Council boss hits out over tea room

George Taylor and Trisha Taylor, volunteers of Friends of Pennington Hall Park
George Taylor and Trisha Taylor, volunteers of Friends of Pennington Hall Park

A council chief has spoken out so people will know “both sides of the story” involving a community cafe.

Penny McGinty, Wigan Council’s assistant director for assets, said “incorrect information” was being shared and people were “baffled” about the future of Pennington’s Tea Room in Pennington.

The Friends Of Pennington Hall Park, the voluntary group running the tea room, announced two weeks ago that it would close on Sunday.

It comes after the venue was made available for a community asset transfer by the council at the end of 2016, meaning other groups could express an interest in running it.

Ms McGinty said the council had “stayed quiet” in the hope of finding a resolution, but residents had asked what was happening.

She said the council had spent £40,000 of taxpayers’ money on the set-up and maintenance of the cafe and £360,000 improving the park.

The friends group was given the tea room under the proviso that it would run as a not-for-profit organisation, she said.

But Ms McGinty said: “As a not-for-profit organisation the proceeds from the café should be reinvested in the park in agreement with the council, but so far this hasn’t happened and we’re concerned that a minority of the friends are profiting from the business.

“When we’ve questioned them about their financial arrangements they have refused to answer anything regarding their accounts, providing only an unaudited balance sheet.”

Ms McGinty said the group “claim the credit for all activities in the park”, including the Proms, regular runs, cycling and Nordic walks organised by Inspiring Healthy Lifestyles.

She said council officers had given “a significant amount of support” and done risk assessments for events “at the last minute”.

She claimed the group refused to do risk assessments for their own events, despite having free training.

She said officers had stepped in “often working into the evening” to do assessments and chase insurance certificates.

Ms McGinty also highlighted an occasion when council staff asked the friends to open the toilets. She claimed a member of the group posted a video on social media claiming the council no longer opened and cleaned the toilets or maintained the park at weekends.

Ms McGinty said: “Wigan Council is not closing Pennington’s Tea Room. We want to protect the future of the building and ensure it remains open to the public, but unfortunately some of the current friends group seem reluctant to co-operate.

“We have tried hard to work with some of the friends, but their inability to operate transparently makes it very difficult for us.”