Ilkeston café-shop puts iconic building back in business

L-R: Caf� team Penny Smith, Gayle Bamford and Gemma Clarke offer a warm welcome.
L-R: Caf� team Penny Smith, Gayle Bamford and Gemma Clarke offer a warm welcome.

Anew community initiative opened its doors on Bath Street this week, in a bid to bring opportunity and enterprise to the town centre and revive one of its most iconic buildings.

The Project is a new business venture from the Arena Church which is giving the former Woolworths shop on the corner with Wilton Place a new lease of life.

Project has breathed new life into the former Woolworths building, which had been left derelict until 2015.

Project has breathed new life into the former Woolworths building, which had been left derelict until 2015.

Project manager and community pastor Linda Harrison, 45, was thrilled to welcome the public into the new café and retail space after two years of painstaking work to restore the derelict interiors.

She said: “We took the lease on in 2014 but quickly realised how much effort it was going to take. The first year was just all about seeking funding, and amazingly Erewash Borough Council agreed to support us with £100,000.

“We began the refurbishment in January last year, and everything’s come in on budget—without bragging, we’ve done fantastically well at managing the money.”

The most obvious result from the streetfront is the café, open from 9am to 4pm daily, which is filled with recycled fixtures and fittings from the old shop and has the spacious feel of a restaurant.

Lisa Harrison is the manager of Project, and says she has big ambitions to serve the community.

Lisa Harrison is the manager of Project, and says she has big ambitions to serve the community.

It serves breakfasts and a homemade lunch menu featuring pies, jacket potatoes and sandwiches all for reasonable prices, plus a selection of cakes, speciality teas, coffees and milkshakes.

It’s a great showcase for the other side of the business, a social enterprise selling upmarket, upcycled furniture, alongside soft furnishings, clothing and craft goods.

The idea grew out of Arena’s Belfield foodbank operation, which has been a lifeline for those in facing hardship.

Lisa said: “The church believes it has a commitment to every member of the community. We’ll always be there for those whose need is greatest—but other people have needs too.

Training manager Dave Jones will be running the furniture workshop

Training manager Dave Jones will be running the furniture workshop

“We want to help bring people and jobs back into the high street with quality shopping and dining, and offer people chance to enhance their future prospects.

“Plus all the profit we make here will be ploughed back into the foodbank, and our youth work,” she added.

The Project has already created three jobs in the café, given Derby College students practicaly experience on the refurbishment and there are plans to take on more trainees in the furniture restoration workshop in the near future.

Lisa said: “Our training manager Dave Jones is busy in a makeshift room upstairs, and he’ll be working with ex-offenders, people from the Job Centre, older people who need to reskill—anyone who could use the opportunity.”

As well as upcycled furniture, Project stocks clothes, crafts and gifts.

As well as upcycled furniture, Project stocks clothes, crafts and gifts.

Most of the furniture has been donated to the charity, but is of such good quality that it has good market value once repaired and restored.

Arena are currently seeking a further £25,000 to develop a fully-equipped workspace and are in talks with the college about an academic partnership to provide trainees further support with essential employment skills.

Lisa said: “I’ve got to say a massive thank you to everyone who has helped us get this far—the council, local businesses, tradesmen.

“It’s been a real community effort, and a lot of really strong relationships have developed, but this is just the start.”