Nestled in the green pillows of Fogarthy Hill, St Peter, Montserrat, the Hilltop Coffee House is an idyllic spot for waffles and a range of morning brews.
It also serves as a serene and casual space for experiencing tangible records of the island’s history.
Displaying artefacts from the city of Plymouth which is now in an exclusive zone since the Soufriere Hills volcano erupted 25 years ago to records of famous artists who recorded their music at Air Records studio in Montserrat, the coffee house serves as a museum and multi-purpose facility.
Founded onOctober 12, 2012, Hilltop Coffee House has an eight-member management team of David Lea and his wife Clover, Eugene Skerritt, Kristina Lea, Jennifer Bouyea, Coral and Kyla Siddell and Opal Skerritt.
The founders of this national gem are a group with extensive backgrounds in youth, children’s, women's and prison ministries. As a result, the café creates space for personal development for a range of disciplines.
Lea told Loop he and his family wanted to create a space through which they could give back to the community.
“A nice, relaxing space where anyone and everyone is welcome.”
The space serves as a community and youth centre. Meeting spaces are also available for organisations seeking a natural and open space for meetings.
“No one gets paid. We will ask only for a donation. Donations go toward the upkeep of the facility. At the end of the year, if we have extra finance, it is donated to another organisation of a worthy cause.
Hilltop also displays art from local children.
Leasaid there have been instances where funds are donated to families or individuals in need of varying causes.
The café once served as a hangout for music’s top stars who came to the tiny island to record.
Though the studio no longer sees the likes of Elton John and Stevie Wonder as often as it once did, it has maintained remnants of its rich history with album covers, photographs and other paraphernalia, pulling people back to Montserrat time and time again.
Lea said one of his most fond memories since its opening in 2012 are the visits from legendary producer of The Beatles, Sir George Martin and his wife Judy.
Martin founded AIR (Associated Independent Recording Studio) in 1979 but it has remained closed since Hurricane Hugo destroyed parts of it.
“Having them visit was always a pleasure. This is where their studio was, where many artistes would come to record including Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Duran Duran, Marvin Gaye, the Rolling Stones and Black Sabbath to name a few.”
Host and co-producer of the 90s TV series Caribbean Crossroads which started in 1989, Lea and his wife have been living in Montserrat for 40 years.
US natives from Ohio and Virginia respectively, the couple raised their four children in Montserrat after moving from the US when their eldest was only a year old.
Their daughters are no longer living on the island, but both sons still reside there.
Lea told Loop, “Our son Sunny is actually the guy behind Montserrat Island Tours. It has become the go-to tour company for visitors coming to Montserrat.”
“We also have many years’ experience in counselling, multi-media production, video, the arts and dance.”
This is evident in the records held by Lea from events such as the 1995 Soufriere Hills volcano, which until then was dormant.
The eruption buried the capital, Plymouth, under more than 12 metres of mud.
“We have a lot of footage and artefacts from the burnt city along with other artefacts from other events of Montserrat’s history.”
Montserrat’s home of Waffle Saturdays, where visitors can enjoy Belgian waffles and an assortment of toppings, also provides the educational and fun experiences of a family centre.
Hilltop Coffee House contains memorabilia from the days of Air Recording Studio where numerous artistes recorded
The non-profit has received rave reviews on their Facebook page.
One visitor in a post to Hilltop's Facebook page said, “It’s a must-see. A museum with the rich history of Plymouth, filled with good vibes and great tasting art.” Another visitor said, “Loved the history. The coffee was fabulous and the host was wonderful. Can’t wait to go back!”
Among the many encouraging reviews from locals and tourists are bound to inspire any wanderer to visit is a comment by a mother who said, “Our family visited the Hilltop just to stop by and say hello and look around.”
She said, “We had already had breakfast and did not expect to stay very long. An hour later, we had finished with our double order of waffles and had a quick tour from David on the collections of images and memorabilia from the time when Sting, Eric Clapton, Duran Duran and many of the other great bands of the 80s recorded in Montserrat.”
Lea said anyone visiting Montserrat is welcome to visit Hilltop. “Next year we may change one of the signs to indicate outright that everyone is welcome.”