TWO cafes serving Bradford’s courts that were battling to stay open are to close.

Based at Bradford and Keighley Magistrates’ Court and the Combined Crown/County Court in Bradford, the cafes were established as social enterprises and served a valuable purpose providing, in particular, employment training to people with special needs.

Both cafes - Called SPLATS and SPLATS 2 - meaning Special People, Learning, Assessment, Training and Support - were facing severe financial difficulty and staff were at risk of losing their jobs within six months.

Staff appealed for support in a bid to prevent them having to shut.

But the spread of coronavirus led to a decision to close the cafes. This was followed just four days later by the Government’s ruling that cafes could not longer operate.

“From Monday 16th it became obvious that the effect of the virus would be serious, takings were down 25 per cent in that one day,” said former magistrate Beryl Eakin, who set up the cafes with former chairman of the bench Mary Carroll after national cuts forced the closure of canteens at Bradford Crown Court and Bradford and Keighley Magistrates’ Court in 2015.

“And, most importantly, many of our volunteers are in vulnerable groups and would no longer be able to work for us. We couldn’t endanger them,” . “So we took the very sad decision to close the cafes last Monday.”

She adds: “The later announcement from the Government meant we would have had to close anyway. It took the decision out of our hands.”

The cafes - which both have charitable status - were born out of the Bradford Court Chaplaincy Service (BCCS), an independent, multi-faith team offering free practical, pastoral support to all court users.

They gave employment training to students from Shipley College, the Home Farm Trust which supports adults with learning difficulties and the Down’s Syndrome Association’s employment programme WorkFit, which brings together employers and jobseekers who have Down’s Syndrome.

Both cafes provided much-needed refreshments for court users - defendants, witnesses, jurors, barristers, solicitors and visitors. They offered people a place to sit and relax for half an hour or so.

To try to prevent the closure staff had written to local MPs to highlight out two crucial issues: footfall, which had reduced considerably, and the requirement to pay VAT. They had to pay around £12,000 annually.

They also could not advertise the cafes and it was not widely known that they were open to the public.

Staff and volunteers will miss the cafes, which enabled people to learn catering skills as well as develop social skills in a friendly workplace.

“The cafes gave our volunteers a new outlook on life, and they really blossomed,” said Beryl. “They will be much missed. “

She added: We would like to thank our staff for helping to set up and run the cafes, and our volunteers for doing such a good job.”

At present there are no plans to reopen the cafes once the coronavirus crisis is over, but, said Beryl, the situation could at some point be reassessed and catering for the courts reintroduced in a different form. “We will have to see how the future pans out.”