IT’S JUST under a year ago now since I took part in a steel signing session at the site of the new First Choice Homes Oldham (FCHO) offices – how time flies!
Last Thursday I was lucky enough to get an early peek at the inside of the new building on Union Street, which is to be known as First Place.
I was there to attend an Oldham Leadership Board event – and I have to say what I saw was very impressive.
With office and meeting space over four floors, this building will now be home to more than 250 employees and provide an improved Customer Zone with free access to online services, free phones and better interview facilities.
Its’ completion is a real landmark in our regeneration agenda and it was a fantastic vote of confidence that FCHO chose to invest in Oldham and remain in the town centre.
Their investment in Oldham doesn’t stop there either…
Eleven local apprentices have been employed on this construction project across a number of trades including heating engineers, electricians, dry liners and painters and decorators.
In addition to creating local jobs and apprenticeships, this project has also put money back into the local economy with the overall spend with local suppliers currently standing at more than 55 per cent.
Local entrepreneur Gordana Nield who owns Café 22 on Clegg Street, is set to run the new onsite café at First Place.
Her venue – to be named Café 22 @ FCHO – will be open to onsite staff and visitors. Café 22 was recently named as one of the top 10 independent coffee shops in Greater Manchester by readers of the Manchester Evening News, so everyone should be in for a real treat.
As you can see then, First Place is quite literally ‘made in Oldham’ right down even to its purple paint and its cupcakes!
Quality housing is key to the regeneration of the borough and the visit to the new FCHO building caused me to reflect on how far we’ve come since the transfer of the housing stock to FCHO in February 2011.
FCHO taking on responsibility for around 12,000 homes from Oldham Council enabled them to unlock £149 million worth of funding for carrying out vital home improvements.
They are well on with the improvements programme which since 2011 has seen 5,799 new kitchens, 4,817 new bathrooms, 3,018 new boilers, 2,953 new front doors and 1,374 thermal improvements…a hugely impressive list.
FCHO and partners are also underway on a £10 million Eco scheme in central Oldham, with a further £11 million of investment in local properties and the environment.
The B Green project is a partnership between FCHO, Oldham Council, British Gas, Forrest and Savills, to install energy efficiency improvements for around 2,400 residents.
These improvements are important if we are to build strong communities in Oldham. We want people to aspire to live here which means offering good quality housing – and that applies to all homes regardless of whether they’re rented or privately owned.
Oldham Council is also now cranking up the pressure on those people who provide homes that are not fit to live in.
Just this week we successfully prosecuted a private landlord for failing to ensure his properties were safe. Two of the homes did not have any fire detection systems and both the electricity and gas supplies had been tampered with. In total there were 13 breaches of the law. This is simply not acceptable and we will not let our residents be ripped off and put in danger in this way.
That’s why last December we approved our Private Landlord Selective Licensing Scheme – to stamp out the letting of poor quality accommodation.
This will be introduced from May 1 across eight areas in our borough. The aim is to improve the management of privately-rented properties to ensure they have a positive impact on the area. We will not put up with poor practice in Oldham – our residents and communities deserve better.
And finally – and talking of standing up for residents – it would be very remiss of me not to mention how very sad it is that Harry Burns will not be there to see the official opening of First Place on Friday.
The chairman of FCHO from 2004 until the time of his death late last year, Harry was a champion for improving social housing.
He was a proper Oldhamer who told it how it was – and he was a man of real conviction and dedication.
In 2012 Harry also became the first-ever person to be presented with the Civic Appreciation Award.
So whilst he may not be there in person, I’m certain Harry will be there in the hearts and minds of those attending: particularly his wife Louise, who will be opening the building. It will make for a fitting tribute to a man of the people.
Thanks for listening,