers and policy staff.

·         Recruiting new driving examiners in england, scotland and wales

Safety measures have been put in place to protect learners and examiners from COVID-19 and DVSA has published information on gov.uk so candidates know what to expect. The safety of customers and examiners is DVSA’s top priority and the agency will continue to follow government advice to stop the spread of coronavirus.

To help reduce the amount of time the candidate and examiner spend in the vehicle when the candidate has failed their test, examiners will continue to end car driving tests early if a candidate commits either a serious or dangerous fault, or a total of 16 driver faults. The suspension of testing due to the COVID-19 pandemic has led to exceptionally high demand for driving tests. There are currently over 420,000 candidates with tests booked.

Measures to protect DVSA’s customers and staff from COVID-19 have limited the number of available tests and as a result of the pandemic and the suspension of testing there will be high demand for tests for some time. Learners who are properly prepared to take a driving test should be able to take and pass a test at any driving test centre, so should look for alternative test sites if their local centre is fully booked.

The Scottish Government has announced that driving lessons can potentially restart on April 26, if coronavirus restrictions are lifted in Scotland as proposed. Theory tests will also restart from this date. Motorcycle and car tests will restart 10 days later on 6 May, if restrictions are lifted on April 26.

Guns N’ Roses’ 2021 U.K. summer tour dates have now been rescheduled to 2022. Performances on Friday 18 June and Saturday 19 June will now take place on Friday 1 June and Saturday 2 June 2022 at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

All tickets remain valid and will be honoured for new the dates. The band says “We continue to be thankful for your understanding and support during these unprecedented times. Light is at the end of the tunnel and we are looking forward to getting back on stage...” Tickets for Friday 18 June 2021 will be honoured for Friday 1 June 2022 and tickets for Saturday 19 June 2021 will be honoured for Saturday 2 June 2022. Limited tickets are still available for fans to purchase for Guns N’ Roses at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for Friday 1 June and Saturday 2 June 2022 at LiveNation.co.uk now!
 
A Guns N’ Roses’ statement read: "Hey Gunners, unfortunately we need to ask for your patience one more time. Our summer European tour dates will be rescheduled to 2022, but with the added bonus of new shows and special guest Gary Clark Jr.

 

“The tour kicks off in Lisbon, Portugal on June 4th, 2022, with new dates in Norway, Czech Republic, Poland, Netherlands, and Italy. Tickets remain valid for all rescheduled dates, so please do hold onto them. We continue to be thankful for your understanding and support during these unprecedented times. Light is at the end of the tunnel and we are looking forward to getting back on stage later this year in the USA, Australia, New Zealand and next year in Europe and more!”

Paul Ritter, the English screen and stage star whose list of credits includes Harry Potter and James Bond films and Channel 4’s highly successful comedy show Friday Night Dinner, has died. His agent confirmed the news, saying that he died of a brain tumor at his home on Sunday, with his family by his side.

The agent said: “It is with great sadness that we can confirm that Paul Ritter has passed away. He died peacefully at home with his wife Polly and sons Frank and Noah by his side. He had been suffering from a brain tumour.”

The agent went on: “Paul was an exceptionally talented actor playing an enormous variety of roles on stage and screen with extraordinary skill. He was fiercely intelligent, kind and very funny. We will miss him greatly.”

Ritter was best known in recent years for playing the family patriarch in long-running Channel 4 comedy Friday Night Dinner, but was a recognizable face across numerous films, TV shows and stage plays, landing both Olivier and Tony nominations.

After his debut performance on famed police procedural drama The Bill in 1992, Ritter starred in films such as Son of Rambow, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Quantum of Solace. Ritter was recently seen in the Sky/HBO mini-series Chernobyl portraying Anatoly Dyatlov, the supervisor who was blamed for not following safety protocols leading to the nuclear disaster, and is set to appear in upcoming WWII drama Operation Mincemeat. 

He was 54.

Lightpost Theatre Company, The Black Pounds Project and Titan Partnership, alongside Birmingham Repertory Theatre, have announced Lightbearers; a new initiative which aims to remedy some of the racial tensions that exist within school environments. 

