'It's like the Last Supper' - disappointment as popular prison café shuts its doors
PUBLISHED: 10:55 30 August 2019 | UPDATED: 11:32 30 August 2019
Its exterior looked largely the same.
But as customers arrived for a final coffee or breakfast on Friday morning, they were met only with a firmly locked gate.
Britannia Café, at Norwich Prison, overlooking Mousehold Heath, has been a city institution since its opening five years ago.
The social enterprise offered its customers sweeping views over the heath and city, as well as a menu cooked and served by current and former prisoners.
When it was suddenly revealed that it was set to close earlier this week, customers of the popular eatery were left disappointed.
They included old friends Brian McAllister and Robbie Murray, from Norwich, who have been coming to café every Saturday since it opened.
They described the news as "dreadful".
"I live just round the corner on Britannia Road," said Mr McAllister, 74. "I come every Saturday - it is a big loss."
He added: "I was in there yesterday as I wanted to know what was happening and one of the prisoners said to me 'it gave us a chance to react to the public and get a normal job and now we're just going to be banged up'.
"'We're just going to have to wait and be thinking about our release dates.'
"I think it's dreadful, it's a real shame."
And 72-year-old Mr Murray added: "We've been coming here since the day it opened, every Saturday morning for about five years. It's dreadful. It's like the Last Supper."
He added: "I just think it's been a great enterprise. When you see the reoffending among people who've been involved - it's something like 20pc vs 70pc. It's very, very low. It gives people a chance to get back into society."
Meanwhile, customer Chrissie Isaacs, 64, said: "We didn't think it was closing that quickly.
"We knew it was in a bit of trouble."
The dog owner, from north Norfolk, added: "It is sad - we used to love coming here, especially as it's dog friendly.
"We liked the ethos as well."
And Jez Salmon, 59, said they had come to visit the café at "short notice" after ending up in Norwich, hoping for a last coffee.
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Neighbour Margaret Cooper said she was surprised to hear the news of the business' collapse.
The Britannia Road resident, 69, said: "It has come as a shock.
"I didn't know it was closing so I am surprised."
One staff member at the café, a serving prisoner, said he was unable to talk about what had gone on.
But other staff members expressed their surprise at the news.
Gardener Chris, who asked for his last name not to be used, said: "It's really sad. It's a loss to the prisoners and the community.
"It was quite a nice step for them.
"Hopefully I'm staying on as we've got the gardens with the other places."
He added: "I found out in the paper yesterday.
"There were rumours and stuff but nothing's been said."
The former full-time chef, who has worked at the café since October 2018 after making a career change, said the café had been a great place to work, with "brilliant staff" and a "nice atmosphere".
He said: "It's just a shame they're closing today.
"We thought we had longer.
"It would have been nice to have one more day with everyone in.
"I think we'll probably get quite a lot of customers come up today for a last breakfast who are going to be disappointed."
And he said he didn't know what was going to happen to the building, saying: "I'm just digging up a few plants and taking them down to the other sites.
"They just said get all the plants and take what you need."