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Independent Durham coffee house beanSOCIAL, located on North Road, is crowdfunding to stay open as business continues to be affected by the delayed development of Durham Bus Station.
Work on Durham Bus Station, which is located directly opposite the café, began shortly before the first Covid-19 lockdown, and was due to be completed in March this year. However, completion is now expected to be delayed until at least Spring 2023.
James Gardener, founder and owner of beanSOCIAL, tells Palatinate that the crowdfund has an ‘all or nothing’ target of £10,000. If this minimum threshold is not reached by noon on 12th July, all donations will be refunded, and beanSOCIAL will close at the end of August.
If the Crowdfunder is successful, the money will be used to create a buffer fund to counteract “the normal unpredictability of trade” until the bus station is complete, because the small business has “exhausted [its] working capital fighting to survive”.
The fund would be able to cover unexpected expenses such as machinery breakdowns and would also help to cover costs in the case of a further drop in trade due to the ongoing bus station development.
Gardener explains that the business lost roughly £20,000 during the pandemic as a result of continuing rent payments whilst the café was “effectively shut for 9 months during a 2-year period”.
The expected completion of the bus station in March this year, Gardener says, should have allowed the business 6 months (until the end of its lease in August) to show that it could “bounce back strong again” after surviving the pandemic and the disruption of the development.
“We had forecasted and prepared for an inevitable dip in trade for the duration of the planned rebuild, however after multiple major setbacks the new bus station is still over a year away from completion.”
“Before the refurbishment, North Road was so different. You could walk on both sides of the street. Now, it’s chaos. People just don’t want to battle through the crowds on the street to get here.”
The café, which Gardener describes as a “lovingly safe space”, has experienced a drop in trade of 33% since disruption began, before which it “hit targets and smashed projections”.
Once the bus station refurbishment is complete, Gardener “wholeheartedly” believes that finances will recover and that the business will “prosper”. But this can only happen, Gardener says, if he is able to sign the lease extension to remain open beyond the end of August, which is only feasible with the money from the Crowdfunder to cover for unexpected costs.
Gardener also spoke to Palatinate about the importance of the café, which he lovingly dubs ‘The Bean’, to the local community: “No matter who you are, no matter what age you are, this place is for everyone to enjoy.”
Gardener explains that the café is designed to be a welcoming place for people suffering from anxiety or other mental health conditions, with a specially designed ‘secret’ sensory garden, and wooden walls that are designed to dampen sound.
“We are the heart and soul of a diverse community. From our unique atmosphere, the amazing coffee served, diet inclusive food, to the tranquil oasis that is our sensory garden.”
The café was also due to be expanded to the upstairs of the 300-year-old house in which it is based before the pandemic struck, with roughly 70% of work on a study lounge already complete. Gardener says that he envisions “20-25 students upstairs studying”, making use of the café’s WiFi and refreshments.
Gardener hopes to resume these plans post-bus station completion and explains that “if every student just donated £1 or 50 pence” the fundraising target would be “smashed”, and the café would survive.
A regular customer of the café tells Palatinate: “This place is very important to me. beanSOCIAL is a consistent thing in my life, always providing a warm welcome”.
Another customer says: “beanSOCIAL is an oasis of calm where you can sit, relax, and let the sound of the water feature wash over you. And the icing on the cake is the staff, they genuinely make you feel like a member of the family.”
Images: Collette Stuart