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.
At 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.
Continuing 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