Blooming wonderful for Oldham

GREEN WITH ENVY: Oldham’s award-winning Britain in Bloom entry for 2014 has drawn admirers from outside the borough.

WE’VE ONLY gone and done it again!

In case you missed it, Oldham was crowned ‘Best City’ at the national RHS Britain in Bloom 2014 competition this week – and we are absolutely delighted.

During the summer visitors to our borough couldn’t help but go green with envy at how the area looked when they saw the fruits of the amazing work being done by hardworking staff alongside community groups, residents and partners as part of our Bloom and Grow campaign.

I had several meetings with visitors from ‘outside’ who commented very positively about how impressed they were by about the amount of building work, new public realm improvements and road maintenance underway – and the magnificence of the Britain in Bloom display.

Some councils opt to trek to Tatton Park to show off their floral displays every year and that’s a decision for them.

But for me it makes far more sense to put your work in the heart of your own town, so the people footing the bill – Oldham’s taxpayers – get to enjoy it.

The Bloom and Grow scheme has really developed in recent years and encompasses so many different partners and elements having now expanded into community-led schemes that revolve around and benefit different parts of the borough each year.

This time we beat Westminster, Aberdeen and Norwich to win the Best City accolade which shows that community involvement is just as important to the judges as how vibrant and colourful your flowers might look.

The creativity and imagination that lies behind these displays is always outstanding – and perhaps, sometimes, even slightly bonkers(!). But it is that spirit and personal commitment which I think really makes our entry stand out from the crowd.

I will admit to being a “non-horticulturalist type”(!) who gets a bit confused about how these awards work, but I’ve now done my homework so I’d like to share some insight with you…

In 2012 we won the ‘Best City’ accolade at our very first attempt, which was a fantastic achievement. But if you win you’re then not allowed to enter the following year, which explains the one-year gap between our successes.

This second Britain in Bloom triumph feels all the sweeter too because Oldham’s team also won another award that actually didn’t get much recognition at all, but I know means so much to staff.

Alongside the ‘Best City’ and Gold gongs they also won the RHS Horticulture award, which is very special.

This is given to just one entry in recognition that it has delivered the best standards of horticultural practice throughout every aspect.

Glenn Dale and his team say they prize this above all other awards because – unlike Best City, where Oldham competed with three other regional entrants – this one judges your standard against that of every other single hamlet, town, coastal town, village and city that entered any Britain in Bloom category.

This means, for example, that Oldham was actually judged to be better than Shrewsbury in this area – even though they were crowned ‘Champion of Champions’ this year.

BRITAIN IN BLOOM: Judges said: “Oldham has got to be the entry others aspire to.”
BRITAIN IN BLOOM: Judges said: “Oldham has got to be the entry others aspire to.”

This special award is all about the quality of your work – planting techniques and maintenance standards, for example – and winning it is no mean feat when you consider our judging route (stretching more than ten miles across Lydgate, Uppermill, Dobcross, Delph, Bishops Park, Sholver, Heyside, Turf Lane, Rochdale Road and Oldham town centre) was one of the longest in the competition.

Our team also learned we’d been subjected to two ‘mystery shopper’ visits after Judging Day. These are done to check what we show them isn’t some kind of ‘façade’ that is there one day, but gone the next. They obviously found our entry was high-quality and – crucially – sustainable because following one mystery shop excursion to revisit the ‘Wow Bed’ in Oldham town centre, the judge said it looked “even better” the second time round.

Given that by 2017 we’ll have made budget cuts totalling £201m you might think it’d be reasonable to allow a scheme like this to be one of the first things that is cut.

Well, we have reduced the budget – and that’s only right because we must review everything that we do – but I suspect people haven’t noticed as many actually said the displays were better this year than ever before.

I was also keen and determined this summer to see a new play area installed in Oldham town centre and its location next to the ‘Wow Bed’ display has really changed that part of town. It is now a meeting place, a social space and a safe place for families.

Looking ahead, it’s vital we continue investing in our parks team and giving them opportunities like this to develop real horticulture skills. Their skillset is already outstanding, clearly, and each year they also train a new generation through our apprenticeship programme.

Each year when the judges arrive here I’m always nervous for the borough and for staff who have worked so hard.

Once again though the verdict was clear – and in the judges’ own words:

On behalf of the council I’d like to thank the countless staff, volunteers, residents and partners who did their bit to make this success possible. You’re all blooming wonderful!

Thanks for listening,

Jim

Putting energy into things that make a difference

FAMILIES are feeling the pinch more than ever right now.

In many cases they are facing rising household costs but declining income and – very soon – thousands will also be hit by reductions in benefits.

As a Council we have been working hard to do as much as possible to try and reduce the impact of this for people.

We’ve come up with a local Council Tax discount scheme which is designed to protect the most vulnerable whilst investing in job creation – long term planning that is much-needed in Oldham if we are to turn our economy around.

We are now also looking at what we can do in other areas to help free up money and cushion your household income.

The Get Me Toasty campaign to install energy-saving measures in homes free of charge has got off to a great start, saving real money for many local people.

A few weeks ago we then also launched a new campaign to try and reduce the cost of public transport, as outlined recently on this blog by Councillor Sean Fielding.

Now we have launched another money-saving campaign for you – but from a very different angle.

Whereas those other schemes are about Oldham Council doing things for you, it is now time to do things with you in the form of our new Energy Co-operative.

By pulling together people in this Borough would have huge potential buying power as a group.

Almost 100,000 households spend many millions of pounds each year on the things we can’t do without – but it doesn’t mean we can’t do it for less money.

Oldham Council has got together with Ichoosr, a specialist in the collective buying of energy who have already run very successful schemes in the Netherlands and Belgium.

How does it work then?

The idea is simple. If you want to come together as a Borough and form a buying cooperative we will assist by taking this bulk contract to the energy companies and asking them to bid for the work in an auction.

The lowest price offered will get the contract – and you will get the saving.

On average we expect each household to save around £150 a year which, when added to our energy saving programme Get Me Toasty, means up to £500 a year back into your pocket.
Please visit the Oldham Council website now to register your interest.

Have a look at http://www.oldham.gov.uk/info/200706/fuel_co-operative for more information and note that you are under absolutely no obligation to switch suppliers.

I must close this week by saying a massive well done to everyone involved in Oldham winning the ‘Best City’ category in Britain in Bloom 2012.

This is an absolutely huge prize for our Borough and also great recognition that when the Council works closely with the local community and businesses, the end product can be truly remarkable.

I must, obviously, also highlight the work of our parks team who are a real jewel in our Civic crown and work extremely hard day in, day out.

Ours is a beautiful Borough, although not every neighbourhood has a stunning Pennine view.

When we met the RHS judges earlier in the year we told them why this competition was so important to Oldham.

But we see an award like this as another significant part of the work we are doing to attract inward investment. We need recognition like this nationally to help change the perception of our borough.

Inevitably there will be some people who will ask why Oldham Council is funding projects like this at a time when it says it has no money (indeed, some already have on Twitter in some very choice language!).

My answer to that is simple. To attract investment we need to make Oldham a place where people want to live and work – not one where people feel they have no choice but to be.

We need to showcase Oldham and prove that we invest in our Borough in order to convince others that the place is a sound investment.

Ultimately, if we are serious about creating the conditions for growth and attracting investment, we have to up our game.

A major national award like this shows we’re making good progress, but there is no room for complacency and still plenty to do.

Thanks for listening,

Jim