Shaw: A community united in grief

TRAGIC: The scene at Buckley Street, Shaw, which saw up to 100 properties in the area evacuated yesterday.

YESTERDAY’S explosion in Shaw was a truly shocking incident and one that has touched the whole Borough.

As work goes on to review the secure area and return as many people to their homes as is safe to do so, I want to pay tribute to the work of Oldham Council staff, our partners – especially the emergency services – and the wider community for coming together at a time of great challenge.

The best of human nature comes out in times of crisis and the generosity on view was overwhelming.

From Asda running back and forth with supplies, to Primark sending clothing, to a little girl whose parents had brought her to the Rest Centre to donate her teddy bears to help the children left with out toys. To say this was Oldham at its best in one of the worst times is an understatement.

The loss of a home is one of the most difficult things to deal with and at this stage it would appear a number of properties will need to be demolished to prevent collapse. Our building control officers are onsite now assessing the soundness of each property.

When I attended the Rest Centre at Crompton House school on Tuesday it quickly became apparent that there are many personal issues here – from the loss of personal items, financial concerns and insurance cover etc, as well as medical issues and concerns about family pets.

Jean Stretton and I walked around the site last night and I can say it was harrowing.

Eye witness comments that it looked like a warzone are not too far from the reality on the ground with more than 50 properties and a number of vehicles damaged.

Overriding all this, of course, is the terrible loss of two-year-old Jamie Heaton and the pain felt by his parents, family and friends.

It will clearly take some considerable time for the community to recover from this incident, and for his parents it is unlikely they will ever reconcile this loss. The family will receive all the support we can offer.

As a Council we are on hand to help residents and have set up a single point of contact at 0161 770 7770 for any enquiries.

You can also find out the latest updates and information on our website at:
http://www.oldham.gov.uk/news/article/59/explosion_in_shaw

Our view is that we have a social and moral responsibility to get in and help the community to recover.

I have asked the Borough Treasurer to assess the likely impact of this, which is likely to be significant, although clearly much of the losses will be recovered through insurance etc.

Finally, I want to thank and pay tribute to Councillor Jean Stretton for the way in which she has represented not just the Council during this incident, but all 225,000 residents in Oldham to the world’s media.

Thanks for listening, 

Jim

Change can happen

‘CHANGE’ has been a fashionable political buzzword since Barack Obama used it as a key theme in his drive to become US President in 2008.

Four years on though – and after all the initial fuss about how his campaign changed the rules by motivating thousands of previously-apathetic people and fundraisers – the word is now treated with cynicism by some, and seen as a bit of electioneering rhetoric and fluff. I think that is totally wrong. 

Today we now live in a hyper-local environment – one where people are increasingly connected 24/7 via Social Media and other technologies, and are constantly sharing new ideas and knowledge.

That means now, more than ever, that any one person can spark something which makes a great difference to where they live.

That is a key part of the Co-operative Council agenda in Oldham.

Our vision for a Co-operative Borough is all about citizens, partners and staff working together to improve the place. We want all members of the community to play an active part in that.

This means everybody ‘doing their bit’ and that’s why, for example, we’re striving to make involvement in local activity and decision-making simpler by devolving power and resources to neighbourhood levels.

It’s also why we’ve started an employee volunteering scheme where every Council worker is encouraged to give time to local groups and projects.

Positive change won’t come in your local community, however, if we all sit around waiting for another person to highlight an issue or get something off the ground. That way, we only allow negative change to occur and we suffer in silence.

The concept of how to encourage and empower people to become ‘ChangeMakers’ was the subject of our inaugural 20:20 lecture at the Regional Science Centre Oldham last week.

Matthew Taylor was our keynote speaker and is a hugely powerful advocate.

As former chief adviser on political strategy to Tony Blair during his time at Downing Street, he was associated with several key initiatives designed to engage the public with the political process.

