Councillor Jim McMahon has been made an OBE (Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.
The Council Leader – who says he is “overwhelmed” – has been appointed an OBE for his services to the community in Oldham.
The 34-year-old, who was born in nearby Miles Platting and educated in Middleton, moved to the borough in search of a property to make a family home in 2001.
He still lives in that same Failsworth home with his partner, Charlene, and says it was fatherhood – he has two sons, Jack aged 13, and Harry, aged six – that first made him look critically at the area and get involved in local issues as he pondered the future.
In May 2003 he was elected to serve Failsworth East and after working hard as a grassroots councillor to improve local landmarks like Failsworth Pole, the War Memorial and Westminster Gardens, he was chosen as Labour group leader within five years.
He became Oldham Council Leader in 2011 – at the time the youngest in the country – and set to work on plans to “change the Oldham story” and put the borough back on the national map with a range of innovative physical and social regeneration projects and fairness campaigns for residents.
In February 2014, he was named ‘Council Leader of the Year’ at the Councillor Achievement Awards hosted by the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU).
Cllr McMahon is now also leader of the Local Government Association (LGA) Labour Group representing more than 6,000 councillors nationwide. This includes a place on the political cabinet and the National Executive Committee (NEC).
Jim said: “The OBE is a very humbling experience – to be honest I’m slightly overwhelmed by it.”
“I found out by letter last month and I’ve had to keep it a secret since then with only my closest family knowing.
“Becoming a dad was really the driving force for getting involved in local politics and since then I’ve been fortunate to work alongside some excellent people who shared a vision to change Oldham’s story and set it back on a path to future success.
“I'm a dad trying my best to make the town we love the best it can be. I have the same hopes and fears as everyone else. I have moments of doubt and, like anyone would, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the challenges but I see through that to the positives and opportunities. This honour isn't saying the job is done: we’re in the early stages of a long journey.
“I believe in hard work and the same is true of my brother and sister. Although we've chosen different paths we all inherited our dad’s work ethic and mum’s energy and determination.
“I'm a very fortunate man and without the support of Charlene, Harry and Jack none of this would be possible. It is they who invariably sacrifice family time to let me get things done and, as hard as you try, there isn't a normal life in politics.
“I do also see this honour as another positive sign of how people are starting to recognise Oldham’s progress. So the truth is that although I'm doing my bit I’m just one of a team of thousands of Oldhamers – council staff, businesses and many others – who refuse to accept decline and work round the clock for a better future.
“These are genuinely exciting times for Oldham, both in its own right and as a strong player in a devolved Greater Manchester. If in some small way this award helps us open even more doors to fulfil our ambitions for local people then that would be fantastic."
As Oldham Council Leader, Cllr McMahon has capitalised on the new Metrolink line with a range of regeneration projects designed to transform the town centre. These include a flagship scheme converting the derelict Old Town Hall into an ODEON cinema and restaurants in a unique historic setting – plus work to deliver a new hotel, Coliseum and Heritage Centre, sports centre, and finally bring Marks & Spencer to the borough.
He has also focused on social regeneration, entrepreneurialism and fairness. Schemes like Get Oldham Working, the Oldham Education and Skills Commission and the launch of a new Independent Quarter are designed to improve life prospects and give aspirational people a "hand up" while campaigns on issues like transport fares, fair credit, energy prices and employment are delivering better deals for residents' pockets.Cllr McMahon has also drawn on his life experiences in office. As a young boy he would accompany his truck driver father, Bill, to work. This prompted him to set up 'Warehouse to Wheels' in 2014, a scheme designed to address the national shortage of LGV drivers by investing the money and training support needed to help people in low paid employment who want to get on in life.
A self-confessed history buff, he is also unwavering in citing the importance of Oldham's proud past in forging its future.
“All our regeneration schemes must acknowledge our history, respect our heritage and build upon that as we create the economic landscape and environment for new success," he said.
"But this isn't just about buildings – our residents deserve better life opportunities than before. Our Get Oldham Working apprentices and others who will benefit from our Youth Guarantee should, for example, see no barriers to one day running Oldham Council and flourishing private businesses.
"This town was once the cotton capital of the world and there’s no reason why we can't be home to the next big idea or innovation. A lack of aspiration should never hold us back again."