New tenants for Norfolk Heritage Park Cafe, Sheffield agreed despite Green objection
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The move to allow Julie Collins and Kelsey Booth to take over the cafe in the Centre in the Park was agreed by Sheffield City Council’s charity trustee sub-committee yesterday (Thursday, January 26). Both Graves and Norfolk Heritage Park are among many in the city to be owned by a charity, with the council as sole trustee.
The leader of the Green Party on the council, Coun Douglas Johnson, voiced objections to the process used, although he said he approved of the new operators.
Jo Pearce, business and partnerships manager for the council’s parks and countryside service, said that the cafe is in the Centre in The Park, which is also a community centre.
She said: “There was a really successful operator there – Cath, who retired last year. We worked with Cath to a date she was happy to work to and that was the jubilee weekend and after that the cafe was vacated.”
She said a process then took place to find a new operator for the cafe and 19 expressions of interest were narrowed down to a shortlist of five. That was topped by Rose Garden Cafe manager Julie and community-based worker Kelsey.
Ms Pearce said that a temporary tenancy at will was being offered to give Julie and Kelsey the the chance to make preparations and start to trade, possibly as a takeaway at first, without having to wait to sign the lease, which will take several months to put together. A tenancy at will means either side can terminate it immediately.
The figure agreed, which includes a service charge, would support the building but not make life difficult for a new operator, said Ms Pearce. It also increases the amount of income to the park charity while allowing a commercial return for the operator, councillors heard.
Coun Johnson said: “If we’re being asked to make a decision as a charity trustee, we need to be really careful about this. We don’t want to set ourselves up for a failed cafe in future, given all the history of the very well-publicised things like the Rose Garden Cafe, and that all stemmed from the way it was set up in the first place. You can see my worry there.”
Ms Pearce said that the offers were checked against offers made on other park sites and based on the track record of the cafe. She said that there was a clause in the lease for the operator to take a break in two years’ time as a start-up operation is always a challenge.
Coun Johnson said he was also concerned that what he thought was an independent report and valuation on the cafe was written by a council surveyor. David Hollis, head of legal services, explained that the surveyor can work for the council as they need to have no interests in favour of lessees to be seen as unimpartial under charity law.
Coun Johnson said that, as the cafe was being offered to the Rose Garden Cafe manager, “people are going to say this is the council trying to appease this person”. He suggested agreeing the tenancy at will but getting an independent report done and bringing the issue back to the committee but did not find a seconder for his proposal.
‘Unfair on person’
He added: “This is why it could be unfair on the person concerned because we haven’t seen any of the details of the process of who was selected and how the process came about, just conscious that this needs to be absolutely out in the open, it’s simply not.”
Coun Johnson said: “Just to be clear, I have absolutely no problem with this couple coming and taking on the cafe, happy to accept that that is a fair selection.”
Ms Pearce said: “We have evidence that there was a process with clear assessment around experience and delivery, suitability of the offer for the venue and the offer including price and menu and investment in the venue and their financial offer.
“The people we chose scored the highest in all of those. There were people with experience and track records but maybe hadn’t run a catering business for a while, there were people who had those things but didn’t have a suitable menu, price point was a bit high or they had been working for a different audience.
“Financially, this was a better offer as well. So we’ve taken all those things into consideration. This is entirely transparent and entirely following the principles of best practice and best consideration. We feel like we’ve really done that appropriately.”
Coun Richard Williams said: “Nineteen that expressed an interest, a shortlist of five seems like a pretty good process.” He added that it was a significant increase in income and congratulated officers on a good job.
Sub-committee chair Coun Bryan Lodge said: “The work that’s been put in to realise the value of this that goes back into the trustee is really good, well done.
“I think there are reassurances in there with clause for the tenants that are going in.” He said that clauses in the lease such as the two-year break option are helpful for the tenants if things aren’t quite going to plan.
Coun Lodge added: “I welcome this and I think it’s great that we got something back into the park as soon as possible.”