Growing up in Oldham in the 1980s and 1990s was a picture of decline, writes Kevin Whitmore of BECG. But look more closely and you can now see a town with a determination to make sure its best days are ahead.
When you think of Oldham what comes to mind? I’d bet it’s not the award-winning Alexandra Park. Or the borough’s tourist attractions on the edge of the Peak District National Park. You might have enjoyed the internationally famous Saddleworth Band Contest. Or watched your football team play at Ice Station Zebra – otherwise known as Boundary Park.
More likely your view of the town will be coloured by years of depressing statistics, unwelcome portrayals by national politicians and perhaps distant memories of the 2001 riots.
As someone who grew up in Oldham during the 1980s, 1990s and early noughties I could be forgiven for thinking that the plight of my hometown’s football team has been a mirror of a more general malaise.
The decline of the high street due to changing shopping habits, cuts to public spending by central government and the relocation of major employers to other parts of the country have undoubtedly taken their toll.
But look more closely and you start to see a town with ambition, a sense of place and a political leadership that is determined to make sure that Oldham’s best days are ahead.
A masterplan for Oldham Town Centre would see new housing, offices, retail and leisure spaces developed across 21 acres by 2035. Investments into other district centres, including Royton, labelled ‘the new Didsbury’ in 2017 due the number of independent bars and restaurants which had opened, are also being lined up. Plans to create the UK’s largest urban farm and eco park as part of the ‘Eden of the north’ project are also in the pipeline.
Growing up in the north of the borough you cannot help but be shaped by the surrounding landscape and easy access to the countryside. As Oldham grows the balance between finding space for new employers to invest in the borough, as well as the new housing that the town needs, whilst respecting the landscape, will be fraught with difficulties.
But the opportunity to attract real inward investment into the borough is one that cannot be missed.
For too long towns around the northern fringe of Greater Manchester have been overlooked in favour of higher land values towards the south of the city region, contributing to a growing north-south divide.
With excellent schools, strong connectivity to Manchester City Centre and beyond, a growing leisure and cultural offer, plus easy access to stunning countryside, maybe it’s time to think again about what Oldham has to offer.