Brexit should unite – not divide – us

referndumvbenueI WONDER what Harold Wilson – the PM who coined the phrase “a week is a long time in politics” – would have thought about the last few days.

The EU Referendum last Thursday has sent the UK into a tailspin and its impact is being felt across every walk of life and community.

It’s been an unprecedented and extraordinary time – with things happening at such breakneck speed that you can barely dare to take your eyes off the news.

I reflected last Friday night how tumultuous the times are when the Prime Minister’s resignation is not even the lead story on the TV news.

The frenzy of resignations, shifts in stance, fluctuating financial graphs and political horse-trading has been dizzying – and it is far from over yet.

As this is an apolitical blog it’s not the appropriate place for me to address my feelings about the rights and wrongs of either the Remain or Leave cases in the referendum.

Nonetheless I do want to make some general observations about the campaign which apply to both sides because, at times, it was an unedifying spectacle.

The debate was often heated, misleading and negative. The language was often aggressive, barking and divisive.

I’ve heard many people on either side refer to “scaremongering” and that is something we should all be very worried about. That simply fosters distrust for politicians, important institutions and, worst of all, disrespect for other peoples’ views.

I still believe the public is capable of weighing up a rational argument with the facts laid out fairly before them, but that isn’t really what happened is it?

When people are saying days after the result that they now regret how they voted, that they were oblivious to certain consequences, or that they now feel like the final outcome will not be what they were promised, then we have surely failed to deliver a mature and informed debate.

This referendum was the most serious decision of our time yet it was conducted in an atmosphere that was consistently adversarial. It was yah-boo politics at its worst and that has continued since the result came in.

Exaggeration, hyperbole and speculation poisoned the atmosphere and that impacted negatively on voters too.

And I do think that the sensationalist tone used for several months by some elements in the media around the issues also helped to create that climate.

ReferendumThere are at least some plusses…

People got actively involved and interested in the debate, which is all too rare. You could not walk through a shop, café or street without hearing people talking about the issues – and that led to the biggest turnout in history last Thursday.

The challenge for politicians on all sides next is to try and maintain that level of interest and engagement – although that will not be easy given the mistrust that has been stimulated.

Following the result we have, regrettably, seen some instances of hate crime – although thankfully none have yet been reported in Oldham, and I hope that prevails.

This frenzied national climate has raised tensions and anxieties within and between communities.

I was shocked yesterday to see the footage of the vile racist abuse hurled by youths on a tram at Market Street in Manchester.

That kind of behaviour has no place in our society and we will not tolerate hate crime here. We didn’t tolerate it before the referendum and we won’t tolerate it now.

Whatever individual decisions people took we have to respect that and not jump to misguided conclusions about their motivations.  We have to respect the vote and the decision.

And we should also bear in mind the uncertainty this has created for many people, like EU nationals who currently live here.

To read interviews in the MEN on Monday where local Polish people said their community is now ‘terrified” was chilling.  Some have said they are staying at home because they have been subjected to taunts of ‘go home’

FLAGSIt’s bad enough for people having to cope with the uncertainty that all this brings – imagine your own family having to cope with that – but to be facing such ignorance in the places where you live and work is completely unacceptable.

I would urge anyone who experiences or witnesses hate crime like this to report it immediately to the police by dialling 101 – or contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

We all now await the triggering of Article 50, the ‘sandtimer’ that starts exit negotiations with the EU, and then there is at least two years of those talks to endure.

Ultimately it will be for the Government negotiators to agree those deals and clarify the long term impact on people. However, the impacts of Brexit are likely to be felt for a very long time by us all – whatever happens next.

This period of uncertainty will mean further challenges to the national economy and that obviously raises the prospect of more cuts to public services that are already decimated – plus questions about where this all leaves the so-called ‘Northern Powerhouse’ project and others.

I don’t have a crystal ball and I have no idea how all these pieces will fall at present.

