A MUCH-LOVED café in Sheffield’s Whirlowbrook Park is set to reopen after shutting last year amid protests from regular visitors and local residents.
Whirlowbrook Hall will again be run as a wedding and events venue after operator Saxon Hotels Ltd signed a 25-year lease with Sheffield Council.
The firm has pledged to build a new café, and has offered to provide a refreshments service this summer while work is carried out.
Whirlowbrook Hall is to reopen on May 4 with a garden party.
Coun Isobel Bowler, cabinet member for culture, sport and leisure, said the announcement was ‘great news for Sheffield’ and that while the new café will not be located in the hall, this means it will not have to compete with community events planned at the venue.
“The hall belongs to the city - it can’t just sit there empty,” she said.
The café traded in the park for 60 years before closing last October when previous operator Fretwell-Downing, based at Grindleford, surrendered its lease for the hall and café.
Sheffield Council said the café had to close because officials were unable to find an operator prepared to run alongside the main part of Whirlowbrook Hall.
Hallam MP Nick Clegg joined park users to protest against the move, and a petition attracting 1,500 signatures was also handed in.
An operator called Kudos signed up in September, but did not wish to continue running the café, and later dropped out.
Paul Brown, director of Saxon Hotels, said: “The team and I are very excited about re-establishing Whirlowbrook Hall as one of Sheffield’s leading venues. We are also looking forward to providing the community with a more accessible venue, with many opportunities to use the hall throughout the year.”
It is hoped the new café will be open to the public by summer 2014. While work is carried out, Saxon plan to open the hall on a number of weekends this summer for afternoon tea.
Saxon have also owned Mosborough Hall Hotel in Sheffield since 2004, establishing it as a popular wedding venue. Operator Longrose Buccleuch is also involved in the lease agreement.
Garin Davies, Longrose Buccleuch’s director, said: “Having been a customer of Whirlowbrook Park café since my grandparents took me when I was just six years old, I am delighted that we have agreed a solution for the café. We shall endeavour to ensure this provides a good facility for users of the park.”
Coun Bowler said: “It’s great news for the people of Sheffield that this unique facility will re-open for events and once again play its part in this wonderful public park. The proposed community events will also bring a new dimension to the hall and attract even more people to enjoy the park.
“I’m also really pleased that for the first time, the operator is offering a dedicated café operation which won’t have to compete with events and that while this is being developed, Saxon Hotels will offer a summer refreshments service starting this year.”
Coun Bowler continued: “Saxon is a really good operator and we’re really pleased about it all, to be honest. The reason the café is not going to open straight away is that building work needs to be carried out.
“It’s a new building. We have every confidence that Saxon will do that for us, we’re in a much better position than we were with the previous operator.”
Securing a tenant for the hall was the key issue the council had to contend with, the councillor explained.
“The café took up half of the front of the building, so the idea is to convert an existing building on the driveway into a café.
“The new general manager has got really great ideas about events in the grounds.”
Coun Bowler said a pop-up restaurant could be opened in the hall serving lunches, along with fun events in the park such as Easter egg hunts.
“They want to put on events which people can come and participate in.
“Having the café in the hall was just not a realistic option. The café needs to be separate.
“The problem from a business point of view is that events couldn’t start until 5pm at weekends because the café was open.
“It’s a compromise between allowing the operator to make a reasonable amount of money and at the same time making sure that people who use the park have got the opportunity to have refreshments.
“There’s no additional cost. I think in the current economic environment it’s a really good result.”
There is also a suggestion that signs could be put up including the hall in the Sheffield Round Walk to boost visitor numbers.
Greg Dyke, owner of Saxon Hotels Ltd, said: “I am very excited to be involved with the re-opening of Whirlowbrook Hall, it is a stunning venue.
“We have built a very successful wedding and events-led business at Mosborough Hall and we are keen to do the same at Whirlowbrook.”
Last year Mr Clegg said he was unhappy the council did not stipulate that the café should remain open as part of the tendering process for a new operator, saying the decision was ‘a mistake’.
Enquiries and bookings for Whirlowbrook Hall are now being taken ready for the venue’s reopening celebrations in May.
To make an enquiry or for more information visit www.whirlowbrook.co.uk or call 01143 210209.