Here comes the sun: don’t waste it

SALEXBESTYOU CAN’T have missed the glorious sight of a rather unfamiliar yellow dot in the sky in recent days.

Summer, it seems, is here at last and with it comes a dizzying array of events and opportunities all across the borough.

There’s already so much summer-related activity going on that it’s hard to keep track of it all – and there’s no excuse for staying at home.

In the coming days alone I’m aware of street parties planned for the Queen’s 90th birthday, Failsworth Carnival, the East Oldham Games at Stoneleigh Park, the visit of the Tour De Manc through Saddleworth, Dr Kershaw’s Summer Fair and events joining the national The Big Lunch on Sunday. And we’re not even into the school holiday periods yet…

lastthree3This summer our major focus is on health and wellbeing and encouraging people to get active.

We’re blessed to have some fantastic natural assets here in Oldham and are working with our partners to encourage people to get out and about and enjoy them.

Exercise is an extremely important part of our lives. It keeps our hearts healthy, reduces our risk of serious illness and strengthens muscles and bones.

But visiting places and meeting new people is equally beneficial for your wellbeing – strengthening your social networks and confidence – and we’ve got 32 local parks and green spaces to help everyone do that.

You can have a wander around my personal favourite, for example,  the ‘jewel in the crown’ that is Alexandra Park, where you can cool down in the paddling pool or challenge the family to a game of tennis.


Foxdenton Park is perfect for a kickabout with its two football pitches, and the kids can also burn off energy in the play area or enjoy a walk in the woodland and sensory garden.

Dove Stone reservoir is also a favourite family option where you can get close to nature on a stroll, or you could take your bikes along the paths of Leesbrook Nature Park in the heart of the Medlock Valley.

lastthree2To find out more about our great outdoor spaces visit our Parks webpage here. And if you are looking for further inspiration for fun-filled games and activities for your little ones then it’s well worth looking at the Change4Life programme here.

Floral displays are, of course, an important part of our summer campaign which we know our residents love to see.

But the impact of our annual Bloom and Grow campaign is not just visual – it’s about much more than flowers, beautiful though they are.

It’s about taking and enjoying a co-operative approach to improving our environment: with the whole community working together to improve towns and districts.

Our environmental services team do a fantastic job but Bloom and Grow’s real strength lies in your participation as a resident, school, business or community group.

It’s great for civic pride and it also plays a vital role in educating people how to play their own small part to help keep our borough looking beautiful, clean and attractive to all who live and work here.

If you’ve visited Oldham town centre in recent days you’ve probably noticed that preparations are getting underway on our latest showcase ‘WOW’ bed display in High Street.

lastthree1That display will be the centrepiece of this year’s campaign in which we’re bidding for double ‘gold’.

Firstly, we’re taking part in North West in Bloom again and aiming to repeat last year’s success when we won ‘Best City’ (we are in this category based on population size) for the sixth year in a row.

But we are also the regional representatives in that category in this year’s Britain in Bloom – which we won in 2012 and 2014.

For a town like Oldham to be beating off competition from places like Chester and Westminster in that field speaks volumes about the success of our collective efforts, and our aspirations as a place.

I’m not able to give any secrets away while our team continue preparing their latest horticultural masterpiece, but it’s safe to say it will again be worth the wait when we reveal all.

There are also six local competitions that we’re encouraging all our green-fingered residents and businesses to get involved in.

Proxmaxbda2012AwardsWe’re asking budding photographers to get snapping with your phones and capture the best the borough has to offer. There have already been some brilliant snaps sent in – and in the first month alone we’ve had more than 450 entries.

You don’t need to be an expert and the winner will get £200, plus the chance for your work to be admired by every local resident in a future edition of Borough Life.

By way of inspiration for you, we’ve just finished our Young Photographers’ competition which was won by a wonderful picture of a ‘Tawny Owlet’ taken by Ellia Rhodes, aged 11, from Grasscroft (pictured below).

Young photo winner

There are also competitions still open for the ‘Best Blooming’ businesses, pubs, restaurants and private gardens. You can find out more here

Finally, I couldn’t blog this week without mentioning National Carers Week.

As I know from personal experience there are few more worthy causes than this to highlight.

Carers need and deserve our support and they can access a range of assistance and information.

carers-week-2016Oldham Carer’s Services are there for unpaid carers looking after a partner, family member or friend who could not manage without their help. They can provide information about health issues, entitlements, mobility, equipment, volunteering opportunities, individual budgets, rights and employment issues. You can find out more and contact the service here.