Lightbearers will provide a series of workshops to be developed by Black mentors, working alongside teachers in mainstream schools to jointly articulate their experiences and create a strategy for change. Experienced drama and workshop facilitators will manage a series of workshops and, where applicable, use elements of performance to convey a message. Black and mixed heritage pupils have rates of permanent exclusion three times that of the student population as a whole.

There are a multitude contributing factors to this disparity, including: staff being unaware of how microaggressions have a negative impact on culturally marginalised groups, the reinforcement of existing racial tensions; a lack of Black educators throughout the mainstream education system, from nursery to university level, so that Black children are not seeing themselves represented in environments where they spend the majority of time during key developmental years; add to this next to no representation of Black figures, history and culture across Humanities curriculums, affecting esteem, attainment and aspiration. 

The Lightbearers initiative aims to address the myriad of fundamental faults within the UK’s education system which act as a driver not just for exclusion, but also for the over representation of Black adults within mental health and criminal justice settings.  

CJ Lloyd Webley, Lightpost Theatre’s Lead Artist and creator of Lightbearers said; “The Lightbearers initiative will allow us to remedy some of the racial tensions that exist within school environments between staff and students. The issues that the Black community face are very specific - this project allows us to raise awareness as we begin to tackle some sensitive issues.  

“We will provide a space for staff to reflect on their own unconscious biases towards Black students in a safe space which will provide room for growth and transparency. Conducting anonymous surveys during sessions will allow staff to understand themselves and each other better without fear of judgement. We hope that Lightbearers will begin to be a catalyst for similar initiatives throughout our schools and begin to drastically needed change.” 

Lightpost Theatre Company is a company of young black men between the ages of 18-26 from across Birmingham and the West Midlands. The company seeks to actively challenge some of the social stigmas and ideas associated with young black men, using theatre as a gateway to create new plays of social and historical importance.

Lightpost Theatre Company originated as part of Shifting the Dial – a programme that aims to improve the mental well-being of young men of African, Caribbean, or mixed African or Caribbean heritage. The Shifting the Dial Partnership is a unique collaboration comprised of The REP, First Class Legacy, Centre for Mental Health and Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust and is funded by the National Lottery Community Fund.  

The Black Pounds Project (BPP) was founded by CJ Lloyd Webley, CEO as a not-for-profit Community Interest Company. The Project was created in direct response to the growing number of Black business owners that are failing due to a lack of business acumen or understanding of due diligence requirements. Many have no awareness of services they can access or the free business support that is available to them. The Project’s aim is to provide relevant training in professional development for black-owned businesses in the West Midlands to have greater access to finance and business support. 

Titan Partnership is an educational charity based in Birmingham. The wider partnership is made up of over thirty nursery, primary schools, secondary schools, colleges, universities and business partners. The needs of the inner city are the main driving force behind the Titan Partnership Ltd. Every member of Titan is committed to combating disadvantage, with a shared belief in the tremendous potential and cultural richness of the inner city.

By showing businesses, parents and community groups that the inner city can offer a quality learning experience, Titan is helping to build confidence and strength in the area.

BrumYODO and Birmingham Hippodrome are proud to announce that In Memoriam – an open-air art installation by internationally renowned artist Luke Jerram – is to come to Birmingham for this year’s A Matter of Life and Death Festival. The outdoor artwork will be sited in the grounds of Aston Park from 8-16 May and is free to visit in line with Government guidance on lockdown restrictions and with COVID-19 safety measures in place.

In Memoriam is a temporary memorial for the public to visit and remember all those who have died during the COVID-19 pandemic, and has also been made in tribute to all the NHS health and care workers who have been risking their lives during the crisis. The artwork consists of 120 flags created from bed sheets arranged in the form of a medical logo.

Birmingham Hippodrome’s Director of Festivals Graham Callister said: “We have worked hard over the last 12 months to offer meaningful, covid-safe cultural experiences to Birmingham to continue to enrich the cultural life of the region. We are so pleased to be presenting another stunning installation from Luke Jerram and to partner with BrumYODO to offer a moment of calm and reflection on the Coronavirus pandemic. We would also like to thank Birmingham City Council Parks Service and Public Art Group for their support with this special installation.”

