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Inverness city centre café's future improved after change to rules on coronavirus grant

By Val Sweeney

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A city centre café has been saved thanks to a change in rules over access to a vital business support grant during the coronavirus lockdown.

Andrew Barnett, owner of The Alleycat, credited Inverness Central councillor Emma Roddick with helping to get the criteria changed and enabling him to obtain the £10,000 worth of support.

Mr Barnett opened the vegan café and restaurant in Inverness’s Mealmarket Close in January last year.

After discovering that it had not been registered on the valuation roll in time to qualify for the grant administered by Highland Council, and getting nowhere with his own calls and emails to the local authority, he turned to Cllr Roddick.

He says she then took his case to various council departments as well as MSPs and Scottish ministers.

The result was a change in the rules allowing entries to the valuation roll to be backdated and Mr Barnett received the grant, which will be used to pay rent and other bills.

“Two months ago I felt helpless, but when Emma got involved I felt like I could breathe because we had a champion, both willing and capable of fighting for us, in an arena that is completely foreign to many small business owners,” Mr Barnett said.

With six staff from the café currently furloughed, he added: “The future is still uncertain, not just for us at the Alleycat but for all businesses. One thing that I can say for certain is that I would not have been able to get the grant without Emma’s help.

“If we open our doors again, which we really hope we will, that will have been made possible because of her.”

The restaurant launched a vegan delivery service for elderly and vulnerable people at the start of lockdown in March, but this was later discontinued as other groups were providing a similar service.

Cllr Roddick was delighted to hear her efforts on behalf of the café had paid off.

“The Alleycat was one of the first businesses in Inverness to start offering deliveries to those in isolation and I know how important it has been to Andrew to find security for his employees as well as the business itself,” she said.

“I am overjoyed that the criteria has been adjusted to allow for genuine businesses like his, which has a strong record of social responsibility, to access support in these difficult times so that we can all enjoy visiting them again after lockdown.”

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