Historic Stevenage funeral directors poised to move into former Old Town Waitrose unit

A new business are poised to move into the former Waitrose unit in Stevenage Old Town. Picture: Maya

A new business are poised to move into the former Waitrose unit in Stevenage Old Town. Picture: Maya Derrick - Credit: Archant

The future of the former Waitrose unit in Old Town looks to have been decided, as a family-run Stevenage business are hoping to relocate their head office there.

Austin’s Funeral Directors, who have operated in the area for more than 300 years, have all but agreed to centralise their head office and other services into one property – namely 74a High Street, or part of the unit that formerly housed Waitrose.

The company are currently in the process of purchasing 74a, the original red brick half of the former Waitrose building. The corner premises will remain available to let.

Austin’s head office is currently located in Letchmore Road, while their arrangement office is at 21 High Street, and limousines and hearse fleet are stored in Wedgwood Gate.

This purchase will allow Austin’s to combine their three existing properties and centralise their business processes as they continue to grow.

The company’s managing director, Claire Austin, has looked at making such a move a number of times in the last four to five years.

Claire explained a “great deal of deliberation” has gone into this decision.

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Although, she hopes things can move more quickly, the managing director anticipates it taking between 18 to 24 months to finalise everything.

But, not everyone has reacted positively to the news and there has been some backlash.

A long-running concern from some Old Town residents and businesses is the lack of a supermarket in the Old Town, as back in October there were rumours of Lidl moving into the area.

Speaking on her business’ move Claire said: “Firstly, it’s a shame that we lost Waitrose and I sympathise with everybody who thinks we should have another supermarket.

“I think a lot of people have this fear of funeral directors, much like will writing. People don’t want to talk about or see it. We’ve been here for 200 years.

“I’ve run Austin’s for 20 years, and it has been my mantra to try and move away from that taboo of funeral service, and to make our business more approachable and not as frightening.

The company’s current premises in Letchmore Road and 21 High Street will both be vacated and available for other uses in the near future.