Lowestoft canteen closes doors to fishermen

For more than 40 years it has been the most easterly point of the country where fishermen could have a cup of tea as they discussed their catches.

But yesterday another part of Lowestoft's maritime heritage came to an end with the closure of the Europa Canteen.

Owner Mina Spaul had to serve up her last full breakfasts and steaming cups of tea to fishermen and marine workers at her Battery Green Road caf� and restaurant by the fish docks. Mrs Spaul, who took over the canteen three years ago, has been forced to close her business as she fell into debt to Associated British Ports(ABP) which owns the lease of the building.

As she said a tearful goodbye to her loyal customers, Mrs Spaul blamed the closure on the recession and ABP which she claimed promised her business would benefit from an influx of offshore businesses to the port.

Mrs Spaul also said ABP had snubbed her request for more time to arrange a loan to pay off the debts.

She claims ABP has engineered the closure as it wants her out to make way for a new renewable energy company.

The Europa Canteen has existed in some form in Lowestoft for more than 40 years and is named after a former Royal Navy base in the town.

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As Mrs Spaul and waitress of 18 years Edna Morrison served up their final teas, breakfasts and lunches, it marked another death knell for Lowestoft's declining fishing industry.

The town's once proud fishing fleet is now only half a dozen boats and the few remaining fish dock merchants may be forced to move out in two years' time.

Mrs Spaul, who used to run a French Michelin guide restaurant in Bury St Edmunds, spent about �30,000 on buying the canteen and improving facilities so it could opened to the public in 2008.

She said: 'I was told by ABP when I moved here we would have good future as renewable companies would come to the docks and bring in business. But that has not happened. The recession has also hit us.

'I told ABP I would try to borrow money to pay off my debt to them but they ignored me. I think they wanted me out so a new company could come here.

'I feel very angry and sad I am closing. Some customers have been in tears.'

Terry Wightman is 75 and owns the fishing boat Maximus which his three sons take out. They spent up to �150 a week at the canteen.

Mr Wightman said: 'This was the meeting point on the east coast for fishermen from the Humber to Southwold. It is sad day for Lowestoft to see it go.'

The Europa Canteen used to be based at Hamilton dock and is named after a Royal Navy Patrol Service second world war depot and six war ships. A spokesman for ABP said: 'While we sympathise with Mrs Spaul's situation, we have given her as much support as we possibly can. We have given her every opportunity to clear this debt, including an easy payment plan.'

anthony.carroll@archant.co.uk

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