The owner of a Malaysian street food stall that used to be in Swindon’s town centre fears she may never be able to reopen after struggling to find affordable premises.

Jennis Elliott managed Makan Kiosk with her partner in the Brunel Shopping Centre’s food court The Crossing between June 2022 and February 2023.

They ended their existing contract after noticing a decline in footfall around the centre and then tried to find alternative sites in the area.

Though there is no shortage of empty units in the town centre, Jennis found that landlords asked for rents that far exceeded her available finances and that business rates pushed prices further out of reach.

Swindon Borough Council councillor Kevin Small, who looks after the town centre, said that although much of the area is privately owned and business rates are set by central government, he will raise the issues highlighted by Jennis and hopes to help her find somewhere suitable for her business.

Jennis said: “It is nearly impossible to find any sort of premises or unit within an affordable budget.

“Almost all of the ones I looked at are asking for at least £1,200 per month.

“This may seem reasonable at a glance but that, plus the extortionate business and energy rates, does affect the decision to take on a long-term business premises contract, it all adds up.

“In the town centre, with a lot of the units empty, the landlords and council should want to give a break to small start-ups instead of letting them deteriorate.

“The only other alternative is to seek investment for a shared kitchen concept which is quite popular in South Korea at the moment for independent small businesses that cannot afford big premises."

Jennis Elliott started her business in Gorse Hill, closed it during Covid, then brought a tasty range of Malaysian meals to the town centre.

She currently works a few hours a week at a local takeaway to keep the bills paid while continuing to figure out a way to bring her business back.

However, the longer the search goes on, the less optimistic she is about it succeeding.

Jennis added: “For now, I can safely say that I do not see any hope for Makan Kiosk to be re-opened in Swindon, not unless there is a major step in for Swindon Borough Council to genuinely want to help small independent businesses like us.

“We just try to stay hopeful during this critical period.”

Councillor Kevin Small is the local authority's Cabinet member responsible for the town centre.

He said: “I was disappointed and very concerned to learn of Jennis’ difficulty in finding affordable premises in the town centre.

"It is not an easy challenge to solve because the council does not own much of the town centre and business rates are set by the government.

“One of our main missions is to build a better Swindon, but if we are to make our town centre a more vibrant place, that people want to visit, then new business must be attracted and existing landlords have to play their part in achieving this.

“We have regular conversations with the landlords in the town centre and I will raise the issues raised by Jennis to see if any solutions can be found.

“I’m really encouraged that Jennis wants to open her business in the town centre and I have asked our Economy team to help her find a suitable location within the area.”