Over 900 people have signed a petition backing a Market Harborough businessman as he fights to save his beloved café at Foxton Locks.
They are pledging their support to Gary Hives, 64, as he wages a battle to hang on to the waterside Top Lock Coffee Stop at the historic attraction on the Grand Union Canal.
The hard-working dad and grandad has run the popular business for 15 years alongside his wife Jenny - and he’s set his heart on passing it on to his daughter Kelly Foster, 41.
But the Canal & River Trust (CRT), which owns the building at the world-famous locks, are refusing to renew his lease in October – as they plan to take over the venture themselves.
Devastated Gary, of Meadow Street, Market Harborough, told the Harborough Mail: “I can’t believe that the Trust are doing this to us.
“We have built up and forged our fantastic business here week in week out over the last 15 years – and it’s become a great success.
“The old British Waterways ran the café here for 18 months before us and lost a lot of money, they couldn’t make it work.
“And now the CRT want to take it back from us after all this time – it’s very hard to take to be honest.”
Gary, who used to operate a fleet of burger wagons, said he’s been hoping to hand on the flourishing set-up at the top of the 200-year-old locks to his daughter Kelly and her daughter Hayley, 17.
“We have successfully renewed four leases – ranging from 18 months to five years – here over the years.
“Kelly has rolled up her sleeves and got stuck in working alongside me and my wife over all the years we’ve been here,” he said.
“She’s really set her sights on taking it on, because I’ll be 65 in May, while me and Jenny would look after it at weekends.
“To make this even more heartbreaking, Kelly, who’s a single parent, was battling triple-negative breast cancer all last year.
“So on top of the Covid pandemic and all the lockdowns, she was having surgeries and chemotherapy to treat this terrible illness,” said Gary.
“She’s all clear now and doing fine thank goodness.
“But after an extremely hard year, the last thing we expected was to have our bid to renew our lease in October rejected.
“We have ploughed so much blood, sweat and tears into running the Top Lock Coffee Stop since the first day we all moved in.
“We have all put so much love and sheer hard toil into it.
“This café is right at the centre of our lives – it runs in our blood.
“Kelly had only been back here working for 10 days when we got the letter from the Trust telling us we’d have to get out.
“It’s come as a massive shock, a real bombshell,” said Gary.
“Rolls, sausage rolls, bacon sandwiches, teas and coffees, treats, pop and cold drinks as well as ice cream – we do the lot.
“We have built up a small army of loyal customers – they love us.
“And we’ve always got along so well with all the other outlets here at the site – we are just one big friendly community.”
Asked about the fast-growing petition backing their struggle, Gary said: “I’m very humbled and honoured that so many people throughout Harborough are getting behind us.
“I didn’t know we had so many friends.
“We have our own family narrowboat moored here at Foxton Locks as well as the café – I’ve been devoted to the canal for over 40 years.
“This is very sad.
“But we will fight on,” vowed Gary.
“We’ll never give up.
“And if we do come out on top and Kelly and Hayley take this on in October and carry it on in the Hives family it will be a dream come true for all of us.”
He spoke as Harborough MP Neil O’Brien has pledged to investigate the case to see if he can help Gary and his family.
A Canal & River Trust spokesman told the Mail: “The Trust has recently written to the operator of the Top Lock café at Foxton Locks, Mr Gary Hives, informing him of our future plans for the site.
“We know that it has been a challenging time for all, including much reduced visitor numbers at Foxton and difficult trading conditions throughout the pandemic.
“The lease at Foxton is due to expire at the beginning of October, now six months away, and it is a natural time to consider the future of the café and let Mr Hives know as soon as possible about any changes.
“The Trust is not proposing to take over Mr Hives’ business.
Instead, we intend to invest in the café and offer something different at the site, improving the facilities and opportunity to engage more visitors regarding the importance of their local canal and how to play an active role in looking after it.”
He added: “We are sorry that this means we won’t be entering into a further lease with Mr Hives.
“Whilst this isn’t the outcome that he had been hoping for, we are grateful for all that he has done at Foxton and have tried to give him as much notice as possible about the decision.
“I should also add that the lease is with Gary, not his family, and has never contained any option to pass the lease down the family line. “We’re really grateful for what he’s done at Foxton but we’re now looking to do something different with the café.”
If you would like to support Gary you can sign the petition set up to save his café here: https://www.change.org/p/canal-river-trust-save-top-lock-coffee-stop?redirect=false