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A “desperately needed” coffee shop

August 25, 2011

Last year the Big Lottery Fund, i.e. a special tax levied largely on poor people, doled out £400K to the village of Caistor in Lincolnshire, to convert an old church to a museum, library and cafe. The BBC naturally approved, and devoted a nauseatingly sentimental episode of their “Village SOS” programme to it on 24 August.

Caistor, population 2,700, is about the same size as my neighboring village of Farnsfield and has about the same facilities – a pub, convenience store, post office, chip shop, pizza bar, and pharmacy.  But the presenter Sarah Beeny seemed to think they were not enough, and made much of the fact that the butcher, baker and another pub had all closed for lack of custom.  She seemed unable to comprehend that the apparently well-nourished inhabitants might have chosen to buy some of their food and drink from nearby supermarkets for a reason.

The grant paid for Charlotte, a dreadful yuppie fashion executive from London to live in the village for a year and move the whole thing along.   A couple of local bores wanted a museum, to add to the 2,500 museums already in England – there’s a hundred in the East Midlands alone, mostly subsidised by the taxpayer because they can’t make enough from admission fees.  No-one thought to question whether we had enough already.

To her credit Charlotte told them that no-one would visit their dreary museum, and that the library, which the local council insisted also moved into the centre, was unlikely to draw in many more.  She suggested building a cafe alongside to entice a few paying customers in, so that’s what they did.   It was a struggle to get the locals enthused, but the grant paid for all the serious work, and the thing got built.   Eventually she persuaded a few locals to “volunteer” to work in the cafe, and a few more to buy her expensive real coffee.

I liked the local councillor who, enticed out by the cameras, good naturedly told Charlotte she was the best looking bully they’d ever seen in the village, and made her cry. It was a telling moment, and good TV.   But I missed hearing the opinion of the local publican at finding a subsidised competitor shaving off his bar food profits!

I’ll make a prediction.  The “desperately needed” cafe will be serving instant, or more likely have failed completely within the year, and the museum will be begging for more subsidy.   I’ll report back.

Jim Thornton

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