Rose Garden Cafe: Victory for campaigners as Sheffield Council agrees to save and restore beloved Graves Park building

A special meeting of Sheffield City Council has decided to launch an action plan to save and restore the Rose Garden Cafe in Graves Park.

The council’s charity trustee sub-committee agreed on Wednesday (October 18) to set up a partnership with community members to spearhead the restoration of the cafe building, shelving options that would have seen it demolished or replaced.

Andy Kershaw, co-chair of the Save the Rose Garden Cafe campaign, commented: “We are very pleased after 15 months of campaigning! Here’s to the success of what we hope will be a ‘genuine partnership’.”

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Caroline Dewar, chair of the Friends of Graves Park, told councillors that the decision is ‘a significant step forward. What a shame it has taken us 15 months to get to this point, which has meant that opportunities have been lost and trust in the council and their officers has been eroded.’

Campaigners celebrating the Rose Garden Cafe partial reopening in December 2022. They are now hoping to form a partnership with Sheffield City Council to restore the building. Picture: Andy Kershaw Campaigners celebrating the Rose Garden Cafe partial reopening in December 2022. They are now hoping to form a partnership with Sheffield City Council to restore the building. Picture: Andy Kershaw
Campaigners celebrating the Rose Garden Cafe partial reopening in December 2022. They are now hoping to form a partnership with Sheffield City Council to restore the building. Picture: Andy Kershaw

Members of the committee, which oversees the cafe on behalf of the council as sole trustee of a charitable trust that owns the park, agreed to create the Rose Garden Cafe Partnership to secure the future of the building and raise funds to restore it. That could involve any interested groups and would be chaired independently.

The cafe was closed suddenly last July after concerns were raised about its structural safety and it only partly reopened in December after supports were put in place on the building, which dates to 1927.

A report to the committee estimates that the cost of full restoration would be £1.79m. Partial restoration work is estimated at £911,000.

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Campaigners voiced their worries that options looking at demolition of the building have only been shelved, not removed. Andy Kershaw described that as ‘a sword of Damacles’ hanging over the cafe.

Committee chair Coun Ian Auckland, who represents Graves Park ward, said: “We are NOT pursuing demolition. The proposal is for the partnership to draw up a strategy for restoration which will be brought back to the committee for final decision.”

Legal and governance officer Sarah Bennett said that demolition can’t be removed yet as there are too many unknowns to categorically rule it out.

However, officers have been clear that, once the committee votes for restoration, that’s where their efforts will be directed.

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Council director of direct services Tom Smith said that a failure to agree on issues between the council and campaigners were the reason why the council wants a partnership so that everyone agrees a way forward.

Caroline Dewar said that tests must take place urgently on the front wall of the building. She said that the building did not “fall into disrepair”, the council failed to maintain it despite receiving a rent and profit share from the operators, who are BrewKitchen.

She said the whole situation had been caused delays and “obfuscation of accounts by the council”.

Andy Kershaw said: “I’m not going to let this council forget that 12 people were put out of work for nearly a year because of the actions of the council. Fifteen months on we are at a position which we were suggesting a year ago and this is something about the mechanics of the council that members need to think about.

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“We suggested a partnership agreement going forward to raise funds for this cafe so that the decline would not continue and yet here we are on the cusp of another winter and the parlous state of the cafe continues to deteriorate.”

Council deputy leader Coun Fran Belbin responded: “I do completely support the idea of a partnership and I do think that one of the lessons of today has got to be that we have to be much more geared up to be looking for these kinds of partnerships.

“It shouldn’t take 15 months to get to this point, to be honest, and there are so many things happening across the city where we are going to need to work in partnership with our communities, with our voluntary sector and with other organisations in the city, and that should be the first question we’re asking, who can we work in partnership with, rather than having to wait to get to this stage.”

Coun Belbin said consultation is a positive move and is one that is needed. She said that funders would want it as evidence.

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That doesn’t mean everything has to stop in the meantime, she added.

Coun Zahira Naz said: “Consultation needs to be short, quick and meaningful. We can’t take another year consulting people again – 11,000-plus people have already told us their views, that has to be taken into consideration.”

She added: “Fifteen months is too long. This has really broken down trust that we as councillors take a very long time building in communities and we can’t let this happen again. We must make sure we deal with issues like this in a timely manner.”

Coun Douglas Johnson said: “Clearly, demolition is not something that anyone is looking at now, so that’s fine.”

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He said that the different views of the surveyors the council used, and the one who acted on behalf of the Friends group, need to be sorted out in order to make clear the actual state of the building and what needs doing.

Coun Richard Williams, who chairs the council parks committee, said: “It’s taken a long time to get here but I’d rather be here than not at all.”

He said it’s a beautiful building but also an amenity for the community and the right model needs to be put in place to make sure that the same issues don’t arise again in 25 years’ time.

Coun Auckland said he hoped members of the public had been ‘reasonably encouraged’ by what they had heard. He added: “We do want to proceed at speed to get things done.”

The partnership group is expected to start meeting in November.