20 Sep 2017

Community cafe at risk with building sale

8:38 pm on 20 September 2017

Volunteers who run a cafe in one of New Plymouth's poorest neighbourhoods fear it might close down if a buyer sensitive to their cause cannot be found.

Community Action Worker Ruth Pfister says volunteers staff the cafe and run its garden out the back.

Community Action Worker Ruth Pfister says volunteers staff the cafe and run its garden out the back. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

The Marfell Community Cafe's lease expires next month and the building's owner has put it on the market.

The Together Grow Better Communities Trust set up the cafe three years ago to give the neighbourhood a focal point and train locals in hospitality and catering skills.

Community Action Worker Ruth Pfister said the cafe was filling an important role in the area.

"There is no community centre in Marfell, so this is a place where people can hang out, where people can come in and informally learn a little about food handling, food preparation, storage and just showing up for work really."

Ms Pfister said the building's sale had been unsettling.

"At the moment we know we're safely here until the end of October and we're hoping it's not going to be sold to someone who wants to turn it into something more of a private venture.

"This is a community hub. We would very much like to think it could continue that way."

Lorna Fawkner is a volunteer who trains the others in how to bake.

Lorna Fawkner is a volunteer who trains the others in how to bake. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Ms Pfister said many of the volunteers lived alone and the cafe offered them valuable social contact and something worthwhile to do.

A social agency told Trent Aubrey Lock-Pue about the trust's op-shop two years ago and he has been volunteering with it ever since.

"It's a good experience, I get to learn to cook things and help in the garden. I used to help next door before the cafe opened but now it's mostly in here."

Mr Lock-Pue said he did not have a regular job and the cafe gave him something to look forward to doing every day.

The cafe's frybread expert Tracy Edwards was trying her hand at something a bit different when RNZ visited.

"I've been making frybread and a banana cake, oh and yo-yos. It's the first time ever I've done a cake. It's for a birthday for a lady tomorrow. I was quite rapt, I'm very rapt."

Tracy Edwards with her batch of yo-yo biscuits.

Tracy Edwards with her batch of yo-yo biscuits. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Ms Edwards was concerned the cafe might close.

"Well, really I was quite shattered when I heard it's going to close down but hey, maybe we can still work on it. I don't know if we can."

Local resident Tanisha Rangihaeata is a regular customer and reckoned the cafe was great. She said it would be a shame if it had to close down.

"It's got a lot of love. Like everything they do here is done by volunteers and a lot of people from the neighbourhood come here and create this wonderful food that I love to eat.

"It would be quite disappointing (if it was to close). It's actually really enjoyable to have this here and have the community being something to do with it. It would be quite upsetting if they were to close it."

The building's owner Peter Gunn originally set up the Together Grow Better Communities Trust.

The Marfell Community Cafe.

The Marfell Community Cafe. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Mr Gunn said the cafe was a spin-off from the neighbouring op-shop and had grown to a point where it needed to stand on its own two feet.

"They're doing really well. They've set up an excellent community group, they're doing great support work and they've got a social work group working with them.

"When you're running something like this and you set it up from the bottom you can stay with them for so long, but then it's pointless staying there for ever and a day when we can carry on and do something else somewhere else."

Mr Gunn said he would only sell the building to someone who was willing take on the cafe as a going concern.

He said he was prepared to sell for a fair price and hoped a large philanthropic organisation could step in and buy cafe so it did not have to carry any debt.

The trust's current chairman Andrew Pepper said it understood Mr Gunn's position and it was confident the cafe could continue to run in some capacity.