The future of Youth Services in Oldham

Oldham Youth Council
FUTURE: Oldham Youth Council has had a strong foundation of engagement with us for many years now and I’m keen to build even further on that.

I MAKE no apologies for shouting about Oldham Youth Council.

This group has had a strong foundation of engagement with us for many years now and I’m personally keen to build on that even further.

I was recently privileged to be asked to be the chair of a Youth Council Question Time event that was held as part of Local Democracy Week.

This gave young people the opportunity to pose questions to a panel of international, national and local political figures including Teresa Griffin MEP, Michael Meacher MP, David Heyes MP, together with Councillor Jean Stretton (Deputy Leader) and Diane Williamson (Crompton Ward).

The questions they asked covered a wide range of issues including regeneration, alcohol misuse, how to break the cycle of worklessness and dependency, mental health and much, much more – all impressive stuff.

One question the panel was asked was about our plans for the future provision of youth services in Oldham. This is currently out to consultation and I wanted to outline where we are up to with this.

With £141 million in cuts already made to the council budget since 2009 – and a further £60m to find by 2016/7 – it is clear that every aspect of the council will change.

We’ve worked extremely hard to protect local people from the impact of those cuts and, to be honest, you’d probably admit to not yet having really noticed that £141 million has been taken away.

But everyone needs to be prepared for what might now come because the easier savings have long gone.

I should say right now that looking to make savings in the youth service is not something we are doing because we don’t value it. Far from it. We know that for many young people the support they get from our youth workers is an important part of their lives.

Operationally our youth service is split into three main components.

There is the static youth service (or sessional services) where young people will turn up to a centre and take part in activities. There are our detached youth workers, who go out on to the streets and work to support, challenge and divert young people into positive activities. And there is also the support we provide to Oldham Youth Council, schools swimming, study support and outdoor education.

There is a danger though – given some of the headlines that have already appeared – that you might think our plans are somehow an attempt to just create one youth centre for the whole of Oldham. That is not the case.

The reality is the vast majority of youth activities that take place across our borough aren’t provided by the council at all. They are often provided by the community itself: through uniformed groups, faith groups, sports clubs and hobby groups that cover a massive range of activities.

YouthServicesTo understand the sheer scale of this I’d encourage you to have a look at the extensive mapping of self-organised activity across all our wards that was contained in the recent Cabinet report on youth services – it is staggering. Click here to view it (go to Page 10 of the document).

We also need to be mindful here about the important role of parents and extended family in supporting our young people too.

Looking ahead, we want to continue to work with communities and partners to develop a local youth service offer in the future .

We can’t assume that we know best what people need – and we also can’t assume that a universal service is addressing the diverse needs of our borough’s young people.

If services can be delivered differently or refocused to reduce duplication – and to make them more responsive to local need – then we should consider those options seriously.

But we are also not looking for quick fixes.

The proposal we are consulting on here is to extend our contracts with both Mahdlo and Oldham Community Leisure to broaden the type and quantity of youth services they deliver.

Part of this proposal would see elements of the Youth Service being brought together: including 12-month secondments to Mahdlo of District Youth Development staff and a 12-month pilot also seconding the Detached Youth Team to Mahdlo.

The proposal also outlines plans that would see the School Swimming Service transfer to Oldham Community Leisure (OCL) and the creation of an alternative service delivery vehicle for the Sport Development Service. This would be in the form of a mutual which could be supported and affiliated to Oldham Community Leisure (OCL).

Another part of the proposal is to bring together our youth work support for the Youth Council and the Looked After Children Council.

POWER: Oldham Youth Council can submit motions to meetings of Full Council.
POWER: Oldham Youth Council can submit motions to meetings of Full Council.

We are already continuing to invest in the Youth Council by fitting them out with new accommodation in the Civic Centre – which you will hear more about next month.

This commitment to their future is just the latest step, building on work we’ve already done to embed the Youth Council into our constitution. This enables them to put motions to Full Council on key issues like anti-bullying measures, reserving time at these meetings for Youth Council business and requiring Full Council to receive and consider their own Annual Report.

Looking ahead, is this all going to mean fundamental change for youth services?

Well, for staff and volunteers, yes – things will be very different.

For young people it will also be different. But whether it will be better or worse will depend on how young people use the range of services on offer today.

What I am clear about is that this is a way to ensure we still have a youth service.

If at the end of all this we can stand up and say we have a good offer in Oldham then we’ll have achieved what many other councils would kill for in the current financial climate.

