Community cafe costs reach £16k for council

Penningtons Tea Rooms
Penningtons Tea Rooms

Wigan Council has spent more than £16,000 supporting a community cafe in the past 18 months.

Penningtons Tea Room in Leigh has cost the council £14,330,03 maintenance since April 2015 and £1,910 a year on utilities according to an freedom of information request submitted after the cafe was put up for a community asset transfer.

The transfer process was started after the council revealed it had been supporting the running costs for the cafe, which is run by the Friends of Pennington Hall Park (FoPHP), but said it could “no longer afford to subsidise buildings like this”.

As a result community and voluntary groups were invited to express an interest in the tea room and adjacent bowling hut for a community asset transfer, which would see the council hand over the building in return for the group taking over the running costs.

Up until now, the council has been supporting the cafe, forking out £14,330.09 to maintain the building since April 2015 as well as £1,700 for electricity and £210 for water per year.

But the council has now said it cannot afford to support the cafe anymore as it seeks to save £60m in the next few years.

All groups who expressed an interest have now been asked to submit a full business case for the building.

Penny McGinty, Wigan Council’s assistant director for leisure and property, said: “All community asset transfer (CAT) applicants, including the Friends of Pennington Hall Park, were sent notification by email in December of the next stage of the CAT process.

“We have worked with the friends group to ensure that the CAT process leads to the least possible disruption to the running of the tea room.

“The council is not obliged to provide a notice period, but a notice period was agreed in the best interests of the community and to ensure the opportunity for events being organised until July of this year.

“This process is designed to be fair and to give all interested groups the opportunity to apply to take over the running of the building.

“The deadline for the submission of a full business case is Friday 3rd March. Independent advice and assistance is available to all applicants if required throughout the business case process.

“Once business cases are received, they will be scored and an invitation will be sent to the applicants to attend an interview panel, which will also be scored.

“At the end of this process a recommendation will be sent to the council’s corporate property board to appoint the successful applicant.”

The cafe has now closed, as it does every year between Christmas and Easter, but has previously stated its opposition to the transfer.

Trisha Taylor, the chair of FoPHP, wrote on Facebook: “FoPHP would like to express our sincere gratitude to all who have written letters of support for the group to remain at Penningtons Tea Room, joining us at all our events throughout the years and the generosity of donations for our annual Christmas Day Dinner for those who would of been on there own.

“We could not of done it without the community and especially all the volunteers past and present, a huge thank you.”

The tea room opened in 2014 and originally had a five-year contract with Wigan Council.

But the council has since said the contract is void, allowing it to start the transfer process.

A campaign and petition was set up with hundreds signing in a bid to get the council to change their minds . Leigh MP Andy Burnham has also written to the council in support of FoPHP stating the group has done a lot to tackle anti-social behaviour in the area.