Volunteering – what’s it all about?

Before starting this week’s blog I would just like to say a few words following the death of Michael Meacher MP, a man I, and many others in Oldham, counted as a true friend.

Michael was someone I confided in, trusted and held in great affection.

The borough has lost a political giant – an extremely popular man who helped countless numbers of people over the 45 years that he served his constituents.

On behalf of everyone in the borough I offer our sincerest condolences to his wife, Lucianne, and all his family and friends.

You can pay your own personal tribute to Michael by signing the online Book of Condolence.

Books are also available in the Civic Entrance (formerly Rochdale Road Reception), Chadderton Wellbeing Centre and at Royton Town Hall during normal opening hours.

vaoSince becoming Leader of the Council one of my priorities has been to build strong and dynamic communities that have the means to support themselves.

If we can achieve this then it would enhance the quality of life for all the people living in our neighbourhoods and districts.

We can achieve this through working together to develop and strengthen an already existing voluntary community.

Volunteers not only make a huge contribution to communities across the borough but they also set a great example to others. Just think of how many of the borough’s sports groups, charities and support groups wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for volunteers?

A good example is next week’s Big Bang Bonfire up at Oldham Edge. Since we brought back this free family event council staff have given up their own time to man car parks, guide people to the event and help ensure people enjoy the night safely.

On November 8 we’ll also be holding Remembrance Services across the borough, again volunteers have helped organise them and will be on hand on the day while we pay our respects.

That’s why this week I’ve asked David Sharples, Volunteer Centre Manager here in Oldham to ‘guest blog’ and explain why he gives up his time to volunteer and tell residents a little bit about the opportunities on offer…

In my job as volunteer centre manager at the Volunteer Centre I get asked all the time why I give up my own time to volunteer.

So let’s look what is volunteering really about? Well I think volunteering is doing something that is a benefit to other people, it’s something that involves giving time freely and when I say freely that means that it’s unpaid. (I will come back to the unpaid bit soon). 

I know that can all sound a bit ‘worthy’ and for those people that know me, they’d be the first to say that I wouldn’t do anything without there being some sort of reward!…

So firstly let’s be clear – unpaid means no cash but I firmly believe there are lots of benefits to people who volunteer. It’s a great way to develop new skills, and improve our employability; it’s a way to get references and something really important to put on a CV.

But there’s more to volunteering, it makes you feel good about yourself and that can have a direct result on our mental health and wellbeing in the same way that physical activity and stimulation can improve our physical health and contribute to weight loss. Those are just a few good reasons to volunteer and there are many more.

Does volunteering make a difference to our communities and especially to the communities in Oldham? Yes, volunteers make a huge difference to people in Oldham – there are more than 25,500 volunteers working across the borough and they contribute more than 79,100 hours of their time per week in the borough. [1] 

The work of volunteers allows charities and groups to increase the support they can offer, and it’s amazing that there are more than 800 organisations in Oldham. 

Volunteers also offer a different perspective to paid workers and benefit many other public services, for example as part of a project we’ve recently been running with care homes to help local residents.

One of the great things about volunteering is that’s it open to everyone, you need to have skills to offer but everyone has something they are good at.

The volunteer team can always help you think about what you like doing and support you to find an organisation that you could volunteer with – we call that brokerage. 

Some people face additional barriers to volunteering and we are really keen that we offer as much support as we can to remove or at the very least reduce these barriers. That’s why we run a series of projects aimed at people with low levels of English, with those from offending backgrounds, the long term out of work, and for people with health conditions, for example..

There are so many volunteering opportunities and on an average week we have over 200 opportunities to choose from. 

There’s stuff to do in the great outdoors, opportunities in sport, a chance to experience volunteering with families and young people – not forgetting looking after animals.

If you have a specific interest in caring for people with dementia we have an exciting new project that we are starting to recruit volunteers for now.

After all that you must be asking how can I start volunteering?

VAO’s Volunteer Centre provides routes for 1,000 individuals per year to volunteer across Oldham and through securing additional resources from charitable trusts target help for people that may face additional barriers to volunteering and employment.

Now all you have to do is contact Volunteer Centre Oldham on 0161 633 622 or check out www.do-it.org.uk  or visit us at 12 Manchester Chambers, Oldham, OL1 1LF.

Thanks for listening,


[1] Borough of Oldham State of the Voluntary Sector 2013 research Sheffield Hallum University; Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research

Show there is a GM difference on Sunday trading

SUNDAY TRADING: Should opening hours be extended on ‘the day of rest’?
SUNDAY TRADING: Should opening hours extend on ‘the day of rest’?

