Carol Ritchie is the owner of Ritchie’s Buffet in Angmering railway station.
The 57-year-old started the business in June 2006. Serving snacks and hot and cold drinks, the idea of Ritchie’s Buffet is to hark back to the buffet cars that used to be found on trains.
The logo is Carol’s signature in a love heart – which she said reflects how she has ‘put her heart into the business’.
But since the rail strikes started last April, Carol has lost so many customers that she had to cut staff hours and now she cannot afford to pay herself.
She fears she will not be able to pay the mortgage on her home in Winchester Road, Rustington, and that she might lose her business.
“It’s my baby. I’m a workaholic and without that, I’ve got nothing. It’s my life. I love my customers, and they love me; we’ve got a rapport going. I don’t want to lose my house that I have worked so hard for. It is my children’s inheritance and they will have nothing.”
To cut her living costs, Carol has had to cancel her monthly charity donations and the £10 a month she gave to her six grandchildren.
She said she lives off tinned food to reduce her shopping bill, and could not afford to buy Christmas presents last year: “It was awful. Can you imagine how it felt after years of being a proper grandma: spoiling them with presents, having them around. This year I didn’t invite anyone around for dinner, I couldn’t afford it.”
Carol said she had to renew the lease on her business with Southern operators Govia Thameslink Railway in January last year – six months before it ran out – and that her rent was increased from £1,500 to £1,800 every three months.
Her mother Angeline Wiseman, 76, wrote to Govia on Carol’s behalf asking for her rent to be reduced back to £1,500 while the strike action continues.
Mrs Wiseman said she has received no response, and Carol fears that her rent may increase again this year: “Everyone worries about the commuters, but not the small businesses. They think we are invincible and we will be here forever – but I might not be here next week.”
Carol has spoken to MP Peter Bottomley, and she said he will be speaking to Govia and the rail ministers to get them to help her.
Her daughter Lianne Ritchie approached the Gazette about her mother’s situation, as she was worried about her health and that she may be evicted from the site.
Lianne said: “She tries to act normal in front of me, but she cries herself to sleep. She is so drained.”
A spokesperson for Southern Rail said: “We are deeply sorry for the utterly unnecessary and unwarranted disruption these disputes are causing. The unions’ response is utterly disproportionate, causing misery to 300,000 passengers a day across the South East and untold damage to the regional economy, and we fully sympathise with Ms Ritchie’s plight.
“We’re sorry that Mrs Wiseman hasn’t had a response from us. It would be our managing agent who would normally deal with these enquiries, and we would advise that at Mrs Wiseman contacts them with her concerns. In the meantime, we will attempt to track down Mrs Wiseman’s original letter.
“In terms of our efforts to bring this dispute to an end, we’ve met ASLEF at Acas before and after Christmas and have made them a comprehensive offer to settle their dispute. We’ve also invited the RMT to talk to us as we’ve always said our door is open. We know our passengers and tenants want nothing more than to see an end to this dispute as do we and the lines of communication remain open with the unions”.
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