To transform somewhere like Oldham, treat local citizens as equal partnersby Majid Hussain / July 14, 2019 / Leave a comment
Born here, raised here, and having remained here, it is easier for me than it would be for an “outsider” to spot the hope and community spirit which are still abundant in Oldham. By tapping into that spirit together, we are beginning to turn things around. But you can’t harness hope if you simply fail to detect it is there.
The grim way in which some read our town is not surprising. We are at the wrong end of most of the national economic statistics, and we have certainly faced more than our share of austerity. There is no getting away from the fact that the consequences can be brutal. Confronted with real hardship and deprivation, it can be tempting to presume that local spirits must have been crushed. But if you’ve lived, worked and been to school in a community, you know its people better: their mutual regard for one another, and all the dreams that refuse to die.
Grasp that, and you begin to flip the conversation. You start to consider all those resources that you’ve still got, instead of only those things that have been taken away by forces beyond your control. And with imagination, all those resources—buildings, places and above all people—can make an enormous difference. You’ve got to manage them properly, focussing on the most pressing local needs. But who is best placed to gauge that? Well, the local community itself of course.
In her essay, Jennifer Williams describes how—through the Ghazali Trust—we have come together and acquired a closed down leisure centre (Clemency House); she also explains how residents have worked with local police officers to make the streets safer. This is only the start. Some of the 200 volunteers involved with the transformation of Clemency House are now going out beyond Oldham, and doing things for people elsewhere, for example helping communities affected by floods as far afield as Hebdon Bridge. With the history of the 2001 disturbances, we sometimes get written off as a hopelessly segregated town. The truth couldn’t be further away from that. Today we have Muslim community groups providing foodbanks in a church, mosques working with charities feeding the homeless, churches providing advice, shelter and foodbanks for asylum seekers, and the list goes…