After standing empty for almost three years, one of High Barnet's historic High Street buildings has been re-opened as the flagship cafe in a local chain of Costa Coffee houses.
Originally the offices of the former Barnet Press weekly newspaper, 118 High Street became a branch of the Trustee Savings Bank – but its closure has now been followed by the announcement that the Halifax Bank is to close its High Barnet branch as from 12 March 2024.
The opening of the new Costa Coffee house has also resulted in further closures in the town centre.
It is a replacement for two previous Costa cafes, one of which was also in the High Street, opposite the parish church, and another in the large courtyard at The Spires shopping centre, both of which are both now empty.
Ishrat Malik, director of P2M Coffee Ltd, which operates a chain of 12 Costa outlets in north and south London, said the newly opened cafe was in a prime position and would become the flagship outlet of the business.
Mr Malik – seen above at the official opening together with the Mayor of Barnet, Councillor Nagus Narenthira, and Gail Laser, founder of the Love Barnet pressure group – said he was delighted that his company had been able to restore the frontage of an iconic, listed building which he knew was a much-loved feature in the High Street.
The external shopfront and portico had been cleaned and repainted and after the conversion, the interior of the former building society had been transformed into a large seating area with 84 covers.
There was much relief in the town last year when Barnet Council rejected an application to turn the former building society into an adult gaming centre.
“We hope the new coffee house will help boost High Barnet,” said Mr Malik.
“It is only by investment like this that we can bring High Streets back to life.
“High Barnet is proud of its town centre and with so many retail units closed, we were keen to take on an historic building like this, which has a real presence, and which is a credit to the High Street.”
At the opening ceremony, Mr Malik gave a personal pledge to the Barnet Society: the clock above the front door will be repaired and will soon be telling the right time. He said a clock repairer had the job in hand.
Gail Laser briefed the Mayor on Love Barnet’s efforts to rejuvenate the High Street. Ms Laser said that unfortunately it seemed to be losing its mojo.
(Behind them is a photograph of the original front door of printers J Cowing in the days it published the Barnet Press).
Ms Laser said High Barnet had the nicest High Street in the borough, but it needed a real helping hand.
“What’s even more important is the sense of drift over what is going to happen to The Spires shopping centre now owners are in financial difficulties.
“I think Barnet Council should step in. It could probably buy the whole centre and the land around it at a knockdown price.
“The council could build some new flats and provide lots of affordable homes while keeping the shops and preserving the walkways and courtyards which provide all important civic space for residents and shoppers.”
She regretted the announcement that the Halifax Bank is to close its branch at the corner of Salisbury Road and the High Street.
Customers are being advised that the branch will close as from 12 March 2024. The nearest branches will be at High Road, North Finchley, or Chaseside, Southgate.
Other recent High Street closures include the branches of HSBC, Lloyds Bank and TSB.
“Sadly, the closure of these branches has a real impact on the town centre. The banks and building societies do bring people into the town centre and the more that close, the harder it gets for the traders who remain and who are trying so hard to remain in business,” said Ms Laser.