Harborough businessman set to win his fight to keep his beloved café at Foxton Locks after hundreds of people sign his petition

The Canal & River Trust has gone back to the drawing board after our story last Friday

Tuesday, 30th March 2021, 5:25 pm
Gary Hives and Kelly Foster of Top Lock Coffee Shop with Neil O'Brien MP, just after they were told his lease would not be extended. Now it seems the Canal & River Trust might be changing their minds. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

A Market Harborough businessman is set to win his fight to keep his beloved café at Foxton Locks after a dramatic U-turn by Canal & River Trust chiefs.

Gary Hives, 64, launched a desperate battle to hang on to his popular waterside Top Lock Coffee Stop at the historic locks attraction on the Grand Union Canal after being told he’d have to leave.

More than 2,100 outraged people have rushed to sign a petition backing him after the Canal & River Trust (CRT), which owns the building at the world-famous locks, refused to renew his lease in October.

Gary Hives and Kelly Foster of Top Lock Coffee Shop with Neil O'Brien MP, just after they were told his lease would not be extended. Now it seems the Canal & River Trust might be changing their minds. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

The Trust said he’d have to go because they planned to take over the flourishing venture themselves.

But the organisation has gone back to the drawing board and pulled off an about-turn after our story last Friday.

And the Trust is now offering to sit down and talk to Gary about extending his lease on the café that he’s ran for 15 years in the autumn.

A Canal & River Trust spokesman today told the Mail: “Further to the comments in the media about Mr Hives’ desire to extend the lease at Foxton, we are putting our plans on hold whilst we have further discussions with him.

“We’d like to meet so that we can discuss his plans and how they align with the Trust’s need to raise awareness of its work caring for our waterways and to engage more visitors to Foxton in how they can help support the canal network.”

He added: “We’re in the process of developing a masterplan for Foxton and will propose to Mr Hives that, whilst we complete that planning, we discuss the continuation of his lease.

“Such an extension would give more time to assess the options and opportunities presented at the site, both to promote the Trust’s work and ensure the best service is provided for all those visiting Foxton in years to come.”

The sensational breakthrough has shocked but delighted Gary, of Meadow Street, Market Harborough.

“I’m absolutely thrilled – I can’t quite believe it.

“It looks as if we have won our battle to keep the café,” said Gary, who’s set his heart on passing it on to his daughter Kelly Foster, 41.

“I’m just sitting down now to read their email to me.

“I’m stunned.

“I feared that the Trust had made their minds up on this and that there was no way back.

“It’s totally amazing.

“But I am more than willing to sit down around a table with them and talk and negotiate.

“I’ve always been prepared to do that.

“I have put my heart and soul into running this café – it’s in my blood.

“I’ve spent the last 40-plus years of my life beside this canal.

“So this is just fantastic news,” said Gary.

“Over 2,100 people have signed a petition supporting me all the way.

“I have been overwhelmed by the support I have had from people all over Market Harborough and throughout the area.

“I’ve had an enormous wave of public support behind me.

“And that’s almost certainly made the Trust think again.

“I want to thank each and every person who’s signed the petition and pledged their support.

“I am also very grateful to the Harborough Mail for the coverage they have given me and to our local MP Neil O’Brien.

“This will mean so much to my daughter Kelly if we can seal this deal now.

“I’ve always wanted to hand on the Top Lock Coffee Stop to Kelly and her daughter Hayley, 17.

“We have successfully renewed four leases – ranging from 18 months to five years – here since we started out.

“Kelly has rolled up her sleeves and got stuck in working alongside me and my wife over all the years we’ve been here,” stressed Gary.

“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 poignant, 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.

“So I want to thank the CRT as well.

“Once they told me that they wanted to take on our café for themselves I thought the game was up.

“I feared we’d have to leave – although I wasn’t going down without a fight.

“But to be fair they have seen the massive local reaction to this in the Harborough Mail and other local media – as well as just how many angry people were getting behind me.

“At least they have been big enough to realise that maybe they’ve got this wrong and they should talk to me to see how we can take this forward together.

“So for that I thank them.

“And we would all just love it if we can sit down and hammer out a new lease on the café that we love so much so that Kelly can take it on in October and begin a whole new era there.”