He’s now Chief Executive of the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) who recently published a research paper – ‘ChangeMakers’ – which takes a new approach to identifying and mobilising people in their neighbourhoods.

As Matthew explained, it is individuals who can drive change in their local areas and equally it is up to Oldham Council and the public sector to find out who those people are, connect with them – and connect them with each other – and deliver results.

More often than not people who make change happen aren’t your self appointed ‘community leaders’ types: they are those ordinary residents joining in with activities or work that gets their hands dirty where they live.

These can simply just be people involved in a local knitting circle, for example, or dog walking clubs. All kinds of folk with very different interests and backgrounds, but who are prepared to get together to improve things and to deliver ideas and projects that make their areas a better place.

There was good turnout at this event with around 80 members of the public there: and it made for a very thought-provoking debate.

I am determined that Oldham Council starts connecting better with our potential ChangeMakers and it’s clear that for this to work our elected Ward Members need to step up.

They have to be leaders in their areas, respected locally, active and accessible – but also acting as enablers who help people make a difference.

Whilst part of their role as elected councillors is to show leadership, it is equally vital that they encourage others to take a lead, and that they help to connect like-minded people together to enable change to happen.

We heard a compelling case study from the audience at this event.

Stoneleigh Park used to be derelict piece of waste ground in Derker until a group of local people got together.

They formed the Friends of Stoneleigh Park community group and successfully lobbied Oldham Council to turn it into a park.

This diverse group, which includes young people, have done some fantastic work to encourage the park to become a real community asset that is now used for a range of events.

They fundraised across all sectors for their work and the Council did its bit by enabling them to take over a hut in the park to run youth clubs and other activities that have had a real impact on cutting anti-social behaviour.

The transformation was so effective that the park eventually became the first in Oldham to be awarded Green Flag status.
This was inspiring first-person stuff. Their example gave a real focus to all present that they can make a huge difference where they live.

The message is that if people take control of their destinies – to paraphrase Barack Obama – then change doesn’t come from Oldham Council – change will come to Oldham Council.

If you want read more about ‘ChangeMakers’ then I would encourage you to download the report from:
www.thersa.org/projects/citizen-power/changemakers

Further 20:20 events are planned for the future – all designed to further spark this debate – and I will be post more details on this blog when these are finalised.

Thanks for listening,

Jim

All aboard for regeneration

IT’S HERE: Metrolink services between Oldham Mumps and Manchester Victoria are finally open

IT’S BEEN a long time coming – but it’s finally here.

Today sees the official launch to the public of the new Metrolink 3A line from Oldham Mumps to Manchester Victoria.

Its arrival has – as we all know – suffered from delays.

It’s also a fact that construction work on this, the biggest infrastructure project ever undertaken in our Borough, has caused unavoidable delays and inconvenience for many motorists, residents and traders alike.

We are continuing to work hard to mitigate those problems as best we possibly can, but I also do firmly believe that the overall prize at stake here is worth it.

I see today’s opening as being just the first major step on a very important journey towards transforming Oldham town centre.

I had the privilege of going on a ‘preview’ run of the tram on Monday alongside local and regional media, and the shared feeling from all present was that what we experienced was very impressive.

This new service – running every 12 minutes from the off, and with a pledge to increase to every six minutes as demand increases – offers a slick journey in a modern and comfortable environment.

The stations along the new seven-mile line have all been completely revamped and fantastic new ones added at Freehold, South Chadderton, Central Park and Monsall.

Having used the old rail line in the past, it was also striking how quiet the new tram system actually is: no more of those ear-piercing screeching sounds you used to experience as carriages pulled in and out of stations.

ALL ABOARD:(L-R) Charlie Parker (Chief Executive, Oldham Council), Jim McMahon, (Council Leader), Dave Hibbert (Cabinet Member for Transport) and Andrew Fender (Chair of TfGM Committee)

The 3A line is excellent facility. I think it will be well received by those who use it, but it is far from the end game here.

