Old Town Hall: New Era

The opening of the Old Town Hall last Friday was every bit as exciting as I had hoped it would be and I was honoured to carry out the official opening, alongside former council Leader, MP for Oldham West and Royton, Jim McMahon.

Hundreds of people made the special journey to Oldham town centre to witness the free show ‘On the Shoulders of Giants’ and were both entranced and delighted with the bravery of the aerial acrobats who helped to bring the story to life. The story epitomizes what we are about – a small girl who, when raised on the shoulders of a giant, finds that she can see much further – and that she can also see a brighter future for herself and her town. 

Well I see a brighter future for our town and truly believe that this development marks a new era for Oldham. 

I was heartened to see so many people at the event. So many of you gave up your Friday night to join us in celebrating this new start for Oldham town centre, so it just goes to show what a huge difference this development has already begun to make to our town.

As I said on the night, this is a game-changer for Oldham – and it really is just the start.

It was a fantastic weekend filled with live music, street performances and movie-themed entertainment. All I would ask now is that you continue to show your support and use this great new facility, take your family to visit the new Odeon cinema and use Parliament Square as a focal point for enjoying time with your friends and family – just make sure you tell everyone about it and encourage them to do the same. Take a look at what’s on at the cinema here www.odeon.co.uk/cinemas/oldham/222/

Work will continue over the next few weeks to progress the phased opening of the restaurants and I will continue to keep you updated on this as it happens. 

Finally, as promised a fortnight ago, I’m going to explain the final two priorities that lie ahead for this administration. 

Both are about health and wellbeing. 

We will work hard to manage our budget so we can continue to provide care for all who need it – and for Oldham to be a caring place to live. 

That’s not easy given the challenges we’re facing with our budget, falling income and rising demand, but it’s a commitment that remains: from our new Right Start service right up to helping people live independently in their homes or managed accommodation in later life.  

That agenda is increasingly about reforming public services, delivering things in a different way with partners, and empowering individuals to help themselves.  

The partnership model behind Warm Homes Oldham is a great example of that – as is the Early Help scheme which has redesigned and integrated services for people who need support with problems like drug and alcohol addictions, mental health issues, school attendance and behaviour, and housing.

A vital final priority for us is to support healthy lifestyles. 

We’re actively helping residents and staff to be ‘Fit for Oldham’ – mentally and physically – and there are many aspects to that.

I think of our brilliant catering team who offer the healthiest school meals in the North West to give our children a great start are a perfect example of that.

We’ve also got fantastic parks and open spaces like Alexandra and Dunwood Parks to enjoy and get active – and we’re continuing to invest in others, like the new MUGA pitch at Coalshaw Green Park.

With partners and volunteers we also offer a wide range of help and activities, like the fantastic local Parkruns, and we now have a modern estate of leisure centres. 

Through a host of other measures like growing hubs, fruit routes, allotments and schemes across the borough – like those at Lees,  Alexandra Park and community projects like those with the Firwood and District Residents’ Association and the Fatima Womens’ Association – we’re widening access to healthy food, knowledge and fitness. And we’re doing all that from juniors upwards to help these become habits for the next generation. 

The rationale is that this is ‘win win’ for everyone, if we get this right. It’s not just beneficial for those families taking part, it will also ultimately save the public sector money. 

But it also needs your participation and – as I said at the outset of this series of blogs – I pledge that people who do their bit and contribute to this vision and priorities will benefit from them…

We can only build a better borough together.

Jean

On The Shoulders Of Giants…

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THE OPENING of the Old Town Hall is clearly a major priority for myself and the council this week.

There is a very special free public event taking place on the night of Friday, October 21. – and everyone is invited.

We’ve all waited a long time to see the Old Town Hall reopen and we are marking the start of that phased process – the opening of the ODEON cinema and Costa Coffee – with what we believe will be the most spectacular outdoor show ever hosted in Oldham.

Our Arts Development team has worked incredibly hard to create a spectacle and a show that symbolises our pride in Oldham as a place, and our confidence in our future.

