Not just a tea room, St Mary Cray cafe is community hub

PUBLISHED: 17:07 25 October 2012 | UPDATED: 11:31 26 October 2012

Carol with her tea

Carol with her tea


An independent shop in St Mary Cray is making a big stir in the community.

Ann Fisher,Carol (last name not provided)serving tea and Claire PinkertonAnn Fisher,Carol (last name not provided)serving tea and Claire Pinkerton

Since 2009, the area has been home to The Croft Tea Room, managed by Carol Wells.

With the UK economy suffering, Carol and her husband Norman, who live in Coney Hall, took early retirement from their recruitment business to set up the business.

Explaining why she chose St Mary Cray instead of other locations, Carol says: “We wanted to try and put something back into an area that needed it.”

The couple bought the building in 2007, and after two years of construction work and research, the business was open to the public.

Carol serving tea to Ann Fisher (L) and Claire PinkertonCarol serving tea to Ann Fisher (L) and Claire Pinkerton

The Croft, which is a social enterprise, aims to offer an alternative to the large companies and chains populating most high streets.

From recycling glass to reducing food miles spent, the Croft tries to be as environmentally friendly as possible, keeping locally-produced goods as one of its top priorities.

Around 80 per cent of what the Croft sources comes from fewer than 10 miles away.

“We source our cheese from Wrotham, our Kentish juices are grown locally, and our jam is made both locally and on site,” says Carol.

The building even recycles the heat from its kitchens, ensuring that as little energy as possible is wasted throughout.

“We have a composter in the back garden and every few weeks we give away the compost for free.”

The business has grown from strength-to-strength since its birth three years ago, uncovering a niche in the St Mary Cray market, winning awards in 2010 and 2011, as well as being a finalist in the South London Business Awards this year.

As a hub for the community, the Croft also helps start-ups, often selling their produce in store and working with schools.

“I encouraged a local mother to start producing lemon curds, which she is now selling inside the shop,” says Carol.

The tea room hosts regular events, and local MP Jo Johnson holds his surgery there every three months where residents can come and raise issues about the area.

There are regular quiz nights, and the business does private catering, mainly for not-for-profit organisations.

It also accepts donations of people with an excess of fruit which, apart from those it sells, it gives away in baskets to residents who would like them, as well as to local schools.

Crucially, the business relies on a team of volunteers who rally around to make sure the business comes together and Carol is always looking for more to grow the enterprise.

Anyone who would like to volunteer or become involved in any other way can visit or call 0208 462 4801.

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