Heritage and heroics

Park Road Warehouse
DEMOLITION: The Park Road Warehouse had to demolished last week after an inspection found the building to be in imminent danger of collapse.

I’VE GOT mixed feelings about the demolition of the Park Road Warehouse last weekend.

As a keen amateur local historian, I’m more inclined than most to preserve our heritage. But I also recognise that years of decline have taken their toll and with the best will in the world some buildings are beyond rescue.

I also accept that – whilst people like me might look at our older buildings and see history – for those living side by side with them they can be symbols of decline.

The fact that a Borough which was once home to more than 360 mills has such a smaller number today is evidence that, whilst some can find a modern use, the world has moved on.

As the former cotton spinning capital of the world we have a large legacy of these mill and warehouse buildings.

That’s left our Borough – according to Wikipedia (the fount of all knowledge, so it must be true!) – with more Grade II listed structures in our boundaries than any other Greater Manchester authority (excluding the City of Manchester). That’s 524 to be precise.

The days of a textile magnate building a mill and nestling homes around it to keep an eye on his workforce are long gone.

People no longer need nor desire to live and work in this type of arrangement. They no longer work en masse in mills at the end of their streets and they also don’t crave to live in an industrialised setting.

There are some mills in the Borough, like Earl Mill and Anchor Mill, and Albert Street near my own home where historically we’ve been able to find a new use for them that has justified investment. But that doesn’t mean that every mill here should – or can – be saved.

The Council has often inherited buildings, or become the ‘buyer of last resort’ which would have made sense at the time, but this has left us with a large number of buildings which take their toll on the Oldham taxpayer.

We have to be more realistic about the economic climate we operate in and that means we must only prioritise investment where it will definitely make a significant and tangible improvement to people’s lives. Either we accept a large number of substandard buildings – or we concentrate on the very best.

Even with the loss of Park Road Warehouse we still have the old Town Hall, former Library, Foxdenton Hall and other civic buildings such as Royton Town Hall amongst those which require priority investment to ensure they have a long term future.

Failsworth Town Hall has shown what can be achieved with focused investment and we now need to move to ensure we have flagship buildings which show Oldham’s heritage in the best possible light.

Oldham AthleticOn a totally unrelated topic I must say I was delighted to be amongst more than 6,000 locals who travelled to Anfield on Friday night to see Latics take on Liverpool in the FA Cup.

I will preface my remarks here by pointing out that I’m not claiming to be a diehard supporter. In fact, as anyone who knows me will confirm, my knowledge of football would take about ten seconds to explain.

But whether you are an Oldham Athletic fan or not, you cannot deny that the town’s professional football club is a hugely important part of our Borough’s wider cultural offer.

I hugely enjoyed the experience – probably much more than I expected to – and I thought Latics and their supporters were a credit to the town.

The players refused to be daunted by their task and took the game to Liverpool with a confidence and spirit you simply had to admire. The general consensus was they matched their hosts for an hour or so and the gulf in class – even to my untrained eyes – was certainly not glaring.

It was just a fantastic occasion and the main thing I will remember about it was the amazing atmosphere whipped up by Oldham fans.

This was the first time I’ve seen local people shouting in such voice and numbers with obvious pride about where they come from – and it was heart-warming to see and hear “We love you Oldham” being sung out.

It’s fair to say that when we announced Oldham Council’s proposed deal to keep Oldham Athletic in the Borough and redevelop Boundary Park last August not everyone was supportive – but Friday night showed me two things…

Firstly, Anfield demonstrated how vital a good stadium and infrastructure is to helping a club flourish and maximise its revenue streams.

Secondly, it showed me just how Oldham Athletic helps to put our Borough on the national map in a positive way – and provides a real feelgood factor for the local area.

Good luck to them against Chesterfield later this month. Here’s hoping they can secure a trip to Wembley for the JPT Trophy Final – and another memorable occasion, and perhaps with a better result.

Thanks for listening,

Jim

One thought on “Heritage and heroics

  1. The incandescent rage that has followed on from the summary demolition of the Park Road Warehouse, is not some ‘feigned outrage’ (to quote one of Jeremy Sutcliffe’s curt responses on the Chronicle’s online forum), but a ‘genuine’ outpouring of emotion, centred on a very real sense of loss.

    Among a litany of grievances directed towards OMBC (take your pick from those regularly discussed in the letters page of the local press), the topic of Oldham’s rapidly diminishing heritage (some would say evisceration) is probably in the top two or three.

    The feeling on the street (where emotions and opinions are most honestly expressed) is that a combination of casual indifference and political ineptitude, coupled with a soupcon of arrogance, has consigned a great many historic buildings/structures to the ignominious fate of the wrecking ball.

    You write: “We have to be more realistic about the economic climate we operate in…”

    Whilst acknowledging the myriad economic factors that have contributed to the present state of affairs, when casting the net back over the last four decades, encompassing more affluent and favourable conditions, what excuse the desecration that so many of us can painfully remember.

    Naively we believed that as custodians of the town’s heritage, our elected representatives would honour this role. How wrong we were.

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