WATCH: Cafe in the Park opens at former Arts Lodge site

AFTER months of work, Victoria Park's new cafe has finally been unveiled.

Monday, 14th August 2017, 5:17 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th September 2017, 12:14 pm

Cafe in the Park, a venture by homelessness charity The Society of St James, has opened its doors following a £100,000 renovation of the former Arts Lodge site.

The Southampton-based charity won the five-year city council contract to redevelop the site which has been gutted for a stylish new interior with the signature wall being knocked down in favour of a new courtyard seating area.

Previously run by the Art & Soul Traders until their public eviction earlier this year – which led to protests and five arrests – the aim of the new cafe will be to provide employment opportunities and training for vulnerable people in the city.

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Trevor Pickup, chief executive of the charity said: ‘Our aim is to run an excellent cafe, provide good quality food and also offer employment opportunities for those who have had substance misuse in the past.

‘We want to create jobs for people who are progressing with their drug treatment and we will also have volunteers as well.

‘Our overall aim is to work together to provide a great experience for those making use of the park.’

The charity – which has a base in Portsmouth – currently provides support to families struggling with homelessness across Hampshire.

Two permanent charity staff will be based at the site with four more part-time workers and up to 10 volunteers.

Malissa Twells, 47, from Portsmouth, was a heroin and crack cocaine addict for 17 years before finding the charity last year. She now works at Cafe in the Park.

Ms Twells said: ‘I was completely lost before I found the society. For me, I had had enough with everything and now they’ve provided me with this opportunity for work.’

When the council opened the site out to tender, the aim was for a business or charity to provide services to adults with learning disabilities.

Councillor Luke Stubbs, the deputy council leader said: ‘The aim was always to provide a unit to help vulnerable people and the Society of St James’ plans was considered as the best option and I really think this is going to work.

‘It is a fantastic site and they have done a really good job.’

Councillor Linda Symes, cabinet member for culture said: ‘The new building is beautiful and with the courtyard open, the cafe looks in perfect surroundings.’