Not to change is simply not an option. But if we genuinely take our role as a cooperative council seriously – and we work as one community to solve the issues affecting the borough – we can achieve far more together than if we continue to protect our own institutions or traditional ways of working.

I would urge you to join in the conversation that is taking place right now about the Youth Service and all of our budget proposals at

I’d also encourage you to show your support and check out the work of our Youth Council and see what they are up to next at

Thanks for listening.


Blooming wonderful for Oldham

GREEN WITH ENVY: Oldham’s award-winning Britain in Bloom entry for 2014 has drawn admirers from outside the borough.

WE’VE ONLY gone and done it again!

In case you missed it, Oldham was crowned ‘Best City’ at the national RHS Britain in Bloom 2014 competition this week – and we are absolutely delighted.

During the summer visitors to our borough couldn’t help but go green with envy at how the area looked when they saw the fruits of the amazing work being done by hardworking staff alongside community groups, residents and partners as part of our Bloom and Grow campaign.

I had several meetings with visitors from ‘outside’ who commented very positively about how impressed they were by about the amount of building work, new public realm improvements and road maintenance underway – and the magnificence of the Britain in Bloom display.

Some councils opt to trek to Tatton Park to show off their floral displays every year and that’s a decision for them.

But for me it makes far more sense to put your work in the heart of your own town, so the people footing the bill – Oldham’s taxpayers – get to enjoy it.

The Bloom and Grow scheme has really developed in recent years and encompasses so many different partners and elements having now expanded into community-led schemes that revolve around and benefit different parts of the borough each year.

This time we beat Westminster, Aberdeen and Norwich to win the Best City accolade which shows that community involvement is just as important to the judges as how vibrant and colourful your flowers might look.

The creativity and imagination that lies behind these displays is always outstanding – and perhaps, sometimes, even slightly bonkers(!). But it is that spirit and personal commitment which I think really makes our entry stand out from the crowd.

I will admit to being a “non-horticulturalist type”(!) who gets a bit confused about how these awards work, but I’ve now done my homework so I’d like to share some insight with you…

In 2012 we won the ‘Best City’ accolade at our very first attempt, which was a fantastic achievement. But if you win you’re then not allowed to enter the following year, which explains the one-year gap between our successes.

This second Britain in Bloom triumph feels all the sweeter too because Oldham’s team also won another award that actually didn’t get much recognition at all, but I know means so much to staff.

Alongside the ‘Best City’ and Gold gongs they also won the RHS Horticulture award, which is very special.

This is given to just one entry in recognition that it has delivered the best standards of horticultural practice throughout every aspect.

Glenn Dale and his team say they prize this above all other awards because – unlike Best City, where Oldham competed with three other regional entrants – this one judges your standard against that of every other single hamlet, town, coastal town, village and city that entered any Britain in Bloom category.

This means, for example, that Oldham was actually judged to be better than Shrewsbury in this area – even though they were crowned ‘Champion of Champions’ this year.

BRITAIN IN BLOOM: Judges said: “Oldham has got to be the entry others aspire to.”
BRITAIN IN BLOOM: Judges said: “Oldham has got to be the entry others aspire to.”

This special award is all about the quality of your work – planting techniques and maintenance standards, for example – and winning it is no mean feat when you consider our judging route (stretching more than ten miles across Lydgate, Uppermill, Dobcross, Delph, Bishops Park, Sholver, Heyside, Turf Lane, Rochdale Road and Oldham town centre) was one of the longest in the competition.

Our team also learned we’d been subjected to two ‘mystery shopper’ visits after Judging Day. These are done to check what we show them isn’t some kind of ‘façade’ that is there one day, but gone the next. They obviously found our entry was high-quality and – crucially – sustainable because following one mystery shop excursion to revisit the ‘Wow Bed’ in Oldham town centre, the judge said it looked “even better” the second time round.

Given that by 2017 we’ll have made budget cuts totalling £201m you might think it’d be reasonable to allow a scheme like this to be one of the first things that is cut.

Well, we have reduced the budget – and that’s only right because we must review everything that we do – but I suspect people haven’t noticed as many actually said the displays were better this year than ever before.

I was also keen and determined this summer to see a new play area installed in Oldham town centre and its location next to the ‘Wow Bed’ display has really changed that part of town. It is now a meeting place, a social space and a safe place for families.

Looking ahead, it’s vital we continue investing in our parks team and giving them opportunities like this to develop real horticulture skills. Their skillset is already outstanding, clearly, and each year they also train a new generation through our apprenticeship programme.

Each year when the judges arrive here I’m always nervous for the borough and for staff who have worked so hard.

