Business as usual as Masterplan marches on

ballot-box-3THIS WILL be my final blog before the Local Elections that will be taking place on Thursday, May 3.

During this pre-election period – known in Local Government circles as Purdah – strict publicity rules mean you’ll hear less formally from me now until all the votes are counted up.

My role as Oldham Council Leader continues during that time and the usual packed schedule of meetings and decisions does not stop.

Sadly this week, we’ve lost another colleague following the passing of my fellow Hollinwood ward councillor, Brian Ames, last weekend.

Incredibly, Brian’s time at Oldham Council stretches right back to its inception as a local authority in 1974 which is a proud and lengthy record of public service.

My sincerest condolences go to his wife, Teresa, and all of Brian’s family and friends at this time.

Ames_B___1_If you knew Brian, you can pay your tributes in special Books of Condolence at Failsworth Town Hall and Oldham Civic Centre (Rochdale Road reception) during normal working hours – or do it online here.

As I say, it’s business as usual behind the scenes until May 3 and during that time we’ll continue to forge ahead on discussions around the Oldham Town Centre Masterplan.

I’ll be chairing Cabinet next Monday evening when we consider a report seeking approval to formally launch our search for a development partner on that scheme in summer. This is to secure a partner to work alongside us on the transformation of the town over a 10-15 year period.

This issue has been my clear priority in the past year and I want to reiterate again just why it is so important.

We’ve made some great strides in recent times in Oldham – like the development of the Old Town Hall, Parliament Square, and progress on a new Heritage and Arts Centre, and Coliseum Theatre.

But what we’re talking about with this Masterplan is way bigger than that. This is an actual strategic vision designed to build on the great assets this borough already has and make sure it prospers in the future.

We cannot stand still as a place and – in spite of funding cuts from Central Government – I am determined we will not.

This Masterplan sets out a clear roadmap for what we want Oldham to be in the next 10 to 15 years, and how we will achieve that.

This isn’t some think-tank’s dreamy vision of the future, it’s rooted in all our aspirations. It is about leadership of the place and that’s we really need now.

Successful town centres in 2018 aren’t what they were 15 years ago: an almost random stack of shops anchored by the likes of Woolworths, British Home Stores and HMV. That has all changed. Society has changed. Habits have changed – and our needs have changed.

Just think of recent headlines from retailers and eateries everywhere like Toys R Us, New Look, Maplin, Prezzo, Jamie Oliver and Chimichanga.

Retail has a future in town centres, for certain, but it’s no longer the ‘be all and end all’ of the full mix that a place needs to be thriving.

Town_Centre_Master_Plan_HP_Rotator_RESIZETown centres like ours are crying out for a new approach that stops them being left behind and the Masterplan is all about tackling this: delivering regeneration, renewal and a clear purpose. This is about Oldham being a place thriving round the clock and – crucially – isn’t totally dependent on the unlikely prospect of retail of shopping habits remaining stable.

This is about Oldham offering an experience as a destination with, for example, a better Tommyfield Market environment and offer rooted in the 21st Century. And this is about Oldham being a place where more people choose to live and work – and therefore help that economy to thrive every day and night.

Without this Masterplan we’d simply be managing decline and dealing reactively with the terrible future fallout from all that. We cannot let that happen.

Some people still talk about the possibilities of building ‘new towns’ like Milton Keynes for future growth, but I believe the way to go is to reinvigorate our existing ones first. They have identity and they can be fixed.

JeanStrettonWith this Masterplan we can change Oldham’s story and its destiny, that’s what I am committed to do here.

See you in May!

Jean

Sue’s final cause…

Cllr-Dearden-1
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

Happy New Year for 2018…

OB YB 2018

I’D LIKE to wish all our residents a Happy New Year.

The last 12 months have seen some genuine highlights and progress for Oldham.

A personal favourite was confirming all the funding is in place for our exciting plans for a new Arts and Heritage Centre and Coliseum Theatre. Work starts imminently on-site and – alongside Gallery Oldham and Oldham Library – this will give us a fantastic Cultural Quarter we can all be proud of and enjoy.

EXTERIORAnother highpoint was opening our Digital Enterprise Hub as home to Wayra UK – backed by an £8m investment fund to help tech sector companies grow here – and Hack Oldham.

