The bosses of an adored live music venue in Oldham who created something special have announced they will be handing over the keys to new owners at the end of the month.

Whittles at Tokyo on Roscoe Street has earnt its iconic stripes as a hot spot for music lovers from across Greater Manchester - and stands as the largest live music venue in the borough.

For the past three years, its stages have welcomed artists and bands from all different genres and backgrounds, from the aspiring to the well-established, who not only hail from Oldham but from all corners of the world.

The Oldham Times: Neil and John who 'made it all happen'Neil and John who 'made it all happen' (Image: Whittles at Tokyo)

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It's had festivals, a pantomime, weathered a pandemic and ultimately created something unique for the community along the way.

Arguably behind the magic of what made Whittles is a collaboration between two families.

Married couples, Heather and Neil Haughton and Wendi and John Dodd, as well as Heather's 71-year-old mother, Jean Wroe, who has refused to retire to see Whittles take off, have all poured their heart and soul into the venue since they ended up with the keys in November 2019 by happy accident.

The Oldham Times: Heather, Jean and Heather's daughter, Millisa who worked behind the bar (left to right)Heather, Jean and Heather's daughter, Millisa who worked behind the bar (left to right) (Image: Whittles)

Heather said the team had agreed to help refurbish the former Tokyo Project building, which was a popular music venue in the late 1990s, just as Whittles' first home on King Street was sold on.

However, the Dodds and Haughtons found themselves tasked with pulling the venue together on their own after the deal involving a third party fell through.

Heather said: "Within a week, we opened, set up a company and just went with it."

The Tokyo Project building, which first opened in 1997 by landlord, Aaron Mellor, who still owns the building to this day, was then transformed into the Whittles at Tokyo by the families.

The Oldham Times: Most of the staff stayed at Whittles over the past three yearsMost of the staff stayed at Whittles over the past three years (Image: Whittles)

The 49-year-old added: "If someone had said to me back in the 90s that we would have the keys to Tokyo Project, none of us would ever have believed them."

Reflecting on the ups and downs of their life at Whittles, which saw the crew often working seven days a week, Heather and Jean said there were too many fond memories to count.

"When the band interacts with the audience and everyone is just singing their hearts out - I can cry thinking about it - but they're the nights that will never leave. They make it all worthwhile.

"It just makes you go 'wow', look at what we've done", Heather added.

The Oldham Times: Inside the venueInside the venue (Image: Whittles)

The mother and daughter then reflected on the time they staged a pantomime at the pub - "and no one came".

Heather continued: "About 20 people turned up. It was so funny as we wrote it in about half an hour and everyone turned up all dressed up.

"It was brilliant, just so funny."

The Oldham Times: Jean and John (Left) and Heather, John, Wendi and Neil dressed up for the panto (right)Jean and John (Left) and Heather, John, Wendi and Neil dressed up for the panto (right) (Image: Whittles)

In their three years, they said there was only one night that they have crowned as 'the worst'.

She said: "It only happened once - we had a sell-out show and the band failed to turn up.

"Fortunately, we had DJ Terry Hall on that night and he managed to save the day.

"But we had the inconvenience of sorting refunds out and announcing it wasn't going to happen.

"It was just awful."

The Oldham Times: John Dodd (left) and Neil Haughton (right) in their panto gearJohn Dodd (left) and Neil Haughton (right) in their panto gear (Image: Whittles)

But then the pandemic came along, forcing Whittles to close in line with Covid-19 restrictions in March 2020.

Heather said the team were "glued" to the news every night, hoping for something positive when they heard Spain had opened up bars and restaurants outdoors.

It gave them the idea to create a new outdoor space in hopes they could reopen as soon as possible - and gave 62-year-old Neil and 58-year-old John a project.

The Oldham Times: The making of the Viking StageThe making of the Viking Stage (Image: Whittles)

Utilising the car park, the pair transformed the site into a lively outdoor space, eventually making way for the popular Viking Stage and burger van 'band waggon'.

Even members of the community and loyal customers chipped in to complete the odd job here and there.

The families name their outdoor conversion as their "biggest success" as post-pandemic it has gone on to host festivals, including Manchester's SOS rock festival for two years in a row as well as their own, Donningtokes Festival, where the team pick a year from Donnington Festival and put on tribute acts.

