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Highbury Fields café manager: I fear for future under park plans

Yehia El-Nemer, who has been serving food and drink at Oasis Café for 12 years, faces uncertainty as council considers redevelop­ment options

24 April, 2018 — By Samantha Booth

Yehia El-Nemer at Oasis Café: ‘Everybody would be concerned or worried about their future in this position’

THE manager of the Highbury Fields café says he fears for its future if plans for a redevelop­ment in the park go ahead.

Yehia El-Nemer has been serving food and drink at Oasis Café at the Fields for 12 years, renting one of two small buildings – the other houses the One O’Clock Club – from the Town Hall.

Last month, views were sought on five options for how the existing “poor quality” sites could be redesigned or moved.

The council will have to tender for an operator if a decision is made to create a new café area.

Mr El-Nemer, 68, said: “Of course, I’m worried. Everybody would be concerned or worried about their future in this position.

“I hope I will have a first opportunity if it gets rebuilt. The council said to me it wouldn’t be a big company, but someone very close to the community. I’ve been here for 12 years. All the people know me.

“I don’t see why they would turn me away.”

Options put forward by architects Levitate include retaining the two buildings by either extending them, rebuilding both or moving the café closer to the One O’Clock Club.

Marin Jones, chairman of Highbury Fields Association, has said there is local demand for the services to remain separate, as two buildings.

Mr El-Nemer supports the architects’ preferred plan – option four – for a single new building, with a south-east-facing terrace, which would house public toilets and provide a base for the parkkeeper.

“We need more space. We need a bigger kitchen,” he said. “I’ve asked for double-glazing around the building and a kitchen extension in the past, but was told there was no budget for it.”

Islington Council has about £551,000 of Section 106 contributions to spend on the redevelopment, but would need to raise the rest. When tendering for a designer, an unconfirmed project budget was given of £1.5million.

The council is reviewing feedback and issues raised during consultation and insists the plans are still at an “early stage”.

A council spokesperson said: “We’ve recently consulted on plans for significant improvements to Highbury Fields, to provide new high-quality facilities, including a new café, toilets and provision for children’s services, and good-quality landscaping.

“These plans are still at an early stage. We are reviewing the responses and issues raised during the consultation. No decisions have been taken about the facilities, including a new café.

“By law, we would have an obligation to put any contract for a new café operator out to tender.

“As part of this, we would take into account the social value of the provider – for example, the local employment opportunities it provides. To be clear, no decision has been taken on new facilities, including a café, and no tender process has begun.”

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