We’ve also unveiled the stunning Maggie’s Oldham cancer care centre and welcomed many new faces to our Independent Quarter, including Stocco and Furniture by Lauren.

Oldham showed great resilience this year responding to all kinds of events from flooding to police incidents and wintry weather with brilliant partnership working across all sectors and communities. We will need more of the same in 2018.

Looking ahead my priority is continuing the job of making this a place where everyone has a fair chance to access new opportunities and improve their lives. Better living standards, wages and skills are key to becoming an inclusive economy where nobody is left behind.

Get Oldham Working (GOW) made fantastic strides in 2017 having now created around 7,000 work-related opportunities, including more than 4,500 jobs, which is partnership working at its very best.

Many new businesses have also opened or relocated here including the Audi showroom for Jardine Motors at Chadderton, which is a high-end brand committed to GOW and working with local colleges and supply chains.

And there’s plenty more to come in 2018.

JEANHOLLINWOODA DPD delivery depot at Greengate with 350 new jobs is on-track and work is also starting at Hollinwood Junction, a hugely important strategic site, on a development creating new employment, retail, leisure and homes with 760 jobs.

Once legal issues are finalised, I’ll soon be able to announce next steps at the Prince’s Gate development and we’ll also be announcing another tenant at the Old Town Hall.

Our young and growing population is one of our biggest strengths and we must do everything to help them shine.

That’s why we’re working closely with Government, local education leaders, voluntary organisations and employers as one of six new Opportunity Areas in the UK. This focusses on social mobility and means extra funding from early years up to lifelong learning which we are determined will make a difference.

We’re also progressing well towards targets from the Oldham Education and Skills Commission. Having pledged that every child must attend a school rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted by 2020 we now have 98 per cent of primary and 81 per cent of secondary pupils doing just that.

Much work remains to be done but alongside proactive schemes like the £4m Oldham Enterprise Fund, the Skills for Employment programme and our Career Advancement Service, we’re deadly serious about helping people of all ages to get on in life.

That’s not easy when we’re continuing to take harsh funding cuts – with almost £25m to save next year – and uncertainty about the future from Government, but we’re unwavering in our ambition for the borough.

tidyoldhamKey to all our futures is the amazing co-operative work we’re doing with partners and residents.

An 8 per cent increase in recycling rates this year is all down to you doing #your bit: and schemes like Warm Homes Oldham, #1Pieceofrubbish, Get Oldham Growing – plus our work to integrate health and social care into one system – all point the way to a brighter future.

But challenges persist and we know many people are still struggling with problems with Universal Credit and welfare sanctions. We are still lobbying at the highest level for change and our Welfare Rights team have this year helped hundreds of residents to claim an extra £2million they were rightly entitled to.

Thriving communities also need new and aspirational homes that offer a better range and choice for families, so we’re continuing to deliver these with building work underway or due to start at sites including Broadway Green, the Lancaster Club and the former Counthill site.

We’ve had many positive accolades for our Old Town Hall, Bloom and Grow, community energy schemes and other initiatives this year, but it is what residents think that matters most.

Town_Centre_Master_Plan_HP_Rotator_RESIZEThe defining moment in 2017 for me was launching the Town Centre Masterplan – our biggest-ever forward planning exercise.

I thank everyone who’s taken part in the consultation so far and would encourage everyone to do the same. We certainly don’t have a monopoly on bright ideas and only you know best what kind of place you want Oldham to be in the future.

We’re doing all this because we must ensure that we are a place with a plan – and one that residents fully understand.

I’m fiercely proud of our place and will continue pushing to give us an even stronger voice within Greater Manchester in 2018.

Oldham is not perfect, but it is changing – and for the better.

Happy New Year!

Jean

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

OldhamLIVE – Music to your ears

IMG_2251IT’S HARD to believe that it’s now almost a year since we confirmed the opening date for the newly-restored Old Town Hall.

It had been the most-keenly anticipated civic development for generations and the sense of joy when the doors opened on October 21 last year – with a grand public event showcasing the Oldham Giant, acrobats, musicians and local talent – was something I’ll never forget.

Since then the development has grabbed so many accolades that we realised there was one very clear flaw in our original designs – the lack of a trophy cabinet.