This fantastic event is called ‘On the Shoulders of Giants’ and takes its inspiration from a local legend – the Oldham Giant – who is buried in the crypt at Oldham Parish Church.

This was a man called Joseph Scholes who died in 1814 and is said to have been around 6ft 7in tall and weighed 37 stones when he died(!).

He was, however, a ‘gentle giant’ who spoke up for apprentices who were recruited from the workhouse and found themselves bullied and underfed by fustian weavers.

When he ‘awakens’ from the crypt at 7.30pm on Friday the entertainment will begin with 3D projections onto the Old Town Hall’s front facade, a six-metre tall giant, aerial acrobatics above the crowds, plus performances and narrations from local actors and musicians.

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THE OLDHAM GIANT: Our six-metre puppet under construction

You can find everything you need to know at the event – including information on parking and timings – at www.oldham.gov.uk/oldtownhall The details are also on the graphic at the bottom of this page.

If you’re inspired to find out more about the Oldham Giant then Oldham Parish Church, will also be opening the next day (Saturday) from 9.30am to 2pm offering tours of that crypt at regular intervals, for a small donation, plus a cafe.

That will all be happening alongside a great weekend of live music, street performances and movie-themed entertainment in Parliament Square and High Street.

I’ll no doubt be returning to the Old Town Hall topic next week, and – as promised – I will also complete my series of blogs about the administrations’ priorities by looking at health and wellbeing.

Please help us to spread the word about the fabulous Old Town Hall development – and do take your family along to enjoy Friday’s special event.

Finally, I must mention National Adoption Week (October 17-23) which has #SupportAdoption as its theme this year.

Adoption is the legal process in which children that cannot be brought up by their birth parents become a permanent part of a new family. Many will have experienced abuse or neglect and all will have experienced loss and separation.

This year the goal is to clarify the adoption process, reflect the challenges of adoptive parenting, share individual stories, highlight best practice and invite anyone whose life or heart is touched by it to #SupportAdoption.

The key issue in Oldham is that currently all our prospective adopters are looking to adopt children aged 0-2 years. So, what we are looking for and would welcome, is interest from people willing to adopt children over the age of 3, as well as sibling groups, children with additional and complex needs and children from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.

These children wait longer than any others to find their forever homes. Could you provide such a child/children with a loving home?

If you think that you could adopt a child then please visit the page on our website here to find out more and help us #SupportAdoption.

Jean

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Improving education – Backing business and workers

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SCHOOLS: A high-quality education system for all is our aspiration for Oldham

THIS IS my third of four blogs about our future priorities and I want to discuss how we’re improving education, plus backing business and workers.

Firstly, I want us to deliver a high-quality education system for all and the Oldham Education and Skills Commission report is a roadmap to get us there.

Changes were already being made before the final report was published in January and we’ve had a good start.

Our GCSE and A Level results improved this year, bucking the national trends.

GCSE (A*-C) results went up five per cent, closing the gap on the national average to seven per cent, and in A Levels 99 per cent of our pupils achieved the A*-E pass rate, again up three per cent.

Our Ofsted inspections are also improving fast – especially in schools where intervention was needed. We have taken action to tackle underperformance.

This time last year just 39 per cent of our secondaries were rated either ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’. That’s now already around 74 per cent, which is great progress towards one of our key targets: that every Oldham pupil should attend a school of that calibre by 2020.

I also know there’s much more that needs to be done, however, and our Key Stage 2 results were not good enough. Even though Ofsted rates 90 per cent of our primaries as ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ our results mirrored a national drop and we’re now examining them to understand exactly why.

Whilst it’s true this was a whole new national curriculum and marking scheme, we can’t use excuses. Our target is for all performance indicators like this to be at or above the national average by 2020, so this will be urgently addressed.

Beyond the education system it’s a major priority for us to back our businesses and workers.

