Charity seeks to use former Debenhams as community hub

THE former Debenhams in Woking town centre could be used as a charity and community hub, under plans from a charity that arranges for good causes to use vacant shops.

ASTOP is negotiating with the managers, Woking Shopping, to temporarily take over space at the three-storey department store in the Peacocks centre, which closed in May.

Part of the former Debenhams store in Wandsworth that is being used for a charity’s fundraising shop

It says it is working with the Temporary Use Aid charity’s Rainbow Rising project to allow charities and community organisations to operate in the store rent-free.

The closure of all the Debenhams stores left voids in shopping centres and malls across the UK.

Debenhams is the second big-name retail business to fail in the Peacocks, having replaced the original occupant, Allders, in 2005. Both companies went into administration, with Debenhams only able to continue as an online retailer.

A statement from ASTOP implied that agreement to use space at the store had been reached but a Woking Shopping spokesperson said: “Woking Shopping is currently in discussions with ASTOP and several other parties about the temporary use of the former Debenhams store.

“This is pending discussions with exciting potential long-term occupiers. Details are yet to be confirmed, but we understand that ASTOP would use the space for charity and community use.”

If its proposal succeeds, ASTOP will pay the business rates and rents for any organisation using space in the department store.

The charity has created community hubs across the country, in units such as the former Wandsworth Debenhams and a former town centre Marks and Spencer in Rochdale, Lancashire – where one of the tenants is going to be a pay-what-you-can-afford café.

ASTOP’s operations co-ordinator, Rohail Suleman, said: “We have more than 700 spaces across the UK, including storage, office and retail spaces, some of which are large and others are single units.

“Woking would be one of our biggest spaces. It’s a huge space covering three floors and is over 110,000 square feet.”

Mr Suleman said the aim is to create a charitable hub that brings together several organisations to work collectively, serving the local and regional communities. “This can give a charity a public face and attract more volunteers and interest,” he add.

Charities and community groups involved in ASTOP ventures are made aware that they may be given only 28-days’ notice to leave, under the terms of the lease negotiated.

However, Rohail said that ASTOP tries to continue to give support, explaining: “When they do get notice to move we keep in touch with them and we work with them to find an alternative space, whether they want to use a space for storage, office or retail. We help them find somewhere.”

Charities are asked to “think outside the box” when they move into space provided by ASTOP, which offers the use of Rainbow Rising branding to help draw attention to their enterprise.

Organisations that are interested in using space at Debenhams if the ASTOP negotiations are successful can find out more by emailing operations@astop.org.uk.

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