The Larder café has shut its doors in the wake of a long-running dispute with Preston City Council.Advertisement
The Lancaster Road café, which was also an arts and community hub, closed in January citing the long-term impact of the coronavirus pandemic meaning that it was no longer feasible to stay open.
Roadworks in Preston and the closure of the Guildhall also made it difficult to remain open. The operator of The Larder also said support from the council was lacking and added to the stress of the situation.
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However, Preston City Council said in a statement to Blog Preston that they made support available for the café, which they said did not keep up with rent payments and left the premises in a condition that will require repairs before it can be let out again.
Cllr Martyn Rawlinson, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Resources at Preston City Council told Blog Preston: “Changes in the properties team and the Covid pandemic contributed to difficulties in our relationship with the Larder.
“The Larder was in receipt of grant amounts during the Covid pandemic which were designed to cover rent and other fixed costs, however, repayment of rent arrears were not made. It is regrettable that the business had to close, when so many community groups were making use of the building. Given the current condition of the premises, the Council will have to spend funds to bring the building back up to a lettable standard as we want a positive use of these premises moving forward.”
Those running The Larder chose to focus on providing meals for people who needed them, educational resources and free courses and sessions to the public.
In an earlier statement, part of a back-and-forth between Kay Johnson, who operated the café, and Preston City Council, who leased the building out, a council spokesperson told Blog Preston that the tenant was ‘unable to comply with the terms of the lease and despite active involvement by the Council in seeking to resolve the situation, in the absence of other alternatives a decision was taken to serve notice on the tenant to reclaim possession of the property’. They added that they are a supporter of ‘voluntary organisations’ and worked to assist the venue and its operator.
Kay rejected this assessment of the situation.
She told Blog Preston: “It’s difficult to respond to the PCC statement as it simply isn’t true. Firstly, we were not a Voluntary organisation and secondly, Preston City Council have never ‘worked with us to assist in ongoing use of the property,’ in fact, quite the opposite is true.
“Apart from a rent free period at the beginning of our tenancy and grant payments during COVID which we used to fund our work in the community, we have received no support from PCC and our relationship with them has been extremely stressful and difficult.”
She added: “The Larder café had only been open for 12 months before the first Covid lockdown and we very quickly realised that our business model was no longer feasible.
“Covid restrictions, the closure of the Guildhall and the road works made it difficult for the café to survive so instead we provided meals for people who needed them, educational resources and offered a range of free courses and creative sessions to members of the Preston community.
“We agreed this arrangement with a member of the Preston City Council properties team in March 2021 but unfortunately this person left soon after and we were either ignored or in a constant battle with officers until we finally had to leave in January this year.”
Kay finished the statement by saying The Larder tried “everything” to work with the council to work out a plan for the future.
“For almost three years we did everything we could to find an amicable way forward but Preston City Council worked against us and finally we had no choice but to give in,” she said.
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