TIME has not made Charlie and Michelle Oakes love what they do any less.

Nor does a gentle reminder that some of their newest students are the daughters, and occasionally the sons, of older ones long since graduated.

The memories haven’t faded and more will have flooded back last Saturday, especially in each other’s company.

Hartford School of Gymnastics celebrated the 20th anniversary of their opening by having a party.

The husband and wife, who run the club, were the guests of honour.

Northwich Guardian:

Michelle Oakes, left, and husband Charlie cut a commemorative cake during Hartford School of Gymnastics' 20th birthday part last weekend

And to them, it’s hard to imagine that two decades have passed by since they opened the doors to a tiny space off School Lane in Hartford.

“We wouldn’t have known about it had I not taken a different route home from work one night,” says Michelle.

“Charlie was on holiday, but I was so excited I had to call him.”

Not long after, she drove back with a balance beam sticking out of the sunroof on her car as they moved in what equipment they had.

To them, a long-held dream was about to come true.

Charlie was Beth Tweddle’s first coach as a junior, and he wanted to set other gymnasts on a course to the top of the sport.

He quickly changed his mind.

“I thought I could create another,” he reflects.

“But that wasn’t realistic.

“We realised we could do something different, just as good. And we have.”

After seven years, they had outgrown – literally in the case of gymnasts that were taller than when they started – their Hartford base.

A move to Anderton Business Park followed in 2004.

Northwich Guardian:

Charlie and Michelle Oakes, centre, are all smiles after Hartford School of Gymnastics achieved GymMark status for the first time back in 2007

It is there that they sit together outside on white plastic chairs to share stories, often bursting into fits of laughter, of what has happened in the space beyond.

They’re talking about their job, after all the school is their livelihood, but they make it sound such fun.

Indeed the children they teach aren’t pupils, rather an extension of their family.

To prove as much, daughter April is a member of the display team.

“This is our second home,” says Charlie, gesturing behind with an arm.

“We spend so much of our time here that it’s important we look at it that way.”

The gymnasts, more than 250 of them at the last count, feel the same.

They always leave with smiles on their faces.

And almost all of them know about the club because somebody has told them about it; an older brother or sister or a friend at school.

With such word of mouth, Hartford continues to grow.

Michelle says: “It doesn’t feel as if 20 years have passed. It’s flown by.

“And it’s only when you pause, for something like an anniversary like we have done now, that you contemplate what you’ve achieved.

“We’ve rummaged through boxes of old pictures, and talked for hours about the people in them – what they achieved with us and where they are now.

“It’s amazing how many keep in touch; some are coaches in other parts of the country, or have kids who they’ve passed on a passion for gymnastics to.”

The Oakes do exactly that every day.

Asked why he still feels as enthusiastic now as he did at the start, Charlie smiles.

“A five-year-old girl came to the gym for the first time recently,” he says.

“She looked like a gymnast straightaway, and you feel that buzz of excitement because you know there’s potential.

“It’s not necessarily about us finding that from within; sometimes the smallest of gymnasts give you the biggest lift.

As long as that feeling endures, so they will too.