Friends of Delapre Abbey members in Northampton say restoration is shutting out their cafe

Lib Dem Councillor Mick Ford, right , says moving the Delapre Abbey tea rooms into a 19th Century stable block - the garden area of which is shown above -  will slash its custom .
Lib Dem Councillor Mick Ford, right , says moving the Delapre Abbey tea rooms into a 19th Century stable block - the garden area of which is shown above - will slash its custom .

Volunteers at a popular tea rooms in Delapre Abbey fear the venue is being sidelined to make way for new restaurant facilities at the historic site.

Northampton Borough Council wants to move the Friends of Delapre Abbey-run cafe into a 19th-century former stable block .

Councillor Tim Hadland and David Mackintosh at Delapre Abbey as the start of the conservation work. ENGNNL00120140124155605

Councillor Tim Hadland and David Mackintosh at Delapre Abbey as the start of the conservation work. ENGNNL00120140124155605

The authority says the tea rooms needs to make way so it can progress with the ongoing restoration of the 12th century abbey and its surrounding buildings.

Plans for the site include a new visitors centre and a

restaurant.

But Keith Smith, who was born in a house facing the entrance of the abbey and who helped found the tea rooms more than a decade ago, said: “It would be devastating because there will only be room for a maximum of five tables.

“In winter we might just get away with that, but in summer that is going to be much more difficult.”

The tea rooms, which have two full-time staff and a number of volunteers, serve a range of home-made cakes and snacks, such as jacket potatoes, chillies, soups and toasties.

Its current location, split over two floors, has 78 seats inside, several dry store areas, as well as room for a washing machine, tumble dryer, cleaning cupboard and staff toilet.

But Mr Smith, who is no longer a member of the Friends of Delapre Abbey committee, believes the cafe would not be able to carry on making fresh cakes and products in the proposed venue, because he feels there will not be enough room for the necessary kitchen equipment.

He said: “There might not be good enough facilities for us to carry on making things ourselves there.

“We might end up having to sell bought cakes, but that’s not what we are about.”

The tea rooms first began running for two or three hours on Sundays in 2001.

But after attaining grants to expand the kitchen and creating an outdoor seating area in the grounds’ picturesque walled garden, the cafe

started to become more

popular.

Last year it had 34,000 customers and requires two full-time staff to run it alongside a number of volunteers. It is a not-for profit business, but the money it makes has gone towards several improvement projects around the abbey.

“I’m not trying to be too negative,” Mr Smith said. “Everyone is doing their best to move things forward, but the Friends of Delapre Abbey has a vested interest in keeping the tea rooms going in a reasonable manner.”

Councillor Mick Ford (Lib Dem, Delapre) whose wife runs the cafe, said the new business would suffer from being moved to the 19th-century stable block as many people visit the tea rooms to relax in the walled garden area.

He believes there is no need to move the tea rooms from its current location.

“They should leave them where it is,” he said. “There is a hell of a lot they can do with the building without having to move the tea rooms.”

Councillor Ford said shifting the cafe to the north of the abbey grounds would reduce the amount of seats it could offer from 130 to only 28.

But he says that if the tea rooms needs to move, it could relocate to the former carriage room, which is currently unused and sits at the front of the abbey to the left of the main entrance. That way customers could still have access to the walled garden,” he said.“And the tea rooms would be in a prominent position at the front of the building.”

Councillor Ford said he is about to start a petition to keep the tea rooms where it is.”

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The tea rooms will have to move or face shutting altogether, the Northampton Borough Council leader says, as a £6.3 million restoration of Delapre Abbey continues.

Councillor David Mackintosh (Con, Rectory Farm) said that despite objections from some Friends of Delapre Abbey (FoDA) members, the council was in talks with the trust’s committee about the plans to relocate the popular cafe.

While some fear moving the 78-seat tea rooms would result in a drop in trade, the council leader said the only alternative would have been to close it completely.

He said: “The restoration work will soon move to where the tea rooms are currently based. At the same time the lease given to the Friends of Delapre Abbey to operate the tea rooms from that location is coming to an end.

“Working with the Friends, we started to look at what options would secure the future of the tea rooms and allow the Friends to continue to serve visitors for years to come. Working with FoDA, the council would convert the former stable blocks to provide a new refreshment facility for visitors.

“Outline planning permission has been granted. FoDA is currently working in conjunction with Northampton Borough Council on the move from its current location to its new home, and on its plans

for the new Refreshment Facility.

“At every stage we have been working with FoDA to make this process as easy as possible and meet their needs. The alternative would have been to lose the popular tea rooms if they closed when the lease expires.”

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.

Rod Giddins, chairman of the Delapre Abbey Preservation Trust (DAPT) leading the project, said: “Over the year we’ll be finalising plans for the interiors, recruiting staff and volunteers and fundraising, so the trustees look forward to meeting as many people as possible.”