My focus, as always, will be to continue standing up for the people, communities and interests of Oldham to ensure we are not big losers from the fallout.

Following last week’s result there was much talk about the links between deprivation, cuts to public services and the alienation of communities.

None of us should forget that.

National Government now – and in the future – must not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Jean

History in the making: heritage in our hearts

Library1IT’S GREAT to be able to report that the full funding package is now in place for the Oldham Arts and Heritage Centre.
 
As a Co-operative Council partnerships across all sectors are vital to our borough’s future and this regeneration scheme is a great example of that.
 
Oldham Council has committed £8m in funding to this project and we have now secured a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £3.37m – plus an incredible donation from Sir Norman Stoller of £4m.
 
This means funding for this phase is complete and we can now get on with delivering this exciting vision.
 
The Arts and Heritage Centre is a vital project that will improve the town centre’s cultural offer – and it underlines our determination to put heritage at the heart of our regeneration programme.
 
It’s important that future generations will have the chance to go and visit a facility where they can be inspired and learn more about our borough’s past.
This new centre will tell that story.
 
From the Industrial Revolution and our time as the cotton spinning capital of the world right up to the present day, it will use objects, storyboards, installations, media and our museum and archives collections to being that journey to life in an informative and engaging way.
 
The project will also see a new lease of life given to the grade II-listed former Library building on Union Street, which is crucial.
 
We’re acutely aware of the need to bring empty buildings back into use within the town centre conservation area.
 
We are already working hard to support existing and new businesses into the area, but there are clear challenges in getting developers interested in coming forward with solutions for larger and older buildings like this one.
 
This venue will now undergo restoration work and be fully returned to public access as the new home to our heritage showcase with gallery spaces, public research rooms and meeting spaces.
 
It will also have new educational facilities that will include opportunities for people to volunteer and train, and join in local engagement and outreach programmes. The former lecture hall will also become a performance studio space for local groups.
 
Library2The brilliant old photo (above) shows the finishing touches being put to the building just prior to its opening.
 
You can also see a poster (below right) which advertises the library’s grand event on August 1, 1883, when it was opened by Sir John Lubbock MP accompanied by a large party of fellow MPs, three Dukes, two Earls and a Marquis.
 
I have no idea yet exactly who will open the new centre – work starts on-site early next year – but a clear early candidate to do that has to be Sir Norman Stoller.
 
His philanthropy continues to astound us and we are unbelievably fortunate to have his generosity continuing to create an incredible legacy for Oldham.
 
Not only is Sir Norman an incredible example to our young people of what you can achieve in life, he is also a magnificent ambassador for the borough.
 
Since establishing The Stoller Charitable Trust in 1982 he has contributed millions of pounds to good causes and in 2014 he added a further £50m worth of shares from his personal investments into the Trust.
 
We simply cannot thank him enough for again sharing in our vision to create something that will have a big impact and benefit to residents and visitors alike.
 
Library3Looking ahead our work continues with Historic England on what possible future uses and funding can be found for other old structures in the town centre.
 
Last October we successfully pushed for the conservation area to be included on their ‘Heritage at Risk ‘register.

That might sound like an odd thing to do on the face of it, but this is actually the best thing we can do to help protect and preserve those assets.
 
It allows us to now access specialist advice and gives us the status required for certain funding sources which would otherwise have been denied to us.
 
Historic England is given targets by Government to help remove areas from the register and to dedicate time and resources to help achieve it. 
 
There are good examples in Oldham already of what can be done.
 
Our Old Town Hall project, for example, is restoring the jewel in our civic crown – and schemes like the renovation of the grade II* George Street Chapel by Age UK show how new uses can be found that align with our wider regeneration plans.
 
I am determined that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past and ignore these problems.
 
If we don’t act now to explore the possibilities then the future could be grim for many of those buildings – and that’s something we cannot allow to happen.
 
