Café and flats could be lost for holiday lets but one community in Keswick is rebelling

A Keswick cafe owner, who started renting the building only one month before the national lockdown, is trying to raise more than £800,000 to buy the building in order to prevent it from being turned into holiday lets.

Chinty Turnbull has run Chinty’s cafe in the town since 2020. She recently discovered that the landlord wants to sell the building that people also live in and fears it will be sold for holiday lets, like many other properties in the town.

Determined to stop this from happening, Chinty started the Buy Back Keswick campaign. Her aim is to turn it into a community project and so far she has received £65,000 to help.

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She explained: “We got the lease on this little shop only a month before lockdown and we decided to have an eco cafe. After a month we had to close the cafe because of lockdown so we started delivering to locals in Keswick.

“We sent out emails and started delivering groceries and we did that all through lockdown. At the end of lockdown we got a grant and bought a little Morris Minor van and started delivering that way and then we opened again and it’s been all good.”

After developing and growing the business for two years and building a good reputation, Chinty was told three weeks ago that the landlord was putting the building up for sale. Chinty has three years left on the lease, however, there are four flats above the cafe which would mean those residents would need to find new accommodation.

Chinty said: “I thought they will probably be sold and go to holiday lets because during lockdown one of the things we saw as we were driving round the backstreets is that all the houses were going on the market. They were being sold overnight and then a lot of the time a skip would appear, the houses would be ripped apart and so on.

“I thought what are we going to do because we can’t afford to buy it ourselves and I thought why don’t we try and buy it. At least that way we can try and turn it into community property.

“There will be local property upstairs, local business downstairs and maybe it’s time now to do something and make a difference. If we don’t do something the whole town will just be sold from under us and the character will be gone.

“Keswick has a really good community, lots of things going on but all that changes when the property goes and when that happens there is nothing you can do about it.”

Verbally, Chinty has been offered £65,000 so far and is pleased with how she’s moving forward. People are going into the shop and giving Chinty money and even those who can’t afford to help are getting involved in different ways by spreading the word.

She added: “The response has been amazing. People are really supporting me. A customer came in the other day and said she hasn’t got any money but she was going to the doctors for an appointment but was going to make sure she told everyone in the waiting room.

“I think people are really behind me. I went to school here, and my kids went to school here, but we rent a house, even renting is finding somewhere to rent is a problem.

“Sometimes you have to stick your neck out and say what you think. £825,000 is a lot of money, but if I could find 825 people like me putting £1,000 in it would actually be possible. It’s a very optimistic thing.”

Chinty says it has been stressful so far, she’s trying to run a business while also running the campaign but it’s important. She believes it’s something the town needs.

She said: “A lot of people together can make a real sound and it’s really worth doing. It’s better to do something and try.

“This is about normal people, who don’t have much money, working together to make a difference.”

Anyone wanting to get involved can message Chinty Hayes (her maiden name) on Facebook or pop into the shop or even email her chintyt@gmail.com.

The government announced plans in the Queen’s Speech to allow local authorities to double council tax bills on second homes.

There is more “we need to explore” when it comes to the issue of second home ownership, housing minister Stuart Andrew has said.

Mr Andrew’s comments came as Liberal Democrat Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) said: “It is vital that infrastructure is provided before development is allowed. It’s also vital that houses that are given planning commission or that aren’t given planning permission are then used for the purposes that was agreed when they were given planning permission in the first place. I’m talking about second home ownership. Homes that were built for local families that end up being second homes and leading to communities being hollowed out.

“Would he agree to look again at the Bill that is coming to look at bringing in a new change of use, so that second homes and holiday lets are separate categories of planning use, so that homes in Cumbria can remain for local families and not just become part of ghost towns?”

Mr Andrew replied: “The issue of second homes is something that I seem to be dealing with on a daily basis with colleagues from around the country, raising it with me and highlighting some of the concerns they have for their communities.

“We have in the Bill the ability for local councils to increase council tax on those second homes. But I think there is more that we need to explore and that’s why I’m doing a series of roundtables around the country and maybe I can come up to the Lake District to do one there.”

Lancs Live – Cumbria