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Campus creperie wins fight against closure

Photo: Tom Chadwick

The Coffee Workshop Creperie in the Richmond building, recently recognised as one of Brighton’s finest cafés, is to remain open for another academic year after being threatened with closure by the university.

The café was originally due to close at the end of the 2010 summer term, as previously reported by the Badger.

However, after staff and students  campaigned to save the  café, a move was made to challenge the non-renewal of their lease under section 26 of Landlords and Tenants Act.

The café’s owners, Judy Bow and Arnold Rose, were later granted a one year extension to their contract.

The university states that the extension of the lease comes not as a result of the threat of legal action but, rather, due to changes in the redevelopment of Bramber House: “The Coffee Workshop Creperie will remain open for the 2010-2011 academic year following the decision to refurbish Bramber House in one rather than two phases.”

This temporary extension of the lease may come as a disappointment to many students and staff.

Earlier this term they nominated the creperie for the Brighton Foodie Award, and last week it was annoucned they came in the top ten despite only entering public voting in the final week of the competition.

Judy and Arnold commented: “We are delighted to be finalists in the Brighton Foodie Awards, and grateful to all our customers for nominating us. Most of all, we are proud to be able to put university food on the top table in Brighton.”

The Students’ Union has come out in ardent support of the café: “The Union is ecstatic that the creperie in the Richmond Building is staying open this year as it has been a popular and healthy place to eat for both staff and students. We remain concerned though that despite being finalists in the Brighton Foodie Awards, the creperie has still only been offered a one year extension on its lease here at Sussex. The Union would love to see more places that serve fresh and healthy food on campus and the creperie is a perfect example.”

Many students and staff spoke out in anger prior to the university’s first announcement that it would be closing the creperie, writing letters to Vice-Chancellor Michael Farthing, and to Charles Dudley, Director of Residential, Sport and Trading Services.

One student, writing to Mr Dudley, commented: “The Coffee Workshop is the most lively and enthusiastic café I have ever seen, providing excellent customer service (using people’s names instead of picturing them as a walking wallet) and serving fresh, exciting food that really brings people back time and time again.

“In fact, it is the only café I had heard about before I visited Sussex, due to its brilliant reputation.”

In addition to written criticisms, many students signed a petition protesting against the closure of the café, and hundreds more joined the Facebook group to show support and solidarity.

The university remains determined to move ahead with its long term catering strategy, providing fewer but larger cafes across campus “with longer opening hours and a good range of food.” This has so far seen the opening of the new library café and the Arts Piazza café off Library Square. The redevelopment of Bramber House,  due to finish in 2011, will also see new additions to the catering community, with another café and a new restaurant planned.

Despite the pledge to improve overall service, some have been quick to criticize the monopolization of food outlets on campus. In a letter to Michael Farthing, one member of staff wrote: “I feel that many people amongst the predominantly left-wing community at this university will be offended at the shutting down of a thriving independent café, to create a forced monopoly of institutional food with negative impacts on many people’s lives.”

However, Mr Dudley has made clear that there is no room for compromise: “I can understand that allowing one small café to remain tucked away in engineering might not seem much to ask, but it does put services at risk by taking revenue away from university cafes and preventing us from meeting the wider range of staff and student needs.”

The university also points out that the creperie was never offered a permanent contract: “The French Revolution cafe has operated in the Richmond building since May 2008. The agreement for the cafe to operate was set up on the basis that it would be a temporary arrangement.”

If last year’s protests are anything to judge by, however, it is perhaps unlikely that by summer the students and staff will wave goodbye to the Coffee Workshop Creperie without some sort of struggle.

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