Miscommunication at Kingston Council forces popular Manor Park café to cease trading

A petition to save Hooky Street Café in Manor Park, Old Malden has gained over 500 signatures in just 22 hours, following Kingston Council’s order to the café owner to cease trading with immediate effect.

The Council issued the notice after complaints about noise from a generator but it appears to result from a lack of communication between the Council’s Green Spaces team, who have been working with the café, and the Property team.

The petition was set up by local resident Deborah De Ronde, whose children play in the playground and use adjacent sports facilities. 

De Ronde said: “We have finally had the playground done up so that families are there all the time. Then the council take away the ability to give our children ice cream in the summer and to have a hot drink watching the football games throughout the winter. It’s outrageous and needs to be reinstated for the good of the community.”

Nausheen Arnold, who has signed the petition, said: “Hooky Street has become so much more than just coffee in the park. It’s become a place where people can meet other members of the community and chat and get to know neighbours they wouldn’t otherwise get an opportunity to chat to. This has been true for people of all ages. I hope to see them back ASAP.”

Hooky Street Café started trading in the park in May this year, after the council saying they would be happy to license the company to trade in the park. The owner, Barry Fisher, then invested £12,000 to buy a kitted-out horsebox.

The cafe opening was the culmination of successful partnership work between community group Friends of Manor Park and the Green Spaces team at Kingston Council. 

In 2019, they worked together to produce a five-year masterplan for the park and recently completed a new impressive playground, which attracts families from across the borough.

The large playground contributed to the demand for a café on the busiest days, and the council said they could arrange a licence to support this.

“At this point we went out and publicised the fact that we were looking for a mobile café. Nobody approached us. It was quite well publicised. We then thought okay,  we’ll approach Hooky Street Coffee,” said Simeon Linstead, the Chair of Friends of Manor Park.

“Hooky Street opened next to Manor Park Station during the pandemic and are well regarded because they have a quality offering and put lots of their trading profits into local good causes, like quite a few thousand towards the play area at my kid’s school,” said Linstead.

On opening, Fisher had to use a diesel generator to power the horsebox. He said to the council at the time that it was not ideal and that he was happy to pay for an electrical hook-up. The council’s view was that that was something for further down the line. 

A nearby resident complained about the noise from the generator soon after the café opened. Fisher again offered to pay to be connected to the electrics.

In August, Friends of Manor Park were approached by the Property Team from Kingston Council who asked why they had set up an agreement with the café and said that they shouldn’t be doing that.

The community group responded by putting them in touch with the people at the Council that they work with and who had issued the licence. They also organised a meeting in the park to bring all parties together, the Green Spaces council team attended but the Property team didn’t attend.

By late September, the Community Manager in the Green Spaces council team said they were being pushed about the noise situation and that there was a need to formalise things with the Property team. 

They investigated options for how they could connect to power in the park and in the meantime, the café owner offered to move the generator further away from the nearby houses.

About two weeks ago Fisher then received notice from the council that the complaint had escalated and to cease trading with immediate effect.

Fisher also received an email from the Property team. Linstead said the email set out that “they would have to go through a convoluted process to consult neighbours and stakeholders etcetera; survey the parks and locations; set up processes, and then they would take it out to tender”.

Fisher said: “We are overwhelmed with the support shown by the local community and we hope the relevant parties can provide a sensible and speedy solution, which will enable us to return to Manor Park and provide a service that so many local people have come to enjoy.”

Councillor Andrew Wooldridge, Chair of the Licensing Committee at Kingston council, contacted the Performance & Quality Coordinator at the Council regarding the situation on 31 October. He said:

“The cessation of trading due to internal miscommunications is troubling, especially when a solution, namely the electrical hook-up offered by the proprietor, seems available to address noise concerns.

“I propose convening a meeting with the Green Space team, the Property team, and other relevant stakeholders as soon as possible to clarify responsibilities, expedite a resolution for the electrical hook-up, and facilitate the resumption of trading for the Hooky Street coffee van.

“I believe a swift, coordinated response will reflect well on the Council’s ability to address concerns and support local enterprises that benefit our community.”

When asked for comment, Kingston Council confirmed the relevant teams were working on a response.

They said: “The council always endeavours to work together with our communities to improve access to services and that includes trialling options. 

“Unfortunately in this case, due to the location of the mobile café and the use of a generator, we have had to suspend trading due to noise complaints by residents.

“We are now looking at the options for providing a suitable location in Manor Park for a mobile café with permanent power and facilities and we hope to have a solution for discussion and consultation with residents, park users and the Friends of Manor Park group in the near future.”

News reporter & Health editor | + posts

Social infrastructure strategic planner, training for the NCTJ News Journalism qualification and publishing local news stories via the Kingston Courier.

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