To date in 2017 the Old Town Hall has won nine awards from a range of prestigious players who know a thing or two about buildings, including the Royal Chartered Institute of Surveyors and the Royal Institute of British Architects.

It’s also been shortlisted for the British Construction Industry Awards ‘Building Project of the Year’, the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce ‘Building of the Year’ and the Local Authority Building Control Awards which are all taking place later this year.

I’m not the kind of person who would ever obsess about chasing ‘gongs’ but this impressive haul of awards and nominations shows that we must have got something right.

The renovation of the Old Town Hall wasn’t just about the rebirth of a unique and iconic building, important though that was. It was part of our bigger vision to give the town centre a new focal point and a place where people from all communities – and new visitors – could enjoy leisure time in a pleasant and modern environment.

Parliament Square and Town Hall 30That’s why we built Parliament Square adjacent to it providing a high-quality public space that we also knew would be an exciting new events space of the calibre and size that Oldham has never had before.

It has already hosted some fantastic events to date – like Illuminate and Oldham Pride – and is fast growing in its popularity as a destination in its own right but we were also acutely aware of a gap in Oldham’s entertainment offer which simply had to be addressed.

As a place we have got some fantastic local live music venues and events but – certainly before the recent Cotton Clouds Festival in Greenfield – you usually had to at least hop on a tram to Manchester to be entertained by established acts.

That is all set to change in nine days when Parliament Square hosts OldhamLIVE on Saturday September 9.

We’ve worked alongside Revolution96.2 on these plans and it was clear from our very first meeting that we had a shared ambition to deliver something really special.

The musical line-up includes headliners The Farm, Stooshe, Kelly Llorena, a Clint Boon DJ set and Nathan from Brother Beyond. If you’ve not yet seen the event details – which includes pirate themed fun for the kids in the afternoon – then visit www.oldham.gov.uk/oldhamlive for full details.

Oldham_Live_Web_BannerIn the coming days I can reveal that we’ll be adding a couple more exciting names to that bill, and releasing a detailed site map with all the essential information you’ll need to plan ahead for a great day out.

This is a pilot event and we are keen to gauge the public appetite for this type of offering. It’s also the first time we’ve used Parliament Square for something quite so big and a great team of Oldham Council volunteers will be there working hard to make sure everything goes smoothly.

Best of all, the event is entirely free and – if it’s a success – we have some exciting ideas for what we might do next with OldhamLIVE.

So what’s ‘your bit’? All we ask is that you come along, enjoy yourselves, help to spread the word and also give our local economy a real boost. .

Please don’t miss the chance to enjoy some fantastic acts and entertainment. The only thing I cannot guarantee is the weather, so fingers crossed!

Jean

Our new town centre – we can’t stand still

This week we made a big exciting step on our path to further regenerate our town centre and continue its transformation into a vibrant hub of leisure, culture and pride.

Along with the council’s other Cabinet members, I have voted in favour of the Oldham Town Centre Masterplan.

This is the biggest forward planning exercise we’ve ever had for Oldham town centre. It’s exciting and it’s all about creating the kind of place we want it to be in the future.

Many positive regeneration schemes are already improving our town centre – like the Old Town Hall, and plans for the Cultural Quarter with a new Coliseum Theatre, and the Independent Quarter – but we cannot make the mistake of standing still.

So I think I should start by telling you what this is all about.

In short, we want Oldham to be a vibrant place with high-quality attractions, an excellent cultural and shopping offer and a family friendly night time economy.

Ultimately, we want the town centre to be a place where more residents want to live and spend their leisure time.

To achieve this we need a plan, one that can help us turn Oldham into the place we all deserve.

We have a lot to offer in Oldham. We will be a big voice and a big attraction within Greater Manchester and this masterplan will help make us stand out as a destination of choice within the region and beyond.

With these plans we’ll show everyone just how great Oldham is and exactly what we have to offer.

We want to transform five sites in the town centre, 21 acres in total, by 2035.

The plans would deliver a new Tommyfield Market on the existing site with a new 600-capacity multi-storey car park adjacent. This aims to attract additional footfall, plus complementary new retail/leisure units and quality public spaces.

As well as a new market we want to deliver homes and town centre living, a new Civic Hub and plenty more space for other developments.

