A romance with furniture history: Ex-service user of BEH publishes a book

Date: 11 March 2020

Oliver Lebus and author Paul Collier

Pictured above, L-R: Oliver Lebus and author Paul Collier

Many of our former service users go on to achieve great things after therapy and recovery. Paul Collier is one such example – he has written a book! Harris Lebus: A Romance with the Furniture Trade is published by Libri Publishing on 31 March 2020.

The book explores the complete history of the furniture manufacturer Harris Lebus from 1840 to 1970. Lebus furniture was an iconic brand and the firm’s influence extended globally. The factory was located right here in Haringey at Tottenham Hale from 1901 to 1970.

Supported by both Bruce Castle Museum (Haringey Archive and Museum Service) and members of the extended Lebus family, Paul has produced a book of 80,000 words and which is fully illustrated with over 200photographs and images.

This is a fantastic achievement for Paul after emerging from his alcohol addiction, although the journey was not an easy one.

Paul says: “The project has taken 13 years, on and off. This timeframe was lengthened, in part as a consequence of my relapse into alcohol addiction which endured for around five years. Through an additional two years of treatment and recovery provided by local services, I was enabled to deal with addiction and manage sustained abstinence.”

This was the second time Paul turned to alcohol treatment and recovery services for help. He first used HAGA (Haringey Advisory Group on Alcohol) during the mid-nineties, and was abstinent until his relapse in 2011. BEH was there to support him when he came to us for help the second time.

“I am so grateful for local support services which helped me enormously to get to where I am now. I am chuffed my book project is now reaching fruition,” Paul adds.

Paul's romance with the Harris Lebus story began in 2007 when he moved to his flat in Ferry Lane estate, N17. "I had never heard of Harris Lebus furniture before, but I noticed tell-tale signs that there was an industrial past before the estate was built. One of the clues was at the top of the estate where a Victorian wall finishes with one solitary gatepost. I later learned this was once the top step to the entrance to the 'largest furniture factory in the world'.

Paul then notes an interesting co-incidence: "On the day I moved to the estate, 22 September, I found out that 100 years ago, to the very day, Harris Lebus was laid to rest, having died on 21 September 1907.”

Paul managed to track down Harris' grandson, Oliver Lebus, who was the last member of the family working at the factory when it closed down. A special relationship grew out of their meeting in 2008 and Paul was able to explore Oliver's personal business and family archives to write his book. Oliver died the following year. Paul has dedicated the book in his memory.

Paul is now also very active within BEH’s clinical governance dual-diagnosis group and co-production work. "Drug and alcohol support services are so important to maintain," Paul says. "Often, mental health and substance use go together, and the clinical governance group both recognises and responds to this."

Paul then goes on to explain that his long-term ill health also affects his mental wellbeing, and he is unable to work.

"It’s important to keep busy and mentally active. This is why I asked to work with the governance group to bring a service user perspective and help develop sustainable co-production," Paul adds.

Paul has always been an advocate of service user involvement. He initially did voluntary work with older people and then forged a career in public sector services across London. Invariably his work steered him towards the older generation – he was strategic planning officer for older people’s services in Southwark and chief executive officer for Age Concern Harrow.

Paul also likes to explore his artistic side and in 2004 he achieved a childhood dream and graduated with a BA in fine art from Middlesex University. Shortly afterwards his abstract expressionist style won him the 21st century painting of Bruce Castle Museum competition, which now forms part of their permanent collection. Since then, Paul has exhibited his artwork across London. With a flair for interior design and an interest in mid-century design, it is perhaps no surprise that Paul should write a history book about a manufacturer of furniture. While Paul leads a quiet life, he can now add author to his list of personal achievements.

Everyone is welcome to attend the book launch and signing event, taking place on Saturday 4 April from 7.30-9.30pm in The Engine Room (address: Unit A, Eagle Heights, Lebus Street, London N17 9FU, see on Google maps).

At the event there will be an opportunity to purchase the book at a discounted price, and get it signed by the author. Refreshments will be provided. Please RSVP to paulgcollier@aol.co.uk if you’d like to attend.

The book is available via Libri Publishing.


  • Summary:

    Many of our former service users go on to achieve great things after therapy and recovery. Paul Collier is one such example – he has written a book! Harris Lebus: A Romance with the Furniture Trade is published by Libri Publishing on 31 March 2020.