Losing Debenhams leaves a huge hole in our hearts - and our town
- Credit: JOHN KERR
Following our appeal for memories of working and shopping at Debenhams as the store prepares for closure, former employee LYNN TURNER writes about her happy times working for the company which was ‘one big family’. Today she runs the Ipswich-based online fashiona dn accessories store Cake & Catwalk.
I started my working life as a window dresser and display artist at Debenhams Ipswich in the 70s at the age of 17. With no experience I did my training on the job over the next few years and had the best time. In the 70s it was pre corporate so we were given a theme, a few props and had to dress the windows and the store using our imagination.
Waterloo House as it was then was an old building with a maze of hidden rooms, staircases, manned lifts (as in Are you Being Served), its own bakery, a fabulous food hall, its own screen printing studio and sewing workroom for making and altering soft furnishings. We had a qualified full-time nurse to deal with any medical issues we had. We even had our own ghost. The grey lady who often spooked us. Seriously.
I remember when the Queen came to Ipswich we were allowed to cheer from the front windows facing the Town Hall. There were staff outings and trips. A retired social support group and award nights.
We all felt part of one big family and we all knew each other, worked hard together along with the senior management who took an active part in physically moving the store about when necessary.
We put on fashion shows and held parties in the store.
I became the National Miss Debenhams in 1976 and eventually moved to London to fulfil my role and help to organise Debenhams Bicentenary, which went on in all different parts of the country. Held a Gala Ball, hired Sadlers Wells and a whole performance of Giselle for staff and guests to enjoy. Those were the days.
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Things changed when they decided to rip out Waterloo House and rebuild it as it is today. We temporarily went over to the old Corders as Debenhams had purchased the department store and we squeezed all the stock and staff into a much smaller space.
They moved us back and gradually it became more ‘shop in shop’ with new staff and new products.
I think that we held onto the big family for as long as possible. Thankfully, all the wonderful ladies and gentlemen had retired and there are probably one or two of the original staff left.
It’s a sad sad time, not just for Ipswich for each and every store in the country. Losing our store is going to leave not just a huge hole in Ipswich but a big hole in the hearts of many of us personally.
244 years of history have now gone it’s a tough time and I feel very sad for all the staff who have lost their jobs and have not shared all our memories and happy times.