This would all bring in a projected additional £50 million a year to our economy.

There are only five local authorities to have lost a bigger percentage of their budget from the government over the last seven years than Oldham. We don’t get a fair deal from Westminster but this won’t prevent us from deciding our own future.

This masterplan is a very large scale redevelopment and we can’t fund all of this on our own.

We have a fantastic opportunity to attract partners from the private sector into a joint venture to deliver this scheme, or elements of it, and we’re confident this will be attractive to them.

We’ve already seen private retailers coming forward to invest their own money in our Prince’s Gate scheme. This is because Oldham is attractive, Oldham has potential and Oldham has great ambition.

We are now going to begin a 12-month consultation on our Town Centre Masterplan, listening to residents, partners, business and traders.

When consultation gets underway I would urge everyone to do your bit, get involved and give us your views and ideas.

We all have a stake in the future of Oldham’s town centre and this is a fantastic opportunity to transform its prospects over the next two decades.

I’m the Leader of Oldham Council but I don’t have the monopoly on the right ideas. I’ll be in touch to let you know how you can get involved. We need to hear what you think because you are at the forefront of everything we do.

People will ask questions and so they should. Because we’re a proud bunch in Oldham and we care about our future.

And there might be people who criticise these plans. I remember people doing this when we announced the Old Town Hall plans but just look at it now. We deliver.

It’s a very exciting time to be an Oldhamer and we’re just getting started.

A Spring in our step…

CORNER IMAGE_FINAL_lowresDELIVERING Oldham’s Cultural Quarter is a major priority for this administration – and we are making really good progress.

Last week we released the new designs for the Oldham Coliseum Theatre that will be built on the current Southgate Street car park site.

This will be the second time the Coliseum has moved in its 132-year history and it should really help the theatre to fulfil its undoubted potential, serving its existing audiences and opening it up to whole new ones.

The Coliseum will be located alongside our other main cultural assets in the Cultural Quarter.

It will sit alongside the new Arts and Heritage Centre in the former library building and it will be linked with Gallery Oldham, Library and Lifelong Learning Centre.

Located just yards from the Oldham Central Metrolink stop and the Old Town Hall, the Cultural Quarter will be our next crucial step in reinvigorating the town centre and visitor economy – and providing brilliant facilities for residents in the future.

Spring into OldhamBack to the present and we’re hosting our annual Easter-themed event ‘Spring into Oldham’ this Saturday in our fantastic new setting of Parliament Square.

Running from 11am to 4pm, this will be a day packed with loads of free and fun things for all the family.

You can meet Chickedy and Chick from the hit CBeebies show ‘Twirlywoos’, take part in a madcap Egg Hunt with the Easter Bunny or enjoy the visiting petting farm with rabbits, chicks and a Jersey calf.

There’s also story-telling sessions on offer inside in a giant inflatable egg, and Easter bonnet-making craft activities.

Everything finishes off with a spectacular bonnet parade around the square with the Town Centre mascots Ollie and Millie starting at 3pm.

Please send in your pictures on the day to us on Twitter @OldhamCouncil using the hashtag #LoveOldham. And don’t forget to take advantage of up to three hours of free parking in all council-owned car parks at weekends – just remember you do need to take and display a ticket.

Finally, on the subject of the little ones, we’re looking for the views of all parents or carers of children aged four years and under about the forthcoming introduction of 30 hours of free childcare in the borough.

From September this year, eligible parents will be able to access this offer – double the current amount – for 38 weeks of the year.

We want to hear your views to help us anticipate how many people are likely to take this up so that we make sure everyone’s needs are met.

All the answers and information you provide are confidential and won’t be shared with any third parties.

To take part, please visit www.oldham.gov.uk/30hrparent survey and fill in the form before Friday, April 21.

Jean

“What did the women ever do for us?”#IWD2017

IWDTODAY is International Women’s Day 2017 – a worldwide event celebrating women’s achievements in all areas and calling for gender equality.

This has been taking place since the early 1900s and it isn’t affiliated with any one group.

It brings together women’s organisations, corporations and groups through a series of performances, rallies, networking events, conferences and marches.

I know from past experience that on this day there is usually at always at least one ‘joker’ who sarcastically asks when it is ever going to be Men’s Day.