GOWLOGOGet Oldham Working has been a huge success and we’ve just launched phase two of the campaign. The team has already created 3,750 employment opportunities in less than three years and has now moved to Metropolitan House – around 100 steps away from JobCentre Plus – to make them accessible on a ‘drop in’ basis for jobseekers.

By 2020 the Get Oldham Working team is now looking to help 6,000 more residents and fill more than 5,000 work-related opportunities.

I’m very proud of the interventions this team has made and the difference they’re making to people’s lives. They’ve just worked with ODEON and Costa so that 80 per cent of their new roles at the Old Town Hall went to local residents, for example – and that came just weeks after they ensured every single person made redundant by the closure of BHS in Spindles got new employment.

We’ve recently just published two key new documents that chart our future strategic path to deliver employment sites and improve prospects.

Our Strategic Investment Framework sets out how we will seek to develop important sites across the borough – like Broadway Green and Hollinwood Junction – and our Work and Skills Strategy sets out how we will raise aspirations through measures like working to deliver high-quality careers advice, improving links between local schools and industry, and promoting opportunities in regional and local growth sectors.

Our key motivation is to reduce the number of low-paid and low-skill industry jobs  we have at present – including zero hours contracts – that make life so insecure and demoralising for too many families.

We also want to do all we can to help people already in work to progress and improve their prospects.

That’s why we’re about to launch an exciting new initiative – the Career Advancement Service – in Oldham. This will help an initial 400 employed residents to understand what support they might need to get an in-work promotion and improve their incomes. That won’t just ultimately help them and their families, it also creates mobility in the labour market and new chances for others to find work. It’s a pioneering pilot scheme and could be a gamechanger for many local people.

We also recognise that people in work have other priorities that help them settle and live in the borough.

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TRANSPORT: Metrolink is great news for Oldham – but where does it need to go next?

We’ll continue lobbying hard at Greater Manchester level for even better transport links – like our long-promised direct line to Manchester Piccadilly, for example, and Metrolink extensions with an Ashton loopline to Oldham Mumps, and a Middleton spur from Westwood through Middleton and on to the Bury line to connect the north-east Greater Manchester conurbation.

These will give all residents even better access to future job and training opportunities, and we’re also determined to build the new homes that people need.

Several housing schemes finished in the past year and work has also started on the £15m development of 135 new homes in Limehurst Village, new homes at High Barn Street, Royton, at Greenhurst Crescent on Fitton Hill, and on the former St Augustine’s School and the Lancaster Club sites. We are also advancing well with taking the ex-Counthill and Kasknemoor school sites to market soon.

This isn’t just about just boosting the number of homes here, its about giving people a wider choice of homes that are attractive, affordable and energy efficient.

I also believe everyone has the right to live in a good neighbourhood and we make no apologies for tackling people who don’t ‘do their bit’ where they live or operate.

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CRIME: Flytipping is a blight on communities

Our Private Sector Landlords scheme has had good early success in prosecuting practices that have blighted communities in places like St Mary’s, Hathershaw, Waterhead, Hollinwood, Primrose Bank and selected parts of Coldhurst, Alexandra and Oldham Edge.

Decent landlords back us because they know the rented sector in Oldham has to improve. But those who don’t think the law applies to them should be in no doubt that we’ll prosecute anyone failing to meet the required homes standard: a crime that has such a terrible impact on the health and welfare of tenants and the wider community.

Tenants and businesses also need to act responsibly and show respect for their neighbours, which is why we’ll carry on cracking down hard on flytipping, littering, dog fouling and other selfish behaviour. In the last year 867 fixed penalty notices and 122 prosecutions were completed on fly-tipping and littering offences: a zero tolerance stance that we won’t be changing.

Next week I’ll finish this series of blogs about our priorities by looking at how we can make Oldham a more caring place to live – and supporting healthier lifestyles.

It will also be just a few days before the opening of the Old Town Hall (Friday, October 21) so I will be sharing some more information with you about that too.

