Busy Harborough café forced to shut just hours after reopening - after its outside space was branded not ‘outside’ enough by council inspector

“We could not believe it – this is bonkers," said the owner

Tuesday, 13th April 2021, 4:31 pm
Owner Moragh Hargreaves (right with visor on) and manager Sarah Thompson (left).

A busy Market Harborough café was forced to shut just hours after reopening yesterday (Monday) – after its outside space was branded not ‘outside’ enough by a council inspector.

Aldwinckles Coffee House on Church Street was doing a roaring trade as delighted customers enjoyed a cuppa and a slice of cake outside in their courtyard in the chilly sunshine for the first time in months.

The six staff at Aldwinckles were being worked off their feet as hundreds of ecstatic people flooded back into Market Harborough to make the most of their first real day of freedom in 2021.

But then a Harborough District Council environmental health inspector turned up out of the blue – and promptly closed the well-established town centre café down again.

This afternoon owner Moragh Hargreaves, 52, told the Harborough Mail: “We could not believe it – this is bonkers.

“I was absolutely gobsmacked!

“How can the outside not be ‘outside’ enough?

“It’s just too mad for words.”

The shell-shocked mum-of-four added: “We have been so excited for ages looking forward to finally opening up again yesterday as we start to say goodbye to the lockdown.

“It’s been such a rough year and we have lost loads of money.

“There was such a fantastic feelgood spirit in Market Harborough yesterday as people poured back into town,” said Moragh.

“We were loving it – and then suddenly we were having to shut up shop again.

“Talk about raining on our parade.”

She said they threw open their doors at 9am yesterday.

“We’ve been doing a takeaway service all the way through the Covid lockdowns and it’s gone well.

“But a lot of our clients are elderly and they prefer to come out to enjoy a coffee or a cup of tea, a meal and a natter with their friends.

“Our courtyard is out in the open.

“People were sitting their with their coats on out in the fresh air.

“They couldn’t wait to head back out again and do what they’ve been doing for years.

“Our courtyard is totally ventilated and totally safe,” insisted Moragh, who bought the outlet two years ago.

“It was all going brilliantly.

“But then the council’s enviornmental health inspector pitched up off the cuff at about 12 midday.

“She told us she’d just been passing by!

“She looked around and told us we had to take the roof off to be truly outdoors and qualify to reopen,” said Moragh, of Kibworth Beauchamp.

“Never mind taking the roof off – I felt like hitting the roof.

“We were stunned – as were our customers.

“So they had to eat up and drink up before being ushered out as we closed up.

“It was such a crushing disappointment.

“But what could we say to this council inspector?

“She had us over a barrel.

“It’s so cruel after we’ve been pinning our hopes on reopening again on Monday April 12 for so long.

“What makes it even more bizarre is that a council worker came round last Friday (April 9) and put a yellow social distancing footprint on the pavement outside ready for us to reopen.

“Aldwinckles has been here for over 30 years and is loved by so many local people because it’s become part of the lifeblood of our town centre.

“But now we get this kick in the teeth – and we might not be able to reopen until Monday May 17 which is weeks away.

“The whole sorry episode is beyond satire.”

Moragh said on Aldwinckles’ Faceboook page: “Sad times!

“Our Courtyard has been classed as not outside enough, so we have been stopped from reopening!

“We'll now have to wait until May 17th to open for eat-in (takeaway still available)”

Cllr Phil Knowles, who leads the Liberal Democrat group on Harborough council, told the Mail: “I am calling for urgent clarification on this.

“We have said time and time again that we all need to get out and support our local economy.

“To get behind our fantastic shopkeepers, our pubs, cafes and businesses after this unprecedented year,” said Cllr Knowles.

“So I really feel for the owner of Aldwinckles at this tough time.

“I accept that there are rules and regulations that have to be adhered to as we continue to fight Covid.

“But it’s important that we understand what’s going on here.

“Many of our outstanding local businesses in Market Harborough and right across Harborough are on the brink after the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns.

“Decisions like this could be the final straw,” said Cllr Knowles.

“There are questions to be asked about what’s gone on here and I want to get hold of the answers.

“I will do my best to support Aldwinckles as they fight to survive.”

A Harborough council spokesman told the Mail: “As part of our ongoing Covid compliance checks, we advised Aldwinkles coffee house that covered areas were being used for serving which are not deemed to be ‘outdoors’ in the current Government coronavirus regulations.

“We provided advice on what could be done to make the area compliant for use.

“In the meantime, the café will continue to operate a takeaway service.”