Go away winter…

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RESILIENCE helps us all to get through a typical Oldham winter – and this year we’ve needed it even more than usual.

Winter has been a particularly cruel season this time round with unusually prolonged spells of frost and frequent snowfall all culminating in last week’s big freeze. Let’s hope that is the worst of it out of the way!

The visits of Storm Emma and the Beast From The East brought together an extreme cocktail of freezing temperatures, heavy snowfall and high winds that made hibernation look an appealing option by last Thursday morning.

It feels like it has been winter forever now and, to put it in to some context, I wanted to share with you the efforts our gritting and highways team have been putting in to battle what the elements have been throwing at the borough.

IMG_0606By last Saturday morning our gritter drivers had clocked up 77,287 road miles – or 124,381 kilometres – since October.

They’d also put in around 15,000 tractor miles, done 148 separate treatment shifts on local roads and spread 6,280 tonnes of salt.

The response last week from all our staff, partners and residents was fantastic and inspiring yet again.

Gritting shifts continued round the clock from last Sunday onwards. Roads were ploughed, snow blowers deployed and fallen trees removed as the disruption deepened.

Council staff and employees of MioCare, which is responsible for delivering social care in Oldham, literally waded their way through snow drifts to visit elderly and vulnerable people in some of the remotest locations we have – not missing one single appointment. Others rang thousands of residents checking on their wellbeing, food and medicine stocks and heating.

Partners also came to the fore. Oldham Mountain Rescue Team, for example, helped us ensure that a 94-year-old lady was safe and warm in her isolated Strinesdale home surrounded by snow drifts.

Oldham Fire Station opened their facilities as a rest centre for motorists stranded around the local road network after the M62 became impassable. And local tractor drivers and residents came out in their droves to offer help and food to people trapped in and around the Saddleworth villages.

IMG_0610 (002)The clean-up operation is now underway – and there is plenty to do.

Our facility at Access Oldham suffered wind damage but it is now back and fully operational.  Unfortunately, Gallery Oldham suffered from flooding and remains closed for now. To get the latest updates on any of our services or buildings please go to www.oldham.gov.uk/winter

We also have a backlog of bin collections to catch up on, grit bins to refill and – of course – we know the latest freeze inevitably means dozens more potholes will be appearing on our roads.

Just last month we announced a £6.2 million investment to bring many of our highways back up to scratch. I want to stress again that that work is ongoing and it is in addition to our regular pothole repairs, where we need your help.

We’ve repaired more than 4,441 potholes in the last twelve months but with 856 kilometres of roads to look after we simply don’t have the resource to spot them all. That’s why I am again asking people to please do #yourbit and report any potholes that you see using our online form here

If the pothole poses an immediate and serious threat to safety, then please call 0161 770 4325.

I want to say thank you once again to everyone who helped make the latest Oldham response to extreme weather so effective.

Thank you to local residents and business for your patience too, and the many kind comments and words of appreciation that our staff received.

The spirit that was shown and the snow heroes who came to the fore are a true credit to the borough.

I, for one, am now desperately hoping that was winter’s last hurrah for 2017/8 and am counting down the days until British Summer Time officially begins (Sunday, March 25) and brings a glorious extra hour of daylight to warm our spirits.

Jean

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Markets | Past, present and future…

TFILED3MARKETS have been an important part of my life since an early age.

Like many residents, I’ve always been fond of them since spending countless hours of my childhood bustling, browsing and playing between the busy stalls and aisles.

I also have a particular fondness for Tommyfield Market, the site which boasted Oldham’s first-ever market in 1788 and has had one there pretty much ever since. It is a key part of our heritage.

As a schoolgirl, this was also where I landed my first-ever part time job, on Peter Haq’s outdoor clothes stall. His family still runs one on the indoor market to this day, and my maternal aunts also ran a dress stall there for several years.

Those are just some of the many reasons why I’m determined to prioritise the building of a new fit-for-purpose Tommyfield as the first step in the delivery of the Oldham Town Centre Masterplan.

