Former staff from the axed BHS in Wrexham have been given an early Christmas present – a new job at leading department store in the town.
For Claire Littler the fresh start at Debenhams at the Eagles Meadow shopping centre is particularly welcome as losing her job with the collapsed clothing and homewear giant was the second time she had faced the trauma of redundancy.
The BHS store in Henblas Street was one of the 164 to shut down across the UK following the collapse of the business with the loss of 11,000 jobs earlier this year.
When the branch closed its doors for the final time last August amongst those who faced a bleak future was 40-year-old Claire from Gresford near Wrexham.
But, thanks to a rescue mission by Debenhams manager Torrey Winter, Claire became one of the lucky four who found themselves with fresh new jobs.
Claire said: “After taking business studies at the former Yale College in Wrexham I got my first job with the old Littlewoods store in Wrexham town centre.
“I was there for 14 years and was a supervisor in various departments including the food hall, merchandising and deliveries.
“By 2006 I had been promoted to duty manager but that’s when the store closed and I was made redundant for the first time.
“It was a big blow to everyone but I used the opportunity to take six months off to have my son Samuel who is now 17.
“When I decided to return to work I was lucky enough to get a job at the BHS store in Wrexham town centre and worked my way up from sales assistant to lead associate in the homewear department.
“I was happy there but I was then made redundant for a second time after 10 years with them.”
Claire added: “The first time I was made redundant by Littlewoods we got an enhanced payment package but this time we simply received the statutory minimum amount, so things looked bad. My husband Richard and I worried about how we were going to manage financially.
“But then Torrey, the manager from Debenhams, came into BHS and announced she had a number of jobs available.
“I applied and was lucky enough to get one of them and, even better, it was as a supervisor in the homewear department, which is exactly what I’d been doing at BHS.
“We’ve had all the training and everyone at Debenhams has been very welcoming.
“I regard myself as very fortunate to have got this job, particularly as it’s less hours, more money and gives me more satisfaction than I had at BHS.”
Also counting her blessings after landing one of the new jobs at Debenhams is Sharon Jones, 43, from Brymbo near Wrexham.
She said: “After leaving school I had a number of jobs at factories in the area and in 1999 joined the BHS store which had just opened in the town centre.
“I worked my way up from a part-time to a full-time sales assistant in ladies’ fashion accessories.
“At first when we heard that BHS was in trouble we thought there would be a rescue package and everything would be fine. But, like everyone else, I was heartbroken when the axe eventually fell and we knew the store had to close.
“It was a real shame as we were a tight-knit group who were all friends.”
Sharon, who is married to husband Paul and has two sons, Sam, 20, and 15-year-old Holly, added: “Being made redundant was a real nightmare because we thought that without my income we wouldn’t be able to pay the bills and might even have to sell the house.
“But then Torrey came into BHS before it closed and said there were jobs on offer with her at Debenhams.
“I got one of them and now I’m doing 30 hours a week as a sales advisor in women’s accessories which is really a straight swap for what I was doing before.
“I’ve been very fortunate getting this new job which I’m enjoying very much.
“There’s been quite a lot to learn about the different ways of doing things here but everyone’s been really nice and so supportive to all the people who came over from BHS.”
Other former BHS staff to join Debenhams are Sammy Edwards and Julie Hemmings who are both from the Wrexham area.
Karen Roberts, selling support manager at Debenhams in Eagles Meadow, said: “Our manager Torrey went into the BHS store when we realised that something was happening there and asked if there was anyone looking for work after the closure.
“The four people we took on are all settling in very well. They’ve been given full training although we have some very experienced former members of the BHS staff with us.
“We consider ourselves very lucky to have been able to take on people of this calibre.
“It’s sad what happened to BHS but their loss has definitely been our gain.”
Eagles Meadow manager Kevin Critchley said: “It was sad to see the demise of a once great retail institution like BHS but I was delighted to hear that the story has a happy ending for the four people who’ve been taken on by Debenhams.”