What we are really focussed on now is the delivery of 3B – Oldham’s town centre extension – which is due in 2014. 

So many of the regeneration plans which we are currently working hard on are predicated on that town centre extension being delivered, and making the maximum benefit from having trams in future running from Mumps, down Union Street and on to new stops at Oldham Central, Oldham King Street and Westwood.

That line will be the real catalyst for several of the regeneration schemes we have outlined in recent months – such as our plans to turn the Old Town Hall into a cinema and restaurant venue, for example, and Hotel Future, the country’s first National Hospitality Training Academy, adjacent to the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

These schemes are all about transforming Oldham town centre and getting people to see it differently.

Our vision is to deliver facilities that will not only serve our own residents better, but also attract new visitors by making it a family-friendly destination where people can spend their ‘leisure pound’, as well as doing their shopping. 

The 3A line is a vital starting point in all this and, crucially, now links Oldham not just back up to Manchester Victoria, but also into a growing regional Metrolink network.

When all the network extensions are finished it will in future mean that you can travel from Oldham Mumps to Manchester Airport in the south, for example, or onto Media City, Bury, Eccles and Altrincham.

The construction work for 3B continues at pace and we fully recognise that it will continue to cause disruption as we head towards 2014.

Believe me, I’m as impatient as anyone when I am stuck in traffic queues and delays, but we must also all look forward.

We have to see the bigger picture and ensure that we capitalise fully on the fantastic opportunities that Metrolink is going to offer – not just to us but also to future generations.

Thanks for listening,

Jim

Community spirit in 2012

COMMUNITY SPIRIT: Residents joining in the Diamond Jubilee fun at Grassroots Community Project in Failsworth at the weekend.

RECENT DAYS have perhaps given the naysayers who warn you that community spirit is a ‘thing of the past’ some serious food for thought.

I often hear people lamenting that the so-called “old-fashioned” spirit of volunteers and residents coming together to benefit their wider community no longer exists in 2012.

That’s certainly not been my experience in recent days, however – far from it.

On Sunday, I went along to Warwick Road, Failsworth, on Sunday to help celebrate the official designation of this open space as a ‘Queen Elizabeth II Field’ following some close work between the local community and Oldham Council.

This scheme helps to protect important green spaces as a permanent legacy of the Diamond Jubilee.

It will not only preserve its use for leisure and recreation for future generations but will also empower community groups to get involved and apply for improvement funds. Given the enthusiasm of all those present, I have no doubts that this will be a successful venture.

On Monday night I also had the pleasure of attending the lighting of a Diamond Jubilee beacon – one of six across the Borough – at St John’s Church in Failsworth.

Again there was a fantastic turnout from the public and a really positive sense of society and co-operation on show.

This same ethos was also clearly in evidence at the Saddleworth and Lees Band Contests last Friday which passed largely without incident and were again a huge success that we can all be proud of.

Despite the rain the past few days have again shown that people will still ‘chip in’ and work together to ensure events proceed that can be enjoyed by all.

And whether you are a brass band lover or not, a Monarchist or a Republican, that has to be good news for all of us.

This shorter working week necessitates a shorter-than-usual blog, but I do want to close by highlighting the appointment of the Borough’s new Youth Mayor.

Josh Payne, 18, will officially take the reins after four years as a member of the fantastic Oldham Youth Council next Monday.

I know that he has already been involved in a whole range of community activities and voluntary work, and I am certain he will be a fantastic ambassador for the Borough in this role.

It is vital young people like Josh are given a voice – and that they are heard – so that they can help shape our area and improve it for future generations.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to our departing Youth Mayor, Chantel Birwistle, from Chadderton, who has shone in her duties during the past civic year.

Each of us are defined by the communities we belong to and we should all exercise our gift to enhance them when we can.

Finding such fine volunteers amongst young people is just another reason to be optimistic.

People do still ‘love where they live’ and have great community spirit in 2012 – rumours of its demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Thanks for listening,

Jim