Pride in Oldham – we have lots to shout about

11th Pride in Oldham awards
PRIDE IN OLDHAM AWARDS -which were held at the Queen Elizabeth Hall last week.

Firstly I’d like to say well done to the winners and shortlisted nominees at the 11th Pride in Oldham awards which were held at the Queen Elizabeth Hall last week.

The awards celebrate the great work of volunteers, community workers and businesses who are working to improve the borough. Each year the awards gets higher recognition and I know from speaking to many just how firm a fixture it has become in the calendar of community life in Oldham.

This year the council sponsored the Love Where You Live award for those making a difference to community and cooperation in the borough. The winners were the Friends of Crompton Moor for their work to improve Crompton Moor for future generations but in reality any of the individuals or groups nominated would have been worthy winners.

One notable new addition to the Oldham community scene is Oldham Foodbank who won the Community Group award. The Foodbank, set up on Clegg Street last year, has so far helped 700 Oldham families and local people have really got behind the great work they do.  Although it is shameful that Britain in 2013 needs food banks let’s not take away from the volunteers the sheer amount of work that goes into making the Foodbank work.

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the event this year as I was speaking at the Local Government Conference on a number of issues facing local government. I find conferences boring and usually avoid at all costs, but after a five year absence this conference was the tonic I needed. Hearing about so much good work from other local councils has given me some ideas to bring back to Oldham.

I was really encouraged to hear from the Leader of Plymouth Council about the work being done to set up economic community development trusts to regenerate areas of the city. The approach of bringing community and voluntary representatives together to bring about economic benefit in their area  – putting the future of those areas in the hands of those affected – makes complete sense.

I also heard from the Deputy Leader of Liverpool about their work to boost local credit unions in order to  tackle doorstep lenders in the city. This is work we need to take on board in Oldham on the back of our campaign against illegal loan sharks – although unfortunately not all sharks are illegal.

During my contribution I spoke about the work we are doing on campaigns such as Fair Energy and Fairs Fare. We have made great progress on those – delivering savings on energy bills and bus travel – but we have more to do including our plans to take on high interest retailers such as Brighthouse and Perfect Home and offer a real alternative in the borough.

The lesson from our campaigns is that when we listen to people and take action on things that strike at the heart of fairness we begin to make a real difference.

The proof of that is in our residents satisfaction levels which will be published next week in full. In 2008 Oldham ranked as the worst performing council in the country with just 22% of residents believing the council provided good services and good value for money.

I believe that the increase which you will see next week is a direct result of our ambition to become a cooperative borough with an outward and challenging council.

We often have to make tough and unpopular decisions and that can mean we are put in difficult situations we’d rather not be in, but I believe, today more than ever, that after a decade of disconnect the people of Oldham are willing to give us the benefit of the doubt.

With that comes a great responsibility and one that I take on personally.

Thanks for listening.

Community spirit in 2012

COMMUNITY SPIRIT: Residents joining in the Diamond Jubilee fun at Grassroots Community Project in Failsworth at the weekend.

RECENT DAYS have perhaps given the naysayers who warn you that community spirit is a ‘thing of the past’ some serious food for thought.

I often hear people lamenting that the so-called “old-fashioned” spirit of volunteers and residents coming together to benefit their wider community no longer exists in 2012.

That’s certainly not been my experience in recent days, however – far from it.

On Sunday, I went along to Warwick Road, Failsworth, on Sunday to help celebrate the official designation of this open space as a ‘Queen Elizabeth II Field’ following some close work between the local community and Oldham Council.

This scheme helps to protect important green spaces as a permanent legacy of the Diamond Jubilee.

It will not only preserve its use for leisure and recreation for future generations but will also empower community groups to get involved and apply for improvement funds. Given the enthusiasm of all those present, I have no doubts that this will be a successful venture.

On Monday night I also had the pleasure of attending the lighting of a Diamond Jubilee beacon – one of six across the Borough – at St John’s Church in Failsworth.

Again there was a fantastic turnout from the public and a really positive sense of society and co-operation on show.

This same ethos was also clearly in evidence at the Saddleworth and Lees Band Contests last Friday which passed largely without incident and were again a huge success that we can all be proud of.

Despite the rain the past few days have again shown that people will still ‘chip in’ and work together to ensure events proceed that can be enjoyed by all.

