Tea room closes as row goes on

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 community cafe at the centre of a row between council bosses and the volunteers running it has closed its doors.

Pennington’s Tea Room was scheduled to close last Sunday.

Every penny taken over the counter is recorded and put back into the park and the tea room

Friends Of Pennington Hall Park

But the Friends Of Pennington Hall Park - the voluntary group running it - instead shut it a few days earlier .

It followed Penny McGinty, Wigan Council’s assistant director for assets, speaking out so people would know “both sides of the story” about what was happening with the cafe.

There has been controversy since the tea room 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 spent £40,000 on the set-up and maintenance of the cafe and £360,000 on the park, but there were concerns about the money raised there.

She 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 those organised for the council, and refused to do risk assessments for their own events.

The group responded to her comments in a lengthy statement posted online.

They said comments made by the council were “misleading and detrimental to the final few days of the tea room”.

The statement questioned how £40,000 had been spent on the tea room by the council and highlighted how the group had spent money at the park, including on allotments, a greenhouse, baby changing units and free events.

They said: “The FoPHP have unofficially operated as a not-for-profit group. Every penny taken over the counter is recorded and put back into the park and the tea room.

“The FoPHP have submitted full audited accounts annually to Wigan Council, as audited by Hayes Accountants. Not an unaudited balance sheet.”

They said the group had managed many free events, supported the council’s Proms event and disputed that free training had been offered for risk assessments.