Alex Bell meets the Great Harwood woman at the helm of a successful microbrewery company.

After 17 years living in Great Harwood Sara D’Arcy is embarking on a new challenge.

The former lorry driver and factory operative is already running a microwbrewery in the centre of Ramsbottom.

Next month a bar will open and Irwell Brewery Works will almost be complete.

The 51-year-old mum-of-two, boyfriend Keith and chief ale-brewer Peter Booth are all partners in the business run from the building formerly occupied by Irwell Steam Tin Copper and Iron Works - built in 1888.

After working at factories, in various jobs throughout the country and then as a truck driver for 20 years Sara began to realise change was on the horizon while studying Social Sciences at university in Blackburn.

“Lorry driving was ruling my life,” said Sara. “I was working part-time at The Royal Pub in Great Harwood around study.

“I had met with CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) members and talked to them about the industry so decided to do my dissertation on the demise of the public house and the reasons for its decline.

“I thought ‘there’s a market here’. There are lots of reasons for decline in trade. But my underlining feeling was that people who do physical jobs still need a drink.”

She added: “I was going to get a pub with a big cellar in it so I could put a brewery in it. Then an estate agent in Ramsbottom showed me this place. All I thought was ‘yes I can do this’, set up a brewery and have it the way I and my business partners want it - different.”

When complete the building will house a kitchen, a bar and an office - with the brewery further below on the ground floor and run by Irwell’s third musketeer Peter Booth, from Great Harwood.

The home of Irwell Brewery Works was first occupied by Irwell Steam Tin Copper and Iron Works then Ventex Engineering and Atlas Engineering to name a couple.

Sara told me the works were built in 1888 for a man named Richard Mason, a local coppersmith.

As I tasted the aptly named Richard Mason 1888 Pale Ale, chief brewers Peter and Sara mentioned their four other labels, Steam Plate Nest bitter, Tin Plate wild, Iron Plate Lancashire Stout and Copper Plate bitter - 2010 overall winner of best ale at the Bury Beer festival.

Sara says the legacy of the building will live on in the beers.

“This building has historic value so we named them all after it,” she said.

“We met with people from the Ramsbottom Heritage Society before taking this all on and they said it was a great idea. We have had so much help and feedback from local councillors, groups and people who are all generally saying this brewery is good for the town.

“We are not in competition with anyone else in Ramsbottom and don't see it like that. We have all got our own style and our own niche in the market. Hopefully everyone will be able to work together so it helps the community rather than the other way.”

Sara said sales are steady which is good considering the ‘never-ending’ construction work going on inside their base ahead of July’s scheduled opening.

The trio hope to run brewery tours from the site eventually and serve snacks as well as ale from the bar and kitchen on the first floor.

“We knew it needed some work," said Sara. “But not this much. We spent 12 months going through legal issues. In 2009 we started the business, selling our products. The building work started in July 2010.”

Casks of their products are being sold to various pubs in the region while bottled beer is sold to off licences and beer festivals around the country.

But Sara wants to primarily keep the product local in Lancashire.

“With the price of petrol and things it is something we have to consider. If people have a party they can come and get a cask and a hand pump off us too. We’ve also done outside events at Tatton Park, medieval weekends and are hoping to work at the cricket club for the music festival in September and at any various community events.”

To order your ales from Irwell Works Brewery, Irwell Street, Ramsbottom contact 01706 825019 or email hello@irwellworksbrewery.co.uk Alternatively visit www.irwellworksbrewery.co.uk