The popular RVS café at St Richard’s Hospital will close just days before Christmas, it has been confirmed.
Volunteers who have worked at the charity café for years were left in tears after being told of the shock announcement this week.
The café, which has been run by the Royal Voluntary Service in the outpatients department of the Chichester hospital for more than 40 years, will go as part of the hospital trust awarding the Compass Group the contract for retail and catering services at its hospitals.
It will see Costa coffee and other chains move in and replace the Friends of Chichester Hospitals shop.
The Friends have been offered an alternative site, while the RVS café will completely close,
The Observer understands that two paid positions will go, while the 20 to 30 café volunteers have all been left shocked and saddened that their last day of service will be December 21.
One café worker, who asked not to be named, said: “People don’t want to have high street chains to come into their hospital, they know they can come here and at the Friends or RVS there is a friendly and caring service.
“They are not just buying coffee or food from us, they are telling us their problems and our volunteers are here to help and support them.
“Many of the people who come to the café are elderly and can’t even carry their trays or put lids on their coffees.
“The trust seem to want the charities out and to get Costa in, but people don’t want to give their money to a big corporation.
“People tell us their problems, if something has happened to a family member, that their wife is having a baby, someone who has just been diagnosed with cancer. They just want to talk to somebody and for some elderly people, coming to hospital is their only bit of social interaction.”
She added that some of the volunteers had been reduced to tears, including a lady with learning difficulties whose three days at the café was a big part of her life.
Another volunteer who also didn’t want to be named added: “Many customers today have expressed their disgust and disappointment at the news of our very imminent closure. They feel it is short-sighted of the hospital.”
Paul Lines, retail area manager for Royal Voluntary Service in South England, expressed his disappointment and thanked the volunteers for their years of dedicated service.
The deal with the Compass Group will see Costa coffee and other chains come into St Richard’s, Worthing and Southlands (Shoreham) hospitals in a £1.1m transformation of the hospital entrances.
Following a meeting with the Friends on Monday, Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs St Richard’s, reiterated its appreciation for the charity, which raises money for equipment at Chichester.
David Jones, director of facilities, estates and capital, said an alternative location in the heart of St Richard’s would be found so it could continue with ‘provision of much-loved services such as the ward trolleys’.
But the Friends have this week told the Observer its 90-strong volunteers remain in uncertainty, with a number of questions yet to be answered over any restriction on goods it sells and prices, security for its volunteers, access for deliveries and trolley space at the potential new site.
The trust said the new contract secured an ‘ongoing, guaranteed yearly income of £450,000, which is around three times as much as the Friends’ shops generate each year’.
The Observer has launched its campaign standing up for our friends and volunteers at St Richard’s Hospital.
We would like to hear people’s reaction to the catering contract award to the Compass Group, and hear patient’s stories of how the Friends and the RVS cafe workers have helped you in a time of need.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or write a letter to The Observer, Suite 3, First Floor, City Gates, 2-4 Southgate, Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 8DJ.
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