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Local jobs at risk as Wilko closure threat looms

By Connor Steel

FAREHAM TOWN CENTRE could soon be facing a future “casualty” as High Street homeware retailer Wilko confirmed that it had fallen into administration from Thursday afternoon (August 10); potentially putting over 12,500 jobs roles and four hundred stores at risk of collapse after unsuccessful attempts to seek emergency investment to save the business.

The company was first opened in Leicester during the early 1930s and ‘grew in stature’ through the decade; expanding rapidly after introducing home deliveries in the 1940s. This helped residents to keep air raid shelters stocked during the Second World War as the business grew locally into the 1950s; helped by a large rise in DIY and handymen in this era.

Trading from a limited number of stores continued until the 1980s as they started selling bulky items and its distribution centre was opened in 1995. The brand slowly became a high street stalwart and this was accelerated by the closure of Woolworths in 2008; further seeing popularity as it stayed open for essential shopping during the pandemic / lockdown.

But Wilko have struggled over the last two years due to a nationwide fall in “high street visitors” and a competition from cheaper homeware retailers; notably Home Bargains, B&M and the Range. There has further been changes in shopper behaviour with many choosing to shop at the larger “retail parks” or “out-of-town locations”, as well as on-line shopping.

Their struggles have been made evident this summer as the company borrowed a cost of £40 million from restructuring specialist Hilco; having already cut jobs, sold off a distribution centre and changed their leadership team. And last week they announced their intention to move into administration, giving them ten days to hold talks with any potential buyers.

These talks have failed to secure an agreement within this timeframe and it prompted the move to enter administration; with PWC appointed to lead this search for buyers. Wilko stores are reported to remain open for the time being and no immediate job losses are planned; whilst workforces will be paid as normal until further notice and pensions honoured.

But if this deadlock continues, it could see another high street brand cease trading and its premises across the country standing empty; including the one based on West Street. It would join a range of shops to close its Fareham site since the pandemic eased in 2021 with Clarks, Argos and Beales Department Store all closing down amongst fellow brands.

This could cause issues for local members of staff who now face an uncertain period and potential job losses, some of which have been employed with the company for many years. And despite the steady decline the Fareham store is still visited by loyal customers regularly; particularly with its easier link to the bus station and taxis for all vulnerable people.

One shopper told the Globe: “I used to love my shopping in Wilko and picked up great bargains over the years for their gardening and cleaning products. But sadly this brand hasn’t moved with the times and remains quite expensive when compared to other businesses that are closer to my home. I feel sorry for staff members as uncertainty is always hard.”

Company manager, Mark Jackson, has said to regular shoppers that management teams had “left no stones unturned” before making this decision and also offered hope that the business would survive. He added that a “significant level of interest” had been received and a mixture of “indicative” offers had been made that would fully fit their financial criteria.

Readers are encouraged to visit media sites like BBC NewsSky News and ITV News for all of the developing updates on this story; which could feature analysis from business correspondents and the breaking announcements from Wilko.

PICTURED BY ALAMY (EHBM23): Wilko could cease trading as thousands of jobs are put at risk due to finance issue.