Claire Myers-Lamptey talks about bringing The Old Post Office – TOPO – in Harleston back to its former glory.
Claire Myers-Lamptey set out three years ago to restore what was then the derelict 1790 former Gurney’s Bank – now The Old Post Office or ‘TOPO’ – into a luxury guest house and day spa in Harleston, South Norfolk. The building stood empty for the best part of 10 years, challenging in every way those who viewed it. When asked why she thinks she was successful in realising her vision, Claire says: “When I look at a building, I first imagine how I would like people to behave in it. This becomes my template for design.” TOPO is a series of interconnecting stories, its rooms themed from 18th Century French to arts and crafts, and modern urban chic.
“When the building project was finished, I quickly realised that it was merely a stage and that I had to create experiences to attract guests. Key to this was finding a team of talented people,” Claire adds. TOPO now offers everything from overnight stays to day spas that includes the Hammam in the former bank vault; an Arabian Nights theme of Lebanese meze by chef Julia Martin and belly dancing with the fabulous Kay from Dance Egyptian. They also hold supper clubs including the recent Valentine’s Day singles dinner with chef Julian Cardoza, where guests were made to swap seats after each course. The fabulous seven-course South American/Asian fusion menu was complemented with wine selected by Tom Mead, Manager of Adnams Harleston.
“Harleston is such a unique and special place,” says Claire. “Not only is it a beautiful, historic old market town with many wonderful independent retailers such as the recently rebranded The Exchange – formerly Cornucopia, an antiques emporium with several independent stallholders at the historic Corn Exchange – it also has food outlets such as the Hungry Cat Vegan Deli, Mrs Clarke’s and more. Harleston is also passionately championed by its local residents, such as enthusiastic historian Gordon Lascelles who offers walking tours to visitors. Gordon recently covered a fascinating TOPO segment on local station Park Radio’s morning show, charting the history of the building from 1790 to present. It is safe to say he is a great supporter of what the building has now become, saying ‘Claire has effectively saved, with a lot of investment and passion, a building of local significance which was at risk of being lost at point of no return’.”
As Harleston prepares with its usual enthusiasm to mark The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee with a wonderful weekend of family-focused celebration on the Recreational Park, Claire shares how TOPO intends to make its mark. “I’m a great admirer of The Queen,” she smiles. “My blog on Facebook, Great British Tea Party has over 108,000 followers and celebrates all things afternoon tea and British culture, and The Queen remains the most popular topic.
“When guests visit TOPO, I give a tour and add stories of our royal links, recent and past. My son was royal chorister singing at Megan and Harry’s wedding among others, and my great-great-grandfather, an African king in Ghana, former the Gold Coast British Colony, was friends with Queen Victoria. Undoubtedly, we will be making a huge deal of this occasion, including a special Jubilee afternoon tea menu with delicious treats baked by Harleston chef, Stephen McNair from Oh Crumbs. Additionally, I am working with local musicians on an exciting programme of musical soirees to celebrate The Jubilee.”