As we head towards 2014, the Pavilion Gardens Café and the Sewell family enter the new year with a cloud of uncertainty hanging over their future and the future of the Pavilion Gardens Café and Patio. Despite numerous attempts to persuade the bid team for the Heritage Lottery Fund that the café and community - an institution in our city, built over half a century, with a rich heritage and huge base of support - that the café building and patio should not be under threat in an way- the bid team placed an artists' impression of the gardens, right under our noses at a recent meeting - an image that, if realised, would involve demolishing the café and patio. They have put out misleading and confusing statements that point to the café either being moved or the Sewell's being offered a "business" in the new glass orangery (or some other indoor building yet to be designed). We've received such appalling mixed messages from this bid team that we enter 2014 with no other option but to launch an official petition, and to build a strong case for opposition to put to the Heritage Lottery Fund. This sad state of affairs is ENTIRELY of the bid team's own making, using public money to realise schemes decided personally before any real consultation. Just a few of the misleading and confusing messages from this bid team: - they claim they have met with David and the Friends on numerous occasions and they have called this "consultation". These meetings have largely come about because of the confusion and fear created by the bid team themselves. We were told their were no "plans" and then we see an artist impression of the café demolished (conveniently left out of the public domain). We are told these are not "plans" but "ambitions" (Quote, Catherine Carey). - Councillor Geoffrey Bowden belittled the café a lot during 2013, referring mostly to it as if it is a place that serves cups of tea and that's all - never recognising the 70 year heritage and the community that has a vibrant heritage of its own in the Gardens. He announced on several occasions that there has been wide CONSULATION already with over 700 conversations with local individuals and groups in the city. Catherine Carey (on the bid team) then shouts at David Newell at a meeting "IT ISN'T CONSULTATION", that there "HASN'T BEEN CONSULTATION" and that it is "JUST RESEARCH". Bowden continued to publicly speak of "Consultation" and now the first stage lottery bid, submitted and available to view refers once again to "consultation" having taken place with more to come in 2014. Easy to see why we don't trust these people. The so-called many meetings with the Sewells have largely created confusion and left David and the Friends feeling not consulted and not listened to. - Paula Murray, a senior member of the Council's leadership tells David that the Newell family are a vital part of the future of the gardens at the same meeting that David is shown a picture of the café demolished and the patio built over. This is not the first time the council has attempted to get rid of the Sewells from the gardens. There is a pre-set agenda here, a bunch of personal biases. David's fear is born of some history here. It isn't the first time they've tried to get rid of him. They now use this repeated term that the café is safe "as a business" and we all know what that means. At these meetings, Andrew Comben from the Dome looked very uncomfortable. Quite right - he's basically a neighbour to the café in the gardens and the café has regularly welcomed Dome staff over the years. We can't believe Andrew wants the family and community to be treated like this. We can't believe the Dome and Pavilion Trustees want an established community in the gardens so badly treated either. It is going to be reflected in those who choose whether to remain friends and members of their various "Friends" schemes. People are becoming outraged, even if a minority would like the café demolished and replaced with something more expensive and elitist. - Finally there's the outrage caused by the rather naughty statement that the gardens will be fenced off and entry charged for. Well, no, at present the gardens would remain free to all during the day but there are strong indications they will have a security fence and be closed at night and also closed for selected "ticketed" events. What bothers us greatly here is that Paula Murray, at our first meeting with her, set all this in the context of falling revenues for the Council, the Pavilion and the Dome. Public money is declining and the Estate needs revenue. Many other gardens around the country have begun free and slowly ticketed events have grown. In some cases, with a change of government or policy, free becomes charged. The current bid team and managers of the estate cannot guarantee the gardens will always be free and there are worrying precedents here. To make statements that the gardens will always be free is to be misleading and arrogant. And "securing" the gardens makes it easier to change policy in the future. It's an old strategy - to introduce change little by little. It often defeats protest. Currently the gardens are open to all, all the time. Currently the Estate has cafés in the Dome, the Pavilion, a bar on New Road and a new café in the closed down Visitor Centre. There is no strong case to replace the only real outdoor café in the gardens with a mainly indoors one. We fear another agenda here too. To offer the Sewells a bad deal when their lease renews in a couple of years and then replace them with a preferred caterer when they are forced to walk away. Pavilion Gardens Café and Patio is not just a café An outdoor café is a unique thing - it's entirely different from an indoor one. A seasonal café is a dying breed in the UK. The secluded and seasonal nature of the Pavilion Gardens Café is eclectic and valued by a huge number of people. It adds to the portfolio of café offerings on the Estate. It always has. So, the Friends of the Café are still deeply worried for the future of the café and patio. We do not feel that this bid is in safe hands at the moment. Communication has been appalling and created fear. We've experienced spin, silence and inconsistency. We call on the Bid Team to make a clear statement that recognises that the Pavilion Gardens Café and Patio are not theirs to change, and more than the Dome or Pavilion are there to be knocked down. Leave it alone. Half a century is more than enough to represent valuable heritage in its own right. Leave it alone. We'll be launching our petition in early January, starting our campaign of letters of opposition and engaging directly with the Heritage Lottery Fund. Please continue to promote this page and watch out for events in 2014 that are aimed to reinforce the value of the café and patio to all who love it and want it kept as it is. We are going to make this a very national campaign. The bid team has entirely misread the strength of feeling on this issue. Attempts are regular made by members of this team to meet with David Sewell on his own which causes him a lot of stress. The Friends of the Café are now a properly constituted group and saving the café and patio is not only about the Sewell family - it's about a piece of important local heritage and a valued community under threat, a quirky community, unique to our city. We are still amazed that some of the Greens are leading on this. (Others are less shocked at that, it would seem). We are open to yours views about café opening hours, other aspects of what the café offers and also how it can fit positively with the lottery bid. Our campaign will continue and grow for as long as is necessary to secure the future of the café and patio. The bid team's behaviour is putting a bid that could benefit the city under threat. They are being narrow minded and claim that consultation that will shape this bid is yet to come. We don't believe them. Based on the way we have been "handled" we don't trust that process a bit and believe it will be used to realise an agenda, part of which is to destroy the café, patio and community and replace with it something not wanted. This bid team has focused on this one area in the gardens as the solution to a bunch of problems. We've been told that a place to put hats, coats and bags ("a visitor arrival space") could not be in the vast Dome because it is "protected". Rubbish. Go into the Dome and see some of the changes made with in there. There are plenty of places inside and outside that a visitor centre could go. It doesn't have to be on the patio. We dispute this team's claiming that Nash wanted an orangery where the café currently is. Interestingly there is an orangery café/restaurant at Kew Gardens run by er... Peyton and Byrne. Nash created a Pavilion full of contrast (inner and outer) and the Dome was once a stable for horses. Spaces change and newer, more recent heritage is established. The Bid Team are failing to recognise and value the heritage of the current café building and patio and, in 2014 and beyond, we will fight them to the last to keep what they are failing to value. We wish you all a happy new year and look forward to seeing you at the café when Winter's chill gives way to that unique Brighton spring which shimmer green and sunlit gold in the Royal Pavilion Gardens.
Best wishes Friends of the Pavilion Gardens Café and Patio