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Aberdeen Debenhams worker reveals ‘heart-wrench’ at store closure

Debenhams at the Overgate. Picture taken prior to Covid-19.
Debenhams at the Overgate. Picture taken prior to Covid-19.

An Aberdeen department store worker has revealed the devastating impact losing her job in the pandemic has had.

Jacqui Johnston, who worked on the Guerlain counter in Debenhams, said it had been horrific not to see it reopen yesterday as restrictions on retail eased.

The 52-year-old is one of around 650 people from 15 stores who lost their jobs after the high street giant was bought by online retailer earlier this year.

The Granite City has also lost Arcadia stores Dorothy Perkins/Burtons, Topshop, Wallis as well as the Disney store in recent weeks – with John Lewis also announcing plans to pull out.

Their proposals sparked the Press and Journal and Evening Express to launch its Save Our Shops campaign – but for those like Miss Johnstone, it is too late.

Debenhams announced the closure of its Aberdeen store in February.

‘Packing up the perfume counter was horrific’

Speaking on BBC’s Good Morning Scotland today, Miss Johnstone was asked how she felt seeing stores welcoming customers back yesterday.

She said: “Absolutely horrendous. The fact that I live in Aberdeen and we’ve not got a department store is just heart wrenching.

“Thirty-odd years in retail and I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve no words really, it’s just awful.”

She added: “I had to go in one day and pack up the entire counter and that was horrific, knowing that I would never see it again.”

Fighting back

Since losing her job, Miss Johnston retrained and created her own business inspired by her own recent mental health struggles.

She added: “I’m launching a new online business, and just launched it yesterday, to try and do something to help people with mind-set and things because I’ve had to reach out because my mental health has been affected by this whole situation.

“I have had to reach out and relaunch myself and get my confidence back a bit.

“It has totally floored me. I’m 52 years old and I’m not at a good age to be employable. I don’t mean that in a bad sense but there are very little jobs out there so I’ve had to retrain to start an online business from scratch.”

Asked how badly it affected her when she was made redundant, Miss Johnston said: “Well put it this way, eight weeks ago if I never woke up again it wouldn’t have been too soon, that’s how bad I felt and I swear I’ve never felt like that in my life.”


Caterer warns livelihood will be in tatters if restrictions don’t ease further soon

Jo Lawrence who owns Jo’s Kitchen, an outdoor catering business in Haddington in East Lothian, also discussed the difficulties she has faced over the past 12 months.

She said: “Unfortunately marquee weddings and anything on private land is still banned because they are not giving us responsibility as business owners to follow the rules.”

Her business lost a whole year of work last year and unless restrictions are eased further, her firm won’t survive beyond Christmas.

She added: “I have tried everything, I am begging everybody. I cannot lose my business, it’s my baby and it’s so important to me. I don’t know what to do next.

“I cannot comprehend why they will not let us work because the only other avenues we have are private dinner parties and they are certainly not happening.”

Non-essential shops reopened yesterday, with thousands of people heading to the high streets across the country.

Miss Johnston called on the Scottish and UK Government to act, adding: “I think the Scottish Government or the main government, whoever, needs to step in and get a grip.

“Be realistic about this because as Jo said, her business is struggling, it’s on the bones of its backside. She can’t live on £200 orders a week. I can’t live on fresh air.

“I’ve not had Universal Credit because they said I’ve had a redundancy. I’ve not even had £2,000.”

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