We have many fantastic people here who are essentially an unpaid army of carers for some of our most vulnerable elderly and disabled people.

We should take pride in their efforts and be grateful for the fantastic contribution they are making to their families and local communities.

I am personally determined that we continue to work hard to make Oldham a caring town – one that recognises those who need help most, and highlights the amazing people who help deliver it for them.


Love Your Local Market

LYLM FB Banner 2 (3)THIS WEEK is national Love Your Local Market week – and it’s a campaign I am always delighted to back.

Like many residents I am fond of our markets and they are a passion that dates right back to my childhood.

My first-ever part-time job, when I was still at Hathershaw Comprehensive, was folding jumpers and sorting out stock on Peter Haq’s outdoor market stall in Oldham. Typical of the tradition that goes with these things, his family still runs a stall on the inside market to this very day.

One of my saddest ever memories came later when I was working as a ‘Saturday Girl’ at Littlewoods, in what is now the Primark building, in 1974.

I will never forget standing in the canteen at the back of the building with other staff overlooking the site of the old market hall, which had burned down overnight.

It had clearly been a huge blaze, the market was destroyed and the tears came freely to us all.

We all have our market memories and anecdotes – much happier than that one, I hope! – and the Love Your Local Market campaign is a great way of celebrating the importance of markets to local communities.

TFIELD2Buildings may come and go – and shopping habits have also changed drastically over the years – but markets still have a unique appeal.

They offer great services at a price that doesn’t break the bank. You can choose from a great range of good quality local produce and traditional foodstuffs – and above all markets are about the people.

You can meet some really incredible characters on the stalls and make great new friends in a way that other forms of shopping simply don’t tend to offer.

‘Click and collect’ or ‘home delivery’ services don’t give you conversation, the chance to ask questions about what you are buying or the choice to pick exactly what you want.

And out of town retail parks – although undoubtedly serving a purpose and having a clear audience – don’t have bustling aisles full of people browsing and socialising, and eager shoppers bartering with traders and swapping titbits.

A visit to market has always been about the experience and we’re trying to help encourage new vendors to give it a go.

We’ve just recently launched a new scheme to tempt budding traders through a £5 Friday Market for the outdoor market at Tommyfield.

This is absolutely ideal for people just starting out with a new small business – or who just want to have a go at trading and see how it goes.

Free public liability insurance is on offer for this, but places are limited so traders need to express an interest soon. Other offers include four weeks’ free rent for stalls who introduce a new trader to us – plus the chance for the newbie to pay three weeks’ rent up front and then get the next three for absolutely no charge.

The first £5 Friday Market will be held soon and you can find out more information here.

SHOPLOCALTo learn more about Oldham’s markets, why not follow them and show your support on social media? You can even ask questions and the markets team will get you an answer either via the Facebook page here or the Twitter account @oldhammarkets

You can also find details there about the Love Your Local Market events taking place this week which include funfairs, jazz musicians, bingo, and even magic tricks.

Aside from Tommyfield, Oldham does – of course, also have some other brilliant local markets at Shaw, Royton, Saddleworth and others.

Information and details about all these can be found on our Markets webpage at:

Please pay your local market a visit, try shopping local and grab yourself a bargain soon.


Inclusive growth – what it is and why it matters

JeanStrettonTHE ‘INCLUSIVE Growth’ agenda is going to be absolutely central to my work as Council Leader.

What I mean by that it is that it’s vital we ensure that Greater Manchester devolution isn’t just delivering for core areas around Manchester city centre, but also for all our towns and districts.

The importance of that – as if we needed reminding – was highlighted again when the All-Party Group of Social Inclusion met in Parliament on Monday.

The group warned that Britain is becoming more ethnically segregated – with widening “cracks in our communities” because lessons haven’t been learned.

Their deliberations coincided with the unhappy anniversary of it being 15 years since the Oldham riots and I was, as you can imagine, asked to give my thoughts by several media sources.

Those scenes on our streets in 2001 were ones none of us will forget. Since then they’ve remained at the forefront of all our minds in everything we do to improve the prospects of our people, business and places.

I welcomed the fact that these issues were being discussed in the context of being matters for Britain as a nation this week. It’s important to do that rather than treating those disturbances as somehow being a defining and unique feature of Oldham.

Rising immigration has produced a national debate that is primarily focussed on numbers and sensational headlines; risking a response where communities blame each other and heightening the appeal of simplistic ‘Donald Trump’ solutions.

I want to talk about Oldham’s experiences since 2001 – and where we go next on this agenda.

