Volunteers get Oldway Mansion tea rooms ready to open

Kathy Hughes, acting chair of the Friends of Oldway, in the tea rooms at Oldway Mansion in Paignton

Kathy Hughes, acting chair of the Friends of Oldway, in the tea rooms at Oldway Mansion in Paignton - Credit: Ed Oldfield

Tea rooms staffed by volunteers are almost ready to open at Oldway Mansion in Paignton when Covid restrictions are lifted.

Members of the Friends of Oldway volunteer group have been working since September to set up the attraction at the listed building.

Tea rooms at Oldway Mansion in Paignton

Tea rooms at Oldway Mansion in Paignton - Credit: Ed Oldfield

The former tea rooms in the listed building had to be completely renovated.

Volunteers, supported by local businesses, have decorated the rooms, installed a new kitchen, sourced equipment and collected donated items, and a team of volunteer staff is now waiting for training.

Kathy Hughes, acting chair of the Friends of Oldway, in the tea rooms at Oldway Mansion in Paignton

Kathy Hughes, acting chair of the Friends of Oldway, in the tea rooms - Credit: Ed Oldfield

Kathy Hughes, acting chair of the Friends of Oldway, who has been managing the tea room project, said the pandemic had slowed progress and delayed the delivery of items such as the ice cream freezer and coffee machine. 

But she said the lockdowns had meant people who had been furloughed had come forward to help, and local businesses had also supported the project.

With the renovation work finished, and almost all the equipment in place, the next stage is staff training, which can take place when pandemic restrictions are lifted.

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The rooms have been decorated by a small team of regular volunteers led by Louise Mean, of The Finishing Touch, a painting, decorating and gardening service based in Paignton, who was a member of the Friends group.

Donated teapots on display in the tea rooms at Oldway Mansion in Paignton

Donated teapots on display in the tea rooms at Oldway Mansion in Paignton - Credit: Ed Oldfield

A Singer sewing machine on display in the tea rooms at Oldway Mansion in Paignton

A Singer sewing machine on display in the tea rooms at Oldway Mansion in Paignton - Credit: Ed Oldfield

She had time free due to the pandemic and ended up spending around eight weeks on the project.

Paint was sourced from local businesses, much of it free, including from the Dulux Decorator Centre in Paignton, B&Q and Brewers in Torquay.

Plastering work, including a window arch, was carried out by volunteer Ryan Scott, who offered to help after his daughter told him about the project, and the electrical works were done for the cost of materials by Roberts and Co Electrical of Exmouth.

The Co-op at Paignton has offered to fund health and hygiene courses for volunteer staff, and most of the crockery and equipment has been donated.

The tea rooms during renovation work

The tea rooms during renovation work - Credit: Louise Mean/The Finishing Touch by Louise

Tea rooms at Oldway Mansion in Paignton

Tea rooms at Oldway Mansion in Paignton - Credit: Ed Oldfield

At the same time as the tea rooms opening, the group is expecting to be able to offer guided tours around part of the inside of the main mansion, including the ballroom and first floor balcony.

The tea rooms were last used when the mansion was occupied by council offices, including the register office, and weddings were held there.

Oldway, with dramatic architecture and landscaped gardens, became the second most popular wedding venue in the UK after Gretna Green, where historically runaways aged under 21 were able to marry over the border in Scotland without their parents’ consent.

The first guests to take a look inside the listed mansion will be people who pledged £50 during last summer’s online fundraiser for the tea rooms reopening, which raised more than £12,000 to fund the project.

Ms Hughes said: “We are almost there. When lockdown finishes, we will open very quickly.”

The group decided to go ahead with the tea rooms project, which was in the first phase of the plans for the mansion, after a £10million bid for lottery money to fund repairs was rejected in December 2019.

A new application for lottery support is being prepared, expected to be submitted in February, to fund a project manager to prepare a fresh multi-million pound bid to bring the mansion back into public use.

That is being handled by the Oldway Trust, a new charitable trust set up with the backing of Torbay Council, which will eventually see the Friends and gardening groups join together into a single body.

Ms Hughes said supporters of the mansion and estate had seen a turning point in 2019, when the new administration of Independents and Liberal Democrats took control of Torbay Council, which owns the estate.

Oldway Mansion at Paignton

Oldway Mansion at Paignton - Credit: Ed Oldfield

She said the council’s new leadership had been instrumental in driving forward changes including the formation of the charitable trust, and working closely with the community groups.

The mansion was built in the Victorian era by the Singer Sewing Machine Company founder Isaac Singer.

It was completed in 1873 and was later remodelled by Issac’s son Paris in the early 1900s, inspired by the design of the Palace of Versailles in France.

It was later used as a war hospital, country club, and council offices, but has stood empty since 2013 after a failed attempt to convert it to a hotel, and in 2018 the council voted down a proposal from the elected mayor to investigate selling it.