It was a great loss for the people of Oldham and beyond, when Billington’s Dance Studio, at 3 Ascroft Street, held its last waltz in February 2016.
The building , over a century old started its life hosting ‘The Aerated Water Company’ and its exterior, barely changed, looked crest fallen and dilapidated. The building, one an integral part of the beating heart of Oldham town centre, was in a sad state, with holes in the roof. Most of its former neighbours had already closed, including the Ascroft Street Fire Station.
Billington’s respective owners had nurtured the passion for dance in Oldham for more than eight decades. Originally Turner’s Dance Academy, it became Billington’s in 1934. The Billington’s Dance Studio, also known as the ‘ Ascroft Street Academy’ was owned by Norma Billington MBE and her husband Albert. It was home to thousands of dancers; from those taking their first faltering steps on the dance floor, to those skilled dancers at competition level. The couple lived in the house that was part of the building and Norma could pop from her upstairs landing, straight into one of the ballrooms.
Norma is reported to have put her energy and good health down to dancing every day and to have said: “It is heaven to dance in a man’s arms and it makes me feel like I’m 21 again.” In 2004, at the age of 92, she received an MBE from the late Queen Elizabeth II.
Six years after Albert Billington passed away in 1964, Norma sold the building to former dance pupils, Dennis and Brenda Massey in 1970.
Dennis and Brenda met at Billington’s when they were children and, like all good love stories, they eventually fell in love and married. They worked alongside Norma and Albert and became more involved when Albert died. Like Norma, they taught children who ultimately stayed and danced as adults at Billingtons.
The building comprises three floors; in the 70’s there was a basement bar/night club – Brenda and Dennis combined their first names to form the title of the space to “Brenden Suite.” On the ground floor, there was a music hall with a piano in the corner – the piano is still at Billingtons to this day, awaiting tuning. The first floor, like today held the main ballroom.
Dennis and Brenda retired in 2016, they sold the property to two local people, who initially had plans for the building but unfortunately it was mainly used for storage.
In 2020 Krzysztof Zemlik, who had businesses situated near the building, decided that he would contact the owners in order to buy the building. It was a difficult time, Covid had just begun to seep into our lives. The sale was finally agreed and in 2021 Krzystof held an open-evening to showcase his vision. Obviously the first plan was to start at the top and work down – put a new roof on, this was essential as the rain and the snow falling on Oldham was falling straight through the roof. The renovations included new windows, heating, lighting, installing an accessible lift and the conversion of the first floor into a bar and coffee lounge and lovingly renovate the magnificent ballroom. Following the restoration of the first floor, then the ground floor was developed to house Krzysztof’s third Ascroft Medical Centre.
Krzysztof Zemlik also purchased the adjoining house where Norma would slip through to her ballroom. The house is also being renovated and set to reflect the bygone era of the Dance Academy, it will be available as an Airbnb.
After only four months from purchase, Billington’s Oldham opened its doors for invited guests from Oldham Council, local business leaders and members of all sectors of the community to attend a showcase and share the owner’s vision for the future.
In December 2021, work started on the conversion and restoration.
In 2021, towards the end of her tenure as Mayor of Oldham, Cllr Jennie Harrison, was one of the first people to take a step into Billington’s when it was just a building site. When Councillor Elaine Garry became Mayor in 2022 she was equally supportive, often visiting to see progress and just before Christmas 2022 held her Charity afternoon tea dance at Billington’s. Within minutes of the music starting, previous owner of Billington’s Brenda Massey was invited to take to the floor for the first dance on the renovated dance floor. As Brenda’s husband Dennis had died, her family friend Graham joined her in a foxtrot dance.
Now in 2023 Billington’s Oldham is alive to music again as well as host to a range of events from social dance to Northern Soul, comedy nights to wellbeing days and even business conferences.
Like many entrepreneurs, Krzysztof Zemlik prefers to stay in the background rather than being known as the face of an organisation. At the time when Norma was receiving her MBE, he was packing his bags in his hometown of Warsaw to study Business at Manchester Metropolitan University. After a stint working In London, Krzystztof returned to Manchester in 2015 where he joined forces with Dr Piotr Kieruzel to establish a private dental practise for the Polish community. As demand for their services grew the pair opened two more health care practices.
But while the ground floor of Billington’s is very much focused on the medical needs of today, the ballroom above has been lovingly restored in line with the building’s heritage.
Recently Krzysztof has been recognised by Oldham Business community and has been bestowed the accolade of Special Recognition Award for his commitment to the town.
He has steadfastly worked to turn an old urban building back to a hub for the community, the business community and of course the community who are light on their feet and love nothing better than to dance. And as, Krzysztof says, while he owns Billington’s, events may be many and varied, but there will always be dance.