Community supports Leyton park cafe’s struggle

A Leyton community café is struggling to stay afloat after it was denied coronavirus funding because it is in a park.

Joy Watkins, owner of KuKooLaLa in Jubilee Park, was told that if her business was located just 100 metres away on the street she could have received the £10,000 small business grant.

A Crowdfunder page has raised almost £6,000 to help the café, which holds activities for children and the homeless and offers free meeting spaces for charities, stay open.

Joy said she was grateful for the support from her community but worried about the thousands of other small businesses also “falling through the cracks”.

Joy said: “I’m so lucky that I have an amazing community behind me that is helping me but what about all the other people who are stuck?

“If all those small businesses go bust and all those employees no longer have a job, that’s going to hurt our entire community.

“When furlough stops, that’s when we will see the fall-out of that. My staffing cost is everything and a lot of people will be in the same position.”

In May, the Government’s furlough scheme was extended until the end of October.

The café has remained open with reduced hours with the help of volunteers and has continued to provide for the community, offering hot meals and showers to the homeless and face masks to local residents.

Joy said: “We should not be having to fight for a space to run community activities. We are providing a service for the community that’s completely and utterly run on volunteers, we should not be begging.

“In the nicest way possible, the council have been forced to look at things only in terms of their monetary value because of austerity.

“The Government is providing less and less money for them, making it more difficult on the ground.”

A council spokesperson said the council was “acutely aware and sympathetic” to the situation faced by the café and other businesses like it.

They said: “We are doing all we can to identify ways in which we can offer a grant to KuKooLaLa Café, but Government support schemes come with clear eligibility criteria that we as a Council have to meet.

“We absolutely recognise the value KuKooLaLa Café has added to the local community and general environment of Jubilee Park and are appreciative of the hard work and commitment Joy demonstrates supporting local groups.

“Depending on overheads, cafés in parks are entitled to some grant funding and the council is also looking at how we can offer further support.

“It is of course vital we ensure fairness and consistency across the board as part of these decisions.

“Teams within the council have been working tirelessly to distribute grants and offer as much advice and business support as possible.”

Joy plans to use the money to bring back furloughed staff and prevent job losses, repair vital appliances and restore the event space, which was damaged by high winds.

You can donate to the Crowdfunder for the café here

Joy Watkins. Photo: Jonathan Ashworth

Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter