A popular Northampton tea rooms – which was due to close – could have been given a last minute reprieve after its governing board resigned ‘en bloc’.
The Friends of Delapre Abbey (FoDA) had announced that its well-used cafe on the site of the 900-year-old ruins would shut earlier this month, after claiming the venue had been ‘operating at a loss’ for the last three years.
I don’t know how FoDA can continue without the finance it gets from the tea rooms.Councillor Mick Ford
The tea rooms was also in the process of being moved to another much smaller stable block within the grounds of the abbey to make way for a £6.3 million renovation project of the site.
Many felt the move would have made it ‘un-viable’ as a business by reducing its seating capacity from 170 to around 28.
But the board’s decision to close the venue prompted a backlash from FoDA members, who felt they should have been consulted more on the decision.
A total of 45 members of the charitable trust signed a petition calling for its board to step down.
Yesterday a letter from the board stated it would resign ‘en-bloc’ as a result of the pressure on Tuesday, March 31 - the date the cafe was meant to close.
FoDA member, Councillor Mick Ford, (Lib Dem, Delapre) who is likely to take over as an interim board member, said he and a number of members ‘fully intend’ to now keep the tea rooms open from March 31 as he believed it can operate as a profitable business – providing it stays where it is.
He said: “I don’t know how FoDA can continue without the finance it gets from the tea rooms.
“We want to get out there now that the tea rooms is not shutting on Tuesday, we fully intend to remain open.”
He said the new interim board would now seek to enter discussions with Northampton Borough Council and the Delapre Abbey Preservation Trust (DAPT) which is leading the restoration project of the abbey, about the potential of keeping the tea rooms where it is.
More than 1,500 people have now signed a petition to allow the eatery to remain in the 18th Century stable block which backs on to a picturesque walled gardens.
Councillor Ford believes a deal could be struck whereby the tea rooms occupies a smaller portion of the stables so the restoration project can continue unhindered.
The £6.3 million project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Northampton Borough Council, will culminate in the building being open to the public for the first time in the site’s 900-year history.
However in a press release issued earlier this week on behalf of DAPT and FODA it mentions that the newly renovated abbey would include a new ‘cafe/restaurant’ in the former billiards room and it also states the current location of the tea rooms is being earmarked for a ‘visitor’s centre’.
Chairman of FoDA’s board Dee Whitehouse did not wish to provide a statement at this stage.
Colin spears, who is a FoDA member and has written to books about the abbey, said the board were left with a difficult choice to make when the borough council made the decision to move the tea rooms to the smaller stable block.
He said: “The place FoDA were being told to move the tea rooms to wasn’t the best location. It was hidden from people coming into the abbey, the site was a bit too small.
“That’s what was on offer to them, though you could argue the board had other options.”