SUNDAY IS a special day for the British public.

Although the day of rest had its origins in religion many people with no creed at all greatly value the time they get to spend with their families – or simply to relax away from the pressures of work.

The devolution of Sunday trading powers was a surprise to those of us involved in Greater Manchester’s deal with government.

We hadn’t asked for it and therefore we couldn’t carry out any kind of local consultation about how the power might be used before the announcement came.

With the devolution machine moving quickly the range of powers, responsibilities and the very important fair funding settlement hasn’t been clearly laid out.

The speed and nature of devolution locally has also led many people to ask who is making these decisions and what say do they actually have in it?

Extending Sunday trading opening times has the potential to be contentious even though, by and large, it has not been much of an issue over the last decade.

When council leaders met to discuss the proposed devolution of Sunday trading there wasn’t a big appetite for change, but there was an agreement that the economic case must be clearly demonstrated: as well as taking into account the wide range of views for and against.

This could be a good opportunity for Greater Manchester to show that there is a real difference when powers are devolved away from Whitehall to a more local level.

So what might that difference be?

Well, GM has already begun the process of commissioning independent research to explore the economic case of extended Sunday trading. It would have made sense for this to be a wider review from the outset, but it still isn’t too late to build on this.

There’s a chance the review will simply conclude that there isn’t a compelling economic argument to extend trading hours at all. In which case I suspect the matter won’t go any further.

But there is also a chance, of course, that the review will suggest there are economic benefits and those need to be considered.

WEEKEND: Do we really want shopping to become an almost 24/7 habit?

The GM difference, however, must be that we fully consider community, society and the rights of workers in this debate. This is not part of the assessment remit so far, but it simply cannot be ignored.

Usdaw, the respected trade union which represents many shopworkers the length and breadth of the country, is keen to make sure that those people working in shops have a voice in the debate too.

They have carried out important surveys which show the strength of feeling of many staff who don’t want to be pressured into working hours which will further impact on family life.

There’s a real opportunity here for Greater Manchester to show that there is a positive difference in how we tackle important issues and decisions like this.

Why don’t we set up a GM Sunday Trading Commission with representation from all of those who are affected by it? By including civil society, religious groups, trade unions and other retailers – like convenience store operators – we would have a much more active and representative debate: and better decision making.

We can’t go on repeating the mistakes already made by a disconnected – and often disinterested – Whitehall.

We can and must show that we will involve all those affected by the decisions we take and will give people a genuine voice in debates like this.

That should be the GM difference.

Thanks for listening,


Courting controversy: Is there a Northern Powerhouse difference?

THE BENCH: Oldham Magistrates Court could close under the proposals.
THE BENCH: Oldham Magistrates Court could close under the proposals from the Ministry of Justice… 

PUBLIC sector cuts are biting and hurting the very fabric of our community.

When all that drives decisions is the rush to cut costs there will be consequences for residents and other public services.

Consultation has now ended on the Government’s proposals to close 91 courts and merge a further 31 across England and Wales.

This includes plans to close both Oldham Magistrates Court and Oldham County Court.

The rationale is narrow and focused solely on the departmental budget of the Ministry of Justice with little or no thought given to the knock-on effects this will have.

Firstly, access to justice and the right to be judged by our peers is a fundamental right of British citizens.

The more that the legal system removes itself from the communities it is there to serve the less likely you will be judged by your peers.

Secondly, the cost of our justice system is not met solely by the Ministry of Justice.

The judges and courts might be the supporting infrastructure but the impact is far wider.

For the police and local councils supporting victims, giving evidence and delivering well-informed and fairly balanced verdicts, the costs are considerable.

THE END? Oldham County Court is also under threat.
JUSTICE: Oldham County Court is also under threat.

Relocating the court from Oldham to Tameside or Manchester adds significant travel and waiting times.

This is not free time but a real cost to the public purse. It also means officers will be tied up longer meaning either more resources will be required or cases and investigations backlog – or even worse cases begin to collapse.

Looking at a judicial system solely from an estates point of view is wrong and misjudged.

Group Leaders in Oldham across all political parties have come together to fight the proposal.

We don’t believe that closing the two courts has been properly considered and of course we have an eye on the wider economic impact: the loss of public facilities, the loss of footfall in the town centre and the potential that some legal firms may also choose to relocate.

