I HAD THE pleasure and humbling opportunity to attend the Mahdlo Youth Zone’s annual awards last Saturday.
As Council Leader I get many invites to events and functions and – almost without exception – they are enjoyable and give me a great chance to meet different residents and community groups.
When Mahdlo first opened in March 2012 there were some concerns expressed.
It was suggested that because the facility was going to be based in the town centre, some young people wouldn’t want to travel to it.
If this was just a standard youth centre I perhaps might have agreed with those fears.
The scale of this building, however, with its first-class sporting and performance equipment, coupled with dedicated staff and volunteers, makes it one of the best facilities not just here in Oldham, but in the country – and I don’t say that lightly.
What is most impressive is that from a small idea this has developed into a leading facility which is already clearly making a huge difference to young peoples’ lives.
When talking about life chances and opportunities I don’t generally believe it is as simple as looking at someone’s financial situation and ability to access things.
More often it is about someone believing in you, investing time and supporting you through life’s ups and downs as a youngster which actually moulds you as a person.
What stands out at Mahdlo is the variety of young people using the centre from all different backgrounds and the varying interests that are so readily accommodated.
During the awards event I was moved by the young people and volunteers who spoke about what they have achieved.
I reflected afterwards on whether some of those people would have had the same opportunities and confidence had it not been for Mahdlo, and concluded the answer is ‘probably not’.
This facility would not exist at all had it not been for the vision and leadership of various members of our business community working in partnership with Oldham Council and other funders to make it a reality.
We all aspire to make a difference in what we do – and Mahdlo does just that, so it’s a big ‘well done’ to Team Oldham.
Staying on the subject of local facilities you will no doubt be aware that we have now signed a ten-year contract with Oldham Community Leisure to manage our leisure centres until at least 2013.
After a highly competitive process, the best bid won.
Going through that whole procedure is a big undertaking in itself and that was made even weightier by all the added discussions about potential costings and scope for the new leisure facilities in Oldham and Royton.
As we move forward with these plans it is absolutely clear that we couldn’t please everyone, but I can assure you that it wasn’t for the want of trying.
We went through absolutely painstaking reviews, business planning, revised plans and timetabling to see if we could accommodate all the various interest groups.
But I was also clear that the Oldham facility had to leave a legacy and be a truly Borough-wide centre that offered facilities which complement – not simply duplicate – our existing leisure centres.
The end result will see a flagship facility complete with bowling and an eight-court indoor sports hall that will enable us to hold regional televised competitions that have previously been off limits to us across a whole range of popular sports.
What we couldn’t balance and factor in was a diving facility.
When considering diving we worked very hard to see if we could retain the facility in the Borough.
But we are also mindful that Oldham isn’t an island and facilities for this are also available in neighbouring towns within easy driving distance.
If money were no object then, of course, physically it would have been possible to include diving provision. But with so many differing interests and users to balance here it is inevitable that not everyone can be accommodated.
On balance I believe we have given proper scrutiny to the plans, challenged back and ensured that the end product will be something our Borough can be proud of – but we have also been realistic and pragmatic.
The editor of the Oldham Chronicle has rightly held us to account throughout this process and I think we are all at least clear and agreed on one thing.
Oldham needed to significantly improve its sporting provision. Now that we have a plan to do that we must focus and crack on with getting these facilities built.
Thanks for listening,