New tenants save jobs at Axminster Arts Café

Mr and Mrs Reaney (left) with Axminster Arts directors and staff

THE new tenants of the Axminster Arts Café premises will keep current staff and maintain links with the local arts and music scene.

Axminster residents Hilary and Jim Reaney have a wealth of experience in the catering industry, and will take over in January.

A search for a private leaseholder started in October when the four directors of Axminster Arts Ltd – which currently runs the café – gave notice that they would be resigning from their voluntary posts on December 31st.

A level of uncertainty regarding the future of the popular venue, which opened in 1999, arose but the four directors of Axminster Arts Ltd worked hard with the Old Courthouse Management Committee of Axminster Town Council (which owns the building) to ensure that the thriving community café would continue in the same premises, but under private management.

Axminster Arts Ltd agreed to leave all appliances, equipment and furniture to help facilitate a seamless transition.

Seventeen bids were received by Axminster Town Council, and Mr and Mrs Reaney were chosen.

Hilary owned a small coffee shop for many years and the couple previously owned Lea Hill Hotel in Membury and Kerrington House Hotel in Axminster.

They have been involved with Axminster Twinning Association for many years and Jim is an active member of the local Rotary club.

They jointly said: “We are delighted to be taking over the lease of the arts café in the New Year.

“We hope to continue the good work of Axminster Arts Ltd, who have done a fantastic job over the last 18 years, and build on their success.

“We are looking forward to continuing the links with the local arts and music scene.

“We are very pleased that the existing staff will be joining us, and will continue to look after the regular customers, and help us to attract new ones.”

The arts café was originally set up to provide an exhibition space for local artists and to raise funds for the arts.

The Axminster Arts Ltd directors’ decision to call it a day was explained in a statement back in October, which said: “Following serious health issues of one of the directors, the remaining three directors have tried unsuccessfully to recruit additional directors and have now made the decision to step down.

“Running the arts café is a massive responsibility and it seems that nobody else is willing to take on this task, for no financial gain.

“Unfortunately, even though the arts café is more financially successful than it has ever been in the past, the profit margins continue to be far too tight to enable management salaries to be paid.

“We hope that customers loyal to the arts café will continue to support the new management in the Old Courthouse premises, to ensure the continuation of this lovely community café.”

Axminster Arts Ltd will be wound up on December 31st, with the last trading day being on Friday, December 22nd. The plan is to keep Axminster Arts going as an organisation but without its trading arm – the café.

Chief Reporter | Started his working life on a farm before becoming a screen printer, both in Sweden. Had another career change and turned to journalism in the mid1990s. Enjoyed an internship with Alexandria Gazette Packet, Va, USA, before moving to the UK. Got a job with The Clarion in Yeovil in 1998, but moved to Axminster in 2006 and has worked on the East Devon beat since.