Much hard work has been done by Oldham Council and partners across all sectors to provide stronger civic leadership here that can tackle the problems that can lead to communities living “parallel lives”.

We’ve made significant investments in landmark regeneration schemes designed to boost Oldham’s confidence, make it family-friendly, improve residents’ prospects and spark the local economy by attracting major inward investment deals to helping small independent traders.

There’s also been significant investment in housing, work to reduce the segregation of students from different ethnic backgrounds in schools, plus the Oldham Education and Skills Commission, which is striving to improve standards and encourage schools to work better together to raise them across the borough.

We’re not complacent but we’ve seen success in several areas. There’s less hate crime happening, for example, and the far right has still never had a single candidate elected here. Our neighbourhood teams working closely within communities also find that people much more prepared to acknowledge and discuss difficult issues.

But seeing these issues simply through the prism of race is too narrow a focus that offers few solutions.

Drill deeper and you can see that social integration and economic inclusion and prosperity go hand in hand, which is why I’m concentrating on three key areas for Oldham.

wordpress-gmcaFirstly, as a partner in Greater Manchester devolution, I’ve made the ‘inclusive growth’ agenda my top concern.

New research from the independent Inclusive Growth Analysis Unit (run by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and University of Manchester) rightly challenges the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ to ensure the proceeds of growth are shared by all people and places in their regions.

Looking at key indicators like income, living costs, labour market exclusion, employment and human capital we can see that while Manchester city centre and Salford have seen growth in their prosperity, the GM region overall sits in the bottom half of the index for inclusion. That has to change or devolution will fail – and communities will divide.

Secondly, we must not lose sight of the importance of our key services. We cannot forget or underestimate the impact these targeted interventions can have in changing peoples’ lives. Initiatives like Get Oldham Working and Warm Homes Oldham have helped thousands of people into employment and out of fuel poverty – key interventions which can make a huge difference. Delivering them won’t be getting any easier, however, as the Government continues to slash our funding and offer measures like business rate redistribution, which won’t mitigate long-term risks to councils like ours. Westminster can and must do better.

And thirdly, I believe more should be done to include women in the GM devolution agenda and in finding solutions to these challenges.

We’ve underplayed the contribution women can make and haven’t engaged them well in this process so far: the devolution deal photocall was a very telling image filled entirely with men in suits. That matters for reasons of justice, legitimacy and efficiency.

I’m the first female leader of Oldham Council and it’s one that has strong cabinet and ward member representation of women. But I’m also now the only female leader in GM and I will push for that voice to be heard better in policy-making and helping to tackle entrenched divisions and inequalities.

As a Co-operative Council we work hard with partners in every area and sector of our borough. All of us recognise that we have our own roles to play in tackling deep-seated social, economic and cultural forces that can drive our communities apart.

We share those challenges with many other places and cannot ever ignore them.

What’s important about Oldham though is not that we had a riot – London and Manchester had them much more recently, remember – but that we have a plan, a partnership and the determination to tackle these issues head on.

Jean Stretton

Leader of Oldham Council

Behind the headlines: The truth about deprivation in Oldham

BBC HEADLINEIT HURT like hell to see news stories labelling Oldham as the ‘most deprived town’ in England this week.

As a proud resident and Council Leader, that’s one of the ‘top five’ headlines you never want to read.

My instinct was to defend the area because, hand on heart, I genuinely don’t believe Oldham is the most deprived town – and I don’t say that with my head in the sand either.

Many shocked people got in touch asking me how this survey could have reached that conclusion, so I did some fact-finding…

It turns out the Office for National Statistics (ONS) looked at one part of our borough – focussing just on centrally-located wards near Oldham town centre.

Big districts like Royton, Shaw, Failsworth, Chadderton and Saddleworth (just named one of the best places to live in the UK) weren’t included, which explains a lot.

The part of Oldham surveyed was those wards we historically know to have socio-economic problems, like Alexandra, Coldhurst, St Mary’s, Waterhead and Werneth. They’ve long been our areas of highest deprivation and we’ve never denied that.

Like many parts of towns and cities or large urban conurbations, these areas of Oldham are still undergoing economic restructuring after the decline of manufacturing. It’s a legacy many places are still dealing with and we’ve not been sat here waiting for some report to point that out.

ONS-logoThis ONS survey is based on data from the 2011 Census, which is five years old. We’ve been on a dramatic journey since then.

In 2011 we had no Metrolink extension. All of our major regeneration plans and social regeneration initiatives that can make a real difference to deprivation were, at best, at initial planning stages.

