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!

The value – and funding – of good public services

xmascardTHE SPEED of events made it impossible to set time aside to write my blog last week.

I was preparing to put our latest budget proposals before Full Council, as scheduled, last Wednesday.

What I hadn’t expected was that I was going to end up doing that against breaking news about the Government’s latest proposals to make councils fund adult social care by ‘letting’ us put up Council Tax further for two more years…

As I left the Council Chamber completing the Blog was firmly on my to do list for first thing Thursday morning but then I awoke to the shocking scenes of the Maple Fill fire which, within minutes, had been declared a ‘major incident’. That is the kind of news you always dread as a Council Leader.

mmillgmfrsAt first sight the scenes looked apocalyptic but the response work from GM Fire, GMP, Oldham Council and FCHO staff and others was fantastic and we were swiftly able to evacuate around 100 homes nearby.

To be able to then allow them all to return home permanently – just 36 hours later – was a great relief and testament to the incredible work that was done.

We’re now in the final stages of demolition and recovery at the site before the fire service hands it over and we move in to secure and seal it off.

I want to thank everyone who was involved in what was a fast-paced and ominous incident at times – but one that was also a timely reminder of the value of strong public services working to protect and serve residents and keep people safe.

The cost of maintaining those services is a huge problem though – and one that is dominating the day-to-day existence of councils like ours.

Last Wednesday night we tabled 37 proposals designed to find £6.41m toward the estimated £20.31m budget gap for 2017/8 – and the Council Chamber unanimously accepted them in a solemn mood.

As austerity cuts continue, Oldham is consistently being dealt a rotten hand by Government and we have increasingly limited choices.

Our financial planning also isn’t helped by the continued absence of an explanation about how their new financing model for Local Government – which abolishes our core grant and leaves us to rely on retained business rates by the end of the decade – is actually going to work.

More than a year since they announced it, key questions about how the system will work, and the impact on financial sustainability for councils like ours remain unanswered. That hinders our planning for the future.

We need those answers from Government. And we need to ensure Oldham gets a fair deal in the distribution of funds – we need a deal that genuinely reflects the level of need here.

Without some redistribution, areas like ours will be starved of crucial support while wealthier ones will collect all the riches.

careringWe’ve warned for years about the growing crisis in the social care system and yet the Government’s new response to it doesn’t have a shred of credibility.

It is outrageous to portray that “allowing” local councils to raise more money from their residents is a generous move. They’re not “allowing” us to do it – they are leaving us with no choice BUT to do it.

It’s not generosity to impose the cost of funding social care on local council taxpayers – it is daylight robbery. It is disingenuous, iniquitous and downright unfair.

This is a national problem that needs a national solution funded from nationally-raised taxes. Shifting the burden of raising taxes to local government isn’t a solution: it’s a cop out.

As Council Leader I will continue to do all I can to retain the services that older and vulnerable people rely on. They deserve our support and respect.

The fight for fairness for Oldham and its people must go on – as must our ambitions to improve the place despite Government’s ambivalence.

On that topic, I had promised you an update on Prince’s Gate after Marks & Spencer’s recent withdrawal from the scheme.

I can tell you that what hasn’t changed is that this site remains a fantastic regeneration opportunity at a key gateway into Oldham town centre. What did change was M&S’ retail fortunes.

We were disappointed by their decision, of course, but are still in commercial negotiations as they continue to indicate they could open a food-only store here in Oldham.

I’ve also been asked about costs to date and ‘wasted work’ undertaken at the Oldham Mumps site. It’s a fair question, but all the physical works done there so far – including the land assembly and relocation of the Park & Ride – would have been completely necessary with or without M&S.

We’ve also been reviewing our options in light of the decision. We contacted the other parties we were talking to about Prince’s Gate and not one of them has indicated that their interest has fundamentally changed.

What might change in the long-term is the final balance of what was always a retail-led but mixed use development, or what goes exactly where on the Prince’s Gate site.

It remains key for Oldham and we still intend to develop it to deliver new opportunities for growth and jobs in the local economy. Our ambitions for it remain undaunted and we will give more progress updates as soon as we can in 2017.

othFinally, this will be my last blog before the festive period.

I’d like to take this opportunity to ask you to ‘Shop Local’ and spend your money in Oldham and our district centres.

During the school holidays, we now also have the Old Town Hall development open where you can catch a film or a family meal at some of the fantastic new eateries in and around the area. Please use it and spread the word about your experiences.

I hope you all have a fantastic Christmas with your family – and please keep an eye out for any vulnerable neighbours and friends at this time.

Jean

Culture: A force for entertainment, education and growth

coliseum-move-pr-shot-daily-issues

IT’S VITAL that the ongoing regeneration of Oldham town centre has a strong cultural element – our history demands it and so does our future.

As a town we’ve got an enviable tradition of producing and playing host to scores of fantastic actors, comedy, drama, dance, music and pantomime performances and we must ensure that can continue.

