The Runaway Cafe to stay at Lewes Railway Station

Runaway Cafe, Lewes Station
Runaway Cafe, Lewes Station

The Runaway Cafe is to stay at Lewes Railway Station after a dramatic U-turn this week by Southern.

Staff were preparing to close by March 2 after the rail firm put the lease out for tender and then awarded the contract to the Flying Coffee Bean.

But after the coffee firm was hit with a backlash from Runaway supporters, it withdrew its offer amid accusations of “intimidation”.

On Wednesday it was confirmed Southern had given the lease back to The Runaway on a three-year term.

Cafe Director owner Jacqueline Elsey said: “We’re absolutely jubilant. I was humbled that so many people were showing their support for the cafe.”

There had been a huge outcry from customers, with 5,000 signing a petition, after Southern announced the lease would be put out to tender at the end of last year.

Southern announced on Tuesday that The Flying Coffee Bean had withdrawn from becoming the leaseholder, and Jacqueline was told on Wednesday that her business there could continue.

Flying Coffee Bean Managing Director Barny Clevely said: “There appears to be a small, but very vocal minority who have made it clear of their intentions to mount a broad attack on our business activities outside of Lewes. It is too much to ask of my loyal and incredibly hard working team, who have helped me build my business, to deal with this contingent whose activities have verged on direct intimidation.”

There was a furious reaction from commuters to news last week that The Runaway had failed in its bid to renew the lease at Lewes station, after trading as the cafe there since 1988.

Hundreds of people began following a new Twitter feed set up over the weekend calling for a boycott of The Flying Coffee Bean, which already has outlets at Brighton, Guildford and Woking stations.

Local forums and social networking sites were inundated with complaints.

The hostile reaction and boycott threats led to The Flying Coffee Bean’s withdrawal announcement on Tuesday. Southern Managing Director Chris Burchell said at the time “We are disappointed that this will deny Lewes station and our passengers the significant, new investment promised in the tender which would also have retained the individual nature of the outlet, in line with local wishes. However we remain determined to ensure that the best possible solution for the station is found.”

Southern said it would re-evaluate the other tenders that were submitted and will be in contact with bidders to determine the way forward for the cafe. Then cam the dramatic change of heart.

The hostile reaction and boycott threats led to The Flying Coffee Bean’s withdrawal announcement on Tuesday.

Mr Clevely continued: “There has been a consistent and sustained misrepresentation of who we are as an entity and what our intentions are with The Runaway. It would have been in very safe hands under our stewardship with our published intention of retaining all that is great about it. I am truly disappointed and sorry that we will not be able to deliver that for the people of Lewes. I would like to thank many of the residents for their encouragement and Southern Railway for the sensitive handling of this.”