A MASTERPLAN to revitalise the city’s ‘best park’ is fully under way after a homelessness charity was confirmed to run the old Arts Lodge.
The Society of St James was yesterday unveiled as the new operator for the vacant site, now called Cafe in the Park, in Portsmouth’s Victoria Park.
It is the city’s best park which has been under-used for too long. Many thousands of people live close to the park and we are going to bring in facilities and make sure we get the most out of the parkCouncillor Donna Jones
It was previously run by Art & Soul Traders before their public eviction by Portsmouth City Council in February – which led to protests and five arrests.
The charity – which provides support to families struggling with homelessness across Hampshire – will run the cafe during the day and provide training programmes for vulnerable people to enhance their skill sets in the evenings.
Mike Taylor, the charity’s operations director, said: ‘We are very excited about the possibilities for the cafe and think the park will be perfect for a project like this.
‘It is our first commercial cafe and we believe it will deliver benefits across the spectrum to vulnerable people, including those with learning disabilities.’
Councillor Donna Jones, Tory leader of the council, said: ‘We have a masterplan of how we want Victoria Park to look and this is the first phase of that project.
‘It is the city’s best park which has been under-used for too long.
‘Many thousands of people live close to the park and we are going to bring in facilities and make sure we get the most out of the park.
‘I’m delighted that the Society of St James has won the contract for Cafe in the Park.
‘They will give opportunities to vulnerable people who have struggled with homelessness, alcohol abuse and substance abuse.
‘This cafe will increase their employment opportunities significantly.’
Around £100,000 has been spent on the site through construction and refurbishment which has notably seen the wall blocking the courtyard being knocked down to create a new entrance.
Mountjoy is the city’s contractor for the works, with the new cafe set to open its doors at the start of August.
Councillor Steve Pitt, Lib Dem opposition spokesperson for culture, said: ‘I welcome anything that provides working opportunities for vulnerable people, but I think that there is now a big gap in terms of cultural facilities in Portsmouth.
‘The Arts Lodge was the city’s premier arts facility and it is a shame that it has now gone.’