Arts, culture and heritage all matter and they must be at the heart of the revival of Oldham.

These activities give fantastic life opportunities to people of all backgrounds and levels of talent – whether that is by taking part, spectating or benefiting from some of the educational and learning spin-offs.

They are also important because modern town centres no longer simply work as a cluster of retail outlets. To be successful they need to be a destination: and one with a wide enough offer to appeal to all kinds of tastes and needs.

Lifestyles and shopping habits have changed beyond all recognition so you need a range of attractions that can attract footfall of all kinds and cater for the ‘leisure pound’.

That’s why we’ve delivered the ODEON cinema and restaurants at the Old Town Hall, where Gourmet Burger Kitchen opened this week. It’s also why we have worked so hard on our Independent Quarter and our Digital Enterprise Hub – and it’s why we are committed to a phased programme that will bring our new Cultural Quarter together.

The brilliant news this week that Arts Council England has confirmed a £7.1m grant towards a new Oldham Coliseum Theatre means those plans can now progress from paper to bricks and mortar.

The vision is to move the Coliseum into a new building located just yards from the Oldham Central Metrolink stop, and alongside the new Heritage and Arts Centre which will tell the story of our borough’s past through a series of displays, installations, archives and artefacts.

Both will also be next to Gallery Oldham, which hosts an excellent range of travelling exhibitions and events, and Oldham Library which boasts some of the highest visitor numbers across the region.

Together these assets will create a fantastic new cultural hub for Oldham, strengthening the facilities our residents can enjoy – and our visitor economy.

Getting to where we are today with the Coliseum Theatre project has required a great deal of co-operative working and shared vision on all sides.

I am proud of the work that has been done on the project and the backing of the Arts Council England shows that we must be doing something right. It is not every day that ACE invests such a significant sum in a theatre in the North of England; let alone one that is not in a city centre.

The Coliseum has long been a jewel in our borough’s crown, but it’s also been clear it was not viable to stay at its creaking Fairbottom Street home.

I know that some people will think that’s a shame and I understand that. Regular visitors will obviously have a natural affection for the current building that holds so many great memories for them.

Places are important to us all, of course, but they are nothing without the people that make the experience special. The quality of a night at the theatre, after all, depends upon both the players and the audience.

This new home will still boast that same warm and authentic welcome that people have come to expect, but it will instead be in state-of-the-art facilities – including a 550-seat main auditorium and a 170-seat studio theatre – and will offer a wider programme of activities with greater benefit to our communities and people.

The new plans that are due to be submitted next year shouldn’t be seen as a sad break with the past, but simply as the next chapter in the Coliseum’s long-running success story.

This is actually the second time in their history that the theatre has moved. They left their first home on Henshaw Street in 1887 to make way for Tommyfield Market..

They’ve been in this business since 1885 now and their timeline is littered with appearances by the likes of Eric Sykes, Charlie Chaplin, Bernard Cribbins, Dame Thora Hird, Anne Kirkbride, Kathy Staff, Claire Sweeney and Kenneth Alan Taylor.

We must preserve that legacy for future generations to build the next list of stellar names – and the beauty of the plans is that the Coliseum can continue to run with a full programme at Fairbottom Street right until they move in 2020.

There’s a lot of work to do before then but Union Street is going to be a fantastic new venue and the Cultural Quarter a unique asset for Oldham.

Next week, as I prepare for the final Full Council meeting of 2016, I will be blogging with an update on progress on our latest budget proposals and the plans at Prince’s Gate.

Jean

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

Old Town Hall: New Era

The opening of the Old Town Hall last Friday was every bit as exciting as I had hoped it would be and I was honoured to carry out the official opening, alongside former council Leader, MP for Oldham West and Royton, Jim McMahon.

Hundreds of people made the special journey to Oldham town centre to witness the free show ‘On the Shoulders of Giants’ and were both entranced and delighted with the bravery of the aerial acrobats who helped to bring the story to life. The story epitomizes what we are about – a small girl who, when raised on the shoulders of a giant, finds that she can see much further – and that she can also see a brighter future for herself and her town. 

Well I see a brighter future for our town and truly believe that this development marks a new era for Oldham. 

I was heartened to see so many people at the event. So many of you gave up your Friday night to join us in celebrating this new start for Oldham town centre, so it just goes to show what a huge difference this development has already begun to make to our town.

As I said on the night, this is a game-changer for Oldham – and it really is just the start.

It was a fantastic weekend filled with live music, street performances and movie-themed entertainment. All I would ask now is that you continue to show your support and use this great new facility, take your family to visit the new Odeon cinema and use Parliament Square as a focal point for enjoying time with your friends and family – just make sure you tell everyone about it and encourage them to do the same. Take a look at what’s on at the cinema here www.odeon.co.uk/cinemas/oldham/222/

Work will continue over the next few weeks to progress the phased opening of the restaurants and I will continue to keep you updated on this as it happens. 

