Oldham spent half of 2020 on the edge and the other half in the headlines.
Whilst the initial lockdown lift in July was supposed to offer some respite from all the doom and gloom, this little old mill town didn’t have much time to enjoy its return to action.
Shortly after a county-wide indoor mixing ban was enforced across Greater Manchester, Oldham was quickly battered by big a wave of COVID infections – leaving the region teetering on the brink of a local lockdown for what felt like an eternity.
Oldham’s leaders warned that shutting down the economy would be ‘catastrophic’. But residents knew it could realistically happen. 100 miles down the M1 in Leicester, people had spent summer being forced to watch on from their windows as the rest of the world largely returned to normal.
It appeared Oldham was next on the quarantine list, and the borough spent weeks on tenterhooks, often expecting the worst.
Those days seem like a long time ago now.
Six months on, Oldham has a real spring in its step.
During the same week that bars, restaurants and culture venues reopened their doors, the region was treated to an extra couple of pages of positive news that made for fine reading.
Not only did the council bag £10.7 million to rejuvenate Oldham town centre, but new stats showed COVID rates are in such steep decline that the borough now has the fewest infections in all of Greater Manchester.
Cases plummeted by 42% up to May 13 – putting Oldham’s numbers lower than the national average.
The data is refreshingly positive for a region that was, mere months ago, clinging onto its freedoms by its fingernails.
It’s been the perfect platform for Oldham to start a new chapter under Arooj Shah – who was officially appointed as the region’s first ever Muslim female leader this week and is hoping to lead the borough to better days.
“I am so proud of how Oldhamers have responded to the pandemic,” Arooj said.
“We have pulled together, shown true community spirit, and have all worked extremely hard to bring our COVID figures down.
“However, even though our rates are now below the national average, we can’t become complacent.”
Arooj and Oldham Council have urged residents to “take care” in the weeks ahead – encouraging people to familiarise themselves with the rules and stick to them. Current data suggests that most cases in Oldham are circling among young people, and there remains continued concern about the widespread presence of a particularly infectious COVID variant in the neighbouring borough of Bolton.
“As COVID restrictions are lifted, we can’t afford for cases to increase now that those most at risk are those who haven’t yet been vaccinated,” warned Arooj.
“That’s why we’re asking everyone to get tested regularly, take up the vaccine when it’s offered and remember the guidance – hands, face, space, fresh air.”
As part of a mission to keep infection rates down, the council is managing a dedicated COVID page online – containing all the latest rules and regulations.
The portal is designed to keep residents updated throughout – featuring weekly data that drills down into infection rates by ethnicity, age groups, and different wards within the Oldham borough.
This ready access to comprehensive information is what the council is banking on to keep infections low: If Oldhamers understand the rules and the risks, the region has the best possible chance of making it through to the other side.
The council’s message moving ahead is simply “look after one another” – which ought to strike a chord.
After all, this is a borough that knows a thing or two about standing together.
King Charles III acceded to the throne on 8 September 2022, and on the day of his Coronation, will be 74 years old – making him the oldest person to be crowned monarch in British history.
The King will be coronated alongside his wife and the Queen Consort, Camilla, in a religious ceremony held at Westminster Abbey in London – which is the same place his late mother, Queen Elizabeth II‘s Coronation was held in 1953, as was her State Funeral in September of last year.
The ceremony will be conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and is expected to be a more “simmered down” event in comparison to that of the late Queen’s Coronation.
Buckingham Palace said the Coronation will “reflect the monarch’s role today” and will “look towards the future, while being rooted in longstanding traditions and pageantry” – with more details about the ceremony and celebrations on a national scale expected to be announced “in due course”.
But, on a more personal scale locally, Manchester City Council has just announced that residents in the borough can apply to close their road off so they can throw a street party.
The Council says it want residents from all over the city to “dust off the bunting and join their neighbours to celebrate the historic weekend” by hosting a traditional street party, and for those wishing to do so, if you make sure to submit an application by a certain deadline, then the road closure fee will be waived.
On top of this, Oldham Council has also announced that it applications are open for residents to apply for £100 grants to be put towards community street parties.
100 grants are available being awarded on a first come, first served basis.
Other Greater Manchester boroughs are also expected to announce celebration plans in the coming weeks, so keep your eyes peeled.
The deadline to apply to close a road in the borough of Manchester is Friday 21 April, and you can find out more information and submit an application via the Manchester City Council website here.
Featured Image – Flickr
Oldham Coliseum announces official closure with truly heartbreaking statement
Oldham Coliseum, a beloved local theatre that’s been on the brink of closure since it lost vital funding, has announced that it’s officially reached the end of the line.
