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.
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.
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.
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,