In Memoriam is also the focus of this year’s A Matter of Life and Death Festival, an annual arts and culture event aiming to encourage conversation about death and dying created by community interest company BrumYODO this year working in partnership with Birmingham Hippodrome. The festival will also include a programme of online events and an invitation to people across Birmingham and beyond to take part remotely by creating a personalised In Memoriam flag.

Festival Producer and BrumYODO Director Antonia Beck said: “Each year BrumYODO presents responsive and meaningful creative experiences in Birmingham as a way to support people to have conversations about death. This May we are delighted to be hosting Luke’s thought-provoking In Memoriam in partnership with Birmingham Hippodrome and Birmingham City Council.

“In Memoriam is a peaceful and reflective installation, and we hope it will support people to mark this extraordinary time and commemorate those who have died from the pandemic.”

BrumYODO, a CIC devoted to creating opportunities for discussion around end of life, has launched a free flag-making template via its website with accompanying resources to support people to start conversations around death and dying. People will be invited to upload images of their completed flags to BrumYODO’s website.

Antonia added: “We recognise that not everyone will be able to travel to Aston to experience In Memoriam in person, and so we are also encouraging people to get involved remotely by making their own In Memoriam flags and installations at home and by taking part in our online events.  We’d love as many people as possible to join in so please visit our website brumyodo.org.uk and follow our social media for details.”

Luke Jerram is a multidisciplinary artist whose previous works include the three-dimensional planet Gaia and Museum of the Moon, a fusion of lunar imagery, moonlight and surround sound composition which formed part of Birmingham Hippodrome’s Summer in Southside festival in 2019. He said: “It’s great to be bringing In Memoriam to Birmingham for the first time and I hope the installation is of value to people who have been affected by the pandemic.

Not many people have been able to grieve properly, with loved ones unable to visit their relatives in hospitals, funerals cancelled and places of worship and community closed. So there’s a massive need for an artwork that can help us grieve for those we’ve lost.” In Memoriam has been designed specifically to be presented in large open spaces to comply with social distancing.

With the expanse of space around the flags and a strong air flow, the artwork can safely be visited with people able to walk, stand or sit in its midst. BrumYODO and Birmingham Hippodrome have been working with Birmingham City Council to ensure a site which is both accessible and safe for people to visit. The grounds of Aston Park are free to visit and there is parking available.

In Memoriam in Birmingham is supported by Arts Council England, Without Walls, Birmingham City Council, Aston Hall and A Natural Undertaking.

In Memoriam by Luke Jerram was originally commissioned by the Weston Arts + Health Weekender. Supported by Without Walls and FESTIVAL.ORG. Informed by the Wellcome Trust-funded ‘Weather Lives’ project, led by Dr Cassie Phoenix at Durham University.

 

 

As the commonwealth looks forward to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s 95th birthday on April 21, Merrythought, the UK’s oldest remaining teddy bear manufacturer, has created a very special limited edition teddy bear in her honour.

Merrythought, which last year celebrated its own milestone of 90 years in business, has hand-crafted the elegant bear from the finest caramel-coloured mohair plush and pure cotton velvet. Taking inspiration from the outfits which Her Majesty has famously worn to royal occasions, such as Royal Ascot and Trooping of the Colour, the Merrythought team has created a detailed pure silk hat and coat for this highly collectable bear.

Fourth-generation managing director of Merrythought, Sarah Holmes, said: “Merrythought’s relationship with the Royal Family goes back several generations. 

“In 1952 we presented Her Majesty with a Merrythought Corgi. Since then we are proud to have worked with several of the official royal enterprises, created teddy bears for each royal generation – including great-grandchildren Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louise and more recently in 2018, we enjoyed a visit from Princess Alexandra. We have collectors all over the world following for our royal commemorative teddy bears, and wanted to celebrate our much-admired Queen and offer a beautiful teddy bear in her honour.”

Merrythought has really taken the time to understand Queen Elizabeth's favourite colours and outfits, recreating her turquoise coat and matching hat. The stunning, fully-lined set has been carefully made from the finest pure silk.