And whether you are a brass band lover or not, a Monarchist or a Republican, that has to be good news for all of us.

This shorter working week necessitates a shorter-than-usual blog, but I do want to close by highlighting the appointment of the Borough’s new Youth Mayor.

Josh Payne, 18, will officially take the reins after four years as a member of the fantastic Oldham Youth Council next Monday.

I know that he has already been involved in a whole range of community activities and voluntary work, and I am certain he will be a fantastic ambassador for the Borough in this role.

It is vital young people like Josh are given a voice – and that they are heard – so that they can help shape our area and improve it for future generations.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to our departing Youth Mayor, Chantel Birwistle, from Chadderton, who has shone in her duties during the past civic year.

Each of us are defined by the communities we belong to and we should all exercise our gift to enhance them when we can.

Finding such fine volunteers amongst young people is just another reason to be optimistic.

People do still ‘love where they live’ and have great community spirit in 2012 – rumours of its demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Thanks for listening,

Jim

Love Where You Live

LOVE WHERE YOU LIVE: Jim McMahon with local volunteers cleaning up at Moston Brook
LOVE WHERE YOU LIVE: Jim McMahon with local volunteers cleaning up at Moston Brook

YOU’RE probably starting to notice some media activity this week launching our new ‘Love Where You Live’ (LWYL) scheme.

I want to use today’s blog to explain a bit more about how this campaign epitomises Oldham Council’s new co-operative approach to public services.

In a nutshell, LWYL aims to do two key things.

Firstly, it seeks to highlight the fantastic community and volunteer spirit that already exists across all parts of our Borough.

And secondly it aspires to help that network grow further, and achieve more by encouraging even more people to ‘do their bit’.

LWYL’s starting point this week has been to highlight the fantastic work already being done by neighbourhood ambassadors like Adam Pietras from Failsworth, who built a community garden, or Malika Khatun, who runs activities for young women at her local youth centre in West Oldham.

Case studies like those are really only the tip of the iceberg of what’s going on.

You don’t often hear it shouted about, but the level of voluntary and unpaid activities in our Borough is higher than the regional and national averages.

But years before even coming into office here I was aware that Oldham Council has historically often been seen as putting barriers in the way of activities like this – and I’m determined that has to change.

What we need to do in the future is to become ‘enablers’. The Council needs to actively assist and work in partnership with communities on projects that will deliver social good.

As an example of what I mean here, I went along to Wrigley Head at Moston Brook on Monday to help a gang of 40 volunteers who want to improve the local environment.

CIVIC PRIDE: A team of 40 volunteers are 'doing their bit' to improve the Wrigley Head site
CIVIC PRIDE: A team of 40 volunteers are 'doing their bit' to improve the Wrigley Head site

These residents pledged to do their bit through unpaid activities like litter-picking and tree-planting at the site.

In return, Oldham Council has now invested some money to make it more secure and paid for bigger improvements like graffiti removal works.

The end result works for everyone.

It’s just one small example of this new approach, but the overriding message here is crystal clear.

Oldham Council doesn’t own this Borough. It belongs to the people who live here – and only if we work better in partnership can we make significant improvements to it as a place.

LWYL aims to encourage more people to get actively involved again in their communities and you can do that in many ways.

‘Doing your bit’ in your area doesn’t necessarily mean you have to set up a huge project or break your back digging a community garden.

Your contribution can be as simple as checking on elderly neighbours, offering to take their wheelie bins out, reporting grot spots to us, or attending local meetings to have your say and play a more active part in decision-making.

A key part of LWYL is the new website we’ve set up at www.oldham.gov.uk/love

I’d urge people to pay this – and our new Facebook pages – a visit.

We hope these will eventually be used as a hub where residents can talk about what they’re doing in the area, what opportunities and events they have planned, and even just share ideas about how things can be improved.

As part of all this Oldham Council’s staff are also going to be doing their bit.

We’re now encouraging staff to spend three days a year working with local communities where their skills and input can make a really positive difference.

It’s clear to me now that our responsibilities as a Local Authority go way beyond just service delivery.

They include providing civic leadership and helping the growth of pride and engagement in your neighbourhood.

If we are to meet the public sector financial challenges that we’re facing, we have to be firmly on the side of residents.

And we now must demonstrably start to show what that means – to explain how working smarter alongside you can benefit everyone.

Thanks for listening,

Jim