Yet another fence had been erected around the old Casablanca’s site and heavy machinery could be seen knocking down what was left of The Millpond pub!
Could this be a sign that the ‘new owners’ had finally started to build, or was it just another photo-op for those who may not have been born when the ‘new owners’ published the last one?
Back in February 2013, Cllr John Taylor - Deputy Leader of Tameside Council, speaking on the redevelopment of the derelict Casablanca’s Health Club, said: "These are great times for Stalybridge. We are finally going to see the end of a building that has spoiled the town centre for almost eight years.”
“Empty buildings are not only a blight, they are a wasted asset, especially at a time when we have to work so much harder in pursuit of prosperity.’
You may well remember the well staged photo shoot, were the councillor, with MP Jonathan Reynolds and some other bod, they dragged in to balance the composition. This was to announce to the local residents and taxpayers that the new owners, New Charter, had started to redevelop the site and had chosen to use Tameside Council to carry out the demolition work!’
To give them due credit, it started well.
Carefully painted in New Charter’s corporate colours; a ‘temporary’ wooden fence was erected around the site of the once thriving multi-purpose fitness and leisure complex, which had stood derelict since being gutted by fire in 2005; and now, according to ‘honest John’ this was to signal the start of interior demolition work on the site with exterior work (ie Building something) set to begin in the summer. (That was the summer of 2013)
However, and with the benefit of hindsight, we should have ‘smelt a rat’ regarding the future plans for the site, when Sean Stafford, director of development at New Charter explained: “We do have some thoughts and we have had some initial sketches prepared.”
Invariably these days, whenever we hear or read about ‘New Charter’ it’s because they have achieved yet another ‘award or recognition’ from some nebulous trade sector or Local Government Quangos. For instance a couple of months after ‘erecting and painting’ the corporate coloured fence around the demotion site that was ‘Casablanca’s’ - New Charter’s Building Company achieved their first gold medal award that year - having secured consecutive gold awards for the previous five years, demonstrating its key commitment to carrying out all of their repairs and maintenance work to a high standard of safety.
Since then, New Charter Homes has been awarded a top gong for environmental performance. They gained an anti-social behaviour accreditation with flying colours. They scooped a top prize and four other accolades at a regional contact centre awards shindig. One of their young apprentices from Dukinfield was recognised in the Construction Apprentice of the Year category at the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce Property and Construction Annual Dinner. They swiftly followed that by announcing that New Charter Housing Trust Group had reached number three in 24 Housing’s Top 50 Landlords survey. Next, the Tameside-based housing association reached number 7 in the 2014 Sunday Times Top 100 Best Not-For-Profit Companies To Work For poll, followed by news that Green Charter, the in house grounds maintenance team at New Charter Homes scooped the top prize at a national customer services awards in London.
Not to be outdone, The Tenant Management Team (TMT) of New Charter Homes, who help to improve housing services for others won a regional award for their hard work. Next award on the shelf was when New Charter Homes received further national recognition for the third year running for the way it looks after neighbourhoods and residents in Tameside. This was quickly followed by The Inspire team at New Charter Homes who were crowned overall category winners for Building Stronger Communities at the Responsible Business Awards.
14th August 2014, saw New Charter awarded the national ServiceMark standard, recognising its commitment to customer service. Come November, New Charter won another national award for helping tenants struggling with debt and cuts to welfare benefits.
One significant announcement came in May 2015 when Moody’s, a well respected, internationally recognised credit rating agency assigned an A2 rating to New Charter. This judgement gave New Charter the opportunity to move forward in the medium term by raising significant additional cash, meaning that it is able to continue developing new homes for rent.
Following more awards and accreditations, New Charter became the first housing association in the country to receive a new national accreditation for the way it lets its homes, and later won a Green Apple Environment Award in the national campaign to find Britain’s greenest companies, councils and communities.
Following an award for Public Relations and communications they next received the CIH (Chartered Institute of Housing) Health & Wellbeing award based on the depth and breadth of work it carries out in relation to the Government’s Health and Wellbeing agenda.
In April 2016, the Inspire team at New Charter Group were recognised again in the Building Stronger Communities category in the 2016 Responsible Business Awards, run by Business in the Community, HRH The Prince of Wales’ Responsible Business Network.
And last, but I’m sure, not for long – earlier this very month (8th August 2016) New Charter Group was awarded the highest standard for the way it looks after and invests in its employees.
A great record of achievement by anyone’s standards!
However, after three and a half years, since their grandiose announcement of revitalising Armentieres Square, we can only hope that this recent flurry of activity results in some form of construction and with a bit of luck, at sometime in the not too distant future, we can all celebrate with New Charter, a special achievement award for actually building something that resembles ‘homes, shops and retail outlets’ in keeping with the urban surroundings of Stalybridge.
Time will tell!