Cycle cafés bring communities together: vote for your favourite

Café Velo in Ringwood, 2018 England Cyclist Café of the Year winner
Café Velo in Ringwood, 2018 England Cyclist Café of the Year winner
Café Velo, in Hampshire, a former winner of our Cyclist Café of the Year awards, has seen overwhelming support as it faced twin threats from Covid-19 and a planning application. Tell us about your top coffee spot now

A Hampshire café that was threatened with closure is thriving thanks to an incredible display of support from the cycling community.

Café Velo, in Ringwood, was forced to shut down for two months from March due to the coronavirus lockdown. In July, only a few weeks after it had reopened for takeaway trade, its landlord submitted a planning application to change its premises to residential use, claiming that "the commercial market in this area of Ringwood is non existent". Could it be a case of goodbye flat whites, hello ground-floor flat?

The application, which Ringwood town council opposed, sparked a flood of objections – more than 70 in all – and a show of solidarity that calls that pessimistic assessment into question. The vast majority of comments came from cyclists pointing out how valuable the café is, not only for locals but for visitors to the area. Among the comments were:

  • "It will be an absolute disappointment to lose such a valued asset for the cycling community in Ringwood.... Communities need hubs like this one.
  • "Café Velo is an asset to Ringwood. Not only as a quality place to meet friends and enjoy quality locally sourced food but it encourages people to become more active in a time when this is not only vital for health but in the current pandemic it could be life saving. The welcome and help you get as a novice or casual cyclist is as warm and enthusiastic as it is if you're a seasoned rider."
  • "To kick out a thriving business that brings visitors in from far and wide is obscene. Café Velo is extremely well known not only in the local community but the cycling community on a huge radius. People plan their rides to visit... in turn visiting Ringwood without cars."

New Forest District Council apparently agreed, and last month refused the planning application, stating that turning the premises into a flat would "unacceptably compromise the future viability and vitality of the area".

Café Velo is an asset to Ringwood... The welcome and help you get as a novice or casual cyclist is as warm and enthusiastic as it is if you're a seasoned rider

Comment objecting to planning application

Peter Moore started the café with his partner, Vicky, in 2018, and just six months later it was named England Cyclist Café of the Year by Cycling UK. It quickly became a popular hub thanks to its location on the edge of the New Forest and its owner's passion for cycling. "We have regular groups from Dorchester, Weymouth, Winchester, Salisbury, but we get cyclists turning up from all over the place," Peter says. As well as being a hub for club rides, the café has its own race team – although sadly global events have left it without any races to enter this year.

When the pandemic took hold in March and businesses were forced to close down, Peter saw at first hand the strength of the cycling community spirit, with regulars setting up a Justgiving page where they could buy virtual coffee and cake during the closure. When restrictions eased in May and the café was allowed to open for takeaways, trade picked up so rapidly that Peter had to close again for safety reasons. "We had so many people queueing up that you couldn't move in the courtyard!" Thankfully table service has now resumed, with Covid-19 safety measures and social distancing in place, and the café is back to opening six days a week. "We're not going anywhere," Peter says. "The support we've had has just been incredible and we're working really hard to service the cycling community."

We're not going anywhere. The support we've had has just been incredible

Peter Moore, owner, Café Velo

This strength of spirit was demonstrated in tragic circumstances in August, when cyclists from across the local area gathered to search for Martin Turner, a member of the Nieuw Bos cycling club in Totton who went missing after going for a ride. After Martin's body was found in Dorset, Café Velo was the focal point of a memorial ride in his honour last weekend, with cyclists in socially distanced groups following a route around the New Forest organised by his former club. "Two months ago, we lost a dear friend," Peter wrote on the Café Velo Facebook page. "This weekend, as on that sad weekend, the local cycling community came together as one."

And Café Velo is just one of hundreds of establishments across the nation that provide not only vital caffeine and carbs to fuel our rides, but a place to meet, chat, share advice and support, and pick up local knowledge. To celebrate these vital community hubs, Cycling UK is seeking nominations for the 2020 Cyclist Café of the Year awards. Tell us about your favourite bike-friendly cafe and let us know what makes it so special, whether it's the quality of the coffee, the calorie content of the cakes or just the warm and friendly welcome. There will be a winner for each of the four nations of the UK, and voting closes on 30 October 2020.

Cast your vote on our nomination page now.