The teddy bear’s hat also features three handmade organza roses, whilst the coat is detailed with pearlescent buttons and an embroidered replica of the cherished turquoise and diamond brooch given to Her Majesty by Queen Mary. The Queen is the first monarch in British history to celebrate their 95th birthday. 

Merrythought teddy bears are world-renowned and sold as far afield as Australia, Japan and beyond, but are proudly made in Britain in the same factory the company started in 90 years ago. With a highly-skilled team making each bear by hand, it’s a meticulous 15-stage process which uses the finest natural materials. 

The firm has also recently unveiled its charming HRH Duke of Edinburgh Teddy Bear, the first collectable bear of its kind, and created in the year Prince Philip celebrates his 100th birthday. Each royal bear retails for £275, however Merrythought is offering a £25 discount when they are purchased together from their online porthole. 

Solihull Summer Fest 2021 is set to go ahead and celebrate its fifth year at Tudor Grange Park on Saturday 24 and Sunday 25 July. The welcome announcement comes in the wake of the latest Government information on the roadmap out of lockdown.

Soul, R&B & Disco legends Kool & The Gang promise a soulful high-energy and funky set as they headline the main stage on the Saturday night with party hits such as Celebration, Get Down On it, Ladies’ Night, Jungle Boogie, Fresh, Let’s Go Dancin (Ooh La, La, La) and Cherish. They’ve earned two Grammy Awards, seven American Music Awards, 25 Top Ten R&B hits, nine Top Ten pop hits, 31 Gold and Platinum albums and sold over 70 million albums worldwide.

The first day of the popular music festival will also feature the voice of Wet Wet Wet, Marti Pellow.  A BRIT and Ivor Novello award-winning singer/songwriter that’s had consistent chart-topping multi-platinum albums; over 25 chart hits including having a record for the 2nd longest Number One in UK chart history EVER, PLUS one of the four biggest selling songs in the UK of all time. Other artists appearing on the Main Stage on Saturday include Shalamar, The Brand New Heavies, Snap! and The Blow Monkeys.

Billy Ocean, one of Britain’s biggest-ever R&B recording stars, is headlining on the Sunday night. The Trinidadian-English singer-songwriter has sold more than 30-million records worldwide, achieving number one chart spots in the UK, USA, Australia, Germany and Holland. He won a Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for Caribbean Queen and in 1987 was nominated for the BRIT Award for Best British Male Artist.

Other hits include When The Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going, Love Really Hurts Without You, Suddenly and Red Light Spells Danger. Sunday will also welcome 80s’ favourite Tony Hadley, Belinda Carlisle, Nik Kershaw and Bad Manners, plus supporting tribute artist Rod & The Facez featuring Garry Pease to the main stage.

Throughout the weekend, the second stage will be hosted by Heritage Presents with an historic and educational journey through the world of quality dance music from the golden US/UK era of the 1990's. This will include an amazing line up of DJ’s including Shades of Rhythm, K-Klass, Allister Whitehead, Jim Shaft Ryan, Brandon Block, Phil Gifford, Andy Sax and many more Heritage resident DJs.

Organiser, Ian Rogers, said: “After the unprecedented, challenging times we have all faced during 2020, our team are even more focused on delivering the best-ever Solihull Summer Fest. We have rescheduled and confirmed an incredible line-up and ticket sales since confirming 2021 is happening have been overwhelming and are fully on course to sell out.

“We are working closely with Public Health England and Solihull Borough Council and cannot wait to welcome everyone to a safe, fun, incredible weekend of much needed live music and entertainment.” Tickets, including VIP and Premium options, are currently for sale.

Two Birmingham-based musicians have been commissioned to create brand-new music which scores an incredible video of Symphony Halls' £13.2 million transformation. Isla Wolfe and Surdarshan Singh have collaborated for the first time on this two-minute track, fusing hip-hop and tabla percussion. The music accompanies a video produced by time lapse photographers, Commission Air, which shows the changes to the venue's front of house spaces overlooking Centenary Square. 

