THE SECOND annual Civic Bonfire – The Big Bang – served up a spectacular display on Tuesday night.
I must admit that downpouring rain and high winds in the days before Bonfire Night was giving us major cause for concern but, thankfully, it was as if someone was looking down on Oldham that evening as the rain finally broke up and the winds becalmed.
It was a particularly unnerving time as the staging arrived and the fairground began setting up to find yourself constantly checking weather forecasts but, as it turned out, the event was never in doubt.
Either that or it was a fluke of the weather system – but whatever it was we were very relieved!
My role in this event was easy: find the money in the Council coffers to enable it to happen and then turn up and enjoy the show.
Others people’s roles were to actually make it all happen and the sheer amount of planning and hard work involved in setting up, promoting and then running a successful big event like this cannot be underestimated.
What stood out for me – aside from the unusual sight of in excess of 15,000 people gathering on Oldham Edge – was the fabulous family atmosphere and community spirit on show.
The beauty of picking the Oldham Edge site also lay in the sheer height of the location, which towers above the town centre.
This meant that, in addition to those who were at the event itself, many thousands more could watch from the comfort of their own gardens, streets and places of work with many inspiring photos sent through to us from all corners on Social Media.
As a Borough we have a number of events throughout the year that we can be proud of. Most notably these include the Oldham Carnival and the Christmas Lights Switch On, but there is a whole host of other big events like the Saddleworth Band Contest and the Oldham Beer Festival, plus many hundreds of other local community activities.
My point is that these events define our Borough: thousands of people working together to create the fabric of our place.
When we say we’re working towards being a Cooperative Borough here is the living proof that we are building on the strongest possible foundations.
When I became Leader I was determined to make Oldham Council more relevant to the people it serves – and bringing back the Civic Bonfire last year was a key part of that.
I know that some people may question if it is a good use of money – and they have every right to do so.
But my firm view is that at £2 a visitor the event is excellent value for public money and – as a partner in a Cooperative Borough – our role is to step up when needed to do the things that individuals or community groups cannot be expected to deliver by themselves.
A major event like this with all the risk management and safety planning needed required the Council to step up and do its bit; and it did.
This was a great partnership effort all round. First Choice Homes Oldham, for example, sponsored it and worked hard to keep all their tenants informed of the plans, as well as providing volunteers.
96.2FM The Revolution provided a vital meeting space for the night, worked hard to swell the crowd and also gave us our fantastic compere – Big Al – for proceedings.
Fantastic Fireworks also did exactly what they promise – and New Image did a great job with our temporary stage and lighting.
Oldham Council staff also did their bit. There were too many contributions to mention here but Glenn Dale and his Environmental Services team did incredible work to build a safe site from scratch inside 24 hours – and then clean it up again.
Rachel Wood worked to meticulous detail on the stunning stage show, Carl Marsden handled all the communications and publicity, Carol Brown project managed admirably and I could go on and on…
It was especially heartening to see such a large number of volunteers (guided by Vicki Gallagher) helping out and, of course, we can’t forget all those local residents and businesses who put up with the ‘invasion’ with barely a gripe.
So, on Tuesday night felt proud of Oldham – and proud of Oldham Council. And more importantly I was only one of thousands who felt that.
Staying with the ‘feel-good factor’ theme I also have to mention the Oldham Chronicle’s ‘Pride in Oldham Awards’ last Friday night.
Again this did what it does best: recognise the unsung heroes across our Borough who go above and beyond to create the place we have today.
To see so many people acknowledged was special because – without exception – none of those in the room sought attention or praise. They do what they do because they recognise that by doing their bit they get a dividend back; a feeling of something bigger than themselves. And it’s also fantastic that we have a local newspaper which does not allow their efforts to go unnoticed.
It can be easy to be full of doom and gloom as the nights draw in but, for one week, let’s stand taller, stick out our chests and say: ‘Oldham: That’ll do me!’*
*Note for readers outside the Borough: this is the height of praise.
Thanks for listening,