Oldham Council and its partners recognised, however, that if we shirked the challenges, nobody else would come along and rescue us and, since then, we’ve been recognised nationally as having made major improvements.

Together we’ve worked incredibly hard to change Oldham’s story.

Get Oldham Working, for example, has created more than 3,700 new work-related opportunities for residents. Warm Homes Oldham has lifted more than 3,300 residents out of fuel poverty and we now have a range of partners committed to working together to improve school results through the Oldham Education and Skills Commission.

The ONS survey doesn’t recognise any of that. It comes from researchers interrogating spreadsheets rather than (perish the thought) actually coming to visit the place. And all of the place too – don’t redraw the boundaries of what those who actually live here recognise as Oldham(!).

One quick trip here would’ve confirmed the story for them that our renewal is real.

OTH2We’re attracting major new retailers and investment, including Marks & Spencer and a regional Audi dealership. We’ve created a blossoming Independent Quarter that will soon have a Digital Enterprise Hub, and only this week Nandos and Gourmet Burger Kitchen agreed to join ODEON in our flagship Old Town Hall cinema development.

We haven’t got everything right and there’s a long way to go in tackling some issues linked to deprivation. But we also know it can’t change overnight and the battle is hardly helped by slamming a town and publicly crushing its confidence.

There’s also many things you cannot measure on a spreadsheet. “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts” and you’d struggle to tell partners like Voluntary Action Oldham, the Oldham Foodbank and charity workers that their outstanding work in those communities is somehow not relevant to the true picture.

That’s not to say, however, that statistics aren’t useful – so let’s look at those that explain how deprivation is being perpetuated in Oldham.

Since 2009, Government has reduced our funding by £192 million – more than 40 per cent. By 2017 we’ll have £2,015 less to spend on services per household.

british pound currency symbol made in 3d over a white backgroundOn top of that, the Welfare Reform Act of 2012 caused an estimated £90.1m loss to the borough and last year’s Welfare Reform and Work Bill will see a cumulative loss of another £58m over the next four years. These are huge amounts to take out of people’s pockets and the local economy.

Oldham is also not alone or unique in these challenges: we’re part of a bigger geographical club.

The ONS survey said that five of the ten most deprived towns and cities are from the North West, and those with the least deprived areas are mainly in the South East – and that shouldn’t be a surprise to any of us.

I’d be much less annoyed about this survey if I thought it was ultimately going to lead to action. I’d personally hand deliver it to the Chancellor myself if I thought he would use it to help Oldham, but he won’t, so I do question what the merit of it is.

Here in Oldham we know that only we can help ourselves by pushing forward with our regeneration plans, raising aspirations and creating new jobs, opportunities and homes. That work goes on.

And although Mr Obsorne claims that places like Oldham and our neighbours are all part of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’, the necessary funding to turn that rhetoric into reality is yet to materialise.

Believing in Oldham is not just about words, it is about deeds.

PollingStationFinally, this is my last blog before the local elections period officially starts and council publicity is restricted.

On Thursday, May 5 a third (20) of the total 60 council seats – one in each ward – is up for election.

I won’t use my blog to solicit support for any particular party or cause, but I would ask that you do please use your vote.

To check if you are registered to vote or find out more information, visit the Elections page on the Oldham Council website by clicking here.

I hope you all have a fantastic Easter Weekend and my blog will return in May.


The work goes on…

NEW LEADER: Councillor Jean Stretton has replaced Jim McMahon as Oldham Council Leader

WELCOME to my first-ever blog as Oldham Council Leader – and thank you all for the many good wishes and congratulation messages that I have received.

I’m honoured to be following Jim McMahon in this role and – like him – I’ll be writing a blog each week.

I wanted this job because Oldham is in my heart and it’s in my blood.

I was born here, brought up here and have lived here most of my life.

As I explained in my first speech as Leader to Full Council last week, I’m very proud of the forward strides we have made since 2011 – and that work goes on.

There’ll be no lowering of ambitions, no slackening of effort and no settling for second best while I am at the helm in Oldham.

People want and deserve our long-standing regeneration schemes and these will continue.

But I will also be giving more focus to social regeneration: not just bricks and mortar.

A major priority in that respect is my pledge to ensure the Oldham Education and Skills Commission report recommendations are implemented.

Too many young people don’t get to reach their full potential because some of our schools are not yet up to scratch.

I’ve been asked what happens next.

Well, that document won’t be sitting on a shelf gathering dust – I won’t allow it.