We know more than most about the pressures to balance your books and that’s why we offered a counter proposal, which you can read here.  

By bringing together the County and Magistrates courts into one building they can reduce operating costs and dispose of the redundant building but continue to offer access to justice to our communities.

We hope this plan is considered properly, but I fear it may not be.

Will a Whitehall official really take the time to look at a little town like Oldham?

Will we get lost in the consultation that covers the whole of England and Wales?

If the consultation is a genuine one then our counter proposal should hold weight.

We aren’t being stubborn here – we are showing maturity.

There is a wider question that in the new ‘Northern Powerhouse’ surely we locally should be making these decisions, not someone locked away in Whitehall?

Devolution can only work if it rests on strong foundations. With the cuts coming much quicker than the cash promised through devolution the very foundations it relies upon may quickly give way.

Is there a Northern Powerhouse difference?

The jury is well and truly out!

Thanks for listening,


Old Friends returning – New friends found

SmokeYard 1
SMOKIN’: The newly-opened Smoke Yard restaurant on  Church Terrace, just opposite the Old Town Hall, is run by Ata Mubeen and Luke Rafferty who were schoolmates at St Augustine’s  

OLDHAM town centre is continuing to grow in confidence with an impressive and growing range of new shops, restaurants and attractions for people of all ages.

If Marks & Spencer signing the deal to come to Oldham last November was a symbolic pointer towards a brighter future then T J Hughes’ welcome return is another big boost to our morale.

For too long local people could only watch on helplessly in recent times as the town centre they knew started to change and the doom and gloom of decline set in.

As with many other towns, the new world of online retail, changing shopping habits  and national economic pressures meant far too many stores were closing and leaving large gaps on our High Street.

NEW LIFE: Renovated shops on Yorkshire Street

I’m not trying to suggest that Oldham is sorted yet – not at all – but I do think there is enough happening now to give us all grounds for hope.

This all makes me think back to the time when I visited a small town on holiday and started speaking enthusiastically about it to a local resident.

I began the conversation by saying how envious I was of them having the view they enjoyed every time they open their front door.

But the conversation quickly turned into a busman’s holiday as he began telling me all the problems he perceived with the place: from bins not being emptied to the water charges soon to be introduced.

I have the same perspective problem myself at times; and perhaps more than most given the job I do.

I too tend to notice the shop that has closed, rather than the surrounding units which are open. I also tend to notice the broken paving slabs, not the metres of perfectly finished surface I’ve just unconsciously strolled across.

Taking time to pause and reflect on that can be good for the soul. It gives you a clearer sense of perspective about what is good and clarity about what actually needs to improve.

TJ Hughes
BACK: T J Hughes has re-opened in Oldham

Last week I joined the hundreds of folk who visited the re-opened TJ Hughes and – yes, after leaving with the mandatory Vax Carpet Cleaner (!) – thought to myself that I hadn’t seen the shopping centre feel that busy for a long time.

TJ’s are also not alone in showing faith is what is now happening in our town centre.

We’ve recently welcomed the likes of the Entertainer Toy Store, Warren James Jewellery, Pep & Co and Ethel Austin in joining our line-up of main brand shops – and that’s as well as fantastic new independent retailers such as Suits Scoots and Boots.

The thing that excites me most though is when Oldhamers themselves set up shop here.

They know more than most people about our town centre and clearly many are recognising that something really positive is happening.

Right now we have potential clients literally queuing up for assistance to join the Independent Quarter – to the extent that we need extra staff just to deal with the enquiries and grant support.

HOT: Jack’s Smokehouse is proving popular on Yorkshire Street

Newly-opened restaurants like Jack’s Smokehouse and The Smoke Yard are the latest additions heading what is going to be an impressive list of people who believe that now is the time to invest here.

I can also tell you that ahead of the opening next year of the Old Town Hall with its seven cinema screens we’re getting some fantastic interest from national and local restaurant operators. Watch this space…

What I hope everyone will do in the meantime is to continue to get behind Oldham town centre and back it: from our indoor market with over 100 stalls, to the traditional outdoor market – and from our High Street to our Independent Quarter. And when people moan to you that “there’s nowt in Oldham”, please challenge them back.

We’ve already got big names like Debenhams, Next, River Island, H&M, BHS and others – and we’re soon to welcome a new M&S.

The town centre is now clean and well cared for, it has improved facilities like our play area where you can spend family time – oh, plus up to three hours of free parking on weekends – so why not give us a go?

Thanks for listening,