Jean

Flytipping: The fight goes on

flytipNEWFLYTIPPING IS the scourge of our communities – it’s bad for people and places.

The photographs you can see on this page are of the thoroughly-depressing scene that I visited last week.

Although I am Council Leader, I remain a ward member and am still always there to look after Hollinwood matters alongside my colleagues, Councillors Steve Williams and Brian Ames.

A local resident came to see me and told me about this carnage, just behind the cemetery off Limeside Road, last Friday afternoon.

When I got there I was shocked at the scale of the mess. A picture says a thousand words and, honestly, how do people look at themselves in the mirror after doing something like this?

I’m told it seems to have happened between 9.30am and 3.30pm last Wednesday – so it was in broad daylight and utterly shameless.

I rolled my sleeves up and started to sift through the mess on the site.

There was what looks like removed render and other builders’ rubble and lots of bags – including some which contained what appeared to be stripped wallpaper.

NEW4The way it was all strewn along the floor in a trail (pictured) suggests it was on the back of a flatbed truck. They probably just dropped the guard at the back and then drove off at speed to dump it.

The contents this time appear to be trade waste but we also often find flytipping to be the result of another eviction by a rogue landlord. Either way, there’s simply no excuse.

In and amongst the filth and debris I finally located what I was hoping to find: tell-tale signs of where the rubbish might have originated from.

There was a letter and a slip containing two separate addresses of people with the same surname. Coincidence? Time – and our investigation – will tell.

I photographed these and reported everything to council officers who then swung into action and got on investigating the matter.

Our environmental services and enforcement staff do a great job in cleaning up scenes like this on a regular basis but it’s a thankless and disheartening task.

They also work very hard to find the people responsible by looking for evidence of the original owner of the dumped items.

In May this year all local authorities were given greater powers to tackle flytipping crime by now being able to issue penalty notices of between £150 and £400 to those caught in the act of dumping anything from old fridges or sofas to garden waste or rubble.

The maximum fine for dumping waste has also been bumped up to £3m for companies and up to £95,000 for individuals.

Even low-level offenders could face a bill of up to £10,000 and three years in jail.

Crime like this – and that’s exactly what it is – costs our economy and you, the Council Taxpayer, millions of pounds each year.

It also undermines legitimate business, and poses serious risks to the environment because it doesn’t just blight the area, it attracts vermin and is a health hazard.

For me, actions speak louder than words.

If you flytip it speaks volumes about you: about your outlook and attitude to society.

Dumping your waste by the road, whether that’s in an alleyway, the countryside or a random industrial estate, is about as selfish as you can get.

NEW2That’s why Oldham Council will have absolutely no qualms about using those new powers to punish anyone caught doing this.

These ‘on the spot’ fixed penalty notices could also save us time and money in punishing offenders as they are a much quicker alternative to prosecuting through the courts.

We’ll also continue to prosecute whenever we have sufficient evidence – and continue working closely with neighbouring authorities to jointly pursue cases that are happening across our borders.

The money we spend on clearing up mess like this could be saved and spent on other vital services that people rely on. In the current financial climate this simply cannot continue.

We rely on the public’s help in reporting flytipping and helping us to identify the people responsible.

Please do your bit and let us know whenever you spot flytipping – or have information about it – by calling us on 0161 770 2244 or reporting it online here.

To end on a much happier note this week, I just want to say congratulations to Carolyn Wilkins.

CWOBEOur Chief Executive was awarded the OBE in the Queen’s 90th Birthday Honours List last weekend and it was fully deserved.

It’s an accolade that highlights her brilliant work and long-standing service to Local Government and Public Service Reform.

It’s also yet another positive reflection on the way that people are starting to recognise the great progress that is being made here in Oldham.

I’m very proud to work alongside Carolyn and also to be able to consider her as a valued friend.

I’m sure all who know her across and beyond our borough will join me in congratulating her on this news.