Once again though the verdict was clear – and in the judges’ own words:

On behalf of the council I’d like to thank the countless staff, volunteers, residents and partners who did their bit to make this success possible. You’re all blooming wonderful!

Thanks for listening,


What makes us Oldham

COUNCIL STAFF:  From dinner ladies to binmen and social workers to environmental teams, our staff are delivering vital services to the people of Oldham.
COUNCIL STAFF: From dinner ladies to binmen and social workers to environmental teams, our staff are delivering vital services to the people of Oldham in an increasingly challenging environment.

THIS MORNING I spent time talking to Oldham Council employees at our staff conference.

We hold these events twice a year and invite up to 400 people from across the organisation – including binmen, highways and environmental teams, dinner ladies and social workers alike.

It’s really important to give staff time out from their day job to attend an even like this. It’s a great opportunity to talk with them about our ambitions and about how they can all play a part in delivering them.

It’s also important to thank them for the hard work that they do day in, day out delivering vital services for the people of Oldham.

Today we talked about how we can work together to build a co-operative borough – how we can all make small changes to the way we work to transform the relationships we have with residents, businesses and other organisations.

This is vital because we know – given the budget cuts the government has already imposed – that we can’t continue to improve our borough without working even more closely together.

We also talked about the work we’re doing to bring new growth, investment and jobs to Oldham.

This includes the major regeneration activity in Oldham town centre and our district centres, our investment in new schools and the improvements we’re making to our transport infrastructure, including Metrolink and the focus on fixing our major roads.

We are making a difference – and people are sharing our positivity and ambition.

Education is improving, jobs are being created, good quality family homes are being built and we are re-inventing the best town centre in the area. We should rightly be proud of what we are achieving.

If you believe what much of the national media tells you, you may think that council workers have it easy with their flexible working and ‘gold plated’ pensions.

But in reality our staff do very difficult jobs. They are helping the most vulnerable people in our society, keeping our streets clean, feeding children in our schools, working with young people, gritting the roads and so on.

They also do those jobs in increasingly difficult circumstances – facing year on year reductions in budgets at the same time as demand for many services is actually rising.

I often write about the great work of our services and teams but what most people don’t see is the additional effort that our staff give – that extra mile they go for Oldham.

As a co-operative council we ask more from our people. We challenge them to give something back to the borough, and so many of them are delivering just that.

VOLUNTEERING: Caption: Council employee Mark Prestwich with Eric Noi, Principal at Oldham Boxing and Personal Development Centre, helped secure funding worth thousands of pounds which has helped pay for a new roof at the Greaves Street gym.
VOLUNTEERING: Council employee Mark Prestwich helped Eric Noi, Principal at Oldham Boxing and Personal Development Centre, secure funding worth thousands of pounds which has helped pay for a new roof at the Greaves Street gym.

Last year hundreds of council employees used their time to volunteer for voluntary organisations and communities across the borough. Examples of what they did include painting community centres, acting as stewards for community events and giving advice about finances or websites to help community groups flourish.

They also raised thousands of pounds for the Action Oldham Fund (previously the Co-operative Oldham Fund) by taking part in events like half-marathons, cross -country bike rides, abseils and cake sales.

That money was all used to fund community activities and organisations like Keep Our Girls Safe – a fantastic local group that works with young women to increase their confidence and self-esteem.

More than 70 per cent of our 3,000 staff live here in the borough. They use our local services and many have chosen to bring up their own families here.

I know they share my ambitions for Oldham and care deeply about making it a better place and improving the lives of residents. As advocates for Oldham they are a truly powerful team.

My plea to you is to share that belief that our staff have – and to be ambassadors for Oldham. Tell people about the good things that are going on here, and what it has to offer people who may want to live, visit or do business.

That doesn’t, of course, mean closing our eyes to the work that we still need to do, the huge challenges we face and the improvements we know we must make.

But you should also always take some time on that journey to appreciate what has already been achieved and celebrate the excellent work that is being done.

Thanks for listening,


The work of ward councillors

Failsworth Pole
HOME: The story of how I became a ward councillor starts simply with the love of my home town of Failsworth.

WHATEVER position you hold on a council – including regional or national posts – you are always, first and foremost, a ward councillor.

In this week’s blog I’m going to talk about how and why I first became a ward member and reflect upon why I believe the work they do is so important.

My own story starts with the love of my home town of Failsworth.

My family has built up strong friendships and we feel safe and part of a community here.

