Friday, 26 September 2008

Help save our cafe


(UPDATE: Sadly, it wasn't saved and not just the cafe, but the entire company closed.)

Regular readers may remember that when I first got here in June and did a quick survey of the exciting attractions in New Milton, I virtually drew a blank, save for one calming oasis in this lifeless desert: Dorcas Coffee Shop.

In actual fact, as you can see from the wording on the facade, it's a community furniture project and coffee shop, providing furniture to people on benefits, etc., for very low rates. The coffee shop sells local, fair trade and organic products and, mainly draws in a "better class" (IMHO) of like-minded folk.

The official blurb at the New Milton town hall website says said:

"Dorcas New Forest based in New Milton is a furniture re-use charity seeking to provide furniture, household and electrical items to those who would not otherwise be able to afford to purchase their own and is open to anyone within the New Forest area on means tested benefits or with a low income.

Another of Dorcas' primary aims is to promote re-use and recycling of furniture, electrical and household goods within our local community by providing a collection service (£5 collection fee applies). This has dual benefits by providing a source of items for disadvantaged families and individuals, and by reducing the number of items going to landfill sites."

Dorcas have a warehouse too, but put furniture for sale on display in the coffee shop. This is a wonderful system, because every time you go in there's a different sofa to lounge on, or dining table to sit round, where you can read the paper (provided by the shop) ... and the furniture and price tags are a talking point, getting complete strangers chatting to one another.

The coffee shop format is good for Dorcas, attracting more interest and donations than a mere showroom and warehouse could and, this benefits the "disadvantaged" greatly too, by making more available and giving them a place where they can call in that is supportive and non-judgemental.

The coffee shop also provides paid employment for one (partially disabled) employee: all of the rest of the super-friendly staff are volunteers.

For all of those reasons, along with their excellent quality, comparatively low prices and a loyalty card system that gives me every 11th coffee free, Dorcas has now become an obligatory stop every time I walk into town.

But ... There's always one, isn't there?

Someone, whose opinion appears to be fairly representative of the narrow-minded rightwingnuts here, already told me that some locals don't like this coffee shop, because they feared it would draw "undesirables" - maybe it does, if you count people like me, aging hippies, the disabled and the like.

Their objection alone was enough to make me a loyal Dorcas customer, partly in defiance, but mostly because that tells me it would attract nicer people I'd get on with and would be a place where I could escape the chavs and the many with stiflingly overbearing conservative attitudes.

However, there is the fact, that Dorcas is one of many (too many) cafes in New Milton's high street. Most of the others are just "average": probably once of the "Greasy Spoon" ilk, mostly trying to look like tourist tea rooms these days and, in my opinion, failing miserably at it.

They maybe wouldn't be too far out of place in Playa de las Américas, but here in New Milton they are laughably out of date and out of step with demand.

To compete, they should pull their socks up and modernize. But do they?

No, it appears not, because the council have received a number of objections against Dorcas' planning application to retain the use of the premises as a coffee shop and, I'm given to understand that those mostly came from other cafes. So they favour abusive practices, not healthy competition, do they?

And, they seem to be oblivious to the fact that they cater to totally different markets, which is another sign that they have their heads up their bums. :)

If you're from this area and care about this, or can see your way to adding your support for any other reason, I would urge you to do so. According to the details online, this case has not yet been decided, but the planning committee meeting date for it is on October 8th, which is Wednesday week.

There's a petition one can sign (I have already), if you call into Dorcas, otherwise, us members of the public can leave comments on the New Forest District Council's website. Planning Application - 08/92794, 48 STATION ROAD, NEW MILTON BH25 6JX, refers (which you can find here.)

On that page, you'll see Public Representations, including Neighbours near the bottom, where you can click a link to be able to make your comments.

So far there seem to be 5 against and 19 in support of the coffee shop (plus mine, which makes it 20, or 4:1 in favour), which superficially, looks like really good news, but I'd love to see them get really overwhelming support.

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