Many people have told me they think that although the town centre has improved through recent developments like the Old Town Hall, it has also suffered as Tommyfield and the area around it has struggled to keep pace with the times. I have listened long and hard to them.

Our Masterplan is all about improving Oldham and making it a place that can thrive throughout the week and round the clock. That means careful planning to create better connections between key sites and improving attractions to pull in more footfall and custom.

TFILED5The new Tommyfield would be built on the existing site and would end the difficulties presented by the current structure, like its sloping floor, and improve facilities with new features, like Wi-fi access, for example.

We’re already talking with the traders about an interim but potentially exciting temporary market option while building work takes place. This will be an indoor, bright, modern space providing a great place where people can continue to enjoy their shopping, chitchat, bargains and gossip.

The new Tommyfield would also have a new 600-capacity multi-storey car park built next to it – plus new retail/leisure units and quality public spaces – all designed to draw more punters in.

I can still vividly remember standing in the old Littlewoods building in 1974 watching as the old Market Hall was razed to the ground by a huge fire and – just like then – now is an opportunity to revitalise Tommyfield.

Markets still retain a unique appeal for many us, but shopping habits are now unrecognisable from their heyday.

As supermarket giants like Tesco, Asda, Lidl, Sainsburys et al have prospered, people have shown less inclination or time to spare to browse market stalls. Indeed, for some, a few clicks on a smartphone completes their weekly shop these days, so times have drastically changed.

TFILED2We now know that modern markets can only thrive by finding a mix between offering specialist services, like cobblers and key cutting, independent traders and locally sourced food, plus a good eating and drinking offer in their own right. In short, they need to offer an experience, something for the whole family to enjoy.

Ultimately it will be you, the Oldham public, who decides if Tommyfield will thrive again, as I believe it can.

Our bit will be working closely with traders, shoppers and experts to help make it an attraction that can again be a magnet to new customers.

Your bit is to give it a go and back those people and traders who will be putting their savings and hard graft on the line to improve Oldham town centre.

As a council we always encourage people to shop local because it makes sound economic sense to spend your pounds in the area where you live, and to help boost your local economy.

But there are many other valid reasons too.

Supermarket shopping can be convenient and quick but if you want to avoid plastic packaging waste – which seems to know no bounds these days(!) – and also like to avoid having to buy more fruit, veg or meat than you actually need, then your local market is the place to go right now.

We hope the future for Tommyfield will be bright but you needn’t wait until the new venue gets up and running – there’s already plenty of great local traders and reasons to give all your local markets a visit today.

TFILED1Tommyfield has more than 100 businesses operating from Monday to Saturday each week, and we also have some great district markets in various guises and development across Royton, Saddleworth, Shaw and Chadderton. You can read about them all here – and the great incentives we’ve got on offer for would-be stallholders.

I still believe markets can thrive in the future through hard work, investment, community buy-in and by retaining that special personal quality that made them a success for generations.

It will not be easy, of course, but I am determined to make the big decisions Oldham town centre needs – and addressing the future of Tommyfield Market is just the start of that process.

Jean

Sue’s final cause…

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IT’S A DIFFICULT time here as we start coming to terms with the passing of Councillor Sue Dearden last weekend.

Many people were aware Sue had been ill for some time, but that knowledge doesn’t diminish the sadness and loss when the inevitable happens.

Sue had been an excellent ward member for Chadderton Central since 2012, but her impact on local life and communities extended way beyond that.

In her professional life she worked as a school teacher and in youth justice, and she was one of life’s ‘doers’ who got involved with causes ranging from education to women’s rights and encouraging people to live healthier lifestyles.

Throughout everything she did, Sue was passionate and drew on her own experiences as a single mum bringing up two boys to challenge the obstacles she saw many people facing in making life better for their families.

Today I have a very small chance to pay her back by helping to champion her final cause.