Music is at the heart of the redeveloped public spaces in Birmingham's internationally renowned concert hall. Upon re-opening the new state-of-the-art performance facilities, delivered with funds raised prior to the global pandemic, will offer local artists even more opportunities to make music as part of an exciting programme of free and affordable events and activities.

Singer-songwriter and producer Isla Wolfe said: "Honestly I felt really honoured when I was asked to be a part of this because it felt like a real opportunity to represent my hometown. I have SO MUCH love for this city and to me, Town Hall and Symphony Hall are right at the heart of it. I've been to lots of different events at these venues ever since I was a kid so to be involved in creating music for the project has been amazing."

Tabla player Surdarshan Singh said: "I am thankful for this opportunity. It is such an honour do this for Symphony Hall. I love to play in different genres and explore different ways of playing this classical instrument."

Isla Wolfe is an unsigned artist, writer and producer based in Birmingham, United Kingdom. Growing up in a family of musicians, Isla spent her younger years immersed in the live music industry and this inspired her to start singing and teaching herself to play every instrument she could get her hands on. Influenced mainly by neo soul, R&B, trap and hip-hop, Isla is producing, writing, recording and engineering her own music completely independently.

Following her release of 'All About You' featuring Phundo Art, she released her latest single “Better Days” in late 2020. 'Better Days' has received overwhelming support from BBC Introducing in the Midlands, as well as national radio station, BBC 6 Music with Tom Robinson.

 

Surdarshan Singh (Sunny) is a young, masterful Tabla & Jori player who started learning music at the tender age of 4. He started learning Jori-Pakhawaj and tabla from Punjab Grandmaster Ajit Singh Matlashi and then went on to learn from Ustad Gurmeet Singh Virdee. 

After receiving a solid foundation and feel of the Punjab Gharana and its various Pakhawaj styles, Surdarshan went on to learn from the legendary Shiri Sukhvinder Singh Namdhari for 14 years. He vigorously learned and practiced the fierce Benares Gharana style of tabla, while keeping his Punjabi Baaj of Jori-Pakhawaj very much alive. 

Surdarshan Singh received his degree in Classical Music and is now an enthralling soloist.

He performs nationally and internationally accompanying maestros of international repute across the globe representing his country. He is also one of the leading accompanists and soloists in the UK.

He was recently invited to play at the Buckingham Palace to play a very rare percussive instrument called jori in the queens music room. For the first time, Birmingham’s world-renowned concert hall now boasts a dedicated entrance from Centenary Square – which is itself is undergoing major redevelopment to provide a high-quality public realm within the second city.

 

David Stanley of D Stanley Consulting said: "It’s been an absolute privilege of ours at D Stanley Consulting to deliver Project Management and Contract Administration services to the music charity responsible for Town Hall and Symphony Hall on this project. A huge thank you goes out to the design team, contractors and the client team who have all worked seamlessly together to deliver the scheme. It has been truly wonderful to be involved with the redevelopment of this world class venue, something I hope the city of Birmingham will be proud of."

Simon Courtney, Managing Director of Galliford Try West Midlands and South West commented: "It’s great to see Symphony Hall being showcased in this way, allowing people to see the excellent work of the project team at this time when we still under pandemic restrictions. We all hope that in the near future more people are able to utilise the new facilities in what is a fantastic venue for the local region."

 

Neil Hooton, (Project Director) at Arup, said: “Arup were the original design engineers of the Symphony Hall in the late 80s, so we were immensely proud to reprise our role and help create this exciting new addition to a Birmingham landmark, and one of the world’s most renowned concert halls. We designed a visually simple structural solution to realise the striking curved and stepped façade profile which will provide better accessibility, creating an enhanced sense of community. The reoriented and revitalised entrance has not only opened up the space, but created a destination in its own right.”

PMP are Quantity Surveyors and Project Managers based in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. They have been helping clients to successfully deliver building and construction projects across a broad range of sectors within the UK and internationally, since 1985.

Matt Giblin, Associate at PMP Consultants added: "PMP Consultants have been proud to have been a part of this stand-out scheme for the wider Birmingham community and the music charity responsible for Town Hall and Symphony Hall. Whilst the pandemic provided numerous challenges on and off-site, a highly collaborative team effort brought this project to successful completion and the resulting new entrance speaks for itself and is a worthy addition to Centenary Square."

