Nightmare time for Knaresborough cafe 'let down by system'

Doreen Hodgson, mother of Amy Hodgson, the owner of The Old Ticket Office Cafe at Knaresborough Railway Station. (1610174AM1)
Doreen Hodgson, mother of Amy Hodgson, the owner of The Old Ticket Office Cafe at Knaresborough Railway Station. (1610174AM1)
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The tenant-owners of The Old Ticket Office cafe at Knaresborough Railway Station say they are determined to survive what has been a nightmare two years for them.

Situated in the spot which was once occupied by Off The Rails restaurant, their popular cafe is currently closed after yet more repairs on a building they say has never been fit for purpose from the start.

Current work at The Old Ticket Office Cafe in Knaresborough.

Current work at The Old Ticket Office Cafe in Knaresborough.

Owner Amy Hodgson, 28, took over the lease with the determination to create a successful new local business.

With the help of two part-time staff and her biggest supporter and helper,her mum Doreen, Amy hoped The Old Ticket Office cafe would inject life into a prime location on the station platform for the benefit of passengers and locals.

Despite its popularity with customers and commuters, it has been hit by leaks and power cuts for most of its life-span.

The cafe seem to have fallen foul of the complex relationship between involves the cafe’s property agents Lambert Smith Hampton, who handle the property for Northern Rail, the latter who own the rail station and are, ultimately, responsible for its structural condition and Network Rail, who are charged with carrying out the actual repairs on the station.

As the owners of Knaresborough Railway Station, Northern Rail issued a comment to the Knaresborough Post.

A spokesperson for Northern Rail said: “We always try to support businesses on our stations during their start-up period and our aim is to assist them to succeed in the long term.

“There have been issues with the building at Knaresborough and Network Rail is in the process of attending to this.

“We have negotiated a compensation package and continue to work closely with the Hodgsons.”

Last week a sad-looking Amy showed the Knaresborough Post round as much of her small business as it was safe to do.

The property had been gutted and the floorboards exposed as repairs were carried out by Network Rail workmen.

It had been that way for more than two weeks already and, in truth, it looked more like a bomb site than a cafe.

Previously this ambitious and likable young woman had owned the quirky but traditional China Blue Tearoom off Jockey Lane in Knaresborough and, prior to that, had made a successful living travelling the world in the transportation side of horse racing.

Why should it be so hard to repeat her success at Knaresborough Railway Station?

Amy said: “Business was booming at the cafe. Commuters loved us. Our reputation was high.

“But leaks from the ceiling have forced us to make repairs ourself. This time it’s Network Rail who are working on our property as part of the general renovation of the station.”

The fact Amy and Doreen were forced to remove all the fixtures and fittings before work could begin three weeks ago - including the plumbing - would amount to no more than an inconvenience had the problems affecting the cafe not dragged on for so long already.

Hearing their story, it becomes clear the last two years have been a bit of a nightmare for Amy, her mum and the cafe their customers love so much.

Amy said: “There were issues as we were first drawing up the lease with the property agents in August 2014.

“At the viewing, it was clear the floor wasn’t stable. You’d walk along and it was springing. And the ceiling was falling apart in places.

“As tenants, the building’s structure was not going to be our responsibility but we decided to repair everything we could except the roof at our own expense.”

The lease was finally signed in April 2015. It was a proud moment for Amy when her cafe opened in June 2015 with its two x 26 covers, warm scones just out of the oven and cafetières full of hot coffee.

The dream didn’t last long. By October 2015, she says, the rain was already leaking through the ceiling damaging all the repairs they’d recently carried out in terms of decorating and plastering.

Amy says from the very beginning they kept in touch with Lambert Smith Hampton, the property agents they lease the cafe building from.

They’ve been their first, very regular, port of call for any complaints about the building.

Around a month later in November 2015 Network Rail staff did turn up to inspect the cafe as part of looking at the general condition of buildings at Knaresborough Railway Station.

But, Amy and Doreen say nothing more happened until staff from Network Rail returned in February 2016 as part of the contracting process.

Hopes rose the following month when hordes of workmen from potential contractors started to arrived to tender for the job.

They were shortlived, however. There was to be no actual repair at the cafe for six months, during which time the cafe suffered more flooding, more damage and more closures as the leaks shorted the electricity on a regular basis.

Amy and Doreen even had to cancel a full set of bookings for Valentines night.

Amy said: “During all this, water has still been pouring in through the ceiling. We’ve told the property agents regularly and they always say repairs are in hand.

“It’s been an absolute mess at times. The leaks affect our doors, our floors and our walls and, every now and then it blows the fuses, then the electricity goes. It’s been very difficult and very expensive.”

It’s not that Amy of her mother believe the authorities have ever set out to ruin the business.

Doreen said that they got on well with Network Rail, their staff and the workmen who seems to be regularly visitors to the cafe, sometimes just to hold their discussions there.

And they say Northern Rail have also offered them financial compensation and almost a year of free rent since they first complained.

It’s more that The Old Ticket Office cafe has been a victim by accident of the way the modern world works - the tangle of owners and organisations, priorities and relationships.

The most worrying feature for ‘David’ in this David v Goliaths story is there seems to be no end in sight.

Network Rail say they are trying to be supportive.

A Network Rail spokesperson said this week: “The problems with the roof at Knaresborough station have developed over a period of time and we are currently carrying out repairs to prevent future problems.

“As well as improving the exterior of the building generally, the guttering and pipes are also being repaired on the main building.

“The station is Grade II listed which means that repairs to the floor inside the building must be carried out in a specific way using reclaimed replacements rather than new, although the floor will be replaced in a better condition to that which was there before the work began.”

But major problems remain which Amy and Doreen will be left with even after the current work is completed and the cafe reopens.

Amy said: “Northern Rail first agreed to waive our rent in April this year, which we are grateful for. They also offered some financial compensation. But the property agents claimed a lot of it back and have kept half the money we were due to get.”

The property agents themselves, Lambert Smith Hampton, say they never comment on their tenants, directing all enquiries to Northern Rail.

Despite the detrimental affect on a cafe which has been well-loved by its regulars despite all the problems since it first opened in June 2015, this story isn’t about money from the point of view of Amy or her mum.

The story is really about just one thing - the roof.

Doreen said: “We’ve pointed out that it’s the roof that is the problem but that’s the one thing they haven’t sorted.

“They’re only making the small repairs but what they need to do is spend a proper sum of money to fix the whole roof.

Amy and Doreen are a determined pair of individuals and remain committed to The Old Ticket Office cafe.

But, as we went to press, Doreen got in touch to say the work at their cafe had suffered another setback.

Doreen said: “We met with Network Rail again. They are replacing some of the split floor boards again, so there will be more delays in opening.

“Then we will have to reinstall our kitchen and redecorate at our expense, then open, even though the property is not water tight.”

Hope remains that their terrible situation may come to and end, the question is when?

Amy said: “As far as we are concerned, the buildings at the station haven’t been looked after properly. They are clearly in a much worse state than Northern Rail anticipated.

“We are completely out of pocket. Network Rail have told us they want to go ahead with work on the roof itself but there’s no money in the current contract for that.

“There’s no indication when it will all be done properly.”