I always delight in his embarrassment when I explain that it takes place on November 19 and – throughout my working life – I’ve encountered even less kind responses questioning what we are actually celebrating.

Debating that point reminds me of the infamous scene from Monty Python’s The Life of Brian when – after much arguing – it’s agreed that: “All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”.

jean
DELIGHTED to have been named in GM Business Week’s ‘100 Inspiring Women’ on #IWD2017

The truth is that International Women’s Day is as relevant and necessary now as it has ever been.

Its original aim was to achieve full gender equality for women across the world – and that hasn’t happened.

There is still a clear gender pay gap and many areas of society where women are not proportionately represented and where we are disadvantaged.

Take a look at this week’s news if you want some depressing evidence.

On Monday an MPs investigation into work dress codes said it had found “widespread discrimination”. They heard stories about a woman who was told to dye her hair blonde, and one woman sent home from her temp job after refusing to wear shoes with a “2in to 4in heel”.

On the same day the Football Association was desperately trying to drag itself into the 21st Century. Faced with a threat of losing £30-£40m in funding unless it reforms, Greg Clarke had to outline ‘controversial’ plans to reserve three spaces on its board for women.

That’s just two examples from one day’s headlines.

Clearly we have some distance to go and there’s a very genuine logic as to why this all really matters.

Anyone who sees these issues as a ‘zero sum game’ – where change only benefits one gender at the necessary expense of the other – is totally missing the point.

Look at local government.

BoldForChangeAt Oldham Council I’m proud to be part of what is currently the only all-female Council Leader and Chief Executive team in Greater Manchester, but Carolyn Wilkins and I are just a snapshot of the amazing work done daily by women in our borough. Some are working at the most senior levels, some are working in finance, IT, social care, catering and as gritter drivers. Their contribution is vast and varied.

In local government we are there to work for an amazing array of people from all demographics, backgrounds, beliefs and barriers to achievement.

So if we don’t ensure they are represented when decisions are being made then it can’t be a surprise when a policy fails for them.

That then weakens trust in the institutions that are supposed to represent them, which doesn’t improve things for anyone.

I would be the first to say that there have been improvements, but when you are faced with stark reminders of how far we still have to go it’s very clear that some things haven’t changed enough.

Last month a Northern Powerhouse conference in Manchester launched with an all-male line-up of 15 advertised speakers. Only 13 of 98 named speakers in total were woman and many panel sessions had no female faces at all.

The organisers’ apology was suitably unreserved and regretful, but given how many women are operating at a senior level across all sectors in Greater Manchester they should never have got into that position in the first place.

I’m not planning on being around until 2186 – which is the date when the World Economic Forum predicts the gender gap will finally close(!) – and these things matter to me now because diversity benefits everybody.

I’m proud that Oldham has been blessed with some inspiring women who have made a real difference to so many people’s lives.

kenneyOne shining example, of course, is Annie Kenney. This is the Springhead woman who went on to play a key role in winning voting rights for women and that’s why I am delighted to be supporting a new campaign to raise funding to erect a permanent statue of her outside the Old Town Hall.  You can find out more about that here.

We’ve had many other pioneers too – have a look at these examples on the Oldham Council website – but we can’t all make the big breakthroughs.

Small ripples – shows of compassion or empathy, incremental changes that unblock stalemate or change outlooks – are just as important in the overall picture.

Everyone can play a part, big or small, in achieving change.

We recognise that and it’s why we’re appealing for you to tell us this week about women that have made a difference in your community, your street or your home. If you want to nominate an unsung heroine like this, please email marketing@oldham.gov.uk with her name, the reason why you think she deserves recognition, and your contact details.

Finally, I’d say the real value of International Women’s Day, for me, is to serve as an annual point of reflection about where we have come from – and where we’re heading as a society.

We shouldn’t forget there has been genuine progress in many areas.

We’ve seen great changes on things like maternity rights, equal treatment for part-time workers (the majority of whom are women), and expanding career opportunities that weren’t previously open to us.

There’s also now more women in work, but they’re often still paid less than men, and in part-time jobs or informal employment with insufficient rights and protection.

Women are also still drastically under-represented in senior management roles, board positions and Parliament.