Sue had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and this is something she made clear that she wanted to raise awareness of in her final days.

She knew there was no hope of a better outcome for herself but, typically, she wanted people to understand more about this disease and its poor profile.

When you look at some of the advances made in treating other forms of cancer in recent times the progress is little short of astonishing.

Did you know, for example, that 40 years ago few children survived childhood leukaemia – yet now the survival rate is 80 per cent? Or that 40 years ago the number of women diagnosed with breast cancer who survived five years or more was just 46 per cent – and now that is also up to 80 per cent?

That’s all fantastic news, clearly, and everyone involved from medical experts to specialist researchers, clinicians, GPs and fundraisers are to be applauded.

But the outcomes for pancreatic cancer are very different.

Every year 9,500 people in the UK are diagnosed and their prognoses are very poor and short.

The survival rates today for patients with pancreatic cancer stand at around 3 per cent – the same as 40 years ago. That is the lowest survival rate for all forms of cancer, and yet it is the fifth most common cause of cancer death, causing five per cent of cancer deaths each year.

One of the reasons is that pancreatic cancer is incredibly difficult to diagnose and treat. Experts say it is unusually aggressive and often has vague symptoms which appear at a late stage when surgery is no longer an option.

pcrf-logo-26.7The Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund was set up in 2004 and it tries to raise new funds and to argue for a fair allocation of research and attention.

Sue wanted donations to help others in the future, so I would urge you to please spread the word about this cause and do your bit to help.

If you go to sign one of Sue’s Books of Condolence – which are available during normal opening hours in the Rochdale Road reception at the Civic Centre and at Chadderton Wellbeing Centre – then please consider making a donation in the buckets provided.

Alternatively, you can send cheques payable to Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund at PO Box 47432, London, N2 1XP or donate online at www.pcrf.org.uk

You can also sign an online Book of Condolence at our website here.

Sue was always best at encouraging and inspiring the people around her to be positive in every situation, so she would be telling us all now that life must go on.

That’s why I’ll close this week with a reminder about a great event taking place on Friday evening.

Illuminate18Illuminate, our free family late night arts festival, is returning after a successful debut last year.

Spectacular installations, lanterns, landscapes, dancers, drummers and puppets can be enjoyed at sites across Oldham town centre, including Oldham Parish Church, Parliament Square, and Gallery Oldham and Oldham Library, from 6 to 9pm.

My favourite feature is the illumination of the exterior of the Old Town Hall with giant 3D projections. This year the display will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Oldham Theatre Workshop showcasing the history of our acclaimed youth theatre and bringing stories of cast and crew from productions past into stunning focus.

That’s just one of several attractions on offer, so please click here to find out more about Illuminate and take your family along for another great free evening of entertainment.

Jean

Child Poverty – Guest Blog

COLDHURST has been in the headlines this week after a national study was published on child poverty.

I asked Abdul Jabbar, Oldham Council’s Deputy Leader, to guest-blog on the issues this has raised as he knows Coldhurst better than most.

He was keen to talk about the challenges and issues around child poverty, what we are doing – and what we need to tackle it more effectively.

Over to Abdul…

Oldham 23.2.16-9424COLDHURST is in my heart and many members of my family call it ‘home’.

I first came to live here when I was 14 years old and I’m very proud to have now represented this area for almost a quarter of a century as a ward member.

During that time I’ve worked among all our communities, probably knocked on every single door at one time, and seen all the kinds of challenges faced by local families.

I felt saddened this week when Coldhurst hit the news after a report by the End Child Poverty group said it has the highest child deprivation rate in England with over 60 per cent of youngsters living ‘below the breadline’.

Saddened, yes. Surprised? No.

I don’t fool myself that Coldhurst and other areas aren’t facing serious challenges because I see it every day around me.

The problems for our least well-off families are unrelenting and getting out of the poverty cycle has never been harder than it is today.

But there is something that is absolutely great about Coldhurst – the people who live there.

