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Islington Tribune - by PETER GRUNER
Published: 31 July 2009

Supporters of the café. ‘I’ve done the groundwork. Now they want someone else with more money,’ said owner Lorraine Fox
Canal bosses threaten to sink the Sandwich Barge

Popular floating café forced to shut as owner pays the penalty of success

A SINGLE mother’s canalboat café, which brought new life to a neglected stretch of waterway at Angel, has been closed down – an apparent victim of her own success.
Lorraine Fox’s narrowboat snack bar, the Sandwich Barge, brightened up the desolate towpath at City Road Basin. Walkers and cyclists enjoyed the friendly service and home-made tea and cakes served in china cups and plates.
So popular was the café that British Waterways (BW), which owns the mooring on the Regent’s Canal, has decided the pilot project must now go out to competitive business tender.
It means ex-catering worker Lorraine, 42, could lose her spot on the canal to someone offering BW a better deal. Customers have joined a campaign launched this week to urge BW to keep her enterprise afloat.
She said: “I proved I could make a success and complied with all the business regulations.
“But they told me there are others wishing to do the same thing and I would now have to bid for the site. They would put my tender into a database.”
She has already spent £7,000 on the business, borrowing most of the money from family and friends. Many of the boat’s renovations were done by supporters for free or on the cheap.
Lorraine, who lives nearby and has four children aged from four to 22, is seeking help from the Waterways Ombudsman.
Despite closing the café down, BW has asked Lorraine to attend a food-tasting day at a Waterways Festival at Mile End on August 24.
The snack bar was launched in May on a trial basis, with the blessing of BW. It was forced to shut on June 17.
Lorraine said: “It feels as if BW are cashing in on my success. I’ve done all the groundwork and now they want someone else with more money.”
A friend lent her the 37-foot traditional canalboat, which Lorraine, with local help, transformed into the small café.
Before opening, she did research by counting the number of people using the towpath.
She said: “Weather permitting, at weekends there are between 70 and 150 people walking past every 20 minutes to half an hour. During the week it works out at about 60 per half an hour.”
Del Brenner, chairman of Regent’s Canal Network and a member of the Mayor’s Thames and Waterways Steering Group, described BW as “money-grabbing”.
He added: “It sounds as if they want to stamp on this business because they can’t bear the thought of not making enough money out of it. BW is a navigational authority and totally inept in the way they deal with business.”
Antonia Cox, Conservative parliamentary candidate for Islington South and Finsbury, found it difficult to believe that BW would halt a popular canal business in the middle of a recession. “They never mentioned anything about tendering when Lorraine set up,” she said.
“The Sandwich Barge was a real addition to City Road Basin and welcomed by all.”
Gareth Stephens, leisure business manager at British Waterways, said: “Islington is a fantastic, bustling canal location. British Waterways has been contacted by a number of parties interested in setting up restaurant businesses, both on land and afloat, in the area.
“We are certainly not opposed to establishing a quality catering operation that will improve the experience of this lovely setting for canal users and visitors. As a public corporation, British Waterways cannot favour one party over another and it is important we undertake a fair process to select the right operator.”
A competitive tender process was underway to choose a suitable operator, with the aim of establishing a long-term trading agreement, he added.

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Your comments:

THIS is another money grabbing operation by BW, makes you wonder who the people are running the waterways, she has my full support, and good luck to her,she needs it in this resession.

THE answer to this stupidity is to make it clear that if anyone else wins the franchise we will campaign to close them down, and certainly won't use them.
T. Boddington

WHAT BW fail to realise is that "funky and friendly" small businesses like this are a huge asset to the canal not only in terms of providing a great service at a reasonable price but by creating an atmosphere in which other small businesses... for example narrow boats offering candle-light dinners with fine wines can also flourish. These seamingly opposed ideas are not mutually exclusive.
A. Jillings

A BIG THANK YOU to all those who support my cause and for airing their comments. I have an online petition if they oppose BWW decision and support what I am doing:either google 'sandwich barge petition' or visit my web page and click on the icon.
With Best Wishes
Lorraine Fox

THE Sandwich Barge is such a brilliant idea. It is an example of dedicated individual social enterprise. A mum of four having the get up and go to pull an operation like this together deserves a medal not persecution. I have been along this stretch of the canal many times and with a common sense approach, cannot see the problem. I would understand of this section was overcrowded with many cafes competing for this type of trade. But there aren't any. BW need to have a bit more humanity and generosity.
R. Watson

IV'E known Lorraine for many years. She is a very kind, lovely person. She spent many long hours and put two years into this project, give her a break! Not everything is about money?
P. Farmer


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