Cabinet has already committed £1m to take this work forward and a meeting later this week will discuss the structure and governance arrangements that we will need to get cracking.

Parents and education partners will all want to see us get on with this work quickly.

You can rest assured I will be taking a keen interest in this – and I have high expectations of the difference that we can make by working together with those partners.


New Year Leader’s Message – 2016

newyear2016I’D LIKE TO wish all our residents a ‘Happy New Year’ for the last time in my capacity as Oldham Council Leader.

Later this month I’ll be stepping down to focus on my new role as the MP for Oldham West and Royton, but this does not mean I am moving on.

Instead I see this as ‘stepping up’ to represent the borough in a different way – championing your interests at Westminster, where we need a strong voice now more than ever.

I’ve also agreed to take on a new ambassadorial role to continue giving leadership on the regeneration programme here which will be entering a very exciting period in 2016.

We’ve had plenty of milestones in the last year with the opening of new Leisure Centres in Oldham and Royton, the North Stand at Oldham Athletic, FCHO’s new headquarters on Union Street, plus the blossoming of new businesses and creative ventures in the Independent Quarter, and much more.

In the coming months you’ll continue to see even further progress on projects that are there to ensure Oldham – and above all, its people – can prosper.

The developments I just mentioned are important parts of our ‘invest to grow’ programme of physical regeneration, but none are more symbolic of our aspirations than the Old Town Hall.

FLAGSHIP: Contractors working to transform the Old Town Hall.

This is our flagship scheme and the sense of anticipation is growing with every new steel strut, column and window.

When work to rejuvenate this venue is complete, when families are queuing to end a decade-long wait for cinema tickets, when doors open at its six new restaurants, and when the first cappuccinos are frothed for visitors to the adjacent Parliament Square, it will be a hugely-significant moment for Oldham.

This is a development to put the town centre back on the map: to reawaken this grand old building and its surrounds and restore it to its rightful place as a symbol of civic pride.

That will be a powerful moment in 2016, but I know it really only marks the end of the beginning of the longer journey that lies ahead.

Much remains to be done because we’re still facing a range of challenges to our future prosperity and wellbeing.

In 2015 at Oldham Council we finalised the process of finding £35m in cuts for our 2015/6 budget and then almost immediately set about finding a further £18m of savings for 2016/7. We know these cuts are having a real impact on residents and services – and our partners – despite our determination to continue delivering and supporting people.

BudgetInfog1The cuts – more than £200 million since 2010 – have been accompanied by rising demand for help from our most vulnerable residents and will be further compounded by new Government plans to remove central funding that will effectively leave towns like ours to ‘sink or swim’ on our own resources.

That’s why so much hard work has already being going on in key projects that aren’t about bricks and mortar, but about social regeneration.

When I say that I’m thinking of schemes like Get Oldham Working, which beat its original target to create 2,015 jobs, apprenticeship and traineeships with nine months to spare this year.

I’m also thinking about the introduction of the Living Wage for council staff, the new Fair Employment Charter, which is designed to tackle issues like ‘zero hour’ contracts, and our work to put social value – ensuring contractors support our local economy – at the heart of every pound we spend.

Another huge challenge is providing people with homes and good places to live. This year we began our licensing scheme for private landlords to stamp out the letting of poor quality accommodation, and continued to fight fuel poverty through projects like Warm Homes Oldham, from which around 2,000 homes have benefited.

Construction has also begun on new homes at sites across the borough and we’ve introduced a Green Dividend scheme to help fund tree planting and other projects to make neighbourhoods better places to live.

ESTELLE MORRIS: Launching the Oldham Education and Skills Commission at Stoneleigh Primary School.

Crucially, the focus will turn to our future – young people and education – later this month when the Oldham Education and Skills Commission (OESC) delivers its landmark report.

We’re working hard to deliver better facilities like the new Hollinwood Academy, Saddleworth School and the new three form entry primary school currently under construction on the former Grange site, but education isn’t just about an inspiring learning environment: it’s about every child getting the best chance to fulfil their potential.

We know we can – and must – do better here because successful schools and training underpins all our ambitions to become a place where people want to live and work.

The new OESC report will clearly set out the challenge that lies ahead: how to ensure our young people are school ready, work ready and life ready and we all have a part to play in that.

JimMcMahonOBEFinally, I give you my word that as an MP I will be retaining as close an interest as ever in our progress on education and many other areas – including to ensure that we benefit fairly from devolution to Greater Manchester.

