Coronavirus lockdown: Uncertain future for Stevenage Debenhams store as company faces administration

The future of Debenhams in Stevenage is threatened as the retailer faces administration during Covid

The future of Debenhams in Stevenage is threatened as the retailer faces administration during Covid-19 pandemic. Picture: Will Dennehy - Credit: Archant

The department store chain Debenhams is facing administration for a second time within a year, leaving an uncertain future for its 22,000 workers - including those employed at the branch on Stevenage’s Roaring Meg Retail Park.

The retailer is expected to file notice of intention to appoint administrators next week, to protect the company from creditors while it tries to secure a rescue deal.

The department store has been struggling on the high street for some time, and its financial woes have been compounded after it was forced to close all its outlets due to the coronavirus lockdown.

Debenhams went into administration last year, when it was taken over by a group of financial backers.

Executive chairman Terry Duddy said at the time that the retailer “has a clear strategy and a bright future but, in order for the business to prosper, we need to restructure the group’s store portfolio and its balance sheet”.

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It has already closed 22 stores this year - including the branch in Welwyn Garden City - and it plans to shut a further 28 in 2021.

Debenhams in Stevenage, which opened less than three years ago, was unaffected by this initial restructure - with reports last year that it had had the strongest sales increase of all its stores across the UK - but this latest announcement leaves the future of the 80,000 sq ft store and those employed there uncertain.

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A spokesman for Debenhams said: “Like all retailers, Debenhams is making contingency plans reflecting the extraordinary current circumstances. Our owners and lenders remain highly supportive and whatever actions we may take will be with a view to protecting the business during the current situation.

“While our stores remain closed in line with government guidance, and the majority of our store-facing colleagues have been furloughed, our website continues to trade and we are accepting customer orders, gift cards and returns.”

The government introduced a furlough scheme, which will run until at least June 1, in a bid to support firms badly affected by the coronavirus pandemic, and to prevent mass unemployment.

It will pay 80 per cent of the wages of people who can’t do their jobs due to Covid-19, to help companies retain them.

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