Our new town centre – we can’t stand still

This week we made a big exciting step on our path to further regenerate our town centre and continue its transformation into a vibrant hub of leisure, culture and pride.

Along with the council’s other Cabinet members, I have voted in favour of the Oldham Town Centre Masterplan.

This is the biggest forward planning exercise we’ve ever had for Oldham town centre. It’s exciting and it’s all about creating the kind of place we want it to be in the future.

Many positive regeneration schemes are already improving our town centre – like the Old Town Hall, and plans for the Cultural Quarter with a new Coliseum Theatre, and the Independent Quarter – but we cannot make the mistake of standing still.

So I think I should start by telling you what this is all about.

In short, we want Oldham to be a vibrant place with high-quality attractions, an excellent cultural and shopping offer and a family friendly night time economy.

Ultimately, we want the town centre to be a place where more residents want to live and spend their leisure time.

To achieve this we need a plan, one that can help us turn Oldham into the place we all deserve.

We have a lot to offer in Oldham. We will be a big voice and a big attraction within Greater Manchester and this masterplan will help make us stand out as a destination of choice within the region and beyond.

With these plans we’ll show everyone just how great Oldham is and exactly what we have to offer.

We want to transform five sites in the town centre, 21 acres in total, by 2035.

The plans would deliver a new Tommyfield Market on the existing site with a new 600-capacity multi-storey car park adjacent. This aims to attract additional footfall, plus complementary new retail/leisure units and quality public spaces.

As well as a new market we want to deliver homes and town centre living, a new Civic Hub and plenty more space for other developments.

This would all bring in a projected additional £50 million a year to our economy.

There are only five local authorities to have lost a bigger percentage of their budget from the government over the last seven years than Oldham. We don’t get a fair deal from Westminster but this won’t prevent us from deciding our own future.

This masterplan is a very large scale redevelopment and we can’t fund all of this on our own.

We have a fantastic opportunity to attract partners from the private sector into a joint venture to deliver this scheme, or elements of it, and we’re confident this will be attractive to them.

We’ve already seen private retailers coming forward to invest their own money in our Prince’s Gate scheme. This is because Oldham is attractive, Oldham has potential and Oldham has great ambition.

We are now going to begin a 12-month consultation on our Town Centre Masterplan, listening to residents, partners, business and traders.

When consultation gets underway I would urge everyone to do your bit, get involved and give us your views and ideas.

We all have a stake in the future of Oldham’s town centre and this is a fantastic opportunity to transform its prospects over the next two decades.

I’m the Leader of Oldham Council but I don’t have the monopoly on the right ideas. I’ll be in touch to let you know how you can get involved. We need to hear what you think because you are at the forefront of everything we do.

People will ask questions and so they should. Because we’re a proud bunch in Oldham and we care about our future.

And there might be people who criticise these plans. I remember people doing this when we announced the Old Town Hall plans but just look at it now. We deliver.

It’s a very exciting time to be an Oldhamer and we’re just getting started.

The challenges of uncertain times

TRITON2I’VE ALWAYS put a lot faith in the maxim that ‘Failing to prepare is preparing to fail’ – and that’s never more true than now.

We live in very uncertain times where the potential threats to our daily lives, institutions and basic things that we depend on come from all kinds of sources.

We have to be prepared for all manner of incidents and scenarios – some environmental and naturally occurring, others caused by accidental or deliberate human acts.

These include, amongst an almost endless and ever-growing list, incidents and emergencies related to terrorism, community tensions, flooding, gales and high winds, infectious disease, reservoirs, snow and extreme cold weather and even (I know!) heatwaves.

Only last week an important new Government report warned that the UK’s supply of food could be put at risk by climate change as droughts and storms start to devastate farmland here and abroad. It’s a chilling analysis.

As an American scientist commenting on that report put it, climate change is happening “so rapidly that people around the world are noticing the changes in global warming and extreme weather with their own eyes and skin”.

TRITON5That’s why emergency planning events like Exercise Triton II – which we played a key role in last week – are absolutely crucial to building resilience and improving our ability to cope with all kinds of incidents.

