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

Rubbish news is just great!

vfm-59I WANT to talk rubbish news this week – and I don’t mean the ‘fake news’ we’re all hearing so much about at the moment…

As you know, Oldham Council started its new waste collection arrangements in October.

The changes were designed to cut the amount of waste being sent to landfill and to promote more recycling across the borough.

This working pattern is now well-established as the norm and our first set of figures has just landed.

I wanted to share these and also take the opportunity to say thank you to people for ‘doing your bit’ – because this success is down to the effort of residents.

Changes to kerbside collection arrangements are never easy.

It’s the one service that every single household relies upon, so we worked very hard on explaining why we were doing this and how the changes would affect everyone.

tidyoldhamThe first comparable set of data shows that our household recycling rate has gone up significantly.

Comparing the third quarter of 2016 with the same period in 2015 we can see that the amount of household waste being recycled has gone up from 36.8 per cent to 43.6 per cent.

Given current trends we now expect this year’s overall recycling rate to average out somewhere between 45 and 47 per cent, which is really good progress – and it’s all down to you.

The public response to the changes – ordering extra blue, brown and green bins, for example – shows you’ve been recycling more and doing it smarter.

This really matters because our future has to be about less waste and more recycling. The costs to us of disposing of grey bin waste is hundreds of pounds per tonne, whereas we actually get a small income for each tonne that we recycle.

Since announcing that changes were on the way in July, we’ve sent out more than 25,000 recycling bins to local residents. Previously around 15,000 bins were requested over a 12-month period.

We’ve also had more than 1,700 applications for extra grey bins, compared with the 300 we would usually get.

These are requests from households with extra waste that they cannot recycle: such as where more than five people are living in one home, for example, or a household has two or more children in nappies.  Where households can demonstrate a genuine need for an additional bin for waste that cannot be recycled, we will provide an additional bin.

All the information you need about your household waste – including what you can and cannot recycle, and tips to manage your rubbish – can be found on our website here.

doorstep009

Some predicted the adoption of the new collection system would mean a significant rise in fly tipping.

But the fly tipping we all see in local media is not what responsible households dispose of in the bins provided.

I’m pretty sure that the mattresses, the fridges and the sofas that are reported as fly tipped across Oldham would never have fitted into the grey bin anyway(!). The trade waste that gets dumped is also something we are working hard to address.

I understand the misery and blight this kind of dumping causes to lives and communities and you may have seen our latest batch of prosecutions on this last week: all in incidents that happened before the new collection arrangements started.

We’ll be continuing with a ‘zero tolerance’ stance on this kind of behaviour and there’ll be more prosecutions to come, for which we make no apologies.

It’s not Oldham Council that dumps this waste, but it does fall to us to clean it up – and at a cost of almost £1m a year to you, the local taxpayer.  That is £1m that could be spent providing services to residents instead of cleaning up after people who do not respect our neighbourhoods.

It’s your neighbour – be that a home or business nearby – or somebody who has come into your area that dumps the stuff. And that is why we need your help.

If you see anyone fly tipping or dumping waste like this, then please do your bit and let us know using the online form here or by calling 0161 770 2244.

illuminate

Finally, I must take this chance to urge you not to miss out on a fantastic arts festival that we’re hosting in Oldham town centre on Friday this week.

‘Illuminate’ is a family friendly event that will feature carnival performances, a river of illuminated paper lanterns, an illuminated vintage bus, a new youth dance piece, LED electronics workshops by Hack Oldham and much, much more.

Attractions and workshops will be taking place at Oldham Parish Church, Parliament Square and Gallery Oldham from 5pm to 9pm that evening.

giantWe’re also bringing back, by popular demand, the Oldham Giant from the Old Town Hall opening ceremony last year (pictured right) and there will be some amazing 3D projections from Illuminos.

This is the first time we’ve ever held a late-night arts festival in the town centre.

It is going to be spectacular, so read more about it here and, please, help us spread the word amongst your friends and family.

Jean

Happy New Year for 2017…

oldham-leader-25-1-16-5277I’D LIKE to take this opportunity to wish all residents across our borough a Happy New Year.
 
This has been my first year as Oldham Council Leader. It has flown by at a rapid pace and it will be hard to forget 2016 for many reasons.
 
I would probably choose the Old Town Hall opening event in October as my personal highlight.
 
That spectacular show produced some iconic images and fantastic memories. Best of all, it showcased our ambitions for Oldham.
 
Raising the bar as the boldest outdoor event that we’ve ever put on in the town centre, it was brilliant to see and hear the excited reaction of families – especially young children – and made it a remarkable experience.
 