I’m determined to continue to help drive things forward in our borough and make sure that we continue to innovate and change so we can deliver for tomorrow’s generation.

Councillor Jim McMahon OBE
Leader of Oldham Council
MP for Oldham West and Royton

Volunteering – what’s it all about?

Before starting this week’s blog I would just like to say a few words following the death of Michael Meacher MP, a man I, and many others in Oldham, counted as a true friend.

Michael was someone I confided in, trusted and held in great affection.

The borough has lost a political giant – an extremely popular man who helped countless numbers of people over the 45 years that he served his constituents.

On behalf of everyone in the borough I offer our sincerest condolences to his wife, Lucianne, and all his family and friends.

You can pay your own personal tribute to Michael by signing the online Book of Condolence.

Books are also available in the Civic Entrance (formerly Rochdale Road Reception), Chadderton Wellbeing Centre and at Royton Town Hall during normal opening hours.

vaoSince becoming Leader of the Council one of my priorities has been to build strong and dynamic communities that have the means to support themselves.

If we can achieve this then it would enhance the quality of life for all the people living in our neighbourhoods and districts.

We can achieve this through working together to develop and strengthen an already existing voluntary community.

Volunteers not only make a huge contribution to communities across the borough but they also set a great example to others. Just think of how many of the borough’s sports groups, charities and support groups wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for volunteers?

A good example is next week’s Big Bang Bonfire up at Oldham Edge. Since we brought back this free family event council staff have given up their own time to man car parks, guide people to the event and help ensure people enjoy the night safely.

On November 8 we’ll also be holding Remembrance Services across the borough, again volunteers have helped organise them and will be on hand on the day while we pay our respects.

That’s why this week I’ve asked David Sharples, Volunteer Centre Manager here in Oldham to ‘guest blog’ and explain why he gives up his time to volunteer and tell residents a little bit about the opportunities on offer…

In my job as volunteer centre manager at the Volunteer Centre I get asked all the time why I give up my own time to volunteer.

So let’s look what is volunteering really about? Well I think volunteering is doing something that is a benefit to other people, it’s something that involves giving time freely and when I say freely that means that it’s unpaid. (I will come back to the unpaid bit soon). 

I know that can all sound a bit ‘worthy’ and for those people that know me, they’d be the first to say that I wouldn’t do anything without there being some sort of reward!…

So firstly let’s be clear – unpaid means no cash but I firmly believe there are lots of benefits to people who volunteer. It’s a great way to develop new skills, and improve our employability; it’s a way to get references and something really important to put on a CV.

But there’s more to volunteering, it makes you feel good about yourself and that can have a direct result on our mental health and wellbeing in the same way that physical activity and stimulation can improve our physical health and contribute to weight loss. Those are just a few good reasons to volunteer and there are many more.

Does volunteering make a difference to our communities and especially to the communities in Oldham? Yes, volunteers make a huge difference to people in Oldham – there are more than 25,500 volunteers working across the borough and they contribute more than 79,100 hours of their time per week in the borough. [1] 

The work of volunteers allows charities and groups to increase the support they can offer, and it’s amazing that there are more than 800 organisations in Oldham. 

Volunteers also offer a different perspective to paid workers and benefit many other public services, for example as part of a project we’ve recently been running with care homes to help local residents.

One of the great things about volunteering is that’s it open to everyone, you need to have skills to offer but everyone has something they are good at.

The volunteer team can always help you think about what you like doing and support you to find an organisation that you could volunteer with – we call that brokerage. 

Some people face additional barriers to volunteering and we are really keen that we offer as much support as we can to remove or at the very least reduce these barriers. That’s why we run a series of projects aimed at people with low levels of English, with those from offending backgrounds, the long term out of work, and for people with health conditions, for example..

There are so many volunteering opportunities and on an average week we have over 200 opportunities to choose from. 

There’s stuff to do in the great outdoors, opportunities in sport, a chance to experience volunteering with families and young people – not forgetting looking after animals.

If you have a specific interest in caring for people with dementia we have an exciting new project that we are starting to recruit volunteers for now.

After all that you must be asking how can I start volunteering?

VAO’s Volunteer Centre provides routes for 1,000 individuals per year to volunteer across Oldham and through securing additional resources from charitable trusts target help for people that may face additional barriers to volunteering and employment.

Now all you have to do is contact Volunteer Centre Oldham on 0161 633 622 or check out  or visit us at 12 Manchester Chambers, Oldham, OL1 1LF.

