Does the thought of ‘networking’ make you jump for joy, cringe or even send a shiver down your spine?

There are loads of networking events these days. Some of us love attending them while others may find them awkward, a turn-off or even a waste of time.

However, a group called Professional Oldham is trying to offer an alternative to some of the more established formats and our own MD, David, and myself attended the group’s latest event.

The gathering was held at Oldham Training Centre (OTC), which sponsored the night, and it highlighted manufacturing, engineering, business training and professional support services.

We were looking forward to meeting some of OTC’s own clients, who use its training services, along with other businesses who are regular faces at Professional Oldham.

I helped launch Professional Oldham, which is a not-for-profit group, with other volunteers in 2016 when I was business editor at the Oldham Evening Chronicle and Oldham Business Edge magazine. The launch came after a number of people said they felt a new type of networking group was needed.

At the latest OTC event, I gave a welcome speech on behalf of Professional Oldham volunteers. I encouraged guests to ask about each other through the evening – rather than simply promote themselves.

Other speakers included Kath from OTC and Tony from EDM in Manchester. They stressed the importance of vocational training with OTC and of attracting a new generation of young recruits, male and female, into UK science, technology, engineering and manufacturing (STEM) careers.

We watched demonstrations of mechanical and electrical engineering processes and machinery, including programmable logic controllers, which govern things such as conveyor belts and traffic light sequencing.

An OTC electronic engineering tutor, Paul, said one of OTC’s clients is the home shopping company JD Williams, which has 16 miles of conveyor belts inside its Oldham warehouses. That’s a lot of logic controllers.

There were also first-aid demonstrations to learn basic life-saving techniques.

Professional Oldham‘s emphasis is on hosting interesting, social events without the pressure for business referrals and sales pitches. Its events usually take place in the evening and include arrival drinks and a buffet for guests, who mainly book in advance. Drink and food helps people to relax, which ease any nerves or shyness.

We enjoyed the buffet from the Arundel Bakery, which was founded by young entrepreneur Daniel Arundel, a former Oldham Business Award winner.

David is the first to admit he has mixed feelings about networking events – but he thinks Professional Oldham is an example of how it can be made more appealing.

We chatted to guests including Kelly from Oldham Community Leisure, Su from Oldham Training Centre, and Michelle from Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce.

We also met other media sector representatives including Gill from the new Oldham Times newspaper and Andrew from Revolution 96.2 radio.

So overall, we thought it was an enjoyable and productive evening. We met a number of new businesses and also had the chance to catch-up with some of the regulars at Professional Oldham events.

Previous Professional Oldham activities have included a wine tasting night, guided tours of Oldham’s award-winning Odeon cinema development and George Street Chapel heritage centre, a summer barbecue at Dr Kershaw’s Hospice and a pizza- and-prosecco night at a restaurant equipment supplier Linda Lewis Kitchens.

The next event is due in January. More details will be announced in coming weeks. Maybe we’ll see you then?

By Robbie MacDonald

Cornerstone DM