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Ashbourne's got a sense of history back at old library with retro tea and sewing rooms

By Ashbourne News Telegraph  |  Posted: April 10, 2014

  • Vintage crockery and sewing-related items are what sets Betty's Sewing Box, in Cokayne Avenue, Ashbourne, apart from other tea rooms.

  • Clockwise from main picture, Rhona Rowland and Claire Storer enjoy tea and scones as the tea room's first customers; shots of the interior; Kath Perry works on one of the new machines in the sewing room; and some of Jackie Howard's collection of vintage crockery.

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ASHBOURNE'S former library building in Cokayne Avenue was once part of a stunning Georgian-style, 18th century hall.

Since that time, it has seen many changes, but perhaps the most stunning of all has been its recent transformation into a vintage tea and sewing rooms.

Last May, the county council moved the library to a new centre in Compton, which left many people worried about the future of the old building.

Fortunately, Jackie Howard had a vision for its future – and was given planning permission to transform part of the former stately home into a tea room, shop and sewing workshop.

This week saw the grand opening of Betty's Sewing Box, and it is already proving popular with Ashbourne's seamstresses, as well as those simply looking for somewhere unusual to enjoy a pot of tea and a cake.

Jackie explained: "For many years, I had been collecting vintage china. I used to buy things I found in charity shops and, over the years, it built up to be a huge collection.

"I used to hire out mismatched, eclectic dinner services for weddings and I knew it was something people enjoyed. "But then 'vintage' became really fashionable and I couldn't find the same cheap items to buy, so I turned my attention to fabrics instead and started collecting materials that appealed to me.

"Then, one day last year, as I was on my way to the vintage market in town, where I had a stall, I saw the 'to let' sign outside the building.

"I arranged to see it and took my father to get his thoughts – and we both just fell in love with it. He offered to lend me the money to get it started. Sadly, he passed away before he got to see it finished, but I know he would be so proud of it."

The former hall is now home to a sewing and haberdashery section, with a range of recycled and vintage fabrics and both modern and antique sewing machines, a large gift shop full of locally made crafts, and a big tea room with a selection of homemade cakes and buns.

Jackie's next step is to develop a community interest company she set up called Knit Two Together.

The project will encourage a transfer of skills and knowledge from the older generation to younger people. Jackie plans to bring them in to offer free classes and lessons.

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