The Oldham Times: Staff were 'pointing at the bell' after Donningtokes Festival 'when they were knackered'Staff were 'pointing at the bell' after Donningtokes Festival 'when they were knackered' (Image: Whittles at Tokyo)

It also meant the Sunday sessions, reserved for local talent, can perform to an audience outdoors with a larger audience and a 'festival' feel.

The Viking Stage received its title after Whittles held 'Viking Fest' in memory of their good friend, Wayne Turnbull, who died during the pandemic.

Heather said Wayne's wife, Julie, then donated the proceeds for the festival back to the club which allowed them to buy outdoor heaters and improve the outdoor area even more.

She added: "Every penny we got in grants or through fundraising, it all went into that building.

"We've just given it our everything."

The Oldham Times: The band waggon under constructionThe band waggon under construction (Image: Whittles)

Still, the "dreaded" Covid rules which inflicted a 10pm curfew, a ban on singing and dancing and a restriction of just six people per table was the most challenging time.

Heather said: "We laugh now because we had to beg people to sit down and stay down.

"Now when they come, we have to beg them to stand up as we have limited seating."

The Oldham Times: The pantomime at Whittles which was written and produced in 30 minutesThe pantomime at Whittles which was written and produced in 30 minutes (Image: Whittles)

One particularly chaotic time was when Whittles screened the Euros outside - but had to reserve spaces and tickets due to the restrictions.

She continued: "You would have thought we were the O2 arena when we released the tickets.

"Then when a goal was scored and everyone jumped up from their seats, it was a nightmare.

"It was bloody horrible in those times because we were just hounded by environmental health and everyone else.

"But now we can look back and smile about it and think, what crazy times."

The Oldham Times: Heather and Neil as the Osbornes for Halloween (left) Heather and Neil as the Osbornes for Halloween (left) (Image: Whittles)

Now, however, the team will be handing over the keys to new owners - and newlyweds as of Saturday (July 22) - Lisa Heywood and Martin Standley.

Heather said the reason why they were stepping down came down to a combination of business commitments and family life.

She said: "If our own businesses didn't need us, we would choose Whittles.

"We're just not in a position where we can choose either.

"We have made the decision that we just want to have a rest and let someone else have a go.

"It has been a labour of love and we've given it absolutely everything."

The Oldham Times: Heather said they would do it all again in a heartbeat Heather said they would do it all again in a heartbeat (Image: Whittles)

While their final farewell party is yet to take place, and is scheduled over an entire weekend on July 29 and 30, Heather said they all wanted to say thanks to the "massive team effort" that has gone into creating Whittles.

This included the Joseph Holts Family, Paul Brierly, Colin, Gary, Neil and Phil - sound and lightning engineers who Heather said are in the venue "week in, week out", as well as Ben Toft of Cubicle Creative who designs Whittles' posters which "never ever fail to impress the bands".

She also gave a shoutout to Mark who has worked on security and goes "above and beyond" alongside their other door staff, Pyus and Andrew.

The Oldham Times: It's the people the team is going to miss the most when they hand over the keysIt's the people the team is going to miss the most when they hand over the keys (Image: Whittles)

When asked what she would miss the most about Whittles, Heather quipped: "The people.

"I'm so emotional about it.

"We've got the best most amazing customers who have all embraced the family-style running of the business, helping out whether it is collecting glasses on a busy night or carrying out general maintenance on the building.

"We've created something where we don't attract idiots.

"In three and a half years, touch wood with a week to go, we've had no trouble with anybody."

Jean added: "Whoever it is, disabled people, people from their 30s right up to 80, they can come and feel safe and have a really good night and love it."

Heather continued: "We could talk about our Whittles journey forever more."

While the Haughton's are expecting their first grandchild this September, and will be focussing their time and efforts on their electrical contracting business, Wendi said she will continue be a "familiar face" behind the bar as she's agreed to do a few shifts with the new owners.

The Oldham Times: Lisa and Martin have big boots to fill but are up for the challengeLisa and Martin have big boots to fill but are up for the challenge (Image: Lisa Heywood)

Heather continued: "We will continue to tell Jean to slow down and enjoy her retirement, which was eight years ago, but she's having none of it.

"We all intend to visit the venue and be on the other side of the bar."

Now, they're encouraging locals to get behind Martin and Lisa and to "continue to support the local live music scene in Oldham".

Heather added: "I always say to Neil, you got your dream. And we have. We've ticked the box. We've done something a lot of people don't get a chance to do.

"It's been fantastic.

"We have no regrets whatsoever.

"Would we do it again? Of course we would, in a heartbeat."

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