Triton was an emergency planning exercise without precedent across the Greater Manchester region and involved an incredible amount of organisation and preparation beforehand by the GM Resilience Forum and partners.

To give you an idea of how complex a task that was, we had players taking part at national level like the Government, military, the Met Office, the National Grid, HM Coastguard, Highways England, British Transport Police, the Environment Agency, NHS England, National Police Air Service, Government Digital Service and the British Red Cross.

And at a regional level all ten of the GM authorities took part alongside Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, GM Police, the North West Ambulance Service, Network Rail, Transport for Greater Manchester and Oldham Mountain Rescue – and many, many more.

Now imagine even just trying to co-ordinate everyone’s diaries for the very first meeting to agree what you are actually planning to do – and you can start to see the scale of what was eventually undertaken.

We’re not allowed to give away details of the full scenario for obvious reasons, but those people responding as if events were real were tested to the hilt.

From Monday last week they all started to get information about adverse weather and warnings of a growing risk of regional flooding.

This gradually ramped up to the main ‘play’ day on Thursday when the public will have seen a lot of activity in the Oldham area.

TRITON4Dove Stone Reservoir is a beautiful place and it provided a stunning backdrop to the dramatic sight of the Chinook helicopter dropping High Volume Pumps onsite to help stem the flow of a mythical breach in the dam that morning.

Cynics sometimes dismiss exercises like this as ‘boys with toys’, but nothing could be further from the truth.

As events unfolded during the day the scenario worsened with the dam collapsing and our response teams having to immediately put plans around floods, evacuation and the setting up of rest centres etc. into action. Their task was made even harder by constant ‘injects’ of new complicating factors like stranded animals, loss of utilities like gas and electricity and frightened people stranded on public transport.

The drama then continued to spread across the region with worsening flooding and a series of incidents that will have given the staff dealing with them a major headache.

I’d like to thank everyone from Oldham Council and our partners who took part in the planning and the playing of the exercise – and especially all the volunteers who played such key roles in making it feel real.

We hope that a day like the one depicted in that exercise will never come, of course, but recent history shows us that it almost certainly can.

No one will ever forget the scenes at Boscastle in Cornwall when torrential rain led to a 7ft rise in river levels in one hour in August 2014. Those images of cars, caravans, homes and boats being smashed into each other and washed away as people clung to trees and the roofs of buildings and cars, are a chilling reminder of us all of the fragility of our environment.

TRITON3Much will have been learnt from Exercise Triton and the analysis of all the log books of what happened, who did what and when, will teach us valuable lessons for all kinds of incidents we could face in the future.

If all that preparation and work helps to prevent just one incident, give one community an extra ten minutes’ warning or save just one life, it will surely have been worth it.

Finally, today is the first time I have blogged since the terrible terrorist attack in Nice.

Last Friday I asked for our Union and Peace flags to be flown at half-mast and invited staff to join a one minute silence in respect of the victims.

I think many of us were left to reflect not just on the senselessness of the attack – but also how often we now seem to be marking events like these.

As I said before, we really do live in uncertain times – but we should never let that stop us going about our daily lives and enjoying the freedoms that we are so fortunate to have.

Jean

Old Town Hall is the ‘reel’ deal

IMG_7169LAST WEEK I visited the Old Town Hall development – and it was an absolutely fantastic experience.

I had been really looking forward to the visit so when I left home last Wednesday morning in belting-down rain I feared I would get a phone call asking me to postpone.

It’s not even been a full month since I’ve officially been Council Leader and this was something I’d been really looking forward to since Day One.

Fortunately we are hardy folk here in Oldham and – despite near-horizontal rain and a swirling wind – myself and the Chief Executive, Carolyn Wilkins, braved the elements to walk from the Civic Centre to the site to see the progress for ourselves. And it was worth it.

I know this project is hugely significant for Oldham and that’s why we have such high expectations of it. That building is symbolic to me and it must be for so many fellow residents.

A lot of us have memories invested in the place from when it was in public use but, even if you’re not old enough to remember those days, you’ve probably despaired at its sad state of decline.

