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Council to shut popular charity cafe for City Hall repairs... and it can't say when it'll open again

Unclear future for eatery that helps trains people with learning difficulties

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 17/08/2016

Inside The Bobbin Coffee Shop, which will close its doors temporarily due to rebuilding work at City Hall
Inside The Bobbin Coffee Shop, which will close its doors temporarily due to rebuilding work at City Hall

A charity cafe will be forced to close because of major repair work at Belfast City Hall.

The Bobbin Coffee Shop is run by a social enterprise and helps train people with learning difficulties.

It is located on the ground floor of City Hall and is a popular stop-off for visitors.

But the cafe will shut in October because of large-scale refurbishment work, which will see the creation of a new exhibition area.

Belfast City Council said the closure would only be temporary, but it could not confirm how long it would last.

The disruption is linked to the exhibition area, which is due to open at City Hall next May.

The council said it would represent a "significant enhancement" of the building's tourism potential and could attract more than 70,000 visitors annually.

The matter is due to be discussed at the council's strategic policy and resources committee on Friday.

A briefing paper seen by the Belfast Telegraph discusses the impact of the work.

It states "a significant amount of disruption" is inevitable.

"There will be substantial disruption to the east side of the building between August 2016 and January 2017, during which time the area will mostly be off-limits as it will be a construction site," it explains.

The document adds that work will impact on "many City Hall users including tour visitors", but is unavoidable. It states that "unfortunately but unavoidably, the exhibition infrastructure works will also impact on the Bobbin Coffee Shop".

The current franchisee contract is due to expire on September 4. Part of the overall exhibition project includes an option to install a new air-handling system into the Bobbin area.

There are also plans for an opening in the wall of the area currently used by the telephonist staff to cater for large parties.

The document adds: "This work is, of course, both disruptive and dirty, and will thus necessitate closure of the complete facility with effect from Sunday October 2, 2016 to permit the necessary works to take place.

"The contract with the current franchise will be extended for one extra month of operation until the end of September 2017."

Loaf Catering - a social enterprise that runs cafes and an outside catering business - took over the management of The Bobbin in September 2014.

It is part of the NOW Group, so profits from Loaf Catering are reinvested to provide opportunities for people with barriers to learning and employment.

The document states: "Members will be aware that the current franchisee is a social enterprise organisation and that the facility has proven very popular with staff, members of the public and visitors.

"It is unfortunate that it will not now be possible, even on a restricted basis, to allow the facility to continue operation. A detailed communication plan is being put in place for all customers."

The disruption to City Hall life is likely to continue for several months. Councillors and staff have been warned there could be significant noise which may impact on meetings, functions and office work.

Asked about The Bobbin, a council source said it was "a temporary closure from the end of September".

Belfast Telegraph

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