Finally, as promised a fortnight ago, I’m going to explain the final two priorities that lie ahead for this administration. 

Both are about health and wellbeing. 

We will work hard to manage our budget so we can continue to provide care for all who need it – and for Oldham to be a caring place to live. 

That’s not easy given the challenges we’re facing with our budget, falling income and rising demand, but it’s a commitment that remains: from our new Right Start service right up to helping people live independently in their homes or managed accommodation in later life.  

That agenda is increasingly about reforming public services, delivering things in a different way with partners, and empowering individuals to help themselves.  

The partnership model behind Warm Homes Oldham is a great example of that – as is the Early Help scheme which has redesigned and integrated services for people who need support with problems like drug and alcohol addictions, mental health issues, school attendance and behaviour, and housing.

A vital final priority for us is to support healthy lifestyles. 

We’re actively helping residents and staff to be ‘Fit for Oldham’ – mentally and physically – and there are many aspects to that.

I think of our brilliant catering team who offer the healthiest school meals in the North West to give our children a great start are a perfect example of that.

We’ve also got fantastic parks and open spaces like Alexandra and Dunwood Parks to enjoy and get active – and we’re continuing to invest in others, like the new MUGA pitch at Coalshaw Green Park.

With partners and volunteers we also offer a wide range of help and activities, like the fantastic local Parkruns, and we now have a modern estate of leisure centres. 

Through a host of other measures like growing hubs, fruit routes, allotments and schemes across the borough – like those at Lees,  Alexandra Park and community projects like those with the Firwood and District Residents’ Association and the Fatima Womens’ Association – we’re widening access to healthy food, knowledge and fitness. And we’re doing all that from juniors upwards to help these become habits for the next generation. 

The rationale is that this is ‘win win’ for everyone, if we get this right. It’s not just beneficial for those families taking part, it will also ultimately save the public sector money. 

But it also needs your participation and – as I said at the outset of this series of blogs – I pledge that people who do their bit and contribute to this vision and priorities will benefit from them…

We can only build a better borough together.

Jean

On The Shoulders Of Giants…

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THE OPENING of the Old Town Hall is clearly a major priority for myself and the council this week.

There is a very special free public event taking place on the night of Friday, October 21. – and everyone is invited.

We’ve all waited a long time to see the Old Town Hall reopen and we are marking the start of that phased process – the opening of the ODEON cinema and Costa Coffee – with what we believe will be the most spectacular outdoor show ever hosted in Oldham.

Our Arts Development team has worked incredibly hard to create a spectacle and a show that symbolises our pride in Oldham as a place, and our confidence in our future.

This fantastic event is called ‘On the Shoulders of Giants’ and takes its inspiration from a local legend – the Oldham Giant – who is buried in the crypt at Oldham Parish Church.

This was a man called Joseph Scholes who died in 1814 and is said to have been around 6ft 7in tall and weighed 37 stones when he died(!).

He was, however, a ‘gentle giant’ who spoke up for apprentices who were recruited from the workhouse and found themselves bullied and underfed by fustian weavers.

When he ‘awakens’ from the crypt at 7.30pm on Friday the entertainment will begin with 3D projections onto the Old Town Hall’s front facade, a six-metre tall giant, aerial acrobatics above the crowds, plus performances and narrations from local actors and musicians.

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THE OLDHAM GIANT: Our six-metre puppet under construction

You can find everything you need to know at the event – including information on parking and timings – at www.oldham.gov.uk/oldtownhall The details are also on the graphic at the bottom of this page.

If you’re inspired to find out more about the Oldham Giant then Oldham Parish Church, will also be opening the next day (Saturday) from 9.30am to 2pm offering tours of that crypt at regular intervals, for a small donation, plus a cafe.

That will all be happening alongside a great weekend of live music, street performances and movie-themed entertainment in Parliament Square and High Street.

I’ll no doubt be returning to the Old Town Hall topic next week, and – as promised – I will also complete my series of blogs about the administrations’ priorities by looking at health and wellbeing.

Please help us to spread the word about the fabulous Old Town Hall development – and do take your family along to enjoy Friday’s special event.

Finally, I must mention National Adoption Week (October 17-23) which has #SupportAdoption as its theme this year.

Adoption is the legal process in which children that cannot be brought up by their birth parents become a permanent part of a new family. Many will have experienced abuse or neglect and all will have experienced loss and separation.

This year the goal is to clarify the adoption process, reflect the challenges of adoptive parenting, share individual stories, highlight best practice and invite anyone whose life or heart is touched by it to #SupportAdoption.

The key issue in Oldham is that currently all our prospective adopters are looking to adopt children aged 0-2 years. So, what we are looking for and would welcome, is interest from people willing to adopt children over the age of 3, as well as sibling groups, children with additional and complex needs and children from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.

These children wait longer than any others to find their forever homes. Could you provide such a child/children with a loving home?

If you think that you could adopt a child then please visit the page on our website here to find out more and help us #SupportAdoption.

Jean

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