Once on-site with our brollies exchanged for hard hats and high-visibility jackets – and after a quick briefing on health and safety – we approached the building from what used to be the Clegg Street car park.

IMG_7201You may have noticed that the first of the spectacular glass panels making up the new glass extension to the side have recently been installed.

These look impressive enough from the outside but once we’d gone through the main entrance and up a couple of those old flights of grand stairs we were then able to enjoy the vista that people will soon be able to gaze down upon from various levels of the seven-screen ODEON cinema and the new restaurants that the “glass box” will front.

The five ground floor restaurants and the one first floor restaurant will have external seating areas and brilliant views across Parliament Square, which will be our first public space in decades: a new place where families can enjoy leisure time in the kind of environment they have long deserved.

In the original ballroom David Dobson, the project manager, explained the floor had fallen through in places here and that the huge problems they had battled with rain pouring down the walls and dry rot had been typical throughout the building.

IMG_7188The old ballroom (pictured above) has now been rebuilt and refurbished effectively as a ‘soundproof box’ ready for the final fixtures and fittings that will make it one of the smaller and more intimate cinema screens. We were told that final works start from the ceiling downwards and – with that already complete – the light fittings, screen, seats and carpets will be next.

This was one of several rooms we visited which are all in various stages of development. Each had a different past use and quality or allure – and the restoration work could be seen all around us with various groups of craftsmen painstakingly restoring frames, tiles and other delicate features (see below).

IMG_7233When we finally got to the magnificent Egyptian Room I was offered the chance to climb two vertical ladders to view the latest restorations at roof level.

This is an extremely tall and splendid place and I have to admit at this point I gave in to my vertigo. Being able to see the huge drops beneath and between my feet was already unnerving enough!  However, I will definitely want to revisit this room as it nears completion because it will be spectacular – the jewel in the crown.

Having declined the invitation to climb I looked around another of the ground floor areas that will become restaurant space and saw a young worker. I asked what he was doing.

I wanted to know what his job was, but he thought I was questioning whether he was working hard enough(!) and said he was “only taking five minutes”.

I quickly clarified and it turned out he was a labourer and clearly in one of his first-ever jobs. Having seen the progress on the development for myself it was great to listen to someone so early in their career talking about the project with such enthusiasm.

He told me he was fascinated by the work to restore the old features, which he had really come to appreciate, and that he would be bringing all his family and friends to visit the Old Town Hall as soon as it was open – such was his pride at having been personally involved. That conversation was one of the highlights of my visit.

IMG_7370Make no mistake, the Old Town Hall remains a magical venue.

There’s always great public eagerness to see the latest artists’ impressions of it but, as a politician, you always have a nagging inner fear that the reality might not match up to them. That will not be the case with this development.

We do have an opening date ‘pencilled in’ for later this year, but we won’t be going public with it until we are certain there are no unforeseen issues that might delay us on what remains an incredibly complex heritage scheme.

In a week dominated by the harsh realities of Council Tax and budget setting, this reminded me about the very best part of this job – being able to create new opportunities, improve the borough and help restore civic pride.

This project is crucial for the local economy in terms of the jobs and additional inward investment it will bring, plus enhancing our regional profile and attracting new visitors.

So much has already been said and written about the Old Town Hall that I don’t think anything I write here can possibly add any further to that growing sense of expectation.

But I do know that when those famous old doors are finally reopened this will be a place that people will want to visit again and again.

Jean

Taking Charge Together – and getting the Right Start

IT’S BEEN a really important week in terms of our latest plans to improve local health and tackle inequalities.

Firstly we have seen the launch of a vital new campaign – Taking Charge Together – with partners across Greater Manchester.

This will shape health and social care plans across our region for the next five years.

As you may already know, the ten local authorities are now in charge of the £6bn to be spent on health and social care as part of the devolution deal with Central Government.

This is a fantastic opportunity to make our own decisions about the services we deliver and need.

Our shared goal is to see the fastest improvement to health, wealth and wellbeing of the 2.8milion people living here, but to do that we need to find solutions together.