Jean

Here comes the sun: don’t waste it

SALEXBESTYOU CAN’T have missed the glorious sight of a rather unfamiliar yellow dot in the sky in recent days.

Summer, it seems, is here at last and with it comes a dizzying array of events and opportunities all across the borough.

There’s already so much summer-related activity going on that it’s hard to keep track of it all – and there’s no excuse for staying at home.

In the coming days alone I’m aware of street parties planned for the Queen’s 90th birthday, Failsworth Carnival, the East Oldham Games at Stoneleigh Park, the visit of the Tour De Manc through Saddleworth, Dr Kershaw’s Summer Fair and events joining the national The Big Lunch on Sunday. And we’re not even into the school holiday periods yet…

lastthree3This summer our major focus is on health and wellbeing and encouraging people to get active.

We’re blessed to have some fantastic natural assets here in Oldham and are working with our partners to encourage people to get out and about and enjoy them.

Exercise is an extremely important part of our lives. It keeps our hearts healthy, reduces our risk of serious illness and strengthens muscles and bones.

But visiting places and meeting new people is equally beneficial for your wellbeing – strengthening your social networks and confidence – and we’ve got 32 local parks and green spaces to help everyone do that.

You can have a wander around my personal favourite, for example,  the ‘jewel in the crown’ that is Alexandra Park, where you can cool down in the paddling pool or challenge the family to a game of tennis.

ALEXPARK3

Foxdenton Park is perfect for a kickabout with its two football pitches, and the kids can also burn off energy in the play area or enjoy a walk in the woodland and sensory garden.

Dove Stone reservoir is also a favourite family option where you can get close to nature on a stroll, or you could take your bikes along the paths of Leesbrook Nature Park in the heart of the Medlock Valley.

lastthree2To find out more about our great outdoor spaces visit our Parks webpage here. And if you are looking for further inspiration for fun-filled games and activities for your little ones then it’s well worth looking at the Change4Life programme here.

Floral displays are, of course, an important part of our summer campaign which we know our residents love to see.

But the impact of our annual Bloom and Grow campaign is not just visual – it’s about much more than flowers, beautiful though they are.

It’s about taking and enjoying a co-operative approach to improving our environment: with the whole community working together to improve towns and districts.

Our environmental services team do a fantastic job but Bloom and Grow’s real strength lies in your participation as a resident, school, business or community group.

It’s great for civic pride and it also plays a vital role in educating people how to play their own small part to help keep our borough looking beautiful, clean and attractive to all who live and work here.

If you’ve visited Oldham town centre in recent days you’ve probably noticed that preparations are getting underway on our latest showcase ‘WOW’ bed display in High Street.

lastthree1That display will be the centrepiece of this year’s campaign in which we’re bidding for double ‘gold’.

Firstly, we’re taking part in North West in Bloom again and aiming to repeat last year’s success when we won ‘Best City’ (we are in this category based on population size) for the sixth year in a row.

But we are also the regional representatives in that category in this year’s Britain in Bloom – which we won in 2012 and 2014.

For a town like Oldham to be beating off competition from places like Chester and Westminster in that field speaks volumes about the success of our collective efforts, and our aspirations as a place.

I’m not able to give any secrets away while our team continue preparing their latest horticultural masterpiece, but it’s safe to say it will again be worth the wait when we reveal all.

There are also six local competitions that we’re encouraging all our green-fingered residents and businesses to get involved in.

Proxmaxbda2012AwardsWe’re asking budding photographers to get snapping with your phones and capture the best the borough has to offer. There have already been some brilliant snaps sent in – and in the first month alone we’ve had more than 450 entries.

You don’t need to be an expert and the winner will get £200, plus the chance for your work to be admired by every local resident in a future edition of Borough Life.

By way of inspiration for you, we’ve just finished our Young Photographers’ competition which was won by a wonderful picture of a ‘Tawny Owlet’ taken by Ellia Rhodes, aged 11, from Grasscroft (pictured below).

