853 exclusive: The manager of Blackheath Tea Hut is working with Lewisham Council on plans to rebuild the SE London institution – but has said it would be a “dream” to be able to move his business into a disused toilet block across the road that has sat derelict for years.
A driver destroyed the hut when her car careered off Shooters Hill Road and crashed into it just after 7pm on 7 January. A staff member was seriously injured, while a number of customers were also hurt.
Adam Furze, the general manager of the family-run business, told a residents’ meeting on Tuesday that the current plans were to move the hut a little further back from the main road to protect it from collisions. A bus collided with the hut in the 1970s, while a Jaguar sports car hit it in the 1980s.
Furze is working with Lewisham officers and a Welling-based architect, Terry Wilson, on the plans. The council will need to give planning permission for a new hut – however it has said Furze can put a mobile hut in place as a temporary measure.
“Because of the nature of the accident, and for safety reasons, they want to push us back off the road so there’s a good view from Goffers Road when people in their cars are exiting it London-bound, which people in this community have been screaming about for a long, long time,” he said.
“And obviously it’s for the public’s safety, the customers’ safety, and the wellbeing of the staff, so this could never occur again.”
Speaking at a public meeting of the Blackheath Joint Working Party – a body made up of local councillors and amenity societies which advises Lewisham and Greenwich councils on the running of the heath – on Tuesday, Furze said he wanted to “improve the look” of the hut.
“For you guys, we’ve been an eyesore. We inherited the building, we’ve maintained it, but what we’d like to do [with the new building] is clad it in red cedar, it dulls down after a number of years and is a tidy, fresh, sharp-looking building – but not too contemporary.”
He said his original plan was to reduce the amount of space the hut took up – it was originally two huts, a serving area and storage space – by combining them into one building, but Lewisham planners had found a single unit too imposing.
Furze said a number of construction companies had offered to rebuild the hut without charge, meaning money from the two crowdfunders set up in the wake of the collision could go to those injured in the incident and staff who have gone without wages.
‘We’d be in the toilet block tomorrow’
Asked by one resident if he would consider moving into the disused toilet block opposite, Furze laughed: “That would be a dream of mine.”
Pressed on the issue by another audience member, he said: “You couldn’t get me in there quicker. We’d be in there tomorrow. We would do all the building work and we would turn the building around. The issue is, we’re in Lewisham, and that’s in Greenwich, and there are quite a lot of complications – I’m not sure who owns it. If you guys get on board, we’d be in there tomorrow.”
The freehold to the toilet block is owned by The Crown Estate – which holds the north side of the heath on behalf of the Queen – and 853 understands that Greenwich council officers have said their impression was that it was “was not a priority” for the organisation.
Greenwich West councillor Aidan Smith told the meeting that The Crown Estate “doesn’t seem to have much interest in it”.
When a resident criticised Greenwich’s attitude to the block, Smith added: “We’re speaking to The Crown Estate and they say Greenwich has to stump up money for surveys for their benefit.”
“Greenwich should put its hand in its pocket,” the resident replied. Smith said: “But why? It is owned by The Crown Estate,” suggesting Greenwich could do something if it was given ownership or a lease.
Kevin Bonavia, a Blackheath ward councillor for Lewisham, added: “I’ve not been directly involved in this as I’m a Lewisham councillor but trying to get The Crown Estate to respond – to be fair, I think Greenwich have been trying to push things along but there have been issues about marketing, all kinds of things.
“If the will is there, things can happen. But the will has to be there on all sides – in this case, the tea hut, the council and Crown Estates. From my experience trying to bring things together ain’t so easy, but if there’s real demand for it, I’m sure that will move things along.”
A spokesperson for The Crown Estate told 853 on Thursday: “As freeholder for this property we are working closely with the leaseholders, the Royal Borough of Greenwich, to explore plans for the site.”
Staff member ‘recovering rapidly’
Furze gave an update on the staff member who was injured in the collision. “Jackie’s in good health, she’s recovering rapidly, she received burns to her back, her leg, she had a broken breastplate, four broken ribs and also crush injuries to her leg. The breastplate is repairing lovely – everyone’s happy with it, her ribs are healing terrifically. The burns to her back – the work that Chelsea burns unit has done is off the chart, they are totally overwhelmed with her progress.
“The only issue is her leg, which was a crush injury from the building collapsing – she’s got to have physiotherapy, she may have to a skin graft on her calf. The hot plate toppled onto, and that’s the only wound that’s not cleared completely. 99% of her injuries are on the mend, her prognosis is really good.”
He said the injured customers had been knocked into the road and suffered concussion as well as broken fingers and toes. “They’re all on the mend – that was our main concern. They’re our customers. We’re the only community hub on that part of the heath. We have a diverse range of customers – we deal with all nations, all cultures, and we feel it brings so many different people together.”
Thanks to the Blackheath Joint Working Party for allowing filming of the meeting. If you have ideas for the future of the Blackheath Tea Hut, or can help with its rebuild, contact the Blackheath Joint Working Party on BJWP[at]blackheath.org.
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