Twickenham disability café under redevelopment threat from Richmond Council

A Twickenham café that exclusively hires people with learning disabilities has spoken out about its fears of being shut down by Richmond Council.

Café Sunshine, in Diamond Jubilee Gardens, has been run by Richmond Council since its opening in 2009. 

But its future is under threat due to the council’s plans to redevelop the area, a move that has already been met with criticism from the community.

The café has strived to give people with learning disabilities work experience in order to prepare them for other jobs, says Deborah Walker, supervisor at Café Sunshine. 

But Deborah told South West Londoner she was worried her staff won’t be able to get jobs elsewhere if the Café shuts down.

She said: “There really aren’t enough places like Café Sunshine that will employ people with learning disabilities.

“I really hope that they get placed elsewhere.”

Anit Singh, a barista with a learning disability who has worked at Café Sunshine since it opened in 2009, told South West Londoner he can’t face losing his current job.

He said: “I don’t want to lose this job. I don’t know what I will do next.

“I love this place. I love my manager, my team and the customers.”

Richmond Council told South West Londoner: “The council is considering the cafe’s future, alongside assessing what is best for the people working there.”

Deborah says she’s been told that Café Sunshine has between six months and a year left before it will have to close its doors.

However, the café’s future has been under threat for many years, separately from the planned redevelopment, according to publicly available documents from the council’s finance committee.

Richmond Council’s plans for the area include a complete demolition of existing buildings, building 45 residential units in its place. 

According to planning documents submitted by the council, 21 residential units will be sold as affordable housing, while the other 24 will be sold privately. 

It also plans on building a pub and a café in the area, as well as commercial and retail space for businesses to use.

The council has wanted to regenerate the area since Twickenham Lido was shut down in the 1980s, according to publicly available documents.  

Since the Lido’s closure, there have been a number of proposals to develop the area, none of which were successful. 

Deborah told South West Londoner that she was frustrated by how little information she was receiving.

However, Richmond Council insisted that Café Sunshine has been properly consulted.

“As the café is council owned and run, it has been well informed as to the future of the site,” a spokesperson told South West Londoner.

The council submitted a planning application for the redevelopment of Twickenham riverside last month.

Richmond Council’s Planning Committee will have to decide whether to approve the redevelopment scheme by the end of November.

The council told South West Londoner that Café Sunshine will have to close before construction begins, provided the Riverside redevelopment scheme gets approval.

The council’s Finance Policy and Resource Committee agreed in June to make a Compulsory Purchase Order to obtain the legal rights to the land it wishes to redevelop.

The land required for the development is currently owned by Twickenham Riverside Trust, who was given a 125 year lease on the land in 2014.

The CPO would legally force Twickenham Riverside Trust to sell the land to the council, if approved.

The final decision on the CPO’s approval rests with the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, who is currently MP for Surrey Heath Michael Gove.

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