Usala Gallery is a victim of competition from Tesco and internet sellers, says its award-winning owner

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Artist and nationally acclaimed fundraiser Ursula Pratt is closing her Seaton gallery because she says it is no longer viable.

Honoured by the queen with an MBE for her charity work, she blames competition from Tesco and internet sellers for the store’s imminent demise.

“Since Tesco opened we lost 40 per cent of our card sales,” she said. “Online is making it even worse.”

Mrs Pratt has operated her Usala Gallery for the past five years, first in Marine Crescent and, for the last three years, in Fore Street.

It is a unique venture manned mostly by friends and volunteers but even without a big wage bill – there is just one part time paid employee - she says she can no longer cover her costs.

“As long as we were paying the bills we wanted to have a shop for Seaton but we have had a very, very bad year,” she told The Herald. “How the government say it is improving I don’t know. We survived for five years but the cards had to sell to pay the bills and when that went down we just could not do it.

“Seaton is dead – people go to Sidmouth or Exeter. It is very hard to survive here unless you do online yourself and I did not want to go into that.”

Mrs Pratt, who is closing the gallery at the end of the month, said she would miss all her nice customers and ‘having a laugh’. She praised her many friends and helpers including Janet and John Seward, Pamela Miller, Mikey Andrews and Brian Bucklar, who gave their time in making the gallery so special to Seaton.

She added “a special thank you to my daughter Hazel Busby, always friendly and very good in her job, I wish her luck in finding new employment. She would certainly be a plus to any company.”

* Born in Hamburg, Mrs Pratt moved to Britain in 1956 and set up East Devon Artists for Charity.

She was awarded the MBE in 2008 after helping to raise more than £170,000 for worthy causes, over nearly 20 years, travelling to Buckingham Palace to collect the medal from Prince Charles.

She said she intends to continue her charity work, organising

exhibitions at which fellow artists donate 25 per cent of their picture sale money towards worthy causes.

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