Small community café in St Neots "just hanging on"

Caroline and Tim Richardson are the owners of Art & Soul Cafe in St Neots.

Caroline and Tim Richardson are the owners of Art & Soul Cafe in St Neots. - Credit: Sammi Sparke

Art & Soul Café in St Neots has highlighted its struggles in an online update as concerns mount due to costs and government constraints suffocating the community store.

Arts & Soul Café is an independent business which prides itself on being a community-focused shop, and it has been a mainstay in the heart of St Neots since November 2018.

Since February, the café has taken only 50 per cent of what it would usually take in a week and has had to make some tough choices with customers staying away and feeling the pinch.

Owners Tim and Caroline Richardson inside the Art & Soul Cafe in St Neots.

Owners Tim and Caroline Richardson inside the Art & Soul Café and gallery in St Neots. - Credit: Sammi Sparke

Owner Caroline Richardson said: “It’s all about communication and getting the word out there, but we’re certainly not giving up.

"We’re trying our hardest to combat that because our whole focus is on community rather than on profit, so it would be a real shame to have to give up now.

“At the moment, it’s really just hanging on in there and see if we can make it.”

Combined with VAT in the hospitality industry rising from 12.5 to 20 per cent, there are genuine fears that running the café is no longer sustainable.

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Caroline has so far resisted the temptation to increase prices to daft levels, wanting to remain a community-centric outlet.

Caroline said: “It was getting to the point where we were really thinking about what we would do. It was unsustainable, and we’re still thinking about further cash injections, but that’s not a brilliant solution.

"We don’t want to go down that route if we could possibly avoid it, but we’re committed to the project, so we’ll do whatever we can.” 

The quirky café offers its gallery to aspiring local artists to showcase their work and host various community events, such as a Vinyl Club, vegan nights, kids' craft workshops, and even a mood café for the charity MIND.

It was no surprise then that since the update was shared on Facebook, there has been a rapturous amount of support, with more than 470 reactions and 137 shares.

Mayor of St Neots Cllr Ben Pitt said: "Art & Soul Café is one of my favourite places to visit in St Neots. The food and drink are great, and the staff are so friendly.

"However, it's their gallery space and dedication to delivering rich cultural and community activities that really stand out. I hope they can navigate this difficult time and continue to serve our town.

"For anyone who hasn't visited, I urge you to discover this gem of a café for yourselves."

The café has since been busier, with loyal customers coming in to say they don't want to see it disappear, but challenges still lie ahead.

Caroline added: “I have to be optimistic because I would probably give up if I wasn't. I am less optimistic as I was, I must admit that, but I’m hopeful rather than optimistic that things will sort themselves out."