A PERSONAL highlight of the past week was being invited to open a ‘Good Neighbour Day’ event in Failsworth.
I’ve already previously talked on here about Oldham becoming a Cooperative Borough and this initiative – involving a range of partners and local residents – is a great example of what that actually means in practice.
The event, at Walton House on Grafton Street, was part of ‘Pride in Failsworth’: a new scheme which the Council is helping Housing 21, as the lead Housing Association, to develop alongside partners like the Failsworth and Hollinwood policing team.
The initiative can not – and indeed would not – succeed without input, ‘buy in’ and effort from local residents.
Its focus is on trying to improve everyday lives and – amidst a whole series of fun events at this garden party – we started the ball rolling by consulting residents on a range of issues about where they live. This included asking them what they liked about Failsworth, for example, how they thought it could be improved, and what they might be prepared to do in order to make that happen.
Ultimately, Pride in Failsworth wants to establish a network of volunteers and neighbourhood champions to take this forward.
By encouraging people to come together and talk more about the issues affecting their communities this can help people to become better neighbours who support each other and make a real difference.
Saturday’s event was an excellent first meet-up and thoroughly enjoyed by all who attended. It was particularly heartening to see that there were many older people present and I am sure the feedback received will lead to some interesting and innovative future developments of activities and services in the area.
A website for the scheme is currently being developed. But anyone reading this missed out on the event and is interested in getting involved, then please contact Mike Beaman at Housing 21 on 0370 192 4352.
WAY BACK in 1974 – before I was a twinkle in my father’s eye – a major reorganisation of Local Government gave birth to Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council.
It has since become clear that it also unwittingly unleashed something of an identity crisis.
In the intervening years there has been an ongoing debate about the relationships between different townships and districts – and more specifically about Oldham seen to be domineering at the centre.
Barring another unforeseen shake-up, which I’m not expecting, Oldham will remain a Borough. It is here to stay and that strength in unity is central to our collective success.
But not everyone feels comfortable with how we are and relate to each other: a fact that was highlighted by the research behind the Council’s rebranding exercise in 2008 (the very same one which gave us the ‘polo mint’ logo!).
That study confirmed that local folk from Failsworth to Saddleworth remain very proud – or certainly identify strongly – with their own district. It also confirmed the persistence of tensions and suspicion between the districts and Oldham. The report was clear that strong local identity is a real strength and should be valued, and used as a foundation to build community pride.
The creation of ‘One Oldham’ was never intended to be about having to have your local identity subsumed to that of Oldham. Indeed, for those residents who actually lived in the Town Centre areas, the ‘shotgun marriage’ of 1974 could equally be seen as an unwanted dilution of their own heritage as ‘Oldhamers’ with their own rich heritage and rightful place in history.
What I think got lost in translation since 1974 was that the rush to ‘One Oldham’ somehow got confused with a need to subsume, hide and even airbrush local identities away.
For example, people were told they were now ‘Oldhamers’ – there was even a car sticker campaign to hammer that message home – but many residents couldn’t identify with that and resented it. It was counterproductive.
The reason for that is that local identity is a very personal and subjective thing which we all interpret in very different ways.
Let’s fast-forward to where we are now in 2011.
I believe the strong local identity which exists across our borough is the civic foundation on which we will build a Borough we can all be proud to belong to.
As Leader my approach will be that Oldham Council recognises that its role is not to dictate to districts: it is to reflect their wishes.
A mutually-beneficial relationship sees the Council recognising those townships and villages and listening to them. It allows them to celebrate and display their own heritage and crests, for example, but also brings them all together as a progressive force for the common good of the Borough.
I would say that if you consider yourself a genuine Oldhamer, then be proud of that. Equally, if you identify with Failsworth, Royton, Shaw, Chadderton, Saddleworth, Lees or wherever – you should also be rightly proud.
Through our devolution plans we will be opening district town halls, creating local telephone numbers, area teams and investing in local identity – starting with welcome signs which respect the distinct identity of each of our districts, rather than try and blur into one ‘brand’.
I have had a number of meetings this week including some with representatives from our two Parish Councils at Shaw and Crompton, and Saddleworth. I also met with representatives from our local historical societies, civic society and the family history society to talk about how we can use this strong identity to bring all communities together.
Whilst there has been a huge focus on diversity over the past decade we have missed a real opportunity to build on what brings us all together regardless of our backgrounds – the Metropolitan Borough of Oldham.
Thanks for listening.