Max Fordham LLP were appointed as environmental building services engineering consultants, pioneering sustainable design and low-carbon engineering. Mark Palmer, Senior Partner for Max Fordham LLP said: "As building services engineers, we at Max Fordham are proud to have played our part in designing the M&E strategies for the transformative development of Symphony Hall.

 

“The new facade and building systems provide a more sustainable, accessible and flexible venue, ready to accommodate a diverse range of events. The existing mechanical and electrical systems have been refurbished and expanded with improved control and energy efficiency.

 

“This includes upgraded heating and ventilation systems to create comfortable and healthy environments for staff and visitors. A dynamic new low-energy lighting scheme enhances the new foyer, hosting rooms and performance area. We are excited to see the transformed Symphony Hall reopen and welcome audiences once again." ARK Health and Safety Consultants specialise in CDM and Health & Safety Consultancy for all sizes of projects.

Andrew Roede, Director at ARK H&S Consultants Ltd commented: "It was a pleasure being part of such a prestigious project and the end result is clear to see for all, what a wonderful refurbishment."

Primal Scream frontman Bobby Gillespie has teamed up with solo artist and Savages vocalist Jehnny Beth to release the album ‘Utopian Ashes’ on July 2nd. Previewed today by the lead single ‘Remember We Were Lovers’, the collection explores the loss, miscommunication and emotional inarticulacy that a married couple experience as they realise that their relationship is breaking down.
 
‘Utopian Ashes’ draws on the tradition of country soul classics, such as Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris’s ‘Grievous Angel’ and George Jones and Tammy Wynette’s ‘We Go Together’, to deal with the heavy realities of love turning sour. It’s an album for people who have dealt with the inevitable sadness that comes with age and acknowledged the realities of life. There is no sweetening of the pill, but it does achieve what should be the goal of all good art: to make us feel less alone. And while it’s not autobiographical, it channels heartfelt truth from the songwriters’ own experiences.
 
“In the same way you create characters for a novel, we’ve created characters here,” says Jehnny Beth. “But you put yourself in it, because you’re trying to understand the human situation. The singing has to be authentic. That’s all that matters.”
 
“When you write a song you marry the personal with the fictional and make art,” adds Gillespie. “I was thinking about two people living alone, together but apart, existing and suffering in a psychic malaise, who plough on because of responsibilities and commitments. It’s about the impermanence of everything — an existential fact that everyone has to face at some point in their lives.”
 
They first met in 2015, when they were both invited to perform with Suicide at the Barbican. The following summer she joined Primal Scream on stage for a duet of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood’s ‘Some Velvet Morning’, which cemented their connection. In 2017, they convened in Paris for sessions, accompanied by Beth’s musical partner Johnny Hostile and the rest of Primal Scream. Their initial electronic-focused ideas gradually evolved into a richer tapestry of soul, country, blues and rock ‘n’ roll.
 
‘Remember We Were Lovers’ provides the first taste of what to expect from the album, with Gillespie and Jehnny Beth’semotionally resonant vocals expressing desperately disparate views as their relationship flounders. The official video was directed by Douglas Hart (The Horrors, Paul Weller).
 
Gillespie explains: “I wanted to put pain back into music. I wasn’t hearing a lot of it in modern rock music”. The pain of trying to make something beautiful flourish in a bleak environment is palpable throughout. It feels beyond repair in the southern soul of opener ‘Chase It Down’, while the Scott Walker-like waltz of ‘English Town’ shows that the world outside their door is just as bleak as the relationship itself. But there’s a redemptive arc to the story, notably with the elegant ‘You Can Trust Me Now’, in which the male protagonist vows to leave his vices in the past. 
 
In addition to Bobby Gillespie and Jehnny Beth, the album features Johnny Hostile (bass) alongside Primal Scream trio Andrew Innes (guitar), Martin Duffy (piano) and Darrin Mooney (drums).
 
‘Utopian Ashes’ will be released on Stream, Download , LP, Red LP (HMV Exclusive), Clear LP (Indies Exclusive), Blue LP (D2C Exclusive), CD and is now available to pre-order. 