The opening of the ODEON cinema and restaurants – and the other businesses emerging and blossoming in our Independent Quarter – are clear signs of the transformation that’s now underway in Oldham. 
 
These aren’t just physical symbols of regeneration either. They are bringing new jobs, footfall and visitors and they are contributing towards the family-friendly environment we have needed for so long. 
 
There is also more to come.
 
coliseum-move-pr-shot-daily-issuesWe’ve recently been able to complete funding packages for our new Arts and Heritage Centre and the new Coliseum Theatre that are going to link up with Gallery Oldham and our Library to make a fantastic Cultural Quarter. 

And we continue to work up amended plans for the Prince’s Gate at Oldham Mumps development, which we will share as soon as we can. 
 
Our borough can’t be immune, however, from the impacts of the dramatic events we’ve seen at national and international levels in 2016.
 
Old assumptions and orders have been challenged: I can still barely believe I’m now writing in a pre-Brexit and Planet Trump era.
 
Oxford Dictionaries have named “post-truth” – which means ignoring objective facts and taking emotional decisions –  as their Word of the Year for 2016. 
 
My word for 2017 is going to be ‘fairness’. That’s because, as a place and a council, it seems to be the overriding issue on so many levels.
 
gmca-black-logo-expandedFair Growth, for example, is a key part of my new brief at the GM Combined Authority and I am leading on this agenda to make sure more of our residents share in the benefits of prosperity – not just selected parts of the south and centre of the region.
 
Oldham also needs fairness on many other levels to give our people the best chance to compete and prosper.
 
The cuts in Government funding have hit us disproportionately hard in recent years and that continues – not least with the decision to stop funding adult social care from central government budgets and hand the responsibility over to cash-strapped councils and Council Taxpayers.
 
Answers to the questions about how we are going to be funded in future when Government withdraws our core grant in 2020 – and in a way that genuinely reflects the level of need here – are also going to be vital. 

And there are other issues about our access to infrastructure and opportunities – like a direct tram link to Manchester Piccadilly, HS2 and beyond – where we will be fighting Oldham’s corner at a regional and national level in 2017.
 
The past year has seen the continuation of much unseen work that has such a positive impact on so many lives – and gives our residents a fairer chance in life.
 
hubI’m thinking of campaigns like Warm Homes Oldham, which has lifted more than 1,300 people out of fuel poverty, and our Early Help scheme, which is supporting people and families to get self-help and the skills needed to tackle their long term issues in better ways.
 
We’ve also made good progress on implementing the Oldham Education and Skills Commission’s recommendations, created thousands of new employment opportunities through Get Oldham Working, attracted more important new private investment, and begun building many of the new homes – and range of housing choice – we need as a borough.
 
In all those things, and others, our aim is to make Oldham a place where everyone can reach their potential and enjoy good quality districts, homes, transport links and life opportunities.
 
We’ll be spelling out those new priorities and our programme for the rest of this decade in the first part of 2017. None of us, however, can predict with full confidence what lies ahead.
 
At a time when the world feels as though it has been turned on its head, one undeniable truth is the value of strong public services – as shown by the response from the council and partners to the recent Maple Mill fire, or November’s flooding. 

Those services remain vital to communities and we will continue to defend them – and invest in our future –  as the next budget challenges get underway.
 
I’ve been inspired by some great local people this year.

jeannicNicola White, our Olympic gold medallist, has already made more than 60 appearances since the Rio games to inspire local schoolchildren, and she is just one high-profile example of hundreds of people who are ‘putting something back’ into our communities.
 
We still also have that great Oldham sense of humour to fall back on – as you showed in our ‘Name a Gritter’ competition that proved so popular it ended up being endorsed on the X Factor by Nicole ‘Saltslinger’ herself.
 
And another constant, which I’ve seen in countless examples this year, is the fact that Oldham only succeeds when we all pull together in the same direction. 
 
Only by all of us making our own contributions to shared aspirations and goals, can we build a better borough together.  
 
That was true in 2016 – and it remains more vital than ever for 2017 and beyond. 
 
Happy New Year!

Business and Transport: Our Economic Engine Room

jardine-audi-site-oldham-57BUSINESSES of all shapes and sizes are the lifeblood of our local economy; the dynamo that can power the place and people forward.

Oldham Council is often the first point of access – especially for smaller ventures – when they’re seeking support to get ideas and plans off the ground.

We know local firms are the engines of social mobility and potential gamechangers to the status quo in creating new products, services and, ultimately, jobs.

That’s why we take our role in championing, supporting them and encouraging growth in every area so seriously and this week I visited two great examples of how we are succeeding.

