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Belfast BHS staff raise glass to end of an era

Employees' send-off as store closes for last time

By Cate McCurry

Published 29/08/2016

BHS staff in Belfast raise a glass to the store which has closed
BHS staff in Belfast raise a glass to the store which has closed
Workers leave the building for the last time last night

It was one of our most famous high street names, a thriving store in the heart of Belfast's bustling shopping district.

But yesterday empty DVD stands and clothes rails were scattered across the eerily empty shop floor as the shutters came down for the final time on BHS.

The Belfast branch on Castle Lane closed its doors yesterday after decades of trading, putting around 80 employees out of work.

The store opened for an hour yesterday, affording bargain hunters a final chance to pick through the last remaining discounted items. Large red and white signs on the door read 'last day today', encouraging customers to snap up a bargain.

After the doors shut for good at 2pm, staff inside removed the scattered clothes rails, bare hangers and the small unwanted piles of clothes from the store floor. The retailer will now disappear from the high street after administrators shut the department store along with 21 others across the UK.

Staff inside the Belfast branch could be seen toasting their last day of trading with bottles of beer and drinks as they huddled around the empty tills.

When asked for a comment, a staff member said they could not speak to the press as they were "still under contract". They added that they wanted some time together as a team to come to terms with the last day.

Shortly after around 19 staff members gathered outside the main entrance doors for the last time as a team. With drinks in hand and dressed casually in their own clothes, they cheered and raised a glass.

Before the shutters came down for the final time in Belfast, a former BHS employee returned one last time.

Belfast man Lawrence McNally worked in the store during the 1970s and described it as a "good place to work". He added: "There was a lot of camaraderie and now you see people trying to pick up a bargain before it closes - it's unbelievable. I worked there as a butcher in the fresh foods and it was a very good place to work at that time.

"It's so sad. [Former owner] Philip Green has a lot to answer for. I was only there for a couple of years but had some great times.

"I thought it was a disgrace when I heard it was closing as it's left a lot of people out on a limb, particularly those who have worked there 40 years.

"Then there's the pension and everything, they don't know where they stand with it."

BHS Belfast opened its doors to the public in December 1965 whilst still under construction. It was officially opened on February 16, 1966, by Lord Erskine of Rerrick, the Governor of Northern Ireland.

The last store manager of BHS Belfast, Natalie Ferguson, said: "The store boasted the longest serving member in BHS, as, last November we celebrated her 50 years in the store.

"All of my managers also had long service, great knowledge and experience in running this business that I have always been in awe of. They are truly inspirational people."

A notice from the administrators, Duff & Phelps, remained at the door advising customers the store was in administration.

Yesterday's jovial atmosphere in-store was in stark contrast to news of the company's collapse in April this year which affected 11,000 jobs and 22,000 pensions.

The closure sparked a parliamentary inquiry leaving its former owner, billionaire Sir Philip Green, potentially facing a criminal investigation.

Belfast Telegraph

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