Young photo winner

There are also competitions still open for the ‘Best Blooming’ businesses, pubs, restaurants and private gardens. You can find out more here

Finally, I couldn’t blog this week without mentioning National Carers Week.

As I know from personal experience there are few more worthy causes than this to highlight.

Carers need and deserve our support and they can access a range of assistance and information.

carers-week-2016Oldham Carer’s Services are there for unpaid carers looking after a partner, family member or friend who could not manage without their help. They can provide information about health issues, entitlements, mobility, equipment, volunteering opportunities, individual budgets, rights and employment issues. You can find out more and contact the service here.

We have many fantastic people here who are essentially an unpaid army of carers for some of our most vulnerable elderly and disabled people.

We should take pride in their efforts and be grateful for the fantastic contribution they are making to their families and local communities.

I am personally determined that we continue to work hard to make Oldham a caring town – one that recognises those who need help most, and highlights the amazing people who help deliver it for them.

Jean

Love Your Local Market

LYLM FB Banner 2 (3)THIS WEEK is national Love Your Local Market week – and it’s a campaign I am always delighted to back.

Like many residents I am fond of our markets and they are a passion that dates right back to my childhood.

My first-ever part-time job, when I was still at Hathershaw Comprehensive, was folding jumpers and sorting out stock on Peter Haq’s outdoor market stall in Oldham. Typical of the tradition that goes with these things, his family still runs a stall on the inside market to this very day.

One of my saddest ever memories came later when I was working as a ‘Saturday Girl’ at Littlewoods, in what is now the Primark building, in 1974.

I will never forget standing in the canteen at the back of the building with other staff overlooking the site of the old market hall, which had burned down overnight.

It had clearly been a huge blaze, the market was destroyed and the tears came freely to us all.

We all have our market memories and anecdotes – much happier than that one, I hope! – and the Love Your Local Market campaign is a great way of celebrating the importance of markets to local communities.

TFIELD2Buildings may come and go – and shopping habits have also changed drastically over the years – but markets still have a unique appeal.

They offer great services at a price that doesn’t break the bank. You can choose from a great range of good quality local produce and traditional foodstuffs – and above all markets are about the people.

You can meet some really incredible characters on the stalls and make great new friends in a way that other forms of shopping simply don’t tend to offer.

‘Click and collect’ or ‘home delivery’ services don’t give you conversation, the chance to ask questions about what you are buying or the choice to pick exactly what you want.

And out of town retail parks – although undoubtedly serving a purpose and having a clear audience – don’t have bustling aisles full of people browsing and socialising, and eager shoppers bartering with traders and swapping titbits.

A visit to market has always been about the experience and we’re trying to help encourage new vendors to give it a go.

We’ve just recently launched a new scheme to tempt budding traders through a £5 Friday Market for the outdoor market at Tommyfield.

This is absolutely ideal for people just starting out with a new small business – or who just want to have a go at trading and see how it goes.

Free public liability insurance is on offer for this, but places are limited so traders need to express an interest soon. Other offers include four weeks’ free rent for stalls who introduce a new trader to us – plus the chance for the newbie to pay three weeks’ rent up front and then get the next three for absolutely no charge.

The first £5 Friday Market will be held soon and you can find out more information here.

SHOPLOCALTo learn more about Oldham’s markets, why not follow them and show your support on social media? You can even ask questions and the markets team will get you an answer either via the Facebook page here or the Twitter account @oldhammarkets

You can also find details there about the Love Your Local Market events taking place this week which include funfairs, jazz musicians, bingo, and even magic tricks.

Aside from Tommyfield, Oldham does – of course, also have some other brilliant local markets at Shaw, Royton, Saddleworth and others.

Information and details about all these can be found on our Markets webpage at: http://www.oldham.gov.uk/markets

Please pay your local market a visit, try shopping local and grab yourself a bargain soon.

Jean