Family run café in City of London Cemetery faces battle to survive

Staff and customers outside The Poppy Pantry in City of London Cemetery and Crematorium

Staff and customers outside The Poppy Pantry in City of London Cemetery and Crematorium. - Credit: Jon King

A café owner is battling to save his business based at one of Europe's largest cemeteries.

The Poppy Pantry opened at City of London Cemetery and Crematorium in Manor Park in 2016.

But following its expiry, the eatery's five year-long lease is to be put out to tender by freeholder the City of London Corporation.

Paul charters stands in his cafe

Owner Paul Charters stands besides a tapestry recovered from Ypres during the First World War which was donated to The Poppy Pantry by a customer. - Credit: Jon King

Business owner Paul Charters urged the corporation to automatically renew it out of goodwill, having already battled to stay afloat due to Covid-19.

Takings were down 75 per cent in the last financial year at the family run establishment, which is named after the poppy symbol of remembrance.

Mr Charters said: "Why in the middle of a pandemic would you do this? It might be what they do normally, but these are not normal times. It's insensitive.

"We've gone from running a business to trying to save a business."

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He added that he is well aware of a campaign in 2016 to keep Parliament Hill Café, on Hampstead Heath, out of a catering chain's hands after its lease was put out to tender.

Petitions have gathered 4,500 signatures in support of The Poppy Pantry staying at the Grade I-listed, 200 acre site credited as one of Europe's largest municipal cemeteries.

Labour politician Lord Michael Cashman as well as former SAS trooper and author Phil Campion have shared messages of support.

Café regular Marlene Wood said: "It's just really nice. It's somewhere friendly to visit when you've been to a grave.

"If it wasn't here, it would be horrible. It wouldn't be the same. I would be gutted if they shut it down."

An amateur Second World War historian, Mr Charters and his staff presented veterans' charity the Royal British Legion with a cheque for £500 in May.

The Poppy Pantry also received a certificate of appreciation in recognition of its work to support the Legion's annual poppy appeal.

A total of 731 casualties from both world wars are buried at the cemetery, according to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

A spokesperson for the City of London Corporation said: "We are committed to providing the best possible services to the visitors of the City of London Cemetery and Crematorium.

"The café’s five year lease has come to an end which means that an automatic standard public tender process will begin this month."