The final curtain will fall on the century-old theatre at the end of this month, with all staff facing a redundancy process.
News of its difficulties became public earlier this year when the venue announced it was cancelling all shows from the end of March onwards.
The historic theatre had been dropped from Arts Council England’s National Portfolio – which made up a third of its income – from 1 April, leaving many locals in Greater Manchester and famous stars of the stage furious.
Oldham Coliseum has survived two world wars, the Covid pandemic, and all the challenges that have followed since, but has now reached a point where it’s ‘not sustainable’ to remain open.
Its heartbreaking final statement spoke of the ‘joyful memories that hundreds of thousands of people’ have made within its walls, as well as the countless careers it has helped to launch.
They wrote: “The outpouring of love for the theatre over the past weeks has been overwhelming, demonstrating the Coliseum’s impact on the communities of Oldham and further afield.
“To our audiences, industry colleagues, partners, sponsors, funders, patrons and friends – we cannot thank you enough for your support over more than a century of theatre.”
Oldham Coliseum’s final day will be on 31 March 2023. Events to mark its final hurrah are being considered and will be announced in the future.
Oldham Coliseum’s farewell statement in full
It is with deep sadness that we confirm the forthcoming closure of Oldham Coliseum Theatre and the beginning of a redundancy process that will affect all staff. Doors to the historic venue will close to the public for the final time on 31 March 2023.
Following the news on 4 November 2022 that the Coliseum will no longer be part of Arts Council England’s National Portfolio from 1 April 2023, the Board of Trustees and Senior Leadership Team have been determined to find a solution to this reduction in funding. NPO funding was a third of the Coliseum’s income, and in addition, its loss affects the ability of the organisation to apply for alternate funding. The financial situation therefore is not sustainable for the current continuation of the business.
Having cancelled all events from 26 March 2023 onwards and refunded tickets for affected performances, the Coliseum entered a period of consultation with all staff on 10 February 2023. A thorough and meaningful consultation period concluded on 13 March 2023.
Our staff remain our priority as we move into the redundancy process. The Coliseum is not the historic building so many have come to adore, it is the company that runs it and the people who fill its halls with memories. In recent weeks we have also lost a beloved friend and colleague, General Manager and former Head of Production Lesley Chenery. Her passing will now forever be entwined in memory with the closure of the company.
Many of our team have lived in Oldham all their lives and worked with the company for over a decade, bringing immense benefit to the town – not just in creating and presenting great theatre – but in offering opportunity and inspiration to all of Oldham’s communities. Coliseum staff benefit from generations of knowledge and skills passed down through departments. The unique skillset of our team includes arts engagement expertise that has allowed the Coliseum to share the mental and physical health benefits created via access to the arts, exemplified in recent projects working in partnership with Oldham’s Roma and South Asian communities; and technical theatre knowledge that profits young people from across Oldham, Rochdale and Tameside, including those not in Education Employment or Training (NEET) who have gained employment after taking part in our UK Theatre Award nominated Teaching Theatre Pathways programme.
We know the theatre’s closure is deeply upsetting for our audiences and participants, not least because of the joyful memories that hundreds of thousands of people from across the North West have of visiting the Coliseum to get involved in projects or to experience our home-produced plays, musicals and award-winning pantomimes.
The Coliseum has been at the heart of theatre in Oldham for over 100 years and has survived two World Wars and a global pandemic. Our theatre company has a highly regarded history in the industry dating back to the Oldham Rep, which launched the careers of many famous faces. This tradition has continued in recent years, actors from Coliseum productions of the past decade now regulars on our television screens. We would like to thank the unions Equity and BECTU for their vocal and passionate support and for highlighting the importance of producing theatre for actors and theatre workers as well as audiences and communities.
The Coliseum’s closure is supported by Arts Council England’s Transition Fund, which was applied for and granted to honour contracts with affected artists and support staff redundancy. In addition, an enhanced redundancy package has been made available for all Coliseum staff from savings derived from the UK producing theatre network, meaning those that have dedicated their lives to producing theatre reap the benefits of that work.
Over the coming weeks we will continue to present the remainder of events currently on sale up to and including Saturday 25 March. We are also considering possible opportunities to mark the closing of the Coliseum and any details of such events will be announced in due course.
The outpouring of love for the theatre over the past weeks has been overwhelming, demonstrating the Coliseum’s impact on the communities of Oldham and further afield. To our audiences, industry colleagues, partners, sponsors, funders, patrons and friends – we cannot thank you enough for your support over more than a century of theatre.