Thanks for listening,


[1] Borough of Oldham State of the Voluntary Sector 2013 research Sheffield Hallum University; Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research

Show there is a GM difference on Sunday trading

SUNDAY TRADING: Should opening hours be extended on ‘the day of rest’?
SUNDAY TRADING: Should opening hours extend on ‘the day of rest’?

SUNDAY IS a special day for the British public.

Although the day of rest had its origins in religion many people with no creed at all greatly value the time they get to spend with their families – or simply to relax away from the pressures of work.

The devolution of Sunday trading powers was a surprise to those of us involved in Greater Manchester’s deal with government.

We hadn’t asked for it and therefore we couldn’t carry out any kind of local consultation about how the power might be used before the announcement came.

With the devolution machine moving quickly the range of powers, responsibilities and the very important fair funding settlement hasn’t been clearly laid out.

The speed and nature of devolution locally has also led many people to ask who is making these decisions and what say do they actually have in it?

Extending Sunday trading opening times has the potential to be contentious even though, by and large, it has not been much of an issue over the last decade.

When council leaders met to discuss the proposed devolution of Sunday trading there wasn’t a big appetite for change, but there was an agreement that the economic case must be clearly demonstrated: as well as taking into account the wide range of views for and against.

This could be a good opportunity for Greater Manchester to show that there is a real difference when powers are devolved away from Whitehall to a more local level.

So what might that difference be?

Well, GM has already begun the process of commissioning independent research to explore the economic case of extended Sunday trading. It would have made sense for this to be a wider review from the outset, but it still isn’t too late to build on this.

There’s a chance the review will simply conclude that there isn’t a compelling economic argument to extend trading hours at all. In which case I suspect the matter won’t go any further.

But there is also a chance, of course, that the review will suggest there are economic benefits and those need to be considered.

WEEKEND: Do we really want shopping to become an almost 24/7 habit?

The GM difference, however, must be that we fully consider community, society and the rights of workers in this debate. This is not part of the assessment remit so far, but it simply cannot be ignored.

Usdaw, the respected trade union which represents many shopworkers the length and breadth of the country, is keen to make sure that those people working in shops have a voice in the debate too.

They have carried out important surveys which show the strength of feeling of many staff who don’t want to be pressured into working hours which will further impact on family life.

There’s a real opportunity here for Greater Manchester to show that there is a positive difference in how we tackle important issues and decisions like this.

Why don’t we set up a GM Sunday Trading Commission with representation from all of those who are affected by it? By including civil society, religious groups, trade unions and other retailers – like convenience store operators – we would have a much more active and representative debate: and better decision making.

We can’t go on repeating the mistakes already made by a disconnected – and often disinterested – Whitehall.

We can and must show that we will involve all those affected by the decisions we take and will give people a genuine voice in debates like this.

That should be the GM difference.

Thanks for listening,


Courting controversy: Is there a Northern Powerhouse difference?

THE BENCH: Oldham Magistrates Court could close under the proposals.
THE BENCH: Oldham Magistrates Court could close under the proposals from the Ministry of Justice… 

PUBLIC sector cuts are biting and hurting the very fabric of our community.

When all that drives decisions is the rush to cut costs there will be consequences for residents and other public services.

Consultation has now ended on the Government’s proposals to close 91 courts and merge a further 31 across England and Wales.

This includes plans to close both Oldham Magistrates Court and Oldham County Court.

The rationale is narrow and focused solely on the departmental budget of the Ministry of Justice with little or no thought given to the knock-on effects this will have.

Firstly, access to justice and the right to be judged by our peers is a fundamental right of British citizens.

The more that the legal system removes itself from the communities it is there to serve the less likely you will be judged by your peers.

Secondly, the cost of our justice system is not met solely by the Ministry of Justice.

The judges and courts might be the supporting infrastructure but the impact is far wider.

For the police and local councils supporting victims, giving evidence and delivering well-informed and fairly balanced verdicts, the costs are considerable.

THE END? Oldham County Court is also under threat.
JUSTICE: Oldham County Court is also under threat.

Relocating the court from Oldham to Tameside or Manchester adds significant travel and waiting times.

This is not free time but a real cost to the public purse. It also means officers will be tied up longer meaning either more resources will be required or cases and investigations backlog – or even worse cases begin to collapse.

Looking at a judicial system solely from an estates point of view is wrong and misjudged.

Group Leaders in Oldham across all political parties have come together to fight the proposal.

We don’t believe that closing the two courts has been properly considered and of course we have an eye on the wider economic impact: the loss of public facilities, the loss of footfall in the town centre and the potential that some legal firms may also choose to relocate.

