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Shock as Cobbs' café contract at Inverness Botanic Gardens is axed three years early

By Val Sweeney

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The café at Inverness Botanic Gardens.
The café at Inverness Botanic Gardens.

OWNERS and staff of a well-known Highland catering company have been left shocked and upset after being told their contract to run a café at a popular Inverness attraction is to be terminated three years early.

High Life Highland (HLH) has announced the catering at the city’s botanic gardens and nursery is to be shifted in-house after being operated by Cobbs for the last nine years.

It is part of a broader move by the sports and cultural services charity to expand its catering service to help it reinvest, protect and safeguard its core services across the Highlands.

But Cobbs director Fraser Campbell said he was given no notice of the plans before being contacted by HLH on Tuesday and told it was giving the firm six months’ notice that the contract – due to run until 2023 – would be terminated.

Mr Campbell acknowledged HLH was within its rights to do so, but added: “It isn’t right. It isn’t fair. It would be different if we were not paying the rent or adhering to the rules.

“From day one, we have worked hard on that site. It seems morally corrupt they can do that.”

He said Cobbs had invested about £35,000 to expand the café in a project involving Highland Council and the Inverness Common Good Fund about six years ago.

The company had also covered ticket sales to the botanic gardens, ensuring free entry to the attraction.

“We are very annoyed and very upset about this,” he said. “We have run a good facility. The kitchen area is very small and so we are very limited in what we can do, but the staff have been fantastic.”

He said the company would consider challenging the decision.

Manager Hannah Walton and colleague Laura Urquhart.
Manager Hannah Walton and colleague Laura Urquhart.

Café co-manager Hannah Walton is one of five staff members and found out about the development on her day off.

“I was completely shocked,” she said. “I have no idea what will happen. I love my job and to think in six months it could be taken away is just crazy.”

HLH is also taking the café at Hilton Community Centre under its wing after previously announcing it would be replaced with vending machines.

Hilton opened five years ago in a joint venture involving Cobbs, the community centre and children’s hospital charity the Archie Foundation which previously pulled out as the café was running at a loss and was no longer sustainable.

HLH chief executive Steve Walsh said the decision to expand the organisation’s catering delivery formed part of a strategic review of its operations which also included Inverness Leisure, Canal Park, Inverness Museum and Art Gallery and the Highland Folk Museum.

The company intends to offer Cobbs staff an opportunity to transfer to HLH.

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