Disappointment as park café that has been a 'lifeline' during the pandemic closes on Sunday until the Spring

Café in the Park has proved increasingly popular with visitors to Parson's Close Recreation Ground

Friday, 24th September 2021, 10:29 am
Updated Friday, 24th September 2021, 10:30 am

A park café which is said to have helped the Leighton-Linslade community through the darkest days of the pandemic is to close on Sunday until the Spring, to the disappointment of some of its users.

Since launching in April 2019, Café in the Park has proved increasingly popular with visitors to Parson's Close Recreation Ground - and they say it has been even more valued during the Covid crisis.

John Gelder, director of Community Action Bedfordshire, who have run the café since day one, said operations would be shutting for the winter season while Leighton-Linslade Town Council Official undertake a major redevelopment of the play area. He said the café is expected to re-open in April 2022 under new management.

Mayor at the time Cllr Clive Palmer performed opening duties at Cafe in the Park back in 2019

But the news has disappointed residents who have contacted the LBO.

Denise James, of Linslade, said: "Having been a lifeline over the last 18 months to so many people in the town, young and old, Café in the Park as we know it is to shut. It seems there is no guarantee that when it opens again next Spring it will be run by the same lovely people who have been providing such a wonderful service during the darkest days of the pandemic.

"Many friendships have been fostered around the café which has been the highlight of many people’s days from those of us who visited daily to escape an overcrowded house, to others who live alone.

"Dressed for the weather we came in snow, rain and sunshine to sample the cakes, the locally sourced coffee, and in my case the moreish vegan sausage rolls, and all at affordable prices. Whoever is awarded the contract will be hard pushed to beat the service and the friendly welcome provided by Rachel and her staff."

A sign up the cafe

Denise added: "Their last day of trading is set to be Sunday, September 26, if you are one of the many people who would like to say goodbye and thank you. I for one will be at the head of the queue!"

Meanwhile, Marian Chapman, in her late 70s, who lives within a short walk of the café, said she typically visits five days a week.

She said: "It's been a lifeline for me. I have mobility problems, I can just walk to the park as its near enough. During Covid it's been a godsend to people who live on their own like me. But it's not just me but a lot of other elderly people and dog walkers. You meet up and see people to talk to, we've all got to know each other, it's like a little community to us older people."

Despite the café previously closing over the colder months in previous years, Marian had hoped it would have carried on due to ongoing pandemic. She added: "It's a bit of a blow to find it's closing this winter and not reopening until April.

"People still go down there. There are always people in the park who would want a cup of tea or coffee. I shall carry on going to the park but I'll have to take a flash of tea."

Mr Gelder explained there had been a number of changes at Community Action Bedfordshire of late, including the fact that he was stepping down as director after 20 years in the role.

He said: "The trustees have therefore considered how best they can meet the needs of our beneficiaries, now and in the future, and have concluded that the best way to achieve this and maintain continuity of service would be to transfer our charity services to other service providers, which was done on May 1, 2021.

"Our volunteering services were transferred to Community Voluntary Services (CVS) Bedfordshire (in Bedford) and our community engagement services (including Time 2 Connect Houghton Regis and Timebanking Central Bedfordshire) were transferred to Bedfordshire Rural Communities Charity (BRCC).

"We have a long established and proven partnership working relationship with both CVS Bedfordshire and BRCC, both of which have a wealth of experience of delivering related services across Bedford Borough, Central Bedfordshire and in Luton. Given the ongoing need to provide these services across Bedfordshire we believe they will be able to deliver these services effectively."

He added: "We had also hoped to transfer Café in the Park to another service provider and find a solution for ensuring that this service could continue under new management but after discussions with Leighton-Linslade Town Council - which owns the kiosk from which the café operates - it was mutually agreed that we would end the contract we have for running Café in the Park at the end of September 2021.

"We set out to provide a real sense of community for the residents of Leighton-Linslade and to help people make connections with others and feel we have done this, despite COVID-19 restrictions hindering this at times (we had to close like other food establishments in the first lockdown).

"Many residents have enjoyed going to the café, meeting their friends and making new ones too, and enjoying the lovely food prepared and served by Rachel and her team."

A town council spokesman said: "This is a town council asset currently being operated by Community Action Bedfordshire. Any decision on operating times is within their gift."

Are you a regular user of Cafe in the Park? Send your views to [email protected]