We know more than most about the pressures to balance your books and that’s why we offered a counter proposal, which you can read here.  

By bringing together the County and Magistrates courts into one building they can reduce operating costs and dispose of the redundant building but continue to offer access to justice to our communities.

We hope this plan is considered properly, but I fear it may not be.

Will a Whitehall official really take the time to look at a little town like Oldham?

Will we get lost in the consultation that covers the whole of England and Wales?

If the consultation is a genuine one then our counter proposal should hold weight.

We aren’t being stubborn here – we are showing maturity.

There is a wider question that in the new ‘Northern Powerhouse’ surely we locally should be making these decisions, not someone locked away in Whitehall?

Devolution can only work if it rests on strong foundations. With the cuts coming much quicker than the cash promised through devolution the very foundations it relies upon may quickly give way.

Is there a Northern Powerhouse difference?

The jury is well and truly out!

Thanks for listening,


Old Friends returning – New friends found

SmokeYard 1
SMOKIN’: The newly-opened Smoke Yard restaurant on  Church Terrace, just opposite the Old Town Hall, is run by Ata Mubeen and Luke Rafferty who were schoolmates at St Augustine’s  

OLDHAM town centre is continuing to grow in confidence with an impressive and growing range of new shops, restaurants and attractions for people of all ages.

If Marks & Spencer signing the deal to come to Oldham last November was a symbolic pointer towards a brighter future then T J Hughes’ welcome return is another big boost to our morale.

For too long local people could only watch on helplessly in recent times as the town centre they knew started to change and the doom and gloom of decline set in.

As with many other towns, the new world of online retail, changing shopping habits  and national economic pressures meant far too many stores were closing and leaving large gaps on our High Street.

NEW LIFE: Renovated shops on Yorkshire Street

I’m not trying to suggest that Oldham is sorted yet – not at all – but I do think there is enough happening now to give us all grounds for hope.

This all makes me think back to the time when I visited a small town on holiday and started speaking enthusiastically about it to a local resident.

I began the conversation by saying how envious I was of them having the view they enjoyed every time they open their front door.

But the conversation quickly turned into a busman’s holiday as he began telling me all the problems he perceived with the place: from bins not being emptied to the water charges soon to be introduced.

I have the same perspective problem myself at times; and perhaps more than most given the job I do.

I too tend to notice the shop that has closed, rather than the surrounding units which are open. I also tend to notice the broken paving slabs, not the metres of perfectly finished surface I’ve just unconsciously strolled across.

Taking time to pause and reflect on that can be good for the soul. It gives you a clearer sense of perspective about what is good and clarity about what actually needs to improve.

TJ Hughes
BACK: T J Hughes has re-opened in Oldham

Last week I joined the hundreds of folk who visited the re-opened TJ Hughes and – yes, after leaving with the mandatory Vax Carpet Cleaner (!) – thought to myself that I hadn’t seen the shopping centre feel that busy for a long time.

TJ’s are also not alone in showing faith is what is now happening in our town centre.

We’ve recently welcomed the likes of the Entertainer Toy Store, Warren James Jewellery, Pep & Co and Ethel Austin in joining our line-up of main brand shops – and that’s as well as fantastic new independent retailers such as Suits Scoots and Boots.

The thing that excites me most though is when Oldhamers themselves set up shop here.

They know more than most people about our town centre and clearly many are recognising that something really positive is happening.

Right now we have potential clients literally queuing up for assistance to join the Independent Quarter – to the extent that we need extra staff just to deal with the enquiries and grant support.

HOT: Jack’s Smokehouse is proving popular on Yorkshire Street

Newly-opened restaurants like Jack’s Smokehouse and The Smoke Yard are the latest additions heading what is going to be an impressive list of people who believe that now is the time to invest here.

I can also tell you that ahead of the opening next year of the Old Town Hall with its seven cinema screens we’re getting some fantastic interest from national and local restaurant operators. Watch this space…

What I hope everyone will do in the meantime is to continue to get behind Oldham town centre and back it: from our indoor market with over 100 stalls, to the traditional outdoor market – and from our High Street to our Independent Quarter. And when people moan to you that “there’s nowt in Oldham”, please challenge them back.

We’ve already got big names like Debenhams, Next, River Island, H&M, BHS and others – and we’re soon to welcome a new M&S.

The town centre is now clean and well cared for, it has improved facilities like our play area where you can spend family time – oh, plus up to three hours of free parking on weekends – so why not give us a go?

Thanks for listening,