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MAJOR BOOST: Cafe culture has boosted independents

MAJOR BOOST: Cafe culture has boosted independents

Image: LDRS

Making outdoor dining easier has brought “a buzz” to Solihull and offered a major boost to smaller outlets, a high street cafe has said.

The Magic Bean Coffee Shop, which opened to customers in May, is among two dozen local premises to have applied for pavement licences – introduced last year in an attempt to make social distancing easier.

While restrictions were finally ditched in July, the government had already announced that the licences would continue until the end of September 2022.

At a meeting last night, Solihull’s licensing chiefs rubber-stamped an extension to the local process, agreeing that businesses who already had a licence could renew at a reduced rate of £50. New applicants will still be charged £100.

Katie Washbourne, who runs The Magic Bean, a not-for-profit premises in the town centre, said the scheme had been hugely important – especially for independents.

Speaking ahead of the decision session, she said Covid had taken a heavy toll on the high street – one study showed visitor numbers were still 40 per cent down – which was why steps to help its recovery were so important.

“I think it creates a bit of a nice buzz in Solihull and a bit of a coffee shop culture of people sitting outside and being in the fresh air,” she said of the scheme.

“We have got three small tables and we’re seating eight people … it’s not a massive amount, but it’s really helpful.

“At the moment most hospitality businesses are lucky to break even and those few people outside may help people to come back to the high street but also save jobs – pay a staff’s wages for a day.”

With the coffee shop’s team still wearing masks and social distancing encouraged where possible, Ms Washbourne said that the extra space outside was also good for those still nervous about venturing indoors.

“Some people feel safer outside,” she said.

“I have friends who still won’t come in coffee shops [but feel better] about sitting outside and being served outside.”

Pavement licences were first introduced last year in an attempt to cut red-tape for those struggling to keep customers well-spaced.

As we reported in the spring, take-up in Solihull was quite sluggish at first and in the initial months applications tended to be restricted to larger chains like Wetherspoons and Costa Coffee.

But the easing of the latest lockdown brought a fresh flurry of applications from smaller premises, many opening for the very first time.

Alongside the Magic Bean, applications also came in from the likes of the newly-opened Loki Wine Bar, in Knowle, and Ale Hub, in Longmore Road.

Demand has dropped off in the second-half of the summer, with the most recent request from Solihull High Street’s Pret a Manger, in July.

Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick had announced earlier this year that pavement licences, originally set to expire on September 30, 2021, would continue for another 12 months.

This, he said, would provide “further certainty to businesses as they recover from the effects of the pandemic.”

Solihull licensing officer Annie Bettison said while premises would have to submit a new application to renew an existing licence, councils had already been urged to avoid an “onerous” process

It has therefore been agreed less supporting paperwork would be needed and fees would be halved – to reflect the reduction in admin.


Words: David Irwin, Local Democracy Reporter

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