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

Hooray for Hollinwood

HollinwoodGREAT NEWS for Oldham’s regeneration programme this week as we took a vital step towards unlocking the development and employment opportunities at Hollinwood Junction.

This site at junction 22 of the M60 has long had great development potential, but with one major stumbling block.

Following Cabinet approval on Monday we will now buy the redundant gas holder from National Grid Property Holdings – who weren’t scheduled to remove the structure until 2023 at the earliest – and get on with demolition to spark regeneration and create new jobs.

We’d signed a Strategic Partnering Agreement with developers Langtree Group PLC some time ago, and are now working with them – and the Hollinwood Partnership – to regenerate the area.

Hollinwood Junction has significant parcels of public and private sector-owned land all boasting great transport links which could make it a regionally important employment zone at a major gateway, boosting the local economy and improving the environment.

After a lengthy process this is a real boost for our plans and we’re ready to get on with the job. We’ve already got planning permission to demolish and can start on-site this summer to remove the gas holder by early 2018.

DFESTIVALAnother development much closer to fruition is our Digital Enterprise Hub which opens this summer on Yorkshire Street.

This will support grassroots entrepreneurs and bring together the talent, inspiration and investment needed to create a launch pad where digital creatives can collaborate in the heart of our Independent Quarter.

Hack Oldham will be offering low-cost and flexible workspaces there and fellow tenants Open Future North will be leading the regional arm of Wayra UK’s work to grow entrepreneurial ‘ecosystems’ and energise local economies.

As we now look to promote our growing offer in this sector for residents and businesses, Oldham Library will be hosting our first-ever Digital Festival this Saturday.

This free event has all kinds of opportunities for people to improve their digital skills through advice, workshops and tips to get on in work and life with new technology.

The line-up includes explorations and experiments with some of the best professional digital artists around, plus chances to start your micro:bit adventure with BBC Make it digital, draw in virtual reality with Google Tilt Brush, make your own video game characters or learn how to repair digital equipment.

Hack Oldham will be on hand offering advice on coding, making, tech, gaming and devices, and you can also join in some retro games or just find out more about online banking and Smartphone apps first-hand from the experts.

There will also be workshops for writers, a University Campus Oldham stall with advice on digital careers, and a demonstration of free and interactive business resources.

People of all ages and experience are welcome and you can find out more about the Digital Festival at www.oldham.gov.uk/oldham_library

CTAX
And finally this week – as I prepare for this evening’s Full Council – some Council Tax news…

First, we’re giving all residents a chance to win a share of £1,000 as part of our drive to encourage more people to use direct debit and online services.

All you have to do is sign-up to pay your Council Tax via Direct Debit by Friday, April 28 and you’ll be entered into a free draw to win one of five cash prizes. To register, just have your bank details and Council Tax account reference ready and log onto www.oldham.gov.uk/ctcomp or call 0161 770 6622.

Last but not least, we’re proposing to increase our support for young people leaving care by making them exempt from Council Tax for a three-year period.

Under the proposals, which go to Cabinet next month, all care leavers aged 18, 19 and 20 would benefit from a move backed by the Children’s Society which found that this is a particularly vulnerable group for Council Tax debt.

This measure is just one way we can do ‘our bit’ and ensure we continue helping young people trying to adapt to living on their own, managing their finances and finding work for the first time.

Jean

A focus on our future – and the past

IT’S ANOTHER busy week and one in which we are looking to the future – and remembering our past.

I was delighted to attend a launch event on Monday for Open Future_North and to welcome Prince Andrew, The Duke of York, on Monday.

Open Future_North will be new tenants – alongside local social enterprise, Hack Oldham – at the digital enterprise hub we are currently refurbishing in the ex-Wahoo nightclub and Kiss bar buildings on Yorkshire Street.

Located right in the heart of our Independent Quarter, this hub will be supporting grassroots entrepreneurs and bringing the necessary talent, inspiration and investment together to help them flourish. It will be a launch pad where creatives can collaborate, learn and unlock each other’s potential.

On the ground floor and in the basement, Hack Oldham will offer access to low-cost and flexible workspace – plus equipment geared to individual entrepreneurs and Small to Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs) in the digital and creative sectors.

Open Future_North will occupy the first and second floors of the old Wahoo bar as part of the work by Wayra UK (part of Telefónica Open Future) to revitalise entrepreneurial ‘ecosystems’, energise local economies and democratise entrepreneurship across the UK.

What struck me about the launch, held at the Old Town Hall, was how upbeat and positive the mood was among all present with a fantastic exchange of opinions and viewpoints.

As I told the audience in one of the new cinema screens, the venue they were sat in is stunning, but regeneration isn’t just about architecture and iconic buildings. To transform a local economy you also have to empower people and nurture a culture that enables success.

It’s about people and prospects. It’s about opportunities, networks, ideas and environment. It’s about social regeneration.

Instead of giving people a ‘handout’, we’re trying here in Oldham to give them a ‘hand up’ by working with partners across every single sector – and this new digital enterprise hub is just one part of our action on that front.

We’re trying to address clear and ingrained disadvantages, social and financial exclusion by backing businesses, enterprises and workers and the talented people we know we have here and want to retain.

Open Future 40.jpgAt Open Future_North two groups of five start-ups will get access to a state-of-the-art co-working space, each for a period of six months in 2017, as well as support like mentoring, access to Wayra UK’s network and knowhow, plus training in business skills.

The best performers will be asked to join the full acceleration Wayra UK programme, where they could receive up to £34,000 in investment, and it was particularly inspiring to hear the pitches from budding start-ups.

Local firm OfferMoments, founded by Abdul Alim and Shahzad Mughal, explained their billboards that change with information tailored towards your profile, based upon your social media activity, as you walk towards them.

And the husband and wife team behind JobSkilla – Chris and Lisa Hughes from Shaw – talked passionately about how their online service can bridge the gap between job-seekers, training providers and training advisers.

Oldham has a proud history of innovation and has led the world at times, so there’s no reason why we can’t be the birthplace of one of the next big ideas.

Through his ‘Pitch at the Palace’ initiative, the Duke of York is backing efforts like this to help support entrepreneurs to accelerate and grow their plans.

cwilkoContinuing on a royal theme I was delighted to see Carolyn Wilkins, our Chief Executive, visit Buckingham Palace on Tuesday for her investiture after being made an OBE in June for her services to Local Government and Public Sector Reform.

It is an award that is richly deserved and I know that the Council team and all partners will join me in congratulating Carolyn.

Later today (Wednesday) I am also looking forward to the ceremony at which Nicola White will be confirmed as a freewoman of the borough.

Based on local press and social media, our star Olympic hockey player appears to have been in incredibly high demand since Rio, and small wonder as she is an outstanding ambassador.

I am excited to be welcoming her to the Council Chambers today and celebrate a special moment with so many of her family and friends present. You will also be able to watch this live from 4pm onwards on our website – and tweet your own congratulations into the room.

Finally the week will, of course, end on a very poignant note as crowds fall silent across the borough on Sunday to remember the fallen who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, peace and security.

Residents, uniformed services and representatives of all organisations are encouraged to attend these services and I would also ask people to again support the Royal British Legion’s annual campaign and wear a poppy with pride.

Full details of all the events taking place can be found here and our website also features an online ‘Roll of Honour’ containing the names of all borough residents who lost their lives serving their country from the First World War onwards at http://www.oldham.gov.uk/remembrance

Jean