Jean

Social Regeneration: Fair Growth Vs Donuts

oldham-leader-25-1-16-5277THIS IS my second blog explaining our key priorities in the coming years – and this time I’m talking about social regeneration.

We have many important physical regeneration schemes complete or underway in Oldham, but there’s more to transforming the prospects of a place, people and business than just that.

New facilities are always good news but ‘build it and they will come’ is not going to work on its own – it’s just one part of the wider battle and you can’t just do it in isolation.

Social regeneration is the other work that is needed to tackle the problems that lead to deprivation, lack of aspiration and underachievement in an area.

These are schemes you must carry out side by side with residents, community groups, community organisations, businesses, schools, all public services and the voluntary sector if you are to succeed.

They can be labour-intensive, unglamorous and lack ‘quick wins’, especially as they often mean engaging with people who are hard to reach. But if you do have the right initiative, the impact of social regeneration – starting from a sound evidence base, which is always key – can be radical and life-changing.

Social regeneration schemes seek to address clear and ingrained disadvantages, social and financial exclusion. They look to give people a ‘handup’, so they can start helping themselves.

People can be materially deprived – like having little/no disposable income, no transport or Internet access, for example – and also non-materially deprived: in bad health or held back by negative experiences from living in a poor area.

warmhomesoldhamIn this respect, schemes like Warm Homes Oldham – which has seen us work with partners to lift 1,300 people out of fuel poverty and removed the ‘heat or eat’ dilemma – are prime examples of how lives can be changed.

Another is our Early Help scheme, which has totally redesigned and integrated our support services for individuals, households and families of all ages with problems who need support to stop them getting worse or reaching crisis point.

This is helping to get positive outcomes for people struggling with drug and alcohol addictions, adult mental health issues, school attendance and behaviour, housing, diet and health, and children’s mental wellbeing. It helps people to help themselves and addresses all the issues a person or household presents to us with, rather than passing them around a complex system where duplication frustrates the purpose.

But allied to local initiatives like this I know we must also deliver on what some call ‘Inclusive Growth’, although I prefer the label ‘Fair Growth’.

In my new portfolio at Greater Manchester level of Fairness, Equality and Cohesion, I am determined to build our profile as a strong and influential voice on this agenda.

I intend to use our influence to continue shifting the focus of that debate and action towards practical and specific steps that include more and more of our residents in the benefits of prosperity.

To that effect our officers are already working closely with the Inclusive Growth Analysis Unit at Manchester University, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and other partners to develop that evidence base and formulate answers.

It’s great that Manchester’s economy is prospering – we all welcome that – but there’s no evidence at all to support the assumption that the benefits will simply ‘trickle down’ across the region. That hasn’t worked in other regions and countries, and it isn’t happening here.

Look at jobs. The south of GM has gained 60,000 jobs since 2008, yet the number of jobs in the north has remained essentially static. And our average weekly gross wage in Oldham is £444, the lowest in the region: that must change.

gmca-black-logo-expandedFor the GM project to succeed, we need prosperity to be spread wider through targeted investment and intervention. Around 620,000 people in the region are estimated to live in poverty and the benefits of growth need to spread to people and businesses in the donut – or ring – around Manchester to ensure places like Oldham, Rochdale, Tameside, Bolton and Wigan also get their share.

At a Government level the commitment to the Northern Powerhouse, which we’re hearing reiterated this week at Tory Conference after a recent wobble, must also go further.

Government investment is sorely needed in key areas like transport, homes, work and skills – not just more devolution of responsibility passed on with much smaller budgets. That is just devolution of blame and problems. It won’t change the story.

Social regeneration and fair growth will give people new opportunities to succeed and enjoy a better quality of life.

Although few were surprised, the Brexit voting patterns showed that our national and regional economy is not delivering for many residents. We all ignore that at our peril and must not leave people behind.

Next week – continuing on this social regeneration theme – I will look at our future priorities in delivering a high-quality education system for all, and how we will continue to back the unemployed, those people already in work, plus local businesses.

Jean