Add to that a range of societal issues, including poor access to free childcare, and you can see there’s still much to do.

Almost 64 years after her death, Annie Kenney might have been encouraged in 2017 – but she’d probably also dismay at how much remains to be done and how long it is all taking.

Jean

Giant strides forward for Oldham

illuminate1ILLUMINATE – the first-ever late night arts festival we’ve held in Oldham town centre – was a sparkling success.

Now that the Old Town Hall is back in business and revitalising the area, exciting new opportunities are opening up that enable us to offer completely different types of events for the public.

And Parliament Square – the new public space adjacent to it – is a perfect new location to host these events given its central location, street furniture, space and vistas.

It just gives us a whole new civic focal point where families can gather and be entertained.

illuminate3Illuminate was the first of our new regular events designed to capitalise on this and we were delighted by the public reaction.

Even though it was a four-hour long ‘drop in’ show, it was busy throughout the evening as hundreds of people braved the wintry showers. The Old Town Hall and its Lightbox made the perfect backdrop for the array of spectacular performances of drumming, lighting, choreography and dance.

A major highlight was the children’s lantern parade and there were some great street arts to see including the Spark! illuminated drummers, Global Grooves’ carnival arts version of The Tempest and The Bureau of Silly Ideas.

Gallery Oldham held an installation of ‘Shakespearian curiosities’ in its gardens, plus a visit from an illuminated vintage bus and a Stomp to the Light dance display from Oldham Theatre Workshop. It stayed open late and it was great to see so many people milling around it on an evening.

illuminate2It was also fantastic to see Oldham Parish Church playing a central part.

In recent times this Grade II* listed church – which dates back to 1830 in its current form – has felt somewhat ‘left out of things’ on the periphery of a quiet area, but not now.

For Illuminate it was beautifully lit up with spectacular 3D projections accompanied by a bells and pipes soundtrack from the church itself. Outside an installation of sound, water and mechanics by Oldham artist Mike Green added to the ambience, and I know many people kept going back up for another look.

Tours were also held in the crypt beneath the church and there was a real sense that this jewel has finally re-entered the town centre ‘scene’.

illuminate5In that crypt, of course, lies the Oldham Giant, whose five-metre puppet persona was a main attraction for the evening.

Earlier that day I had the great pleasure of meeting Tom Scholes-Fogg and his granddad, John, who had travelled from London and Slaithwaite respectively to see Illuminate.

Tom had contacted me via email after the Old Town Hall opening event last year when he was astonished to hear how his sixth great grandfather – Joseph Scholes – had been brought back to life in puppet form.

Known as a “gentle giant”, ‘Dody’ was said to have been around 6ft 7in tall and 37 stones when he died in 1814. Instantly recognisable for obvious reasons, he was probably the best-known Oldhamer of his time: especially given his work as a military recruiting sergeant and his time as governor of the Oldham weavers’ workhouse where he stood up for the rights of underfed local apprentices.

Tom showed me some of the research he has been doing into this story and shared some fascinating anecdotes.

There were thousands of people at Dody’s funeral – he’s been buried three times, which is another story in itself(!) – but it was only able to take place after the windows of his Henshaw Street home were removed once the funeral director realised he just couldn’t get his casket outside. Once on the streets it had to be carried by several groups of 12-strong coffin bearers who constantly rotated, such was the weight of the task at hand.

illuminate4The Scholes family are rightly proud that their ancestor’s story is finally getting a wider audience and it was a wonderful moment on Friday night when Tom and John met up with locally-based Debbie and Amelia Scholes – four generations of the family – to have a unique ‘selfie’ with the Oldham Giant puppet.

Tom continues to research this story further so, if you have any information or anecdotes passed down amongst your family about him, then please get in touch and let us know via an email to presspr@oldham.gov.uk with the subject ‘Oldham Giant’.

Finally, if you want to see ‘Dody’ and others there are now regular public openings of the Oldham Parish Church and the crypt on every second Saturday of the month from 9.30am to 1pm. Group/party visits can be made by prior arrangement with the church, and light refreshments are also available. I can highly recommend a visit.

Next week, I’ll be returning to more serious matters as I blog about our final Council Tax proposals for 2017-8 and the continued crisis in national underfunding for adult social care.

Jean