Yes, there are problems with crime and anti-social behaviour like fly-tipping, but walk around those streets and you’ll also find many friendly, positive people and a sense of community that you might not see in more affluent areas.

Within Coldhurst I know groups and associations, GPs, headteachers, community workers, voluntary organisations and residents who are all working hard to make the most of what they have.

Our challenge at local and national level is to match that.

There are a lot of factors behind child poverty.

The four-year freeze on social security benefits – amongst other welfare reform measures like the Bedroom tax – has been felt most by the poorest families.

UCREDITOldham was a pilot area for the rollout of Universal Credit which has caused huge problems by leaving families without money for several weeks, forcing many people into making desperate choices between heating the home or eating food.

Many people in Coldhurst do work extremely hard for long hours but due to low skills, stagnant wages and increasing living costs, things are tough. Many are also living in low-quality rented homes that are actually more expensive than social housing.

Worst of all is the fact that children are suffering. Not just because they are vulnerable now, but because if you have a bad start in life then your chances of success in adulthood are not good.

Coldhurst is not alone, however. Oldham has other pockets like this and so do our neighbours in Greater Manchester and big cities like London. End Child Poverty say that more than half of all children in the UK’s very poorest areas are now growing up in poverty.

We are trying to address these issues locally on many levels.

The Oldham Education and Skills Commission committed us to improving our education by 2020 and we are on target to achieve this, but it won’t be enough on its own.

We’ve introduced schemes like Warm Homes Oldham to help with fuel poverty, Get Oldham Working to improve employment prospects, Get Oldham Growing to improve health, and the Town Centre Masterplan to deliver significant opportunities in the local economy over the next two decades.

northmoorIn Coldhurst itself we invested £7.5 million to open the fantastic new Northmoor Academy (pictured) in September 2016. This three-form entry primary school on the former Grange school site was designed to cope with rising pressure on school places but also to provide a first-class facility where children can thrive.

As part of being a new Opportunity Area we’re also this week about to start rolling out the ‘Making it REAL’ programme in nurseries in Coldhurst. This is intervention in early years’ settings that targets improving literacy and giving children with disadvantaged backgrounds the language skills they need before they get to school. It involves home visits to support and train parents and group events – all have been proved to raise and sustain literacy standards in other areas. The reason we’re doing this is that it has also been shown that language and literacy skills are the most impactful intervention you can make for any child from a disadvantaged background, so we’re determined to get it right.

That kind of work will and must continue, but it still it won’t be enough on its own.

We have a Government that still refuses to set a target to reduce child poverty. For me, if you refuse to recognise a problem exists, then what hope can we have that you’re actually committed to finding – let alone funding – the solutions?

In families where it is hard to make ends meet, only one person is working, bills are paid late and loan sharks are circling, this is not the message they need to hear.

Last week we were told that more people are in work now than for many years. That might be true, but never have so many also been paid so relatively little and with work often on insecure terms like zero hour contracts.

Local authority’s children’s services are also being reduced to firefighting through Government cuts. Without the money we need to intervene at an early stage through important measures like parenting classes, substance misuse prevention and teenage pregnancy support, the impacts can be simply devastating.

This is also a false economy. If we can only get involved when children reach a crisis point then it will result in much more expensive steps in the long term, like taking young people into care.

In the budget we’re currently finalising for Oldham in 2018/9 we have an £8 million gap in funding for children’s social care services. That is a typical picture nationally and yet remains a problem which Government fails to address.

Making significant progress in living standards, wages and skills for everyone is our goal and it’s why we are championing the Inclusive Growth agenda so hard at Greater Manchester level.

As Deputy Council Leader and a ward member for Coldhurst I will continue my efforts for the people of the area alongside our MP, partners, communities and the voluntary sector, to help wherever we can.

But we also need the Government to finally listen and act.

The thought of having a generation of children suffering like this is heart-breaking and it also leaves me in fear of what legacy it will leave us with as a society.

Abdul Jabbar