Your opinion and input really matters on this, so I’d urge you to please do your bit by helping us get a better understanding about what helps or stops you from making important choices about your own health.

Please watch the video at the top of this blog to find out more and then visit www.takingchargetogether.org.uk to fill in a quick snapshot survey for us.

Any information you give is confidential and you can even select a ‘Rather not say’ option if you prefer not to answer a particular question.

Next month we will also be hosting a community roadshow event in Oldham with Key 103 on March 7 on Albion Street (outside Tommyfield Market Hall) from 10am to 4pm. More details about this will follow soon in local media and all our usual channels.

Secondly this week, we’ve also signed a deal with Bridgewater Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust to deliver services in our 16 children’s centres plus school nursing, health visiting and a family nurse partnership.

This three-year contract starts on April 1 and will be part of Right Start: an innovative new service which we’ve just launched. This will be working with families all the way through pregnancy and until a child starts school.

Right start 1
DEAL: Signing on the dotted line with Colin Scales, Chief Executive of Bridgewater Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

It’s a joined-up approach to these services and the realisation of a vision we’ve been working towards for some time.

Right Start will make it easier for families to contact professionals at every stage of their child’s development and will offer a service that is personal and tailored to their needs.

It’s about having a single service to help us to realise that ambition – recently referred to in the Oldham Education and Skills Commission report – of making sure all our children are ‘school ready’ and developing well.

Bridgewater will also be providing school nursing and oral health services – all supported by an integrated digital care record which will share information across services.

It’s an exciting development and part of that wider vision to reduce health inequalities, which is something we can all play a part in.

Finally – and also looking to the future – I will be going on-site at the Old Town Hall development to check on progress later this week.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been in the building so I’m really looking forward to seeing the work that is going on. I will share some photographs, updates and thoughts with you all on that next week.

Jean

The work goes on…

JeanStretton
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.

Jean

Shaw: One year on

ONE YEAR ON: The tragic scene at Buckley Street, Shaw, following the blast that killed Jamie Heaton
DEVASTATION: The scene at Buckley Street, Shaw, last year after the blast that killed Jamie Heaton

This week’s blog is a guest blog from Councillor Jean Stretton, who led Oldham Council’s response to the Shaw gas explosion on June 26 last year. 

TODAY marks the one year anniversary of the shocking explosion that killed little Jamie Heaton in Shaw.

That morning I remember taking a phone call from Jim McMahon, Council Leader.

He was at the Local Government Association Conference in Birmingham and called to ask me to get to Buckley Street in Shaw quickly because there had been an unexplained explosion.

Details at that stage were scarce, but my heart sank as Jim told me the blast had destroyed three houses and that reports were suggesting that a child was trapped in one of the properties, and an adult in another.

I had no idea what to expect as I drove to Shaw.

When I arrived a large area of terraced streets was already cordoned off.

Some of the residents had been taken to an initial rest centre set up at Crompton House school.  Others stayed at the cordon hoping for news of their homes, which were out of sight from where we stood.

I have to say that – despite being in the middle of an Ofsted inspection – the response from that school community was fantastic as staff, volunteers and local firms all began pitching in to support the people affected.

I overheard a fire service officer who had actually been close to the blast site being interviewed and he likened it to the site of the Manchester bomb.

Later that evening Jim McMahon and I were escorted around the site. We were greeted by a scene of utter devastation: deserted and eerie. The only sounds were of glass crunching under our feet. It was only then that the sheer scale of the blast became apparent.

As the day drew on it was confirmed that two-year-old Jamie had tragically lost his life in the blast.

There are simply no words to convey the effect of that news on all concerned, nor the anger that people felt as the puzzle of what had actually happened slowly unraveled thanks to a painstaking police investigation which took weeks.

The perpetrator, we now know, was the man trapped in another house.  Andrew Partington was convicted of manslaughter in February this year and sentenced to ten years in jail.

He had cut through gas pipes and let his property fill will fumes overnight. The following morning he lit a cigarette, igniting the gas and causing an explosion.

When I think back now – one year on – and reflect on that day’s events what stands out most is the community response.

