I have been watching with great interest since the beginning of October, the renovations at 42 Chilwell Road. Ever since my childhood when dad used to take me onto building sites (his job was to lay the foundations), I have been fascinated by how buildings are constructed.
Quite recently a general store, this particular ensemble of bricks and mortar had been empty and neglected for quite some time, but its sturdy Edwardian exterior held the promise of another reincarnation. I was particularly excited when I passed by mid-October and noticed that the original signage, on the top part of the large front window, had been uncovered – the past was being slowly revealed. I found myself looking for excuses to walk past just to keep an eye on progress.
By the end of November, the rotten window frames had been replaced and the surrounding brickwork repaired. More renovations, including the installation of a fire escape, which could have had embarrassing consequences – they knocked through to the neighbouring pharmacy’s upstairs toilet! Luckily nobody was sitting on it at the time, there might have been some very red faces.
Things were really taking shape at the end of December. New pipework, rewiring, new ceiling, concrete floor and the framework for shelving went in. The beginnings of Yellow Wood Café were in place. Cheered at the thought of Beeston’s burgeoning independent café scene gaining a new venue, I felt it was time to catch up with its creator to hear all about future plans.
It’s Saturday afternoon and the Farmer’s Market is ‘safely’ bustling in the square, cheerfully masking the closed and empty businesses. There is a lightness in my tread as I make my way down the High Road to the corner of Colin Street and knock eagerly on the whited-out glass door, delighted to be getting the opportunity to see what was going on inside. Iain greeted me warmly and invited me to look around. There had been significant work done on the ground floor and I could see the future of this room, full of people enjoying coffee and each other’s company to the backdrop of a busy street scene.
Iain got the keys in August but started the project and negotiations back in March 2020, just as it became apparent that we were in the throes of a pandemic. Not everyone was as enthusiastic about his vision, nevertheless, the opportunity was too good to pass up. Ever since he was fifteen, Iain had a passion for cooking and felt this was something he would enjoy doing for a living. Instead, he studied engineering and forged a successful career as a sound engineer at one point working at the BBC as a radio engineer and more recently as an associate professor in acoustics at Nottingham University.
Taking voluntary redundancy in June left Iain with new options to explore, and just like Robert Frost in his poem ‘The Road Not Taken’, Iain knew that he had to choose the right path thus enabling his teenage dream to materialise. This poem resonated with Iain and the ‘yellow wood’ came to symbolise the community café space that Iain was keen to create – no regrets, no looking back just enjoying the journey.
Iain has done much of the restoration work himself. He talks me through this with all the enthusiasm and trepidation of a man who knows he has taken on a huge project but is driven by a desire to restore and expand on the building’s former glory. He talks me through some of the horrors he has discovered dismantling the modern fascia and signage revealing the rotten lintels, and of course the most precious of all the things he has been working hard to preserve, those fabulously authentic windows! There have been a few tense moments, but Iain tells me that working with an enthusiastic local builder helped to reassure him that they were in good hands and with someone who really appreciated the attention to detail that was required.
Cornish-born but with much of his early life spent growing up in Yorkshire, Iain has lived and worked in Beeston for over twenty years now and resides in one of the network of terraced streets that have been part of Beeston’s heritage since the 1800s. An all-absorbing career, raising a family and recent ill-health left him feeling quite detached from his local community and this is definitely something he would love to remedy – also something we both recognised as incredibly important in light of recent events.
As we walk around the shell of the old shop (at a safe distance of course), Iain talks enthusiastically about his plans to integrate his love of good honest food and fresh coffee with his passion for music, one he shares with his wife Kay. There is ample space over the three floors to provide music and ‘soul food’ to customers, bookable rooms that can be used for study or work and space for Kay to operate a counselling service. A definite feel-good space, Iain smiles as he describes the feeling he gets as he arrives at the shop to work in the mornings. Fortified with fresh coffee, the radio and the morning sun streaming through the windowed frontage, he approaches each task with care and curiosity – weighing up what will work best in each room and how it will eventually look. It has definitely been an antidote to the doom and gloom in the news.
With all the major wiring work and fire regulations adhered to, apart from the spiral staircase fire escape from the first floor out to the garden terrace at the back, Iain is hoping to be open for business by the end of April.
Visit their website here.