The Shawn Carter Scholarship Fund helps students advance their education by giving them the resources they need to enrol in college, pay the tuition, and successfully finish college on time. Founded by Jay-Z and his philanthropist mother, Gloria, the program focuses on helping low income students who live in underserved areas across urban America.

The Shawn Carter Scholarship Fund (SCSF) was founded on the belief that any motivated individual in need should have the opportunity to further his or her education. It provides individual scholarships paid directly to the educational institution to any applicant who qualifies and reapplies yearly from admission to graduation.

The award may be used to cover tuition expenses and related supplemental educational expenses such as books, lab fees, travel and select costs of living. All Shawn Carter Scholars are required to “give back” by performing community service and by serving as mentors to younger, aspiring Shawn Carter Scholars.

Eligibility requirements:

* Must be a high school senior, students with GED diplomas, undergraduate (2 year or 4 year) college students, and vocational or trade school students.

* US citizen or Permanent Resident

* 25 years old or younger

* Minimum GPA 2.0

The deadline for the scholarship is usually in April and the award amount is usually up to $7,500.

The Shawn Carter Scholarship Fund (SCSF) was founded on the belief that any motivated individual in need should have the opportunity to further his or her education. By removing some of the financial burdens associated with going to, surviving in, and graduating from college, the SCSF plays a vital role in increasing college access and success for many motivated yet underserved youth and young adults.

The SCSF provides individual grants, paid directly to the educational institution, to every student who qualifies and reapplies yearly, from admission to graduation. The grant can be used to cover tuition expenses and related supplemental educational expenses such as books, lab fees, travel and select costs of living.

All Shawn Carter Scholars are required to “give back” by conducting community service and by serving as mentors to younger, aspiring Shawn Carter Scholars. By removing some of the financial burdens associated with going to, surviving in, and graduating from college, the SCSF plays a vital role in increasing college access and success for many motivated yet underserved youth and young adults.

The SCSF provides individual grants, paid directly to the educational institution, to every student who qualifies and reapplies yearly, from admission to graduation.  The grant can be used to cover tuition expenses and related supplemental educational expenses such as books, lab fees, travel and select costs of living.

All Shawn Carter Scholars are required to “give back” by conducting community service and by serving as mentors to younger, aspiring Shawn Carter Scholars.

Over a year since it fell, the curtain is set to rise again at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre as plans are put into place for a reopening from Sunday 4 July.

In line with Step 4 of the Government’s roadmap, currently due to begin in June, Wolverhampton Grand Theatre plans to reopen on Sunday 4 July with The Elvis World Tour. The season that follows will begin in September and is full of hit musicals, many of the UK’s leading comedians and a huge variety of music acts.

A new brochure will be available in May; accessible online and print copies will be available.

These encouraging steps towards the full reopening of theatres mean that this year, Cinderella can finally go to the ball in the annual family pantomime! The much-missed magic of panto returns to Wolverhampton with Cinderella from Saturday 4 December 2021 – Sunday 9 January 2022. Tickets are now on sale for the pantomime, which has retained 70% of bookings from its original, postponed 2020 - 2021 season. An exciting, all-star cast will be announced soon.

Throughout the past year, whilst audiences have not be able to attend, the Grand Theatre has been committed to its role within the community and has continued to reach out and support those who rely on the many benefits that live performance can give.

The Memory Café that forms the core part of the theatre’s Dementia Programme was able to continue online but steps are now in place to safely reintroduce the patrons and their carers back into the theatre. They will once again be able enjoy live performance and the many emotional and behavioural benefits that live music and entertainment has to those living with Dementia. The launch and continuation of this project is only possible because of donations.

The theatre’s audience development programme has also continued throughout the past year and excitingly will continue to grow with the appointment of a second freelance Audience Development Consultant, Tonia Daley-Campbell.

Tonia is an actress, director, producer, author and community activist. In 2014 Tonia set up her charity Kuumba Arts Movement supporting disadvantaged young people by using the creative arts. As part of the charity, Tonia also set up a film school called 4th Wall, supporting young people from diverse backgrounds.

