The Feathers pub in Ashton-under-Lyne, with coronation bunting outside, and punters sat at outdorr tables on the pavement.

Each month, photographer Gary Roberts is capturing life in one of the ten boroughs in Greater Manchester. This is Tameside.

If you head out of Manchester eastward from Piccadilly on the tram, you pass through areas that have become synonymous with the recent redevelopment of post-industrial Manchester. However, past the proliferation of apartments in New Islington, the Ethiad Campus and Velopark, one soon enters a Manchester that will seem more familar to those who have lived here since before the last two decades of development.

A photo of a yellow Metrolink tram at the terminus in Ashton-under-Lyne. There's an old man with a flat cap and a long white beard walking down the right-hand platform, and you can see the IKEA store in the background.
Welcome to Ashton

The line ends in Ashton-under-Lyne, Tameside’s largest town. Even when you proceed towards the town centre and pass the new Tameside College campus opened in 2018, and the Clarendon Sixth Form College building from 2015, you may think the affluence has already drifted eastwards from Ancoats and its neighbours towards Ashton town itself.

Sadly though, beyond these modern buildings, it is clear that ‘levelling up‘ has yet to reach this former industrial town. The market square looked empty with stalls mostly vacant on the Wednesday afternoon of my visit, although a revamp of the area is on the cards for next year. The town hall adjacent to the square, surrounded by fencing, is facing even greater challenges.

Ashton Town Hall, a Victorian-era Portland stone building with dark pollution markings near the balcony at roof level. It overlooks the town square, which is empty save for two people passing through. The building is fenced off while building work is carried out.
The town hall

Further into the town centre, passing shuttered shops, the retail outlets are clearly suffering from the cost-of-living crisis and the continuing trend towards online shopping.

Tony Hamer, 75, has lived and volunteered in Ashton for twenty years and helps run Making a Difference Tameside, a life and skills centre on Stamford Street in the centre of town.

“Ashton has become less vibrant over the years, this street is nearly dead now”.

Tony, originally from Salford and a builder by trade, helped to work on some of the buildings in the regenerated Ancoats area, and he blames the decline of Ashton on high rents for the struggling retail sector, a lack of customer parking and a disparity of investment compared with those areas closer to the city centre.

Tony Hamer, a resident who volunteers for a local charity. He's stood in front of a shop window and wears a grey baseball cap and  jacket.
Tony Hamer

“There are no major employers here anymore since the jam works closed in Droylsden, the young people are leaving for the city centre, there’s no night life”.

Tony hopes that, with the abundance of historic buildings in the centre, some development will happen, particularly with the improved connection of the Metrolink, but feels that town centre regeneration of the shopping areas is also required.

If that development does arrive, let’s hope that some of the spirit and history of the area is also accommodated with any modernisation and change.

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All images: Gary Roberts

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  • Gary Roberts

    A photojournalist and writer who covers conservation and social issues worldwide. Founder of Education background includes BSc Zoology at Leeds University and an MSc at The University of Manchester in International development poverty, conflict and reconstruction. Gary studied and later taught photojournalism at Speos Photographic institute. His work has involved numerous conservation and social justice groups including The Fairtrade foundation, Oxfam, ABRU Animal Behaviour Research Unit, SOS Lynx, Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, TANAPA, and APOPO. Publications include UK National and International Press.


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