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Herne Bay mum hits out at HatHats Coffee Company and Herons Leisure Centre over new cafe rules

A mum has hit out at a new cafe in a leisure centre after being told she had to buy something if she wanted to watch her children swim.

Vanessa Cross, whose two eldest children Athena and Fredrick have lessons at Herons Leisure Centre, Herne Bay, says the arrival of HatHats coffee company has led to an "unpleasant" atmosphere.

Eight-year-old Athena and five-year-old Fredrick
Eight-year-old Athena and five-year-old Fredrick

HatHats, which recently took over the pool's cafe area, has implemented a policy whereby the space is only available to paying customers.

But Vanessa believes the rules are forcing parents out of the communal space - and denying them the chance to watch their children swim.

She told KentOnline: “It seems like in the last three weeks, HatHats has taken over and suddenly the atmosphere is now sad. I can’t see my kids swim or see what level they’re at.

“The leisure centre used to run it and you used to be able to sit in the cafe area and watch your child swim for free.

“The only thing you were asked not to do was to bring your own food and drink which was fair enough.

Vanessa Cross and daughter Athena
Vanessa Cross and daughter Athena

“But right now it feels like you’ve got your hand behind your back, being told if you want to see your child swim you have to get something from the cafe.

“It has affected the swimming atmosphere for me and my children, it hasn’t made it pleasant and I’m not the only one who feels like this.”

The mum-of-four says her oldest child, eight-year-old Athena, has been attending lessons at the pool for four years.

Between Athena and five-year-old Fredrick, the Herne Bay resident says she spends two nights a week at the pool, with lessons for each child costing about £30 a month.

While she acknowledges the presence of other seating areas, she claims multiple factors prevent her from being able to access those in the same way others can.

The Heron Leisure Centre, Herne Bay. Picture: Chris Davey
The Heron Leisure Centre, Herne Bay. Picture: Chris Davey

“Sometimes I’ll have three kids with me - two in a double pram," she explained.

"You have to go through the cafe to get to another seating area by the pool but it’s awkward and the view there is restricted.

“Then if I am sat out there and my child starts crying, it’s going to echo in the room and disturb the lesson which isn’t fair on the kids.

“They have said we’re allowed to sit next to the entrance of the swimming pool but the view is restricted. It’s an awkward situation with a pram and there’s not room for everyone.

“There’s an upstairs gallery but there isn’t a lift so I can’t take my pram up there. There are restrictions in so many ways. It’s discriminatory.

“Myself and about 90% of parents I’ve spoken to are concerned, like we have to pay even more just to watch something we pay for in a public building."

Cery, 11 months, and eight-year-old Athena
Cery, 11 months, and eight-year-old Athena

Vanessa said she was left feeling embarrassed after being asked to leave the cafe unless she bought something while watching Frederick swim last Monday.

She said: “When my son was finished swimming, I had to explain why I couldn’t watch and he got upset, he said he was doing well and wanted to show me.

“This should have been sorted before the lease was sorted, the leisure centre should have made sure we can still come and watch without being hassled to buy something.”

Louis Hurst, owner of HatHats Coffee Company, says he acknowledges not everyone will agree with the rules, but they are essential for “the site to become viable”.

“HatHats Coffee Company was asked to take on the disused café space inside the Herons Leisure Centre which is operated by Active Life as it has not been open or a financially viable option for several years since the beginning of Covid lockdowns," he said.

HatHats boss Louis Hurst
HatHats boss Louis Hurst

“In order to make the space commercially viable, we are opening it up to the Herne Bay community and members of the public and plan to open seven days per week.

“We appreciate that not all users of the leisure centre will be happy with the changes we have made but in order for the site to become viable we have to make some commercial decisions that not everyone will agree with.”

He says while he is sorry to hear of Vanessa’s experience, some exceptions to the rules are made.

"We have allowed for users with severe mobility issues that cannot get to the viewing gallery to continue using the space without purchasing anything," he said.

“Our team always use a degree of pragmatism and we pride ourself on our inclusivity record.”

Heron Leisure Centre is run by Active Life - a not-for-profit charity - on behalf of Canterbury City Council.

Active Life was approached for comment.

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