Lizzie Cooper
Lizzie Cooper was advised to work in Asda by a government helpline

A park café owner who was told by a government helpline to get a job in a supermarket has reopened her business and given it a makeover after her customers rallied round to raise money.

Pistachios In The Park, in East Greenwich Pleasaunce, opened up for business five weeks ago following its enforced closure. The business didn’t qualify for any government support beyond a furlough wage, as it is based in a park, so owner Lizzie Cooper resorted to launching a community fundraiser.

The appeal, which was featured on 853 in May, generated £8,260, and business is now booming.

Cooper said: “We’re really busy now, busier than we’ve ever been. We didn’t get any funding from the government at all as we fell through all the gaps, and that made me panic a little bit. I phoned up the government helpline and they suggested I get a job in Asda.”

The appeal raised £2,000 in its first 12 hours, while Cooper ploughed her furlough pay into the café’s upkeep to secure its future. The cafe has also been repainted, launched its own bar and had a mural by local artist Vector Meldrew added to the interior.

Now business is busier than it has ever been – and Cooper is selling out of pizzas too.

Lizzie Cooper
Pistachios in the Park now sports a new mural by a local artist

Although nervous about reopening with social distancing measures in place, Ms Cooper described all of her customers as “really jolly and happy”.

“Another thing that has helped is because people have been off and they’ve not really had much to do, they’ve been exploring where they live, whereas I think before people were just going to work then coming home or going out in central London. Now people have been looking for green spaces to walk to and exercise in.”

The local community is still rallying around the café, with people looking after plants and local schools providing outdoor benches. Cooper hopes that the next step will be to run events including a farmers’ market and an outdoor cinema for the community.

Jessie Knight, who has worked at Pistachios in the Park for four years, said: “I enjoy the company of the middle-aged mums more now. This place is like an idyll and a haven for everyone to come to. It’s separate from the rest of the world and the rest of Greenwich.

“We’ve got the routine of summer again, we’ve got our lazy days.”

This is one of a series of stories we are running on how people in SE London have responded to the coronavirus pandemic. Let us know if you have a story to tell.

KAT HIND is a trainee journalist at News Associates.

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