Wednesday 24 April 2024
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Nottingham

Community café faces closure after rent increases from £50 to £7,000

Users and staff at a community cafe at risk of closure by a Nottinghamshire council have urged the authority to “sit around the table”.

Rumbles Community Cafe, at Sutton Lawn, Sutton in Ashfield has been operating in the popular park for the past 16 years.

It offers work placements for people with learning disabilities and life training for some of the most vulnerable members of society.

Chad Tesoriere a former user of Rumbles Cafe returns every week with his mum and doesnt want it to close
Chad Tesoriere, a former user of Rumbles Cafe, returns every week with his mum and doesn’t want it to close

However, it’s been embroiled in a row with Ashfield District Council lasting almost a year over how much it pays in rent.

The cafe, as a charitable organisation, has paid a ‘peppercorn’ fee of about £50 per year to lease its home from the authority.

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Chad Tesoriere with his mum Amanda Quinn at Rumbles Community Cafe

Negotiations to extend the lease have been ongoing since last September when the cafe was originally told about rent increases.

Cafe bosses say annual fees will rise by 14,000 per cent to £7,000 as the council looks to change its lease from a charitable to a commercial agreement.

The authority is also asking the charity to fund all utility costs for the building and to take on the running of an on-site public toilet.

The public toilets in the building are the major sticking point in negotiations with the council
The public toilets in the building are the major sticking point in negotiations with the council

Cafe bosses have accepted the rental raise but say they cannot agree to the toilet demand due to complexities with liability insurance.

They also say the toilets are not just used by Rumbles’ customers and should be the responsibility of the council as its landlord.

However, after months of unsuccessful negotiations, the authority has tabled this deal as a take-it-or-leave-it offer.

Gina Dolan left charity manager for Rumbles pictured with regular customer Annette Weightnan 78
Gina Dolan, left, charity manager for Rumbles, pictured with regular customer Annette Weightnan, 78

Its leader says legal action leading to eviction will come if there’s no agreement.

But fearing closure, a major community campaign has seen thousands sign a public petition and action days organised to keep the charity alive.

A ‘Friends of Rumbles’ group has also been set up amid local concern the charity’s work could be lost forever.

Chad Tesoriere lives with a rare form of Chromosome deletion and worked at the cafe when it first opened.

He still attends every Thursday with his mum Amanda Quinn and said: “The council isn’t listening to us.

A board at Rumbles Cafe urging the public to safe the charity from closure
A board at Rumbles Cafe urging the public to safe the charity from closure

“Why would you want to shut a community cafe down for people with special needs?

“I worked here for a long time and got taught a lot by the team who work really hard. Cooking, cleaning, and things I didn’t know a lot about.”

His mum Amanda, 56, added: “It feels familiar for him with friends and staff and he feels comfortable. He looks forward to coming every week. It’s absolutely priceless.”

Annette Weightnan, 78, has been attending Rumbles since it opened 16 years ago and brings her son disabled son, Mark, most days.

She has celebrated wedding anniversaries, birthdays and other life events at the cafe and says the staff go above and beyond.

“It’s a wonderful place to come. They treat everybody so well and we’ve seen so many people grow and develop to become full people with good careers,” she said.

“Isn’t it right they have that chance? They wouldn’t get it without places like this.”

And Gina Dolan, charity manager for Rumbles, has called for the council to sit down with bosses and come to an agreement

“I’d like the council to sit around the table and discuss what we actually do for the community,” she said.

“It needs to get to know our beneficiaries and how much input goes into them and the community we work for.

“The council is looking at us as a commercial venue but it’s far more than that.

“We’re open every day working long hours and we help people from schools, with learning disabilities, disadvantaged people to get work and life skills.”

On the toilet dispute, she added: “Public toilets belong to the public and the council has the responsibility to clean them.

“We’re quite prepared to pay more, we understand times are difficult, but we aren’t looking after the toilets. That’s not our responsibility in a public building.”

But the council says the cafe has declined “highly-subsidised” terms for a new tenancy.

And its political leader says his authority has done all it can to compromise during negotiations.

Cllr Jason Zadrozny (Ash Ind) said: “We have offered a new, charitable rate which is significantly reduced [compared to the market rate].

“At this time, and in fairness to all other cafe operators, we wanted to increase it slightly.

“We’re still in talks with their solicitors and our legal teams and we’re issuing court proceedings because their lease has come to an end.

“We’re hopeful they’ll still come to the table because, in fairness, we’re still offering them a reduced rent but we want them to pay their own utilities and cleaning bills.

“In this day and age, I think that’s fair. They’re a business, they make a profit and the council can’t continue to subsidise them.”

A council spokesman added: “The cafe operator was offered highly subsidised terms for a new tenancy. However, it has not accepted the new agreement despite best efforts on the part of the council.

“The council has a duty to obtain the best value for taxpayers and the new terms offered are extremely favourable.

“The council remains committed to safeguarding public services such as the toilet facilities.”

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