After the initial shock and sympathies our thoughts had to turn to what needed to be done to help people.

Residents began arriving at the rest centre with clothes and food and items that could in some way help people to set up home again. A small child came with her parents because she wanted to give some of her toys to the children who had lost all of theirs.

During the first few weeks after the explosion I was regularly in Shaw as the recovery phase got underway.

The vast majority said they felt lucky to be alive and we had to move fast to ensure they all got temporary accommodation, either with housing associations or with friends and family.

I met people who were distressed and frustrated about not being able to get back to their homes. I met people angry or worried about pets that were still inside the cordon.

In the days and weeks that followed council staff, partners and volunteers did their level best to support people and to get them the very latest information as the investigation – and unsafe condition of many buildings – made progress slow.

Many of those people affected were eventually able to return to their homes after the police work finished, but other properties suffered considerable damage and needed significant repair.

We knew that many residents would suffer serious financial hardship as a result of the blast. We set up the Distress Fund which, to date, has committed about £243,000 to affected residents.

Thanks to donations of £100,000 from Oldham Council, £125,000 from the charity Forever Manchester, individual donations and dozens of fundraising events held by residents and groups across the Borough, a safety net was put in place that has now helped 91 local families.

In the first few weeks we met daily. Throughout all the Distress Fund’s work and deliberations, I must pay tribute to the support that was given at all times by the Shaw ward councillors. I feel that we have worked well together to make these meetings effective, putting people first and acting consistently and fairly in each case.

We removed security from the blast site in March this year, leaving only robust fencing around 1-13 Buckley Street.

Repairs to some homes are still underway and, whilst we have no direct control over this, we try to use what influence we have to encourage an approach that minimises disruption to other residents.

The latest updates on properties, and the background to all Oldham Council’s work in the aftermath of the blast, can be read here.

I am very proud of the work our staff and all the partner organisations undertook in Shaw, and we also learned some important lessons for future emergency response situations.

Above all I am proud of the incredible spirit shown by the people of Shaw in rebuilding their community and their lives.

Today, of course, our thoughts must simply focus on the memory of little Jamie, whose life was so cruelly taken away.

This will be an incredibly difficult time for his parents, Michelle and Kenny, and I know that no words I can say are likely to be of comfort to them.

I admire them for setting up their charity and wanting to do something to help others in response to the tragedy they have suffered.

The Jamie’s Something Special memorial fund aims to raise funds to buy some new play equipment for Bullcote Park, Heyside, where Jamie took his first steps. It is also raising money for children with special needs.

You can find out more – and donate – to the charity here.

No parent should ever have to bury their child – let alone in circumstances as devastating as this – and all our thoughts are with them today.

Jean Stretton

Opening up democracy? We’re well on the way

Question Time
DEMOCRACY: Members quizzed via Social Media

ERIC PICKLES has issued new guidance on local democracy this week.

This aims to clarify what should be the norm in terms of media and public access to executive and council meetings.

Here in Oldham, however, we’re already well on the way to opening up our Council to local people.

That’s not for the sake of it, nor to simply comply with guidelines.

We’re ahead of the game because we want to engage better with residents and ensure that our communication with them is a genuine two-way exchange.We’ve also taken action to help all our councillors become better local leaders at the forefront of community activity.

Upon first becoming a councillor in 2003, I was somewhat taken aback by how insular some of our debates could be.

The Council Chamber was good political fun, granted, but I wouldn’t say that it represented local views and issues.

Debate usually consisted of attacking the opposition of the day and sending motions to Government for them to ‘file’ away. Public questions were often the result of an individual on a personal mission, a political party member or election candidate, or in some cases a campaign being run against a Council scheme.

I appreciate that is a generalisation – some very genuine residents turned up too – but not many. The public gallery was often bereft of their faces.

The format of how we operate as a Council is also important.

Many councillors look back with fondness at the old ‘committee system’ whereby they would sit on a themed committee such as housing or environment. Most members were involved and took part in decision-making.

That was then replaced with the ‘cabinet system’. The idea was simple: to create a smaller executive to ensure decision-making was streamlined and not held up in an internal bureaucracy. Examination of those decisions is now carried out by a group of councillors through the Overview and Scrutiny system.