When I first stood for election I certainly didn’t do it because I had any ambition to be a Council Leader – if anything the thought of that would have put me off standing!

I put my name forward because I wanted to do my bit to help in making the little piece of the borough where I lived the best that it can be.

I didn’t do it knowingly for altruistic reasons, although I’ve always felt it was important to play your part in community life. You get out what you put in.

I did it because when we were expecting our first son I started to take more time and interest than before to consider the place where he would be growing up.

Suddenly I found the local park was on my mind – and the performance of local schools and how safe the area was too. All of the kinds of things which most of us take for granted suddenly become very important. Or, at least, they did for me.

Before standing for election I was already busy being locally active.

From my early days of setting up the Failsworth Historical Society with my good friend John Crompton, to sitting as the youth representative on the (then) Area Committee, I was enjoying feeling part of something bigger: the community.

I’ll admit that when I was subsequently elected as ward member for Failsworth East it was all a bit overwhelming, and it still is.

For people in your neighbourhood to take the trouble to go out and vote for you provides real food for thought. It isn’t just a show of support, it is a contract and one which I take very seriously.

It demands that I act in the wider public interest and work hard to make the town a better place.

Instead of waiting for someone else to step up and do that, I was prepared to do my bit, but I feel genuinely privileged to hold the positions that I do and also a huge weight of responsibility not to let down those people who’ve trusted me.

I can walk around my local ward now and point to improvements that have been made. I can meet people I’ve been lucky enough to help and I’ll also be certain to pick up new casework as residents stop to chat.

That short personal story (and a lot has happened since!) will be similar to a great number of councillors across all political divides in Oldham and elsewhere. I’ve been fortunate to work with most members of the council here and can say that, by and large, they are dedicated and in politics for one reason – to make a difference.

I know the positive impact ward councillors can make but at times we are all so busy getting on with things that we often forget to let people know what we’ve been doing.

DEMOCRACY: Each Oldham Council member can publish an annual report to report back to residents on their work.
DEMOCRACY: Each Oldham Council member can publish an annual report to report back to residents on their work.

As we gave increased budgets and powers back to the districts I therefore felt it was important that we had some way for them to report back, which is why we introduced Annual Reports for councillors. You can read these by clicking here.

Most councillors have published these reports and they are important. They’re not about committee positions, high office or party politics. They are all about their work as a local ward member.

These are also about accountability. They are good for local democracy and good for councillors: a rare chance to pause and reflect on a year.

I’ve read every one of them and although it’s hard to pick out individual reports I wanted to give a flavour of what goes on.

Look, for example, at Hollinwood councillor Steve Williams. His annual report beings by saying: “I have always felt that I am one of the most privileged councillors Oldham has ever had”. That is because of the pride he takes in representing his community.

Steve then goes on to list a host of community projects, grant funding schemes and work being done to help those in financial difficulty. It isn’t all hard work though as he also talks about a great day out at Southport and Blackpool with local families.

And this isn’t about party politics.

A different but equally interesting annual report from Saddleworth councillor John McCann tells of how he fought hard with local people to get the 180 bus service restored.

For me this is all part of the bigger picture. Effective local leaders working for local people and being supported to do that by a confident cooperative council that is willing to devolve power down to those elected by their community.

Being a councillor isn’t all fun and rewarding, of course.

At times it can hard and nothing can ever really prepare you for the divisive nature of Oldham politics at times.

It would be easy to be distracted or shaken by the attempts of some to attack you for the sake of politicking, but I find having a reference point to step back and reflect upon is good for the soul. It serves as an important reminder of why we are all here.

It would be a reasonable question to ask why – if I only wanted to be a ward councillor – I am now Council Leader or giving time nationally to local government issues.

Put simply, it is because I believe in local government. I also believe in the power of communities to come together and decide who they want to represent them.

Sadly, in reality, many decisions are not made by local communities as unaccountable bodies or distant agencies are often deciding what you get and how and when you get it.

But if by working beyond Oldham’s geographical boundaries we can get a better deal for the communities we’re here to represent, then I believe that is a very good use of my time.

Our system isn’t perfect – and I would never claim I am perfect, far from it – but I do think we sometimes badly underestimate the value of local government and the work of ward members.

If you have a few spare minutes, why not check out the work of your own ward councillors? Hopefully it will give you a better insight into what is being done in your area. And if that prompts to contact your local councillor and say so – or give any feedback – then I know they’d all really appreciate it. That’s why we are all here.

Finally, in the spirit of keeping myself fully accountable, you can read my own Annual Report as a Failsworth East councillor here and also watch my report as Council Leader here.