On Monday I went down to Chadderton Way to meet Stephen Pettyfer, Group Property Director of the Jardine Motors Group who are bringing an Audi dealership to town.

Builders are now six weeks into the construction of a huge showroom on the former Westhulme Hospital site in what represents an £8 million investment for the firm.

They’d approached us last year with plans to base their Northern hub at the five-acre site and, although the land is not council-owned, we worked with NHS bosses to broker the deal and bring the site forward quickly for development.

It will see the creation of around 90 new skilled jobs and is a high-end global brand that we are proud to see investing here.

With most of the steel infrastructure already in place, I’m really looking forward to revisiting the site to see the finished development next year.

parliamentsq1I also had the great pleasure to open another new business right in the heart of Oldham town centre yesterday.

Attracted by the Old Town Hall cinema and restaurants scheme, this is just the latest local venture to benefit from our Independent Quarter scheme.

Ross McGivern has taken advantage of our business support, advice and a Building Improvement Grant to make his dream a reality.

He also liked our plans for Parliament Square so much that he’s even named his new delicatessen and cafe after it as ‘The Parliament SQ’.

Ross’ enthusiasm already seems to have been instilled in his friendly team and – after linking up with our Get Oldham Working campaign – he will initially be employing up to 18 new staff.

It’s great to see this site, the old Santander building, back in use after three years of being vacant and I was really impressed by the stylish interior and glass frontage which gives fantastic views across Parliament Square and over to the Old Town Hall.

This is yet another different addition to the fast-growing dining and entertainment offer in Oldham and I am sure – especially given Ross’ focus on great customer service – that it will be a big hit with locals and visitors alike.

Part of the new attraction to Oldham is, of course, the Metrolink line. We unashamedly set out to use its arrival as a catalyst for our own regeneration programme and to attract more private investment.

We know that transport is vital to our future growth prospects. Strong connectivity is important to make sure that all our residents, partners and businesses – and those we hope to attract in the future – have a level playing field in terms of access to new opportunities.

That’s why I’ve teamed up with Richard Farnell, Rochdale Council Leader, in urging Transport for Greater Manchester to deliver on giving our Oldham-Rochdale line a direct link to Manchester Piccadilly, rather than people having to change tram at Manchester Victoria.

It can’t be right that our line will be the only branch of the network without an unbroken link to that transport hub with its important strategic links to London and beyond.

The justification we’ve been given is based on the current levels of demand on our line. But that doesn’t take any account of future growth and – by denying us that extension – it actually hampers the prospects of that future growth happening.

Both Oldham and Rochdale are positive partners in Greater Manchester devolution who are investing in our boroughs through physical and social regeneration schemes. We are asking for that to be recognised and supported, and we look forward to productive talks soon about this with Tony Lloyd, the Interim Mayor, and Andrew Fender, Chair of the TfGm committee.

I always like to end my blogs on a positive note so there’s two final things I’d highlight this week…

gritterThe first is the astonishing national public reaction to our ‘Name a Gritter’ competition with local primary school children. Spurred on by the infamous ‘Boaty McBoatface’ saga earlier this year, it has really caught the imagination with more than 2,500 entries to date – and a lot by adults that simply can’t be included(!)

The great thing is this all helps us to raise awareness of the vital work our gritting teams do. It’s also a fun way to teach young people about road safety and winter weather.

The competition closes at 5pm today (Wednesday) and we’re hoping to announce the much-anticipated winner later this week.

And finally, I did promise you some really positive news would be coming this week, and it will.

Watch our Twitter feed and local media from 7am on Friday and you will be the first to read all about it…

Jean

It’s been one of those days – All week(!)

BEING Council Leader can sometimes feel like a roller coaster ride and I will admit this has felt like a very tough week.

Since my last blog I’ve barely had time to catch my breath as a series of challenging events unfolded.

We started off by dealing with the winter’s first deluge of snow, then moved on to internal building problems that caused Access Oldham to be closed and relocated to the Civic Centre.

Then we had the terrible severe rainfall and flooding, and then came a phone call from Marks & Spencer…

You probably already know that M&S informed us yesterday they won’t now be taking up their option on retail space at Prince’s Gate at Oldham Mumps.

As commercial discussions remain ongoing with them, I can’t add much to my original response statement in the media, but I do want to reassure people.

Was it disappointing news? Yes, of course it was.

But in context it is also not a major shock and we should see this as more of a fork in the road rather than some dramatic reversal of Oldham’s forward direction.

We knew M&S had been experiencing problems driven by global economic and trade factors that are completely outside of our control.

