Digital future shines bright for Oldham 

EXTERIORYOU MAY have read this week about an important new report outlining a masterplan for the future of Oldham town centre to 2035.

That will go before Cabinet next Monday (July 10) and – following that decision – I will blog about it next week.

What I will say now, however, is that the importance of having a plan for our future is more vital than ever and I saw that first-hand last week at the opening of Oldham’s new digital hub in what was the Wahoo bar on Yorkshire Street. 

This completes a dramatic transformation for a period building that had fallen into ruin and been empty for several years until the council bought it and refurbished it to attract new tenants.

FURNITUREBYLAURENJust a couple of weeks earlier ‘Furniture by Lauren’ also began trading next door at 46/48 Yorkshire Street in what was once known as the Kiss Bar.

Gavin and Lauren Howarth from Royton run this small family business. It specialises in made-to-measure sofas but also sells a full range of accessories and just one peek through the window – or at their website – shows you the kind of elegance and style on offer. They’re yet another welcome addition to our Independent Quarter, so please pay them a visit…  

The opening of the digital hub – at 38-44 Yorkshire Street – was an inspiring event.

The aim of this venture is to help local entrepreneurs launch and expand technology businesses. 

On the upper floor is Wayra UK’s Open Future North office, which is the northern branch of their national support network for technology firms, backed by the worldwide O2/Telefonica Group. 

IMG_9488Ground floor is the new home to Hack Oldham (see above), our community-led ‘makerspace’ that has grown from humble beginnings to offer a great range of workshops and events to upskill residents.  

They’re also offering desk and workshop space on a daily, half-day or monthly basis plus training rooms in what is a great creative environment for people to network seven days a week – much better than working alone at home(!). 

I’m particularly pleased that Wayra chose to come to Oldham.  

As an administration we’re clear that we are ambitious for everyone, so to attract their investment is fantastic.

But what was just as exciting was to see Wayra launching their new Fair By Design scheme: an investment fund that already has £8million to deploy, and is looking to raise up to £20million.

Its objectives are inspiring. It will support up to seven start-ups a year to tackle the ‘poverty premium’, and that’s something that is very important to me.

It’s hard enough being ‘left behind’ in 2017 and being among the one in five people that are living in poverty.

But what’s even worse – and surely unjustified – is the ‘poverty premium’: the situation where people are actually paying more for everyday goods and services like energy, borrowing, transport, insurance and food than others who can more easily afford them. 

The Fair By Design scheme complements our own drive for Inclusive Growth so that everyone gets the chance to share the benefits of economic prosperity.

This week, I was confirmed as the Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s Lead on Fairness, Equality and Inclusion, so this is all very close to my heart.

To be tackling clear social injustice like this by supporting local tech companies to design solutions is something that can really put Oldham on the map.

WAYRA4The digital hub venture is also another important way in which we’re diversifying our offer to residents and businesses.

We have many talented individuals and our goal is to provide them with opportunities here, so that they don’t need to move elsewhere.

The Independent Quarter will be an ideal location for this. Once businesses grow out of the space provided by Wayra, they will get the chance to relocate nearby, ensuring they are still within easy distance and access to advice and that network of like-minded individuals.

Small to medium enterprises like these are vital to Oldham’s economy – remember that around 85 percent of Greater Manchester’s Gross Value Added (GVA), the total measure of the value of goods and services in the area, is generated by these companies.

Oldham’s offer to business has never been stronger. I’m confident that through Wayra and Hack Oldham we can truly become a digital force in Greater Manchester – and one for positive social change and mobility.

Jean

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