Thanks for listening,


Building supportive communities, addressing loneliness

ISOLATION: In 2011 research found that one in six people had no close friends living nearby - potentially leading to isolation, loneliness and other illness.
ISOLATION: In 2011 research found that one in six people had no close friends living nearby – potentially leading to isolation, loneliness and other illness.

MANY OF my blog posts focus on big ticket projects, schemes and policy announcements.

Although I expect this week’s topic won’t attract much of a fanfare, it is about something that is absolutely critical to how you build a strong and supportive community.

For any community to succeed and do well its people must feel part of something. They must feel a connection to it and they must feel safe.

A key part of building resilient and confident communities is about having a network of support around people.

For many residents this happens naturally through having a network of family and friends, work colleagues, people who are in the same sports club or simply just share an interest with them.

But for others it is more difficult, and often as you go through changes in life – retirement, bereavement, or even changes in your neighbourhood – these support networks can shrink or disappear altogether.

It is a stark statistic that more than 51 per cent of people over 75-years-old live alone. That’s not to say that they are all lonely, of course, but they could be at a higher risk of becoming lonely.

Indeed, research in Oldham in 2011 showed that about one in six people said they had no close friends living nearby and that it is more likely when people are aged 85 years and over. So why is that an issue?

The effects of smoking, drinking too much alcohol and eating unhealthily are well-publicised, but recent research into the impact of loneliness on individuals says that it can be equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, being an alcoholic and can be twice as harmful as being obese.

Not only that but it can lead to depression, strokes, and can accelerate the progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

You may have heard the old adage that prevention is better than the cure – or how about a stitch in time saves nine – so in a co-operative borough like Oldham we believe that prevention is essential. It can help people maintain their independence longer, live longer healthier lives and costs much less than high-cost ‘cures’.

The number of people aged 75 years and over living in Oldham is projected to increase by 59 per cent in the years ahead: from 7,367 in 2011 to 11,683 by 2030.

And as the number of older people grows, the need for prevention in a number of health areas for this age group is also to going to increase, including the prevention of loneliness and isolation.

So what are we as a council already doing?

For starters, we’re working with partners at a Greater Manchester level following a successful bid for more than £10 million from the Big Lottery Fund Ageing Better programme.

Led by the voluntary sector, this cross-partnership programme will involve a ‘test and learn’ approach to developing new solutions to tackle loneliness and isolation. Three of Oldham’s wards – Alexandra, Failsworth West and Crompton – will take part in the project which will ultimately establish an evidence base of what works, which can then be used elsewhere in the region.

In April 2014, Oldham’s Health and Wellbeing Board, held a Loneliness Workshop which brought together colleagues from a range of organisations including Oldham AGE UK, the Campaign to End Loneliness, local housing providers, Public Health and the voluntary sector, to learn, discuss and jointly plan ways to tackle loneliness across the borough.

We know we need to work closely with partners and strive to identify and support the ‘unreachables’ (those who are socially isolated and at risk of loneliness).

We also must ensure that we communicate clearly across Oldham to help raise awareness and de-stigmatise loneliness, making it easier for those who suffer from it to discuss it openly.

We’ve also improved how we consider the impact of key decisions and what impact these might have on people who are lonely.

Loneliness can affect anybody at any age. Evidence also indicates that older lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people are more likely to live alone, for example, with fewer support networks, meaning they may be at greater risk of social isolation. That’s why important community events such as the 10th Oldham Pride celebration held this summer are vital for bringing together communities across the borough.

A number of council employees have already volunteered to support and help people to tackle loneliness and social isolation. Some are assisting the Stroke Association to deliver stress relief workshops for stroke champions and stroke survivors so they can come together to support one another, share ideas and seek advice.

What can you do?

Within whichever of Oldham’s communities you live, there will be someone who needs a bit of company every now and again.

Is there an elderly neighbour on your street who can’t get out and about like they used to? Is there someone who has recently suffered a bereavement which has left them all alone? Or even someone whose family live a distance away and can’t get over to see them regularly?

Well, why not ask them over for a coffee, or take them some cake, or offer to pick some shopping up for them?

It sounds simple but human contact can make all the difference sometimes and there are also several local voluntary organisations who arrange for support to those suffering loneliness such as Oldham’s Bereavement Service or Oldham’s Befriending Service which is part of Age UK.

If you have time to give to help out, please contact them at: and

We all know the difference it can make to our own day when someone says hello and smiles – so please have a think about what you can do.

You could be that stitch in time…

Thanks for listening,