Sunday 6 April 2014

Oldham, Greater Manchester

About 6 miles from Rochdale is Oldham and we took the A671 through Royton.  It’s not necessarily the quickest route to Oldham, but I didn’t realise at the time.

I’ve been to Oldham a few times over the years and almost worked there.  On a good day, as the place is so high up, you can see the whole of Greater Manchester and beyond.  On the day we visited, the drizzle hung over the town and we couldn’t see a thing.
We ended up parking in the Spindles Shopping Centre car park as it had a special Saturday offer of 3 hours for a pound.

The Spindles shopping centre is like any other across the UK - slightly dated with the usual high street shops and the obligatory E-Cig store and stalls, which have spread like a rash across northern towns.  It does have a Debenhams, which is a touch more fashionable than the Beales in Rochdale.  I swear there must be something inscribed in law that northern towns must have a department store for old ladies to frequent and take advantage of the pensioner weekday specials.  Believe me it’s a rare thing not to find a department store in a Northern Town, whilst Debenhams is your standard store, Hoopers in Wilmslow is the classiest I’ve ever seen and Beales is more your traditional little old lady store.
I have to say Oldham was a bit quiet the day we went.  Maybe it was the drizzle that had driven off people to the Trafford Centre.  It’s guaranteed that the Trafford Centre will be packed on a wet Saturday afternoon – it’s now the default wet day out for people in the North West or West Yorkshire. 
We ended up walking through the open air market.  It was a strange experience if truth be told and needs a bit of the back story.  Oldham has been a rather divided place between the White and Asian communities for quite some time.  In 2001 tensions got so bad between the two communities there were racially motivated riots.  If memory serves me correctly they had to merge two high schools (now Waterhead Academy) to help integrate the two communities.  So what had this to do with the market?  As we were walking through this market it dawned on me it was completely Asian, both the stalls and the customers.  We were the only white people in the market.  I’ve grown up with northern markets and I have never experienced this before and to be honest it was a bit of a culture shock.  There has always been an Asian presence in these markets, but this was different and I’m not entirely sure this does much for community cohesion.  I did use Google to get more information and found there were plans in 2012 by the Council who run the markets to make it an Asian market.  However this plan completely flies in the face of the work that has been done to integrate the community.  All that aside, it was interesting to see how different this market was to most other northern markets.  I found it surprising that sweetcorn was being sold as a fast food and the smell permeated throughout the whole market.  We didn’t make it into the indoor market though and things may have been different in there.

Obviously we did a tour of the charity shops in Oldham.  There wasn’t much to find.  Although I noticed that one charity shop had been opened in what appeared to be a boutique in a previous incarnation.  It certainly helped to defuse the charity shop vibe of the shop.  We found an Oxfam and Neil was unimpressed with the vinyl record pricing policy once again (overpriced).  I was actually disappointed that there wasn’t many books in this store, as normally Oxfam have a really good second-hand book section.  Obviously this depends on the donations.
Bizarrely we found some girls outside Oxfam filming a middle aged bloke on their mobiles singing ‘Hey Baby’, whilst they were providing backing vocals.
Opposite Oxfam we saw a sea of taxis waiting for passengers.  I don’t think I’ve seen so many taxis in one spot.  It was if that they were providing an alternative to the local bus service.  Quite a strange sight really.

Even stranger was seeing the Old Town Hall boarded up.  This vast Grade 2 listed building lying empty was in truth rather depressing.  After our visit I had to google what on earth was happening with the building.  Apparently it’s the most endangered Victorian structure in England and Wales according to the Victorian Society.  Although there were plans announced in 2012 to convert the building into a cinema and restaurants, but clearly nothing has happened yet.

Once you walk out of the centre Oldham gets a bit rough around the edges.  I can’t help but think Oldham needs some TLC in terms of regeneration. 
The drizzle and Neil’s headache prevented us from going further to explore the Oldham Coliseum, which had been renovated in 2012.  The Coliseum has a reputation for doing good theatre work and I almost ended up working there (long story).  They have a new writing programme, which seems really interesting. 

An honourable mention needs to go to Oldham Community Radio station.  It’s run on a shoestring with a dedicated band of staff and volunteers.  I remember they had the coldest radio station building known to man, but the devotion to keep it going is admirable.  This reminds me to mention that Oldham has snow alerts signs in the town as it’s so high up in the Pennines hills that it gets snowed in from time to time.  I’m pretty sure the Council also sends snow warnings to their staff so they don’t get stuck.
Whilst Oldham is marginally better in terms of shopping than Rochdale, I am rather worried about the place.  I’ve never seen a place quite as divided as Oldham, although I do know great efforts have been made to resolve this situation.  Also the fact they have closed the old Town Hall is truly weird and I’ve never come across that in a northern town of this size.  Civic pride is a big thing in the North and this does fly against it.  I really hope the powers-that-be get their collective acts together and sort all it out.  You can understand why people go elsewhere to shop, but that doesn’t mean it’s right or good for the town. Over the years I’ve met people from both sides of Oldham’s cultural divide and I’ve found them down-to-earth, funny and warm with a cracking accent, but one thing is for sure, they deserve better than Oldham offers them at the moment. 



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