A CHARITY shop is being forced to close after 17 years – to make way for a coffee shop.

Loyal customers have reacted angrily after it emerged St Luke’s Hospice shop, in Wickford High Street, will shut its doors for good next month.

The private landlord of the property, next to Iceland, is thought to have given the charity one month’s notice, after national chain Costa Coffee made a higher offer on the lease.

St Luke’s has been told to leave by Friday, August 8, but is currently in discussions with the landlord about staying put for as long as possible.

Costa Coffee has not yet put in a planning application to change the use of the building.

Bosses at St Luke’s are currently looking for alternative premises in Wickford, but admitted they have not yet been able to find anywhere suitable.

Eileen Marshall, chief executive of St Luke’s, said: “We had been negotiating with landlords under the terms of our lease and thought we had an agreement in place.

“However, regrettably, offers made by a national company have been accepted.

“Had we been able to settle on an agreeable rent, we had plans to totally refurbish this shop.

“There comes a point where the figures just don’t add up and matching the rental offered by other interested parties was not sustainable.”

All staff and volunteers are being kept on by St Luke’s and will be offered shifts in one of the charity’s other nine shops.

The Wickford store, which opened in 1997, specialises in furniture, clothes, books, DVDs, CDs and jewellery.

Mrs Marshall added: “We are disappointed to be closing this shop as St Luke’s have traded here successfully for 17 years and we feel a part of the Wickford community.

“Over the years, we have been fortunate in being included in the wonderful community spirit that exists here. The shop has received tremendous support from the public, local organisations, clubs, schools and businesses.

“I would like to take this opportunity of thanking each for their support and kind wishes.

“We will be doing all we can to minimise the negative impact closing this shop will have on our budgeted income for the year.”

St Luke’s Hospice, which cares for adults with life-limiting illnesses, needs to raise £3million every year to stay open.

Bosses at Costa Coffee said they are currently looking into options to open a shop in Wickford.

They claim there are “no firm plans” in place, despite the landlord of the High Street unit serving St Luke’s with a notice to get out.

The national chain will have to get change of use permission from Basildon Council before the coffee shop can open to the public.

A spokeswoman for Costa said: “As the UK’s favourite coffee shop brand and one of the success stories on the UK high street, we work closely with planning departments across the country to open new stores for the benefit of their local communities, creating new jobs and providing attractive and popular social meeting places.

“We are currently evaluating opportunities in the Wickford area, but have no firm plans in place at this stage.”