Saif Bonar, the “founder” of Matthew’s Yard coffee shop off Surrey Street, has backed down from his public threat to close up the property’s workspace and end his work on that part of the building.
Bonar had made his threat of closure of his latest project in emails sent to all 70 of Croydon’s elected councillors on Wednesday night. “You will be pleased to note that our workspace in Exchange Square has been closed with immediate effect and we will be ceasing development of the space until further notice,” he wrote.
Bonar’s emailed outburst came in response to a visit from fire safety officers on Wednesday, just a few hours after the coffee shop proprietor had spoken against the council’s new street licensing scheme at a Town Hall meeting. Bonar insinuated that the visit was some form of deliberate harassment against his business, or what he called “coincidence”.
But in the cold light of day on Thursday, Bonar was back-tracking over his threat to close the workspace. “Thorough follow up from LFB [London Fire Brigade] today now satisfied with progress,” he said on Twitter.
The London Fire Brigade today declined to comment on the coffee shop’s status.
It is not known whether Bonar will follow-through on his various other threats contained in his long, and fraught, emails this week, including “my resolve to rout [sic] out corrupt practices in your organisation”, referring to the council. He also said that he intends to leave Croydon before this summer.
Bonar finished off with this threatening flourish: “I will consider bringing legal action against the local authority for the emotional distress and disruption, loss of earnings and other financial implications of your actions which I believe to be bordering in criminal.”
Council figures told Inside Croydon that they rejected Bonar’s claims as “somewhat wild allegations”.
Bonar has not always held the council in such disregard. In April 2012, just before Matthew’s Yard’s opening, he wrote for this website that he had received supportive personal visits from the then council chief executive, Jon Rouse, “to find out more about what we’re doing”. Not all Croydon start-ups got such personal attention from the £248,000 pa CEO.
Four years ago, Bonar wrote for Inside Croydon that dealing with “various building regulations, food and hygiene regulations and so on” was challenging for him, but that the council was often on-hand to assist: “… whenever I have got stuck, the Building Control team at Croydon Council has been incredibly helpful and knowledgeable”.
Bonar added: “Having never run a food business before, I have also had to find out about licensing, hygiene and other regulations. As we are considering serving alcohol, there has also been a bunch of other laws to learn about. Once again the licensing, food safety and environmental health teams at Croydon Council have all been helpful.”
So what has changed? Rouse moved on from Croydon Council somewhat suddenly and the local Tories, many of whom are keen supporters of Matthew’s Yard, lost the Town Hall elections in 2014.
But the business has continued to be a struggle for Bonar, who admitted in interviews last year that he was close to bankruptcy, having accumulated debts of £100,000. Matthew’s Yard, he said, was on the brink of closure.
Licensing matters, for live performance and music as well as safety issues, have seen Matthew’s Yard receive frequent visits from council officials. And fire safety, which comes under the London Fire Brigade, has been an increased concern at Matthew’s Yard lately.
Last month, a fire in the flats above Matthew’s Yard, in The Exchange, saw the workspace flooded with hundreds of gallons of water from a burst pipe. Bonar is offering desk rental in what he calls MY Backyard for a mere £175 per month, but this does include “steelcase fusion benchdesk, Boss upholstered swivel chair and lockable pedestal”.
Following the fire damage, Bonar told the local paper that he would fix it himself, rather than claim on insurance. “It won’t cost more than £1,000 but we will get on and do these things rather than trying to get money out of things,” he said.
The neighbour’s fire will have been a stark reminder of the importance of the regulatory demands which face Bonar and his premises.
Matthew’s Yard’s most recent fire risk assessment was carried out at the beginning of December. The assessment was conducted by Saif Bonar himself.
In his report, Bonar noted that, “Matthews [sic] Yard has numerous internal doors which can help slow the spread of fire and allow ample time for evacuation. A carpenter has been booked to replace all non fire doors with fire doors and ensure all doors are routed and fitted with intumescent seals”.
Later in the report, Bonar wrote: “Matthews [sic] Yard takes its obligations under licensing law seriously and we constantly strive to review our operating plans, health and safety measures and mitigate risks for our customers and the general public…”.
Bonar then listed “key next steps in order of priority”, with the dates when some of the safety measures should be completed. These included a comprehensive electrical check “due to loss of original test certificate”.
Bonar’s report, submitted on December 15, gave himself just a fortnight, over the Christmas period, to upgrade all the venue’s doors to approved standards for fire safety. It also revealed the need for considerable work to enhance the safety measures for an emergency exit from the Croydon Radio studio, to install smoke detectors in the studio theatre and to refurbish the pop-up shop – all of which Bonar said would be completed by the end of January.
Given such an onerous workload of safety improvements for Matthew’s Yard during January, it begins to look as if a visit from fire safety officers in mid-February is far from a council-inspired “coincidence”, as Bonar suggested this week, and much more like the act of a responsible regulator.
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