Sadness as community tea room closes

Pennigtons Tea Room - closed
Pennigtons Tea Room - closed

A community tea room closed its doors yesterday, unsure of whether it will ever open again.

The future of Penningtons Tea Room in Leigh was thrown into doubt after it was made available for a community asset transfer by Wigan Council at the end of last year, meaning other groups would have the opportunity to express an interest in running the cafe.

The asset - the building - will be transferred to the chosen community or volunteer group in return for them taking over the running and maintenance costs.

The cafe, which is run by volunteer group the Friends of Pennington Hall Park (FoPHP), closes at this time every year before reopening around Easter time, but the threat of transfer means this time it may not reopen under the same management.

The group announced on its Facebook page that it will close on January 8 and “await our future from Wigan Council”.

The statement continues: “The Friends of Pennington Hall Park would like to say a huge thank you to all our customers and the community who have given great support to Penningtons Tea Room and all our events. Long may it continue.”

FoPHP claimed the council had given them six months’ notice to close so they could put the cafe up for tender leading to a campaign being launched to keep it open, but the town hall disputed the claims.

A council spokesman said at the time that it had been funding the running costs of the tea room for some time but could no longer afford to subsidise it due to the need for them to make £60 million in savings.

The council has confirmed that several groups expressed an interest in the cafe, including the FoPHP, and all have now been asked to submit a full business case.

Penny McGinty, Wigan Council’s assistant director for leisure and property, said: “All community asset transfer (CAT) applicants, including the Friends of Pennington Hall Park, were sent notification by email in December of the next stage of the CAT process.

“The deadline for the submission of a full business case is Friday 3rd March.

“Independent advice and assistance is available to all applicants if required throughout the business case process.

“Once business cases are received, they will be scored and an invitation will be sent to the applicants to attend an interview panel, which will also be scored.

“At the end of this process a recommendation will be sent to the council’s corporate property board to appoint the successful applicant.”

FoPHP were contacted for comment on the latest development but did not respond.

A spokesman for the group said in November: “The FOPHP volunteers have been dedicated to turn this now beautiful Green Flag park as what it is today from the antisocial behaviour that used to occur on a very regular basis in the park and turned the park and tea room into a lively community hub.

“We are opposing the process that has been enforced upon us and we are seeking advice.

“We hope the council will keep an open mind about our interest in this matter.

“We are willing to work with Wigan Council and have asked to meet with the view of the community at heart.”