They recently confirmed they are shutting 30 UK clothing and homeware shops and will convert dozens more into food stores as part of a business restructuring. Against a backdrop of falling sales and profits the Oldham decision was, no doubt, one of many tough ones that they are still yet to take.

M&S also made it clear to us, however, that they aren’t necessarily closing the door on coming to Oldham – it just won’t be at the Prince’s Gate site.

We are continuing to have discussions with them about that and hopefully work towards a positive outcome. It’s not the end of that road: it just means we may take a different path.

I want to be clear when I say that what remains unaltered and undiminished are our ambitions for the town.

othWe’ve seen only recently through the opening of the Old Town Hall what it is possible to achieve in Oldham, so we must reflect on this, regroup and then push forward again and deliver with the same determination as before.

Despite the M&S decision it’s clear that Oldham town centre’s fortunes are actually on the up. We’re already seeing increased footfall, trade, new investment and visitors here and I’ve been inspired by many recent chats with partners and residents.

We remain in positive discussions with several partners to capitalise further on that success – and we do also have some good news to announce on another front next week. Watch this space…

Now onto other choppy waters – the flooding that hit several parts of the borough this week…

It was heartbreaking to see those people and businesses who suffered damage and loss on Tuesday night and, as I write, our highways team are still working as fast as they can to help get things back to normal.

Some people have questioned whether more frequent clearing of our drains would have prevented the damage. But this was caused by extreme rainfall. Oldham was not the only place affected and we weren’t caught napping.

Weather experts say we had more than a month’s rainfall in one night and we also saw local rivers, like the River Tame, rising to unprecedented levels.

All drains across the borough are cleared on a cyclical rota and – as an example – the gulleys on Station Road, which was badly flooded at one point, were cleaned on September 27.

Road gulleys are there for surface water only and each year we clean more than 44,000 on a rota basis.

We recently introduced new software which maps all our gullies and shows us what their condition and status is.  That means we can identify those that may need more – or less – cleaning than the current schedule suggests.

We also use a high pressure-jet machine to clear  blockages. There is a high demand on this machine so we prioritise sites that may cause flooding of properties and areas with high footfall or busy traffic.

Road flooding is usually caused by rainwater from the surrounding area flowing downhill to a low point on the road and overwhelming the drains. The problem is normally due to the volume of water rather than a blockage.

Heavy rain also washes debris like soil and stones into drains which means that some which were initially clear can quickly get clogged and struggle to drain water away.

You can find more information about gullies and flooding in the latest edition of Borough Life and if you need to report a blocked gulley, please email highways@oldham.gov.uk or call 0161 770 4325.

Finally, I want to pay tribute to everyone that played a part in the response work on Monday night/Tuesday.

When the deluge of rain hit the area our staff came in at short notice to work overnight through atrocious conditions alongside brilliant partners like the GM Fire and Rescue Service and local police, and some fantastic local residents.

At the worst of times like this you can often see the very best in our communities: people mucking in selflessly together and helping out alongside official and emergency services.

That’s a spirit that is clearly still afloat in Oldham – and one that makes me very proud.

Jean

Christmas redundancies: a cruel present

GOWLOGOTHE FESTIVE season can be the best of times for many people – and, cruelly, the worst of times for others…

Although I’m yet to hear a Slade record, the shopping season is clearly getting into full swing and this Sunday sees our Christmas Lights Switch-On event in Oldham.

My primary thoughts this week, however, are for all those people who have just learned that they are set to lose their jobs at local retail firm Betta Living.

The company, based on Suthers Street in Werneth, sold kitchens, bedrooms and wardrobes with outlets in more than 70 towns nationwide.

Administrators were appointed on November 4 and last Friday they notified staff of their decision to make all employees redundant.

We understand that up to 50 staff could be affected locally and the Council’s Get Oldham Working (GOW) team are already on the case offering our help.

There’s never a good time to lose your job, of course, but at this time of year – when cashflow is so key to your family plans and people are looking forward to relaxing and having fun together – it is especially hard to take. My heart goes out to them all.

Our Get Oldham Working staff have contacted JobCentre Plus to agree an approach and we will work with them and other partners to do all we can to minimise the impact.

As in the case of BHS, where we were able to help every staff member affected to find new employment, we will also be offering practical support such as help with CVs and interview practice.

At a time like this we all have a part to play, so I would ask any Oldham businesses that might have suitable vacancies to please contact Get Oldham Working and offer your support.

If you are directly affected, or think you can help, the GOW Team can be contacted on 0161 770 4674 or at employability@oldham.gov.uk

rsundayMoving onto other matters, I was delighted to see attendances at Remembrance Sunday services at such a high level across the borough.

I was in Oldham and the huge turnout of people to pay their respects – young and old – was absolutely heartwarming.

