Cafe opens day before second lockdown

Fenland’s newest cafe opened its doors for the first time today - just 14 hours before a second national Covid-19 lockdown.

No 29, in High Street, Manea, welcomed members of the public after 92-year-old Jessie Bridgement cut the ribbon. having worked there 70 years ago when it was a bakery.

Jessie, who worked in the building from 1946-57 when it supplied much of the local area, said she “jumped at the chance to see the old place” after being asked to open No 29 by manager Caroline Barnes.

She said: “It’s nice to see it come back as a business again and I wish them all the best of luck in the world.

“It’s what the village needs, something like this - because there’s nothing here.”

The opening of No 29, in High Street, follows a six-month renovation that saw the boarded-up building rebuilt and refurbished.

“We had to pull it down, because it had been derelict for 45 years,” said owner Chris Barnes, adding that he and his wife Caroline “came to it by accident” after seeing the building was up for auction.

“Caroline has always wanted to have a cafe so thought we’d look into it and now it’s become a reality.”

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After buying the building in February, the Barnes family started clearing it out during the first lockdown.

Now, the building has a spacious seating area downstairs and upstairs as well as a large kitchen.

And, rather than delaying the opening because of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Chris and Caroline decided to “work round it so we can carry on; we’ve invested a lot of money in it and need to make it work.

“We’d always planned to open today that’s why we’ve carried on. Otherwise you don’t know how long you’ll wait.

Chris added that the cafe - which will have three members of staff - has been designed with Covid-19 safe measures in mind: as well as a one-way system organised so people can order then wait and leave by the side door without coming back in, there is hand sanitiser on arrival, a QR barcode poster and automatic light and tap in the toilet so guests don’t have to touch anything.

Chris said they are also “trying to help local people” as much as possible: alongside selling Corker’s Crisps from Pymoor and Saffron Ice Creams, their coffee machines came from a man in Littleport who sells them reconditioned.

No 29 is also selling artwork made by local people and there is an arts and crafts stand in the cafe.

Caroline Barnes, manager, said: “We’ve been working on the property for six months. My brother in law bought it the day before the first lockdown and our opening day has been just before the second lockdown so it’s a bit of an omen.

“But we have always planned to open the cafe on this day, so we’ve just worked in the Covid-19 safe measures.

“There’s been quite a bit of interest on social media so we thought we’d go ahead then change to takeaway tomorrow.”

Having had a busy first morning, Chris and Caroline are hopeful that local support will continue as they offer a takeaway service throughout lockdown.

Manea residents Pauline Buttriss said: “Quite a lot of older people have missed not having a cafe so when we heard this was going to be made into a cafe we thought It was a wonderful idea.

“Also, you get a lot of delivery people who just want to get a decent snack. Now it’s opened up they can get a bacon roll. It’s in a great location. It’s a great community spirit.

Her husband David added: “We’re very lucky to have something like this back in the village. Everyone’s done a fantastic job.”

Another resident, 91-year-old Brenda Hammond, said: “It’s lovely that it’s local people that have brought it and renovated it back to life. In the summer they can put tables outside, too.

“And it’s in the perfect location as it’s on the corner.”