‘We are in dire straits’ says Burgess Hill café owners

A Burgess Hill café has been forced to open seven days a week but its owners fear this is still not enough to survive in the ‘dying’ town.

Thursday, 31st January 2019, 8:48 am
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 9:58 pm

Lisa Watling, 44, has run LJ’s Café with her mum Karen, 62, for 17 years.

The café used to trade at the Market Place Shopping Centre but had to leave last May so the space could be redeveloped.

It moved to a unit in Church Walk but Karen said ‘business has never been the same’.

Lisa Watling, Sue Upton, Cara Nixon and Sunil Rizvi outside LJs Café in Burgess Hill. Photo by Derek Martin Photography

In contrast, leader of Burgess Hill Town Council Pru Moore said the town was trading ‘very well’ and the work to regenerate the centre was progressing well.

But Karen told the Middy: “We are in dire straits. We are really struggling – the town is dying. There is nothing here for people to come to Burgess Hill.

“We are now having to open seven days a week – we are doing carveries on a Sunday now, which are proving popular, but we are down to two staff – we used to have seven. What do we do?”

She said the café has been on a one-month lease since Christmas which means the business can be given just one month’s notice to vacate the premises.

Photo by Derek Martin Photography

Karen said business used to be ‘thriving’ in the shopping centre. “OAP customers used to like coming into the shopping centre to see us,” she said, adding: “Now we are right at the bottom of the town, some aren’t mobile enough to get down here. We used to serve 50 to 60 OAP dinners a day, some days now we don’t serve any.”

Karen said she and Lisa were ‘devastated’ about their situation and feared other traders were struggling too. “You have only got to walk around the town to see how many are closing,” she said.

“Clarks just announced it wasn’t renewing its lease.”

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Lisa said: “We are here as a local small trader who was moved out of where we were. We could have walked away but we didn’t give in. We want to be part of the community.

“We enjoy what we do and love our regulars. And we are hopeful that there will be a place for us in the town centre regeneration.”

Karen and Lisa are now calling out to charity groups, schools, businesses, or people celebrating birthdays who would like to hire the café.

They are also looking into running ‘meals on wheels’ for people who are housebound. Anyone interested in hiring the cafe can call 01444 235015.

Pru Moore said she understood the traders’ concerns but insisted the town was ‘trading very well’.

She said: “We have a very good shopping centre in the Market Place which is always thriving. Church Walk is also trading very well and this year is proving far better than last year.

“It is unfortunate that Clarks will not be renewing its lease and did not feel that they have sufficient trade to operate, but shoes are no longer a niche market.

“The town centre regeneration is progressing well. NewRiver are committed on regenerating the town, we are in a very lucky position that they still want to invest in us.

“Everyone is having to cope with major changes in the high street that we never envisaged, and there is uncertainty over Brexit so people don’t want to invest, but sometimes we have to lose something to gain better things.”