Parents rally as play café forced to close amid major cost increases

Frances Partridge, owner of the Pear Tree Play Café in Hitchin

Frances Partridge, owner of the Pear Tree Play Café in Hitchin, has been 'bowled over' by the support of the community as she prepares to close her beloved business - Credit: Courtesy of Frances Partridge

The owner of a Hitchin play café has been left "heartbroken" after rent increases have given her no option but to close.

Frances Partridge realised her childhood dream of owning her own café in March 2021 - initially opening for takeaways only while COVID restrictions rumbled on.  

She was able to open The Pear Tree Play Café fully from May 2021 and the Queen Street shop was soon filled with customers.

Pear tree play cafe

Frances opened the play café following lockdown and soon had a raft of regulars - Credit: Courtesy of Frances Partridge

However, from September, the cost of renting the space is set to increase by 45 per cent, leaving Frances unable to continue. 

"I wanted to provide a space where new parents could relax with a coffee while their little ones entertain themselves in our play area," Frances told the Comet. 

"The main ethos of my business was to be a place where parents could be free from judgement about needing a moment away from their child, bond with others about sleepless nights, feeding schedules and of course, get their vital caffeine hit."

The Pear Tree Play Café provided a space for children to interact and play while parents enjoyed some coffee and cake

The Pear Tree Play Café provided a space for children to interact and play while parents enjoyed some coffee and cake - Credit: Frances Partridge

Despite gaining a good reputation and regular customers, the business was already struggling to break even.

Frances enjoying the play café with her son

Frances enjoying the play café with her son - Credit: Courtesy of Frances Partridge

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Frances continued: "That’s the tricky thing with a business that is welcoming and encourages customers to come and relax as long as they like - they also need to continue spending in order for us to make any money, and as we all know, due to the cost of living crisis, this is a luxury that is just not an option for so many.

"Add a rent increase of almost 45 per cent, and it was simply not feasible for me, a mum of two pre-school kids with no other form of income, to continue the business.

"I am heartbroken for the parents and carers of Hitchin that we can’t continue to keep the Pear Tree open. I know that so many small businesses are being forced to close in our wonderful town, and it really is a travesty."

A group of mums who regularly visit the Pear Tree have set up a crowdfunding page for Frances and her team, as a 'thank you'. 

Tanya Mowbray, who set up the page, said: "It became a regular meeting spot for me and other mums - the staff are all really friendly. It was always really welcoming.

"It's such a shame because there's not that many places for mums to meet where you can enjoy a nice coffee - if you go to a regular café, the kids just get bored. 

"We decided to set up the page to show our appreciation."

So far, the page has raised more than £500.

"I couldn’t believe what I was reading when I saw that a Crowdfunder had been started by the mums of Hitchin to show their gratitude of my little café," Frances added. 

"The money is a huge help and I cannot express enough how much every little helps, but it was the words that bowled me over, and I’m just so thrilled that I managed to bring a little love and sense of belonging to so many during the time that we have been open."

To support the Crowdfunder, go to crowdfunder.co.uk/p/thank-you-for-pear-tree-play-cafe.

The café will close its doors at the end of this month.