I like the cabinet system. Clear lines of accountability and quicker decision-making are great, but it did pose the question of what you do with the 50 councillors who aren’t Cabinet Members?

My thoughts are that Ward Members are not ‘backbench’ members at all. They are actually on the frontline – not as the public face of Oldham Council, but as community leaders who represent local residents’ views and channel them back to us.

For that to work though the Council Chamber also has to be the bona fide debating chamber of the Borough and its people – not just Oldham Council PLC operating like a board of directors.

To be fair, most local councillors already have the required passion to work for local people, regardless of party politics, in their blood.

And that’s why a desire to move the debate beyond the Council Chamber into the community was the driver behind our decision to ‘go online’ and web stream our council meetings live before most other Local Authorities dared to.

It’s both staggering and quite scary in equal measure that around 300 people now watch our Full Council meetings. Our new audience is global with viewers – some even as far away as New Zealand – all tuning in. Compare that to the empty public gallery of the past!

If this was just as passive process I don’t think we would have so many people watching these proceedings. And I believe making the meeting as interactive as possible was crucial to this work to connect better with people.

We now take questions live on Facebook, Twitter and email during the meeting. We can have anywhere between 20-30 public questions each time. The public can also join the debate via Twitter with each comment and question showing up on the big screen in the Chamber. You’d be surprised how the debate has changed here over the past couple of years. There’s much more talk about the Borough and its people –and that can only be a good thing.

But we’ve also gone even further…

Having reached out to the public we also had to show councillors that we took their roles seriously too. So, as part of our ‘Open Council’ session, we allocate time for Ward Member questions. This is empowering for them and we actively encourage them to raise issues of local concern in their ward.

This has led to members in my own group raising concerns about the performance of the Council (on street lighting, for example) and holding it to account on behalf of their residents. Even better, the councillor asking the question can now tell their constituents to tune in and watch it being debated on their behalf.

And we didn’t stop there.

Youth Council
YOUTH COUNCIL: Josh Hudson handing over Youth Mayor duties to Emma O’Donnell.

We value our Youth Council and believe they are an inspiring voice for democracy in Oldham. After changing the constitution and meeting format to allow modernisation it seemed like a natural next step to engage better with them too.

Oldham Youth Council now has constitutional power in Oldham – and that is a first in the country. They have their own section on the Full Council agenda to raise issues, debate and hold us to account. So far they have used that time to raise important issues, like bullying.

I believe our Council Chamber in Oldham is now one of the most progressive and inclusive nationwide.

That’s a bold statement, but I believe the evidence backs it up. Our actions and the public response says we are making progress – and we didn’t need a Westminster Secretary of State to tell us to do it.

As we move forward we’re keen to devolve more power to Ward Members by boosting our District Partnerships.

Councillors are no longer backbench scrutineers in Oldham – they’re at the frontline of getting things done. What’s more they shout it from the rooftops thanks to our new system which sees each of them filing annual reports. You can view each member’s annual report by clicking here and find out exactly what they’re doing in your area.

Finally, next week will be the first anniversary of the Shaw gas explosion.

I know the community is still recovering and the events of that day have left a very deep pain and I include myself in that.

The loss of Jamie Heaton and the circumstances around the explosion have caused great suffering and anger, but they have also shown our community to be strong and united when it most needed to be resilient.

Next week Councillor Jean Stretton will be my guest blogger as she reflects on Shaw one year on.

Jean was the first member of the Council leadership team on the scene that day and she dealt with many issues on the ground. From handling media enquiries, helping residents who were displaced and – still today – supporting those in need.

Since setting up the Distress Fund with great cross-party support from local councillors she has helped distribute around £250,000 to those who have suffered, as well as working hard to help support people to get their lives back on track.

Jean was subsequently given the national ‘Community Champion of the Year’ award in recognition of the work and leadership that she showed.

She is an inspiring woman, but also very modest, so I thought I would set the scene about her role myself in proper context before you read her guest blog next week….

Thanks for listening,

Jim