Loyal duo join colleagues to open Swansea store after £2 million refit

Alison and Gill were two young teenagers fresh from school when they nervously walked through the door to start work at the new Debenhams store in Swansea’s Quadrant Shopping Centre.

But on July 11 – 35 years later – it will be Alison Dark and Gill Sergeant, and four of their long-serving colleagues, who officially open the doors to the store’s £2m revamp.

Between them the six staff members who have been asked to perform the official re-opening, can boast 202 years service with Debenhams.

The refit to the Quadrant store, which began in January, means an additional 20 jobs, bringing the number employed at the store to more than 320 full and part-time.

The restaurant has been completely overhauled, escalator and new lighting installed and the toilets and changing rooms upgraded throughout.

Alison recalls: “I watched the store being built when I was at school and thought when it’s finished I’ll apply for a job there.” And at 16 that was what she did in 1978.

“We did our training at the Swansea leisure centre. They brought tills into the leisure centre and we did our basic training there while the store was being fitted out,” said Alison.

“I started in ladies fashion and it was all very different. We had to wear brown and cream uniforms which we had to buy ourselves. In 1978 I was wearing miniskirts. I was in charge of knitwear and I went to fashion accessories and then we had a hosiery department. I’m still in fashion today.

“It’s very different now. Originally of course we did not work Sundays and we were closed on Bank holidays but now we’re open most of the time.”

James Loxdale, Manager of Debenhams in the Quadrant, said: “The £2 million refit represents a major investment in the store and in the retail area of the city.

“I’m sure our customers will enjoy the new look and new features which are designed to make shopping here even easier and more enjoyable. Early feedback has been very positive from our customers who are enjoying the new brands on Womenswear, Cosmetics, Menswear and Shoes which are now up on the 1st Floor.

“We thought the most appropriate way to celebrate our relaunch was to honour the members of staff here who have given such long and valuable service and so they have been chosen to cut the ribbon on the new look store at 11.30am on Thursday 11th July. We have a number of events planned for launch day including some great raffle prizes ”

Alison worked full-time until the birth of her son, Richard, in 1988. “I left work at the end of November, had Richard in January, and came back to work when he was eight weeks old. It was not a very long break but you did not get the same pay then for maternity leave.”

She lives with her partner Clive Lloyd in Mount Pleasant. Clive, a former BT worker who is now employed at the DVLA, was elected to Swansea City Council about a year ago. His father, Alan Lloyd, was twice Mayor of Swansea and was awarded the OBE recently.

Alison hopes she might go to the Palace for her father-in-law’s big day.

“Debenhams is a nice company to work for. They are very understanding in my experience. It’s nice to be asked to open the store with the others, nice to be appreciated. I was nervous starting at 16 and no doubt I’ll be nervous when I do the opening,” she said.

Gill recalls her first day when she was just 17: “I started on October 23, 1978. I’d left school and had another job first for six months. The store actually opened in the November but I was working in the food hall and we had to get things ready for the opening.

“I was in the food hall for six months before I went onto the shop floor. I went to stationery and then the stockroom and then to the home department.

“I worked full-time continuously for 29 years and then after my knee replacement I started working part-time,” said Gill, who has nearly 35 years service with the store at Swansea, and worked for a time in customer service.

“Things have changed a lot over the years with credit cards and store cards but I’ve enjoyed it. There are still regular customers who have been coming in as long as I’ve worked here and they still remember me which is nice.”

Gill, who lives in Manselton with husband Paul, a Tata steel worker, has worked for children’s wear for the past nine years.

“Alison and I have known each other since we started. She was 16 and we were the youngest, all the others seemed older and had children and of course they’re retired now.”

Also taking part in the official re-opening is Pat Heaton, 56, from Swansea, the store’s selling support manager.

He started as a management trainee in the Derby store in 1975 after completing his A levels. He became office manager and left in 1981 for a promotion in the Hull store and after 18 months was again promoted and moved to Middlesbrough.

Two further promotions took him to Mansfield and then Swindon before moving to Swansea in 1986 where he married the following year. He and wife Joy have two sons.

As selling support manager, Pat has responsibility for most of the behind the scenes activities including the loss prevention team looking at ways of reducing theft; the cash office team responsible for counting and banking money; stock control and the small maintenance team.

“Working for Debenhams has been good and of course over 35 years there have been lots of changes in the retail business.

“I remember when I started it was very different. For example calculators were just coming into common usage. We had a department selling typewriters, calculators and pens.

“Not many people had calculators then. I think the cheapest we sold was about £9.99 which would have been quite expensive when you think I was earning about £26 a week. Still, a lot of people wanted to buy calculators.

“We also had a record department and a food hall. Food halls were not uncommon in large department stores in the era before the out-of-town hypermarket.

“Over the years there has been a lot more automation. We had to make carbon copies of everything then because there were no photocopiers. Tills were more manual. Things are much easier now. Significant investment in a new CCTV system has enhanced loss prevention during our current modernisation.

“I can remember photocopiers and computers coming in. After the store closed to customers management had to work on for an extra hour or two collecting figures manually from tills. Automation has been a bonus in that respect.”

Being asked to open the newly revamped shop is a nice gesture, especially for staff who have been at Swansea even longer than he has, says Pat.

The other long serving members who are helping out include Liz Young, a restaurant supervisor with 34 years service, Rob O’Brien, a stockroom worker with 30 years service and Graham Griffiths who is in the loss prevention department and also has 30 years service.

Ian Kirkpatrick, Manager of the Quadrant Shopping Centre, said: “This investment by Debenhams in what is Swansea’s flagship retail store in its flagship shopping centre represensts a real vote of confidence in the centre and the city.

“I think it’s a lovely gesture and typical of Debenhams that they should honour their long-serving members of staff in this way as well.”

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