Hidden beauty of the city of Greater Manchester, one of Britain’s ‘most miserable’ cities

Oldham sometimes gets a bad reputation. The city has been called one of the most miserable places to live in Britain. And given the severe impact of the crisis on the cost of living in the area, and years of ‘toxic politics’, it is not difficult to understand why some are not feeling optimistic.

But on a sunny day in the center of Oldham, surrounded by the Pennine Hills, the town reveals a hidden charm.

Oldham locals are among the harshest critics of their environment. They have seen first-hand how rising costs and the pandemic have hit the high street hard, as rents have risen and local services struggle to keep up with demand.

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And even though there are efforts to revitalize the center – with a new market building, food hall and access to the main street in the works – there are, like many cities across the country, complaints of decline.

Mary has lived in Oldham for 58 years(Image: Manchester Evening News)

But, quizzed about their hometown by the MEN, Oldhamers speak of the beauty – and pride – in the backdrop of ‘Greater Manchester’s unhappiest city’.

“I feel at home here,” admitted Werneth resident Mary, after initially saying there was ‘nothing good’ about Oldham. The 80-year-old emigrated from Ireland in 1976 with her two-year-old son. “I’ve traveled all over England and my family is spread out everywhere. But I have settled here,” she says.

Devon Wilkshire, 28, has lived in Oldham for ten years, first in Hollinwood and then in Derker. He thinks Oldham residents ‘don’t appreciate what they have’.

A view of the Pennines from Greenacres Cemetery, Oldham(Image: Manchester Evening News)

“I grew up in Cheetham Hill, which is quite a deprived area,” he said. “I grew up watching all the skylines being built in the city center and absorbing all the pollution. While here are my children standing at the top of the hill. You can see as far as the Pennines. My children see trees and leaves and play with insects, rolling in the mud and fresh air.

“I grew up watching helicopters in the sky chasing criminals every two minutes. I could hear gunshots. We had Strangeways around the corner. There were stabbings and murders. It’s not the same here, no matter what people say.”

“When you come from the city to a place like this, it’s a breath of fresh air.”

The Pennines are visible from many bright hills in Oldham, even from the town centre(Image: Manchester Evening News)

The town is celebrated as the ‘gateway to the Pennines’, with patches of breathtaking views in unexpected places – from residential streets such as Cheltenham St to the view from Greenacres Cemetery.

Devon, a teacher and entrepreneur, said he is also very “passionate” about the potential of his acquired hometown.

“I see it as an emerging phenomenon,” Devon said. ‘We have the transport links. Stockport doesn’t have that, Bolton doesn’t, Wigan doesn’t. This small town is perfectly positioned to boost the economy of Greater Manchester. The best thing about Oldham is the opportunities.”

Devon Wilkshire feels Oldham is an ’emerging’ country(Image: Manchester Evening News)

The couple Reade and Grace Arden, both in their twenties, are less convinced.

“The trams are good, which I think is like saying the best part of Oldham is leaving.” Reade said. When he recently returned from a stint working in China, he said he struggled to find a job with decent wages in the area and thought the quality of life was better abroad.

Meanwhile, Grace, an NHS worker, felt there simply wasn’t enough on offer for young people.

She said: “There is no nightlife. The only times I’ve been to Oldham were when I was underage drinking – which probably says it all.

Even if there were more to do, she said, she wouldn’t be able to afford it because the rent for her share of the house is too high.

“We hardly do anything – this is most of what we do,” she said, holding up a bag from a charity shop, before interrupting herself: “Charity shops! That’s probably the good thing about Oldham. I love the charity shops and they are bringing more and more.”

Reade and Grace Arden look for a way out of Oldham(Image: Manchester Evening News)

But charity shops aren’t enough to keep the two, who grew up in Oldham, in the town; they are making plans to move to China at the end of this year.

Meanwhile, Chris, a 70-year-old who comes from Ireland but has spent most of his life in Oldham, can’t imagine being anywhere else.

“I used to live by the sea, so as you can imagine it was quite a shift moving to Oldham,” he said. For the retired teacher, the ‘peace and quiet’ is the city’s secret charm.

“I live in a beautiful area of ​​St Mary’s, and I won’t leave it,” he said.

Chris’s teaching career brought him to Oldham and now he doesn’t want to leave(Image: Manchester Evening News)

A number of locals highlighted the town’s sense of community, its many schools and library, the nearby green spaces of Alexandra, Stoneleigh and Waterhead Park. Others said it came down to simple convenience.

“I live close to the center, so that is ideal. I can get on the bus and just take my time and go from store to store,” said 83-year-old Marge. She moved from Dukinfield to be closer to her family in Royton after becoming a widow. “I’ve never really looked back. I am happy here.”

Oldham flourished as a cotton town in the 19th century, reaching a peak in production in the early 20th century. But socio-economic prosperity declined along with the cotton industry.

But while the city has its challenges, there are plenty of people who believe in it. City councilors have made big plans for the city’s future. And the Atom Valley project promises to bring thousands of jobs and homes to the area during the ‘next industrial revolution’.

Oldham’s green spaces include Alexandra Park and the Northern Roots ‘city farm’(Image: Manchester Evening News)

Parts of the borough, such as Saddleworth, enjoy a high quality of life and life expectancy, while others, such as Royton, attract families and independent businesses.

Meanwhile, as part of the council’s ‘Creating a Better Place’ plan, a number of city center ‘renewal projects’ are under development.

“Creating a Better Place is an ambitious plan to transform Oldham,” said a statement from the council. “It will unlock investment worth £285m and create more than 2,000 new homes in Oldham town centre, 1,000 new jobs and 100 apprenticeships.”

The council is working on improvements to the town centre, but these could take several years to complete(Image: Manchester Evening News)

Construction is already underway on a new venue for Tommyfield Market, which will include an events space and dining area, as well as the Egyptian Room Food Hall, which is ‘about to rival Mackie Mayor’.

A new ‘tart-up hub’ for small businesses will soon open at the Spindles centre. And there are plans for an urban park and an ‘urban farm’ at Northern Roots.

“I love Oldham,” said Mohammed, 37, a local Uber driver. “People love to shit on it. But the people are great, we know how to support each other.

“I think it’s because people are actually very proud of Oldham. It makes them critical. But there is definitely beauty here, you just have to know where.”

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