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Town Must Maximise Northern Powerhouse Benefits

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Having gathered for this year’s Tillotson Lecture at Bolton School, the overriding message from the Heads of several key Bolton “institutions” was that the town must maximise the benefits offered by the devolution of powers to Greater Manchester. In acknowledgement of the School’s 100/500 year celebrations, Boys’ Division Headmaster Philip Britton presided over a panel comprising: Phil Gartside, Chairman of Bolton Wanderers Football Club; Karen Edwards OBE, Chief Executive of Bolton Lads and Girls Club; The Rt Revd Chris Edmondson, Bishop of Bolton; and Cllr Carole Swarbrick, the Mayor of Bolton. Over the course of short presentations and a questions and answers session, the panel discussed “Bolton: past, present and future”.  Everyone agreed that the town, whilst it very much has its own heritage and distinctive character, needs to be at the table discussing the shape of the Northern Powerhouse and ensuring residents enjoy better health, transport, housing, education and economic wellbeing. The Mayor pointed out that the Head of Bolton Council attends meetings almost every Friday where the details of devolution are being finalised.  

The panel also agreed that the HS2 rail-link to London was not that critical to the town and that the money would be better spent on the HS3 link which would improve rail links across the North from East to West. Turning to the brand of Bolton, the Mayor said, if you are in employment and want to bring up a family this is a great place to live – with good theatre, sport, schools and surrounding countryside. She went on to say that the town works best in partnership and this is exemplified by such events as the Food and Drink Festival and Ironman.  She also felt that the town is not always good at selling itself and that Boltonians should sing their own praises more.  Phil Gartside echoed the Mayor’s comments, saying footballers that moved to the town quickly came to recognise its benefits. All agreed that there is still a need to eradicate poverty from the town.  

The Bishop of Bolton said for him, Bolton was about working in partnership – and there was a real commitment to this, not just rhetoric.  He also praised the town’s creativity in theatre, sport and music.  Phil Gartside said people are very independent and proud of this diverse town.  Karen Edwards declared that she was continuously amazed at the number of volunteers and the time and effort that they put in, not just at the Lads & Girls Club but through other charities such as Urban Outreach – for her, this was the true spirit of Bolton. 

The Mayor of Bolton offered up three prominent sights in the town centre which symbolised Bolton’s future – the crane which is involved in the redevelopment of the Market Place, the ongoing and proposed development of the Bolton University campus and the opening of the new Aldi distribution centre which will create over 200 jobs for the people of Bolton. At the same time, the Mayor acknowledged challenges that lie ahead including how the town best maximises the potential of the Northern powerhouse and, also, how the town copes with the changing demographic as new communities evolve and people live longer.  She praised the Bolton Family for their warmth, spirit, humour and caring nature.  

The Bishop of Bolton, who has been in place since 2008, told the audience of students, parents, teachers and friends of the School, how the town should be proud of its commitment to partnership and cohesion.  He felt the “Bolton Family” concept has genuine substance and that the town’s motto of “Supera Moras” is apposite as, working in partnership, typified by the coming together of faiths, the town is overcoming its difficulties.  However, he also warned that austerity has not come to an end and we need to tackle the issue as “One Bolton”.  

Karen Edwards, CEO at the Lads & Girls Club since 2010, worried about the town’s lack of an anti-poverty policy. She told how the club had been formed in 1889 at a time of industrial and social change and how it had benefitted the lives of thousands of people over the years.  Today its motto is “Somewhere to go, something to do, someone to talk to” and whilst it currently reaches 10,000 children each year, it is still only scratching the surface.  

Phil Gartside, Chairman of the town’s football club since 1999, spoke about how Wanderers is proud to play its part in the community.  Whilst the club is currently in the Championship, he did remind the audience that 2011-12 was the 73rd year that Bolton had enjoyed in the top flight – somewhere it had been for more than 50% of its history. He was proud of the club’s commitment to re-engage students in education through sport and cited the example of a boy who had been expelled from mainstream school for nine years but, through Wanderers, had taken qualifications that had just allowed him to progress to Cardiff University to study Sport Science. He told how the town benefits considerably from the Middlebrook complex with its 4 star hotel and banquet facilities, leisure and cinema complex and retail outlets. He said that besides bringing people and money into the town, the complex employs directly and indirectly 3000-4000 people. Whilst the club is in debt to Eddie Davies, Mr Gartside said Mr Davies will leave an incredible legacy to the town.  The club’s free school currently has 100 participants and a new school building would open in 2017. The club also has permission to develop 350,000 square feet of mixed use development. Wanderers are already a Tier 4 sponsor as they enrol students from around the World on BTEC courses and, from September next year, they will work with the University of Bolton to deliver a Foundation degree. He also reminded the audience how the club has invested in youth through the Academy and in the hope that some will progress through into the first team. 

This was the 43rd Tillotson Lecture at Bolton School, established in 1971 at the behest of the late Marcus Tillotson, himself influential in one of Bolton’s other institutions, The Bolton News. The series has attracted eminent speakers over the years including Michael Portillo MP, Sir Ian McKellen, Lord Coe and Sir Philip Craven. The lecture opened the Alumni Grand Reunion which ran over the weekend.

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The Bishop of Bolton, the Mayor of Bolton, Karen Edwards OBE and Phil Gartside joined Headmaster Philip Britton for the panel discussion

The Bishop of Bolton, the Mayor of Bolton, Karen Edwards OBE and Phil Gartside joined Headmaster Philip Britton for the panel discussion

Philip Britton chaired the discussion

Philip Britton chaired the discussion

The audience asked a number of probing questions