Cafe lease lost over ‘rats in park’

Tracy Turnbull (left) and Eileen O'Grady outside of The Green Leaf Cafe. Picture by FRANK REID
Tracy Turnbull (left) and Eileen O'Grady outside of The Green Leaf Cafe. Picture by FRANK REID

CAFE staff look set to be out of work after civic chiefs withdrew a company’s lease over “management issues” which included problems with rats.

Staff at The Green Leaf Cafe, based in Horden’s Welfare Park, are set to lose their jobs after Horden Parish Council served Acumen Development Trust with a notice of termination of lease.

The council, which will put the lease back out to tender, said it was not happy with “management support” being provided to the cafe, especially after waste issues which led to rats being seen in the park.

But Acumen say the food waste problem was a “one-off incident” which, along with any other problems, was dealt with.

Staff at the community cafe say they are “devastated” about the news that it will close on November 11. They claim the first they heard about the lease being terminated was through a notice on the front door.

Manager Tracy Turnbull works at the cafe with kitchen assistants Eileen O’Grady and Sharon Rollins, and is employed by Acumen.

She said: “We are devastated and nobody’s given us any feedback.

“We came in a week gone Monday and put the shutters up as normal and a few lads from the park came in and told us about the notice on the window that said we would be closed for business from November 11.

“We are surrounded by bungalows – all the regulars will have nowhere to go.

“It’s right on top of Christmas as well and we are going to be out of a job.”

Tracy, who along with Eileen and Sharon, is from Peterlee, added the cafe, which houses a public toilet, would be a real loss to families.

Acumen chief executive Kate Welch said the firm had received a letter from the parish council but asked for a meeting to discuss any concerns before informing staff.

She added: “We have dealt with any issues, such as the one-off incident with food waste, as they have arisen and do hold a three-star rating for food safety.

“We have always tried to work in partnership with the parish council.

“The Green Leaf Cafe offers a valuable local service as a social enterprise which provides a community benefit as well as locally-sourced food and jobs for people previously without employment.”

Ms Welch said staff would be supported by Acumen whatever the parish council’s decision.

Parish council clerk Paul Davison said: “There were a number of issues with regard to management support being supplied to the cafe that the parish council wasn’t happy with, despite repeated notification to get things improved.

“The tipping point was when trade waste wasn’t being collected and there were rats seen in the park – as a parish council we can’t have that.

“The notice had to be served because it was starting to impact on users of the park.

“We will be putting a tender exercise together for which Acumen and the staff at the cafe are open to enter.

“The parish council will be looking to get somebody else in the cafe as soon as possible so the service isn’t disrupted.”