The service was very poignant and it was also great to see the area in front of the Old Town Hall back in use again. This will be a perfect venue for all manner of civic events like this when the phased opening culminates in Parliament Square’s completion.

For that reason this year is also likely to be the last time that we host our Christmas Lights Switch-On at Tommyfield Market.

This venue has worked well for the last couple of years and Sunday’s event promises to be another great free family show.

The fun starts in the town centre at 1pm with TV favourites Chase and Marshall from PAW Patrol making the first of several appearances during the day.

Tommyfield will then host a spectacular stage show at 4.45pm featuring Britain’s Got Talent’s ‘Stormtroopers’, Boogie Storm, our very own Ollie and Millie, and another fantastic firework display.

Why not plan ahead for the day and pay a visit to the Old Town Hall for a family movie, do some shopping, or visit one of the excellent restaurants in the area?

There’s also a whole series of district lights switch-on events going on across the borough between November 24 and December 8 and you can find out what’s going on where you live here.

Finally, the weather has been comparatively mild of late, and I hope that this continues, but if we do get hit by some early-season snow you can keep fully updated on the impact on our website at www.oldham.gov.uk/winter

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

The Big Bang 2016…

bigbangTHE CLOCKS have gone back and the evenings are getting colder – but November in Oldham always starts with the warm glow, heat and colours of The Big Bang.

It’s now five years since we brought the civic bonfire back onto the annual events calendar and it was one of our best decisions yet. It is always a great night for families.

Oldham Edge has proved to be a fantastic picturesque setting for it all – and it has the added advantage of enabling many people across the borough unable to attend to marvel at the fireworks display from the comfort of their own homes.

This year The Big Bang is taking place on Thursday, November 3 and although the weather conditions are forecast to be relatively mild you should still wrap up snug.

Please also remember to wear appropriate footwear at what is a totally grassed site – white stiletto heels and your prized trainers will simply not do the job(!).

For 2016 we’re once again offering the use of all council-owned car parks free of charge from 3pm onwards on the day, but demand on those nearest to Oldham Edge – like at the Civic Centre and Bradshaw Street – is always high and they fill up early.

There’s no parking at the event itself but our band of volunteers will help you to find alternative places to park and direct you towards the site on foot.

We advise you to arrive early and, wherever possible, to use public transport.

The Big Bang takes months of careful planning and this year we’ve got another great entertainment line-up on offer from the moment the site opens at 5pm with a funfair and food stalls.

The stageshow starts at 6pm, with the bonfire lit shortly afterwards, and the family can enjoy Juba Do Leao with their Latin percussion drums plus a headline performance from ‘Flame Oz’ with a ‘glow show’, fire dancing and spectacular juggling.

We pride ourselves on the unrivalled quality of the pyrotechnics at this event which is why we’ve again asked Fantastic Fireworks to provide the showcase display from around 7pm onwards. A personal highlight for me is always to see the thrilled face of our young competition winner who gets to press the buzzer and start the firework finale.

Oldham Edge has now hosted this event since 2013 and each year we review arrangements to improve the event and the site for families.

We’re again working hard with event partners Revolution96.2 to get all the vital information publicised quickly and help to get you there on time to enjoy the spectacle.

This year we’ve also added an extra entrance to the site to try and reduce some of the congestion and slippy conditions underfoot that we had last year. The site map is below for your reference.

bonfire-2016-site-plan

Please bring your families along and take advantage of what is the best bonfire and fireworks display for miles around at what is not just a free but – crucially – a safe event designed with our partners at Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Service and the Treacle campaign.

Finally this week, on the subject of learning from experiences, I have noticed the odd comment about teething problems at the Old Town Hall ODEON cinema development in the first few days.

The public response to the venue so far has been overwhelmingly positive.

To attract around 14,000 visitors in the first week certainly vindicated our decision to go for a phased opening over the school half-term holidays and I’m certain many people will be returning as Molino Lounge, Nando’s and Gourmet Burger Kitchen open their doors in the weeks ahead.

Some people have said they experienced long food queues and issues with cleanliness between showings. But with sold-out viewings back to back in each screen – and new staff learning on the job in a very challenging baptism – I simply ask that people be patient.

I know that Paul Dagg, the ODEON manager, is working extremely hard with staff to identify any issues and iron them out.

Please bear with him and his team, and also respect the environment and the building that we have all worked SO hard to make great again.

Everyone can play their part in that – even if that’s just by removing your own litter after a film – and help to ensure the Old Town Hall continues to be the huge success that Oldham town centre deserves and needs.

See you at The Big Bang on Thursday night!

Jean