John Lewis is 'pretty much all we've got in Peterborough

By Kate Scotter and Craig Lewis
BBC News, East

  • Published
John Lewis in Peterborough
Image caption,
John Lewis opened its Peterborough store in 1982 and it has continued to be a key part of the city's retail offering

For almost 40 years the John Lewis store in Peterborough has been the flagship of the city's shopping centre, but along with seven other branches it looks sets to close. What impact will its closure have?

"It's almost like Peterborough's mouth has had its teeth taken out," says Toby Wood.

The vice chairman of the city's civic society says the shop that has been there since 1982 is "more than a store".

Many in the city would agree.

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Toby Wood, vice chairman of Peterborough Civic Society, says it is "desperate news" for the city

John Lewis had been destined to be the anchor store of the Queensgate Shopping Centre years before anyone even stepped foot in the mall.

Planning officers gave the green light for the shopping centre to be built in the summer of 1976 and the retail giant announced it would open a store there just months after.

The John Lewis store marked the company's return to the city after an absence of 25 years.

Image caption,
Peterborough's John Lewis is the flagship store of the city's Queensgate Shopping Centre

Since then, other shops have come and gone, but the four-storey department store has remained a mainstay.

It even underwent a £21m revamp in 2019 - something which the city's MP Paul Bristow had hoped would save it from closure.

The Conservative MP wrote to John Lewis bosses in July, just before the company announced its first wave of closures.

Image caption,
Trader Jim Edwards, who has run a sandwich bar in the city for 36 years, says smaller businesses will be affected

In that open letter, he said the store was "at the heart" of the city.

"A role that you acknowledged through your £21m upgrade which was only recently completed," he wrote.

He says branch managers at the time described the revamp as a "model for the rest of the company to follow" and that it put the store at the "forefront of efforts to combat the overall decline we are seeing in retail".

Image caption,
MP Paul Bristow describes John Lewis as being at the "heart" of the city

The MP wrote again ahead of Wednesday's announcement and says he was told the news he did not want to hear directly, shortly after staff were informed about the decision.

He said he was "extremely disappointed" and asked how the business "could justify this closure, given the company's investment in the store and opportunities within our city".

The proposed closures put 1,454 jobs at risk across eight stores in England and Scotland.

John Lewis says 318 of those are at the Peterborough branch.

It is another blow for the city which is also losing its Debenhams distribution centre, with the loss of up to 500 jobs.

Image caption,
James Morrell says it could present an opportunity for small independent stores

Shopper James Morrell says he usually goes to John Lewis to look at the "tech" and says it will be a shame to not see it reopen after lockdown.

"This is pretty much all we've got in Peterborough really, it's our main selling point," he says.

But he says it "might be nice for little independent shops to come along and take up the space".

Jim Edwards, who has run a sandwich bar in Peterborough for 36 years, says the closure of the "big shops" affects the smaller ones, too.

"Soon why will people want to come? They will just stay in the retail outlets out of town," he says.

Shoppers not having a reason to come into Peterborough is also something that worries Mr Wood.

"It's desperate news for the workers and the people of Peterborough, but the worst thing of all is that Peterborough is no longer going to be a go-to destination for people from Oundle, Thrapston, Huntingdon, all those people around," he says.

"Why would they come to the centre of Peterborough if John Lewis is closing?"

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There are concerns about what will be left to attract people to the city centre

Mr Wood says the planned closure - which John Lewis puts down to the "significant shift to online shopping" - is a "stark reminder of how the world is changing".

"City centres are changing, we have to come to terms with that, we're not returning to some kind of normal, the new normal is going to be different," he says.

"Peterborough needs to look at that and the rest of the country needs to look at that.

"No-one knows what different is going to look like but we have to be proactive and make it happen for the city of Peterborough."

Image caption,
Mr Wood says city centres are "changing" and Peterborough needs to be "proactive"

The other affected stores are 'At Home' shops in Ashford, Basingstoke, Chester and Tunbridge Wells, and department stores in Aberdeen, Sheffield and York.

John Lewis says it will enter a consultation with all affected staff and if the closures are confirmed, it will make "every effort" to find alternative roles in the company for as many staff as possible.

In July last year, it announced it was closing its stores in Birmingham, Croydon, Newbury, Swindon, Tamworth and Watford, as well as the smaller hubs at St Pancras and Heathrow, with the loss of 1,300 jobs.

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