Keep dancing…

strictly-kershaws-2017_Facebook_and_webIT WAS certainly up there as one of the most unexpected phone calls I’ve received since becoming Council Leader.
 
In April I took a call fully expecting to be asked whether I had PPI, a car accident that wasn’t my fault or be told about a new pothole in my ward. Instead it was an invitation I really hadn’t expected.
 
It was Dr Kershaw’s Hospice calling to ask if I’d consider taking part in their Strictly Kershaw’s annual dancing competition. 
Ordinarily I would probably have politely declined given my busy schedule – not to mention my two left feet – but their timing was important.

The call came during the week of the funeral of our Royton councillor colleague, Tony Larkin, who I knew had been in Dr Kershaw’s Hospice during his final weeks.

It felt right to take part in something that raises funds to support the fantastic work of the Hospice. I know there are so many families across our borough who are grateful for the incredible work done by their staff for adults with life-limiting illnesses.

In the back of my mind too I remembered how, as a young girl, my Mum had sent me to Bardsley Dance School and – to be honest – I’d hated it!

But I said “Yes” and committed to 12 weeks of practice every Thursday night up until the actual  event on October 20.  


Jean GM Moving pledge (2)And in July I put my dancing venture forward as my pledge to the Greater Manchester (GM) Moving campaign, which aims to get everyone active and secure the greatest improvement in the health, wealth and wellbeing of the region’s 2.8m residents by 2021. 
 
I turned up for my first practice sessions a bit apprehensive but actually, whilst I’m no Ginger Rogers, I really am enjoying it.

I have a fantastic, patient dance partner and he and his real partner have been taking me through the choreography for my two dances. These are the Cha Cha Cha and a lesser-known dance called the Bachata.  I have to say some of the choreography is a bit racy and they are already talking fishnets and feathers for my outfits!

 
I’ve certainly felt fitter for doing it and it’s good sometimes to have something that you need to really concentrate on (because otherwise you might fall over!) and take just a couple of hours off from being Council Leader.    
 
So this has been great fun to do so far and – on the night –  I promise nothing other than 100 per cent effort and to provide some entertainment for the crowd  And I hope that however well (or not so well!) I have improved by then, people will remember the serious side to this is about raising funds for Dr Kershaw’s.

The Hospice needs to raise a staggering £8,000 daily to keep providing their invaluable services for free. They rely on public generosity and that’s why I hope some of you reading this will take the time to visit my JustGiving page and sponsor my dancing efforts here.  

 
Even better, if you want to attend the Strictly Kershaw’s event itself, it takes place at the QE Hall on October 20. You can book tickets and find out more about it here.
 
While we’re on the subject of a Royton institution this week I want to set the record straight on our plans for the library building, which we recently announced.
 
You can read all about them here but essentially the plan is to move the library into the ground floor of the Royton Town Hall buildings as part of a £2 million investment to improve the facilities. We’re then seeking a tenant to give the old library building a modern use to breathe new life into the district. 
 
Contrary to media and Social Media comments since then, I want to be crystal clear about what we are doing.  
 
Firstly, this isn’t the closure of the library service. It is simply relocating it – and into what will be a modern community venue with new facilities, meeting rooms and office space set within the historic Town Hall building. It will have better access for everyone and improved connectivity between the library, health centre and leisure centre facilities. This is an investment in the future, not a cut in service. 
 
Secondly, we have no plans to sell the old library building. We know it’s important to many Roytonians and have been very clear that we are seeking a tenant with a sympathetic view to its heritage who can offer something new to the district that can benefit everyone. 

And with that off my chest it’s back to work now and – tomorrow night – a little more Cha Cha Cha…

Jean 

shoes

Oldham LIVE and kicking

CLINTOLIVEEVEN the worst kind of weather couldn’t stop the first-ever Oldham LIVE event being a big success.

Heavy showers on Saturday morning and afternoon were an untimely frustration but Oldhamers are – as we know – a hardy lot.

Families and young children took to their deck chairs undeterred to brave the elements and enjoy a pirate-themed show led by CBeebies’ Gemma Hunt sprinkled with magic, puppetry and plenty of laughs.

By the time the live music began at 6pm the skies had finally cleared and it was great to see Parliament Square, its restaurants and outdoor spaces, all filling up with brisk and happy trade.

The live music was, as expected, excellent – and there was something for all tastes and ages.

There were great Oldham welcomes home to Kelly Llorenna and Clint Boon, who clearly enjoyed themselves. Stooshe bounced onto stage and put great ‘girl power’ into the line-up while Nathan Moore (pictured below) is such a natural entertainer that he’d have probably have stayed on-stage for hours if we’d let him.

nmooreolive

By the time The Farm brought the event to a close around 10pm, Parliament Square was rocking in delight and it was a fantastic sight.

This is exactly what this new public space was designed to be: somewhere people can enjoy something to eat or drink and the kind of high-quality entertainment you might not normally expect in Oldham. And it was all free.

Now that we’ve tested our detailed event safety and management plan for this new venue, the hard work has been done.

We’re confident Parliament Square is an ideal setting for this kind of event and – as I promised the crowds on Saturday night – Oldham LIVE will certainly be back next year.

What was best about it all, for me, was just seeing so many smiling faces with volunteers, spectators and strangers dancing together, and all in a family friendly atmosphere that lasted the whole day.

I spoke afterwards with Paul, the manager at Molino’s, to check the impact on town centre businesses, and he seemed delighted.

