Willow Cafe ready to blossom for 2021 in Central Park


Adrian and Christine at the Willow, Central Park, Peterborough

The restaurant/function suite at the back has been repainted and revamped, the Sunday lunches which proved so popular will return as part of an extended menu, and the owners Christine and Adrian Corrigan are speaking to Peterborough City Council about hosting big events for one of the city's most popular venues.

Christine and Adrian took over from previous owners Vince and Filomena Terranova on September 23, 2019, and the date is well remembered - six months later came lockdown.

But after a tough 2020 the duo are now raring to return for the hotter months, with tables and chairs outside poised for April 12. 

Covid hampered a life-long ambition for Christine, who said: "I've got two children and once the oldest hit 16 I decided it was my time. I've always been in catering and hospitality, and I wanted a small coffee shop.

"I found a unit in Hampton that I liked, and that fell through, but I kept looking - this one took me two years to purchase.

"I approached Vince and I thought it was just the little coffee shop at the front; he showed me the kitchen and I thought 'I have to have it', and then he took me through the door into the restaurant, and I could see so much potential. I needed it in my life.

"The restaurant was plain, but 80% finished. This is a bigger beast than what I wanted, but I thought I would love the challenge.

"We're in the middle of Peterborough and I remember this park as a child, when it was heaving. Events, pitch and putt - why can't we bring this all in again?

"When we arrived I think the park was craving something, and it went well for six months until February. We were shut for seven weeks, but since then we've been open all the way through. 

"The summer was good - Eat Out to Help Out - and we've been okay since, ticking over."

The venue is licensed for weddings, and held corporate events and numerous parties when possible, but 'Lockdown 1' meant that the 216 people who had booked were suddenly unable to enjoy meals for Mothering Sunday.

Christine said: "That was my big opportunity to show people we could do this - we have a downstairs as well - and then the pandemic struck. We did afternoon teas outside this year, which went very well. Of our weddings, all but one have postponed rather than cancelled.

"I would love to do a Party in the Park, and have an orchestra in a bandstand, but the main thing is getting the restaurant open.

"From April 12 the tables and chairs will be back outside, and we will stay open as late as possible with an outside bar."

At the moment the kitchen is doing homemade burgers, pies, cakes and other treats as takeaways, with the idea of re-opening the restaurant from May 17, opening from Wednesdays to Sundays, to include an extended menu.

The restaurant still has the social distancing stickers on the floor from when it acted as the coffee shop last summer, rather than the 'actual' coffee shop at the front, but no-one has yet seen the new decor. 

The Corrigans own the rights to food and beverages for the entire park, which will lend itself to to joined up events - a Christmas market, planned for last year, will hopefully arise again. There's also hope that the quarter-acre of land at the back of the restaurant will be utilised for diners.

Christine said of the restaurant:  "When people come in here they will think 'where has this been?' We'd like movie nights, and get children back here - people are desperate to be out and about.

"I just can't wait to be outside, with tables and chairs, and for people to enjoy the ambience of the park. Last night, as we left, there were kids in the park, music going on and I said 'Won't it be lovely to see people sitting here with drinks and relaxing?'"

Peterborough Matters has been keeping an eye on the park as part of the work that Citizens UK Peterborough is doing to bring changes to the city. 

The park was pinpointed by students as an area of concern, with reports of drug dealing and feeling unsafe

But Christine said: "I was heartbroken when I read it; I will have been here two years in September, and I've loved the park. I don't think it's as bad as how it's being pictured, as a bad area, and to me it's not.

"I've been here at 3 in the morning and it's fine. There is the odd one but you get that anywhere - this park has got a label that I would love to change, which I will try to do. The police come round all the time and they think the crime has come down. I've seen two 18-year-olds in that time, but that's it."

Adrian added: "For me, this is a beautiful 16-acre Victorian Park, a jewel in the centre of Peterborough, and a captive audience. We have been so lucky with the location - if we were a faceless coffee shop in the high street full of coffee shops we wouldn't be here now. 

"The more good people we have here in the bright nights for the events in the evenings, the less people will skulk in the shadows. This is a park with a huge number of positives."