FEATURE: “New River Gardens tearooms will breathe new life into Belper”

The original Belper River Gardens tearooms with the heather roof. Photo contributed.
The original Belper River Gardens tearooms with the heather roof. Photo contributed.

“The new River Gardens tearooms will help breathe new life into Belper.”

That is the view of the Belper Tearooms Association, which is working with site owners Amber Valley Borough Council in developing plans to replace the old tearooms - which have stood derelict for more than 20 years.

The old tearooms at Belper River Gardens

The old tearooms at Belper River Gardens

This month council bosses gave their full support to the project, and more discussions took place on Friday between the association and the borough council.

Trevor Griffin, spokesperson for the association, which was formed last year and has 15 members, said: “It will breathe new life into Belper.

“Visually, it will not be terribly different from the old one in size and proportion.

“We have had the support of a local architect who was involved early on. He came up with the proposals and he is very keen on it, that was important.”

The next step is to form a ‘community interest company’ which will be made up of association members, borough councillors and members of the community.

The tearooms, including toilet facilities, will be open most days and will create ‘three or four’ new jobs.

The idea is to give the tearooms a community-feel, with the intention that people regularly re-visit the site.

“This is a community project and we want to work with people who are going to be using it in the future,” Trevor said.

Next month the Swiss-style tearooms will be 110 years old, yet they have sat empty for more than 20 years.

The borough council previously developed proposals for a replacement Swiss tearooms building within Belper River Gardens, after it was agreed that a replica building would not sustain a business model to ensure the building’s long-term viability.

Last year Belper Town Council resolved to ring-fence £100,000 of funding towards a replacement building to help the project move forward.

Belper resident and tearooms association member, Les Dorey, said: “The idea is not only about getting people to visit, but also to get them to want to come back. “If we can get people to visit and relax and spend some time down there then that is better than them coming for ten minutes and then driving off afterwards.”

The initial ideas behind the plans came about in 2006 after it was revealed that work needed to be done on the site otherwise the tearooms could have been lost.

“There was a lot of debate about it at the time,” Mr Dorey said.

“Everybody agreed they wanted to do something and there was discussions with the public.

“What we are trying to do this is to get all the documentation cleared and agreed. And then during the winter we can get the land cleared before building work starts.”

The association handed over documents to the borough council last Friday regarding the plans to set-up a new company.

It is believed the talks were very positive and progress was made.

Councillor David Wilson, deputy leader and cabinet member for environment at the borough council, who has been involved in talks with the tearooms association, said: “The tearooms are the jewel in the crown of Amber Valley.

“I hope that the tearooms can go ahead and get some backing because of course, without any finance into it, we cannot commit any more money into it as a borough.”

“I still think we have got some more hurdles to get over. However, presuming that the tearooms association can come up with some sort of backing, we have then of course, got to get planning approval.

“The next step for the tearooms association is to come back to the borough with some further ideas.”

Mr Dorey added: “We have got a promise of about 50 per cent of the funding from various people.

“We have got business plans and various people are looking at it.”

Councillor Joseph Booth, of Belper Town Council, said that it is an ‘exciting’ project, but said it would not be built overnight.

He said: “There are lots of i’s to dot and t’s to cross before work can commence, not only has the building got to be commercially viable in terms of size and potential customer numbers, it has to satisfy the requirements of outside agencies such as Historic England and the Environment Agency.”

If you are interested in volunteering in the project and have experience in marketing, legal or engineering experience, contact Trevor on 01773 821920.