By Helen Fay
A West Leeds community café is set to close its doors for good today (Thursday, 25 August) unless another proprietor can be found to take over.
The café, which is housed within the Mansion House in Gotts Park alongside the Gotts Park Community Golf Club, is experiencing problems in negotiating a longer-term lease with the council.
Karon Bickers, 64, of Pudsey, who currently runs the café on a voluntary basis, said: “It would be an absolute sin if this café were to close. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed running it and the people who come here are lovely, they’re so friendly.”
WLD understands a meeting on 9 September will see council officers, Armley councillors, representatives from Wade’s Charity and council officers discuss the impasse.
Karon explained that prior to 2020, the café had a six-year lease with Leeds City Council and there had been no problems. When the lease expired and it came to renegotiating a new lease with the council, the café was told they would have a reduced term. However, Karon said that “in terms of trying to discuss, agree and negotiate” the actual length of the lease, no progress had been made and they “were no further on”.
Karon has been running the café for the past two years after the previous manager left when the six-year lease ran out.
Karon said: “We were left without a proprietor, so myself and my colleague Ian agreed to take it on temporarily until we got the lease sorted out. Here we are two years later and we still haven’t got the lease sorted out.”
When Karon first took on the café she explained to Wade’s Charity (who own the park and have leased it to Leeds City Council to maintain and run for a 999-year period) that she was doing it voluntarily and would not be able to run it the seven days a week that the charity would have liked.
“Our aim was to get the new lease organised and agreed and then bring someone in to run the café as often as Wade’s wanted it open,” she told WLD. “But without a lease in place, no-one’s going to take on the running of the café when they don’t know how long they’re going to be there.”
Karon has alerted a number of local councillors and officers from the Parks and Countryside department of the council to the plight of the café. Karon said: “Councillor Andrew Carter (Cons, Calverley & Farsley) has been liaising with me and he has been speaking with various people at Leeds City Council and I’m waiting to hear back from him.”
Karon has also approached Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves about the café’s predicament.
Gotts Park Community Golf Club formed a CIC (Community Interest Company) in 2015 to save the course from closure. Karon, a board member, explained that the club took responsibility for maintaining the grounds and fairways and the council agreed to pay the club a small bursary to do so.
Karon stressed that the café gets nothing at all from this bursary as it is purely used to maintain the course and the equipment used for running the course.
“The club have been paying the electricity bill for the café, and we have bought various bits of furniture from whatever profit we have made just to make it more pleasant to let people sit and enjoy the outside areas,” she added.
The café is also used as a base for two men’s mental health groups – the Man About Town group use the indoor and outdoor space on a fortnightly basis for their Vinyl Picnics.
“I think it’s important to those guys. They enjoy coming here and getting together so if we were to lose the café I think they’d be upset to say the least.” Another men’s group enjoy six-week golf lessons and Karon added: “Once they’ve gone through the course we give them a number of free rounds of golf so that they can play.”
The club has also set up a community library in the shop area where people can come and borrow books or sit on the sofas to read, with a drink from the café.
Despite the club and café’s involvement in the local community, Karon feels let down by the council’s lack of urgency in resolving the lease issue. She said: “I am sad to pack it in because I want the café to succeed; I want it to continue. I’ve run the café for two years now and I feel I’m being taken a bit for granted by the council. The café’s just got to stay, we can’t let it die.”
Councillor Lou Cunningham (Lab, Armley) told WLD a meeting to try resolve the issue had been requested by the Wade’s Charity for Friday, 9 September 2022. She said no decisions had currently been made over the cafe’s lease.
Update: This article was updated at 8.18pm to clarify that it Wade’s Charity has asked for the meeting on the 9th.