Many customers appeared to be first-time visitors to the Old Town Hall and were more than pleasantly surprised by what they found, so there should be some positive repeat business for town centre premises to come.

But this is not the end of the transformation of Oldham – it’s just the start – and you can play a part in making it even better.

CONSULTPOSTER

This week we’re launching a public consultation exercise on our masterplan proposals for the town centre of the future.

If you get time on Friday or Saturday this week I would urge you to visit the Egyptian Room at the Old Town Hall, next door to Nando’s. This is a glorious setting that the public have been unable to visit for several years and we’re now opening it up, in all its refurbished glory, to let you see it and have your say on our future plans at the same time.

This town centre masterplan is the biggest forward planning exercise we’ve ever had for Oldham and it’s vitally important.

It looks at how we can create a town centre that works better and is aspirational for everyone – for residents of all generations, public sector partners and businesses/traders of all sizes. Its purpose is to provide new homes, 55,000 square metres of new and refurbished office, leisure and retail space – set to bring economic activity worth an additional £50 million each year to the Oldham economy.

We have our budget challenges, as you know, but I’m determined that we will not make the mistake of standing still.

This is a great opportunity for us all to decide the kind of place we want Oldham to be – and then get a clear plan in place to achieve it. The opening times for this event are:

Friday, September 15 – 10am to 5pm

Saturday, September 16 – 10am to 3pm

Anyone can attend, admire the Egyptian Room, view the proposals, submit comments and speak to officers and members.

We’ve all got a stake in Oldham town centre so please do #yourbit and drop in to help us to get these plans right. If you can’t make it, we’ll also be holding a series of consultation ‘drop in’ sessions across every district before the end of 2017, with details to be announced soon.

After all that music this week, I’ll be turning my attention to all things dancing in next week’s blog. No, seriously.

Bet that’s got you intrigued…

Jean

Local press is vital to communities and democracy

CHRONADMIN

IT WAS devastating to learn that the Oldham Evening Chronicle had closed its doors last week.

After almost 164 years of continuous publishing, millions of words, hundreds of controversies and stories, and the production of dozens of fine journalists, KPMG were swiftly appointed administrators of the firm last Thursday afternoon.

At the time staff were unwittingly filing their stories, taking advert placements and making calls for a Friday morning edition that would sadly never see the light of day.

Within an hour they were gathered together and told their fate – and that they did not even get the chance to write their own obituary edition seemed particularly cruel to me. They deserved that at least.

I knew the paper had been having financial problems for some time – in particular with a pension deficit – but had always hoped that a solution to be found.

DWhaleyDave Whaley, the Editor, called in to confidentially update me on the issues just a few weeks earlier.

Characteristically defiant and pragmatic about what might happen his chief thoughts, typically, were for the fate of all his 49 staff. Dave was, however, also deeply concerned about the impact the paper’s potential closure would have for Oldham – and he was right.

I’ve seen some say on social media that Oldham Council will now be quietly rejoicing the Chronicle’s demise, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Many people have already told me they cannot get their head around not being able to go and buy their ‘Chron’ and there is a genuine sense of loss that extends even to ex-pats who still looked forward to reading from afar.

Local media has a vital connection to its people that provides an unmatched service to everyone. It is crucial for communities and democracy.

Many Oldham residents will have appeared in its pages at one time or another and will still have a proud cutting gathering dust somewhere in their home.

If you were on the wrong side of the law in court you could expect to be identified in the Chron. If you were fundraising in your community for a good cause you could expect to be supported by them. And you could expect to find out news from the families of long-lost friends, neighbours or relatives in the births, deaths and marriages pages.

In recent years the Chronicle had also been a positive ambassador for Oldham as a place.

It backed us as a council when we showed ambition, but it was also ready to give us very public criticism when we deserved it. We may have squirmed and fumed at the time, but that is the scrutiny that comes with local democracy and it is a deal that works.

I sincerely hope a ‘Phoenix Chronicle’ may yet rise from the ashes, albeit likely in a weekly or bi-weekly form, and we will do anything we can to assist and encourage that to happen.

Oldham as a town needs a newspaper so we will be keeping a keen eye on developments: not least because it’s also vital that other elements of the old Chronicle brand and products are not lost.

prideoinoldhamThe Pride in Oldham awards, for example, was a fantastic community event that highlighted the incredible contributions of ordinary people in a way that nothing else could.

And let’s not forget the importance of the newspaper’s archive too.  Thousands of plates, negatives and digital content are all there on Union Street telling the story of our town and they simply must not be lost. I know people are working hard behind the scenes to ensure it can be preserved and enjoyed for generations to come.

Moving onto brighter news this week, I was delighted to open the EPIC Talks at the Your Oldham Festival in the Old Town Hall on Monday. It was inspiring to see important issues like inclusive growth and social contracts being discussed here in the heart of our town.

There’s still chance to catch some fantastic events across the borough until Saturday, so please visit our website here and book your free place.

Oldham_Live_Web_BannerOn Saturday our exciting Oldham LIVE event will be taking place offering fun for all the family from Noon followed by established music artists from 6pm onwards.

We’ve now updated our webpage with more detailed information – including site maps and FAQs – so please give it a visit here and support us.

This is a pilot event designed to show that Oldham has an appetite for and can deliver top-quality events that re-establish it as a destination.

Parliament Square is the place to be this Saturday – and it’s all completely free. Please come along, spread the word with your friends and neighbours, and help us to make it a day to remember.

Jean