“These couple of streets, they’ve become a sort of artisan corner,” says Chris Ashley, owner of the Secret Sip and the Courtyard Brewery.
It is 10.30am on a Tuesday and Chris and his partner Jacqui are getting ready for the day.
With blue sky overhead and fairy lights twinkling from the roof above, it’s not difficult to imagine the Courtyard Brewery in the middle of Didsbury or the Northern Quarter.
But this artisan paradise is hidden away in an old mill in Royton, Oldham.
The mill speaks to the town’s impressive industrial past, but since the 1980s, it has seemed destined to be forgotten in favour of flashier, trendier areas of Greater Manchester.
In the last four or five years though, the arrival of new bars and businesses have brought a new lease of life to the once bustling town.
“No one really goes to Oldham anymore,” continues Chris. “The market and appetite is over here now and we wanted to take that opportunity straight away.”
The couple have certainly done just that.
Four years ago, they opened the Secret Sip craft beer company and bar on Shepherd Street.
Since then, the Secret Sip community has flourished.
“We’ve got a running club, a cycling club and a football club. They’re the majority of the Secret Sip members,” explains Chris.
It was this passionate membership who encouraged – and funded – Chris and Jacqui’s renovation of an old Fustian mill into the Courtyard Brewery.
“They kept pushing for it, and the crowdfunding was the regulars’ idea as well,” Chris says.
The success of the crowdfunding campaign is testament to the vibrant community, after the initial target of £20,000 surpassed easily.
“It’s always been a community and everyone who helped support us is treated the same, whether they donated a fiver or a grand,” says Jacqui.
The fact that the couple live five minutes away in Chadderton means they knew the town well.
Jacqui says that when the doors opened, Royton was ready to make the most of a new community hub.
“There’s no point going to Oldham, the transport links are shocking. When we opened up, the locals came straight in.”
“And we’re making use of old buildings,” adds Chris, reminding punters of the town’s industrial roots as they enjoy its new hipster offerings.
Another new business utilising an old building in the area is The Barclay.
Previously home to the eponymous bank, The Barclay now serves woodfire pizzas and prosecco to guests who come to enjoy the live music and gorgeous vaulted ceilings.
The restaurant is run by Carl Taylor and his wife, and another husband-and-wife duo, all of whom live in Royton.
“The area is really up-and-coming,” says Carl. “I used to run a restaurant in Oldham, but I ended up selling it.”
The Barclay opened two years ago and offers everything from Nutella pizzas to wine and cheese nights.
“People want a different sort of nightlife, trendy bars, something a little bit different. Oldham town centre, there’s nothing there,” says Carl.
He echoes Chris and Jacqui’s sense that the new businesses have done well because they are run by locals who know the area, rather than newcomers seeking to impose gentrification on a community.
“I know 70 to 80 percent of the people walking through that door. Local people like to support each other and take pride in the fact that the area is becoming better and they know us,” he says.
The beautiful old bank and mill both nod to Royton’s impressive industrial history.
At one point, 13 per cent of the world’s cotton production took place in Royton and Oldham and as late as the 1950s, 80 per cent of the area’s population was employed in textiles.
However, the last cotton was spun in the town in 2002.
Although post-industrial housing estates have seen Royton continue to grow, for a while it seemed the area was set to be left behind by regeneration elsewhere.
Across the road from the Secret Sip and The Barclay, three women drink their coffee in the morning sun and lament their town’s decline.
Margret Rodgers, Barbara Hardman and Sylvie Black are sitting in the centre of the town’s dilapidated shopping precinct, built in the 1970s.
The three women have lived in Royton for over fifty years and have seen a lot change – not all for the good.
“It’s a very dirty place, it’s gone scruffy,” says Barbara, gesturing to the paint peeling off the walls of the precinct.
Plans to revamp the shopping centre were discussed in 2014, but little headway has been made so far.
“There used to be a shop for everything,” recalls Margret. “On that corner, there was a shop that sold anything you needed.”
The trio reminisce about the Royton they grew up in, remembering the arrival of chain stores and the influx of salons and betting shops.
“If you want a haircut or a bet you’re fine, but everything else…” Margret trails off with a shrug of her shoulders.
“There used to be four or five banks, but they’ve all gone now.”
With the loss of the shops, the three women feel Royton lost some of its community spirit.
“It used to be a small place where everybody knew each other, but it’s altered that much,” says Sylvie.
Margret agrees: “It’s a community, but not the community it was.”
However, businesses like the Secret Sip and The Barclay suggest that the spirit of Royton is changing, rather than disappearing.
Back at the Courtyard Brewery, Jacqui and Chris have got big plans for the future but say they wouldn’t have reached this point without the support of their regulars.
“People have been so supportive during lockdown ordering online and everything,” says Chris.
“Some people have still got cupboards full of beer because they didn’t need it, they just wanted to help us out.”
During their first week open after lockdown, the Courtyard ran out of beer twice as loyal, thirsty customers ventured back outside.
“It’s just lovely to hear people outside, not just us two rattling around,” says Jacqui.
“It almost made me cry.”
Royton’s artisan paradise may only be a corner for now, but the town may be at the start of another revolution.