A Community Truth

From my point of view, positive and good mental health is about feeling safe, knowing your own identity, being able to look back and cherish the past as you step into the future with a smile for the now.

A Community Truth.

Ruth has lived in Erdington for 65 years.

For 30 of those years she was an Avon lady.

And for 25 years she was a ‘lollipop lady’. This is how she is most remembered, and it is also what she mostly remembers as she is now in dementia.

On the 28th of June and out feeding the ducks on the nearby lake. It’s part of her usual routine but I could not make up what happened next.

Losing her bearings in the park and walking in the opposite direction of home.

Discovered, missing by my dad, he contacts the police. It’s fair to say we have lost her before but a kind member of the public has always brought her back within a few hours and I’ve heard of many other stories of such returns.

I was making cheese on toast for my son when I received the phone call.

Time paused.

I leave my house, with quick, straight to the point words, “we’ve lost nanny, I’m going to grandads” and posting a ‘search and rescue’ request to the local Facebook group, ‘Erdington Massives’.

At my parents’ house there is a lot of police and concerned neighbours are standing by in witness. My dad is answering questions about friends or family members my mom might visit. Phone calls and texts with the news begin.

The face book post was shared 409 times, received 715 comments and the west midlands police post was shared over a 1K.

50 years of family and friends get in touch or turn up on hearing the news. The house and front garden is alive with people, this is serious. The front door open and our faces of concern are on the street-as if looking out for her return.

It’s her birthday on Saturday, but this isn’t a party and its not her wake either. It is surreal. Time has not paused, life is carrying on, I ring home for the house to feed the dogs and wait longer for news of my return. Her return.

It’s hot, the summer of 2018 broke global hottest temperatures and weeks of draught and wild fires. Viewed from space the land is yellow/brown. Only the trees offer us green and shade but their leaves are beginning to turn, as the harvest has begun and summer solstice has passed.

The community of Erdington sent messages of prayer and concern, even taking it upon themselves to search the area. It was humbling as I couldn’t even walk up the road.

As the sun sets with no sign of my mom, the phrase ‘life goes on’, becomes real as our bodies require rest and nourishment even though we know Ruth’s body is not comfortable.

A drone has been used and a helicopter is used during the night, yet still not found. The police set up a temporary HQ in the local church car park. The team of water search and rescue experts arrive with canoes and wading gear, to search the nearby lakes and growth. Their service is shared throughout the West Midlands.

It is again surreal watching the men prepare and search for my mom. A team of search and rescue volunteers are called in, they take on training, keep a licence up-to-date and wear matching T-shirts…

More people are ringing or dropping past. I’m compelled to reply, keeping people up-to-date or re-telling the story, the words are getting exhausted. Looking up, I can see all the family doing the same but also bonding and communicating in a way I’d never seen before. There was no other agenda except to wait.

It’s decided by the police, to put my mom’s disappearance on, 6pm Central News and sitting together, we watch it, with my dad saying “ssssh”

The night is drawing in and looks to be another night without her. My dad is old himself with health issues and this day has been longer and hotter than the first. I’m feeling nothing and everything, with no news there is no reaction. The people of the community are still out looking in groups or alone; one man came to the house with an A-Z, asking where he should go next.

The joy in the moment of ‘life goes on’, is when I’m out the front with just my 2 great nephews. I’m playing with them, looking after them, see – life goes on.


My brother comes out to tell me, that she has been found and he’s taking dad to the hospital now.

I smiled, I really smiled, it reached my eyes, and tears welled. Then I was laughing with tears rolling down my face. I wasn’t laughing at finding it funny, it just seemed to be my body’s natural reaction. I had to focus on my breathing for it to stop. It was joy and everyone was smiling, feeling and sharing the joy and relief. My laughing/crying reaction happens a few times during the evening and next few days. I’m reading the responses on social media not only was there comments of relief and well wishes, there was even posts from people, about how their faith had been restored in the community of Erdington. Even now one month on, my diaphragm remembers the words, emotion and reaction.

That one, kind stranger we were waiting for contacted the police, after seeing the news clip, with cctv images of my mom entering a nearby car park. So, all efforts of the search went there. My dad and I find the lady the next day, to say thank you. My mom was found in Witton allotments. Of all the places. No wonder nobody could find her. Off the path and out of sight.

Getting the message of Mrs Sidwell being found, was now on the button. Giving and receiving shared joy.

I visit my mom on the morning of the next day and she recites the 23rd psalm, ‘The Lord is my shepherd’. I’ve never heard my mom quote the bible, even though she has a Christian belief system and would tell you herself, “I’ve always went to church, I was brought up that way” I am humbled again, when she states “I said, it to myself when I was alone”

Her faith kept her safe. We read the psalm together as I have taken in her New Testament. It was my mom’s father, Mr Barron who, as part of the Gideon movement, placed New Testaments in hospitals, hotels and distributed them in secondary schools. I feel so suddenly connected, with the past and what I must now do for the future.

(Note to reader- mom has Alzheimer’s dementia and although she doesn’t try continually to leave the house or get angry or violent she is frustrated, she has got angry, she does want to be independent and isn’t always pleased to see me.)

Ruth knows she’s had a traumatic experience yet has got up like it’s just a tumble. Home from hospital and doing well, a district nurse is visiting to dress wounds and one nurse arrives on a day when I’m present and explains that she went to school with my sister and can remember the family name. My mom can still use her front door key and has voiced an opinion on staying at home.  I’m going to help her do that.

This story is my Truth and I hope it describes that there isn’t a ‘poverty’ in community action. There isn’t a ‘poverty’ of people wanting to help. Through attending Birmingham Poverty Truth Commission, I have been witness to many groups and charities set up to help, support, get creative, mentor, feed and teach skills, either one-to-one care or community social interaction as a BPT representative or in my personal life as my own ambassador.

I don’t keep a true Christian belief system but, I was brought up feeling comfortable and respect for churches and their congregations. I’m not telling you my story to have a conversation about religion. Yet, faith itself unfolded the story as a written plan.

Much similar to the boys trapped in a cave in Thailand in a part of the World that doesn’t encourage press coverage and suddenly the world is watching. In faith of the expert divers. The community in prayer and support for the families. Waiting for news. A search and rescue team, which some of them have been flown into the country to assist because of their experience. Shared grief and shared joy.


There are kind strangers and teams of community expert workers and volunteers who network all areas of Birmingham, England and Earth. Offering food, information, shelter, safe spaces of welcome, it’s all out there.

Have faith in yourself to find and belong to a community. A place with people you feel comfortable. Conversations to have, new people to meet and to share a smile of joy or give comfort, ask for help or ask, where?

You can help.


Karen Smith 27/07/18.

Full Stag Blood Moon, totally eclipsed by the Earth, with planets Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars in alignment. The night sky was cloudy and maybe nobody on Earth saw it.



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