Tonia will help the Grand Theatre in its commitment to making its audiences as diverse as the communities in around the city of Wolverhampton. On her appointment, Tonia said; “Change is coming! I'm so, so excited to be working with Wolverhampton Grand Theatre in my new role as Audience Development consultant. I've got such a strong vibrant community supporting me and I can’t wait to start the development work, watch this space.” 

Chief Executive & Artistic Director at the Grand Theatre, Adrian Jackson said; “Finally, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and the prospect of re-opening the Grand Theatre is incredibly exciting.

“With the dates set out in the Government roadmap, it has given us something to work towards. I can’t wait for the dressing rooms to be full of artists and crew members again, the band warming up and the magic returning to our stage.

“I know that when the times comes, the hard work and dedication from the team here at the theatre will result in the return of many happy theatregoers as well engaging and inspiring our community for the remainder of this year and in the many to follow.”

Everything is falling into place for Litany right now. Her previous single ‘Uh-huh’ was praised by NME, The Line of Best Fit and Mollie King, while its profile was boosted by a video that was directed by Joe Lycett and starred Katherine Ryan. The first Litany remix by Dua Lipa’s collaborator Initial Talk soon followed.

It also prompted a rediscovery of Litany’s previous releases, elevating her breakthrough track ‘Bedroom’ over the 30 million streams landmark at Spotify. Litany’s skybound trajectory continues today as she unveils her new single ‘Playlist’, which features one of her favourite artists, Oscar Scheller. Listen HERE.

The duo’s natural connection sizzles on ‘Playlist’, a song fuelled by their creative instinct but with a refined sense of pop perfectionism that you’d expect from long-life collaborators. The song plays to both their strengths, with Litany’s expressive, diary entry lyrics set to the kind of inventive and impeccable production with which Oscar has forged his reputation.

“I just adore Oscar,” says Litany. “He’s got this impalpable work ethic and artistic vision to go along with it, so to be able to collaborate let alone call him a dear friend is just rad as hell. We wrote this song a couple sessions deep after I told him that I was obsessing over this playlist a dude sent to me and felt I was looking for hidden messages, like, ‘OMG, does he love me ‘cos the first song is ‘Girl Like You’ by Edwin Collins?’ But Oscar was like, ‘THERE’S THE SONG RIGHT THERE.’”

Oscar adds, “First of all, I’m constantly laughing with Beth. It’s been that way from the get go. And I’m always floored by how effortless she is with her melodies, lyrics and storytelling. It’s so great to have a collaboration with my friend. 90% of our time in the studio is just us chatting shit, doing impersonations and messing about. But that remaining 10% is all we need to make a great tune ;)”

The ‘Playlist’ video extends the song’s playful tone, its bright cinematography enlivening the feelgood mood. Both artists are depicted telling their side of the tale directly to camera which provides the intimacy of a video call, before they’re reunited and sharing earphones at a playground. It was directed by Donny Johnson (Ashnikko, Joy Crookes).

In addition to ‘Playlist’, Litany is also excited to announce her return to live shows. She’s set to play her most intimate London headline show to date at the Jazz Cafe on 26th June 2021, her first in the capital since selling out The Garagetowards the end of 2019.

Litany’s hook-filled, conversational songwriting explores the ups, downs and inbetweens of relationships in the digital age, with a sound that puts a fresh UK spin on influences such as Robyn, Christine and the Queens, HAIM and Caroline Polachek. After just two EPs and a handful of singles, Litany (Beth Cornell) is connecting with audiences, building radio support at 6 Music and BBC Introducing, and accumulating big stats including over 72 million streams at Spotify.

As a go-to producer and engaging solo artist, Oscar Scheller has collaborated with an array of empowering female artists as varied as Charli XCX, Ashnikko, Rina Sawayama and Lily Allen. Meanwhile, his three solo albums to date draw on a broad range of influences from contemporary alt-pop to indie and old school new wave, while often exploring topics such as mental health issues and masculinity. His most recent album, ‘Boys Cry’, was released in February and was described by Clash as being “genuinely sonically engaging – a refreshing take in this era of fast-food pop.”