Keep dancing…

strictly-kershaws-2017_Facebook_and_webIT WAS certainly up there as one of the most unexpected phone calls I’ve received since becoming Council Leader.
 
In April I took a call fully expecting to be asked whether I had PPI, a car accident that wasn’t my fault or be told about a new pothole in my ward. Instead it was an invitation I really hadn’t expected.
 
It was Dr Kershaw’s Hospice calling to ask if I’d consider taking part in their Strictly Kershaw’s annual dancing competition. 
Ordinarily I would probably have politely declined given my busy schedule – not to mention my two left feet – but their timing was important.

The call came during the week of the funeral of our Royton councillor colleague, Tony Larkin, who I knew had been in Dr Kershaw’s Hospice during his final weeks.

It felt right to take part in something that raises funds to support the fantastic work of the Hospice. I know there are so many families across our borough who are grateful for the incredible work done by their staff for adults with life-limiting illnesses.

In the back of my mind too I remembered how, as a young girl, my Mum had sent me to Bardsley Dance School and – to be honest – I’d hated it!

But I said “Yes” and committed to 12 weeks of practice every Thursday night up until the actual  event on October 20.  


Jean GM Moving pledge (2)And in July I put my dancing venture forward as my pledge to the Greater Manchester (GM) Moving campaign, which aims to get everyone active and secure the greatest improvement in the health, wealth and wellbeing of the region’s 2.8m residents by 2021. 
 
I turned up for my first practice sessions a bit apprehensive but actually, whilst I’m no Ginger Rogers, I really am enjoying it.

I have a fantastic, patient dance partner and he and his real partner have been taking me through the choreography for my two dances. These are the Cha Cha Cha and a lesser-known dance called the Bachata.  I have to say some of the choreography is a bit racy and they are already talking fishnets and feathers for my outfits!

 
I’ve certainly felt fitter for doing it and it’s good sometimes to have something that you need to really concentrate on (because otherwise you might fall over!) and take just a couple of hours off from being Council Leader.    
 
So this has been great fun to do so far and – on the night –  I promise nothing other than 100 per cent effort and to provide some entertainment for the crowd  And I hope that however well (or not so well!) I have improved by then, people will remember the serious side to this is about raising funds for Dr Kershaw’s.

The Hospice needs to raise a staggering £8,000 daily to keep providing their invaluable services for free. They rely on public generosity and that’s why I hope some of you reading this will take the time to visit my JustGiving page and sponsor my dancing efforts here.  

 
Even better, if you want to attend the Strictly Kershaw’s event itself, it takes place at the QE Hall on October 20. You can book tickets and find out more about it here.
 
While we’re on the subject of a Royton institution this week I want to set the record straight on our plans for the library building, which we recently announced.
 
You can read all about them here but essentially the plan is to move the library into the ground floor of the Royton Town Hall buildings as part of a £2 million investment to improve the facilities. We’re then seeking a tenant to give the old library building a modern use to breathe new life into the district. 
 
Contrary to media and Social Media comments since then, I want to be crystal clear about what we are doing.  
 
Firstly, this isn’t the closure of the library service. It is simply relocating it – and into what will be a modern community venue with new facilities, meeting rooms and office space set within the historic Town Hall building. It will have better access for everyone and improved connectivity between the library, health centre and leisure centre facilities. This is an investment in the future, not a cut in service. 
 
Secondly, we have no plans to sell the old library building. We know it’s important to many Roytonians and have been very clear that we are seeking a tenant with a sympathetic view to its heritage who can offer something new to the district that can benefit everyone. 

And with that off my chest it’s back to work now and – tomorrow night – a little more Cha Cha Cha…

Jean 

shoes

Reflections on a turbulent time

oldham-leader-25-1-16-5277THE LAST few weeks have been a turbulent time.

The calling of a snap General Election meant that I had to stop publishing my blog almost immediately due to publicity rules and – since then – things have been a whirlwind with a frantic schedule of door-knocking and supporting local candidates.
 
I’ve also been busy on Oldham Council business and you’ll see some of that work coming to fruition with positive announcements about plans for Oldham town centre and the Prince’s Gate scheme due in July. 
 
It’s undeniable, however, that we’re facing uncertainty at a national level.
 
The General Election has left us with a minority Conservative-led government and – even with the Democratic Unionist Party now alongside her in the voting lobbies – Theresa May will find things difficult.
 
Any controversial measures are unlikely to get through a Commons vote and the situation also means that any Conservative MPs wanting to ‘rock the boat’ could easily put themselves in a powerful position to obstruct government business.
 
What that all means for Oldham Council and local government remains uncertain.
 
Some commentators and politicians have predicted the election result means the age of austerity and funding cuts is now at an end, but only time will tell.
 
Last week’s watered-down Queen’s Speech also made no specific reference to many key issues facing local authorities.
 
Clarification about the future of council funding – or the original intention to have 100 per cent retention of business rates by 2020 – was glaring by its absence. And there are other questions, like what the government’s long-term and sustainable solution to the social care funding gap will be.
 
None of these will be helped by now having a minority government where solutions are likely to be a compromise, and the result of a painfully-paced bargaining process.
 
THILLTWOSince my last blog there’s also been significant domestic news – most notably the series of appalling terrorist attacks and the Grenfell Tower fire.
 
The attacks at Manchester Arena, London Bridge and Finsbury Park have raised all kinds of issues about our security, foreign policy and policing.
 
I can’t ever recall so many shocking events in such a short period, but it has also been met with a magnificent public response.
 
Locally, it was heart-breaking to learn that two of the innocent victims of the Manchester attack – Alison Howe and Lisa Lees – were mums from Royton who had gone to pick their daughters up from that Ariana Grande concert.
 
This was an horrific attack on innocent people going about their everyday business –on our way of life – and the community response has been inspiring.
 
Royton town centre became home to huge floral tributes, lengthy queues to sign books of condolence and a very moving public vigil at Tandle Hill Park: all showing the very best in local community spirit.
 
POETFour weeks on, the support from people wanting to show they stand together with the families was apparent again at last Friday’s funerals and at the Picnic in the Park at Tandle Hill, which was a wonderful idea by the families.
 
Hundreds of local residents showed their respects and were entertained by stage performances from Tony Walsh (the Manchester Poet, pictured right), Clint Boon and local bands.

I want to thank all those people, firms, partners and council staff who worked so hard to make that event happen. Offers of help came in all shapes and forms ranging from the donation of 1,000 pies, pastries and pasties by Greggs, to volunteers spending hours to clear the park of litter afterwards. 
 
For those two families the hard work is only just beginning, but that display of support will hopefully at least have given them comfort that they are not alone.
 

Once again, I find myself in admiration of the human warmth, decency and kindness of our residents – and the courage of our amazing ‘blue light’ services.

Jean