Christmas jobs boost at former Focus site

Cllr Peter Pragnell outside the former Focus DIY store
Cllr Peter Pragnell outside the former Focus DIY store
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CHRISTMAS could come early for jobseekers with two national firms set to open new stores creating up to 70 jobs.

In a week when the unemployment rate was claimed to be at 13 per cent in the town, the move has been welcomed by business leaders and councillors as a shot in the arm for the local economy.

Dunelm Mill and Pets at Home are expected to open their new stores in Sedlescombe Road North, St Leonards, in time for the seasonal rush.

Builders are busy converting the former Focus DIY store into a smart new complex with on site parking for shoppers and employees.

According to a report published this week by Sheffield Hallam University about hidden unemployment in seaside towns, it estimates the real rate here could have rocketed.

Council leader Jeremy Birch said: “People are absolutely screaming out for jobs in Hastings. The percentage of people on Jobseeker’s Allowance in Hastings is around 5.7 per cent and the big issue is we do need more jobs. It is all about being able to create more jobs through office space and making Hastings people as employable as possible and creating the right infrastructure.

“It is a boost for the local economy with two well-known companies coming here, and this will create more job opportunities.”

Jonathan Dolding, manager of Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce, said: “We’re obviously delighted to see the confidence that two well-known brands have in the town.

“It’s encouraging to see vacant commercial space brought back into occupancy.”

Brett Mclean, chairman of the 1066 Country branch of the Federation of Small

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Businesses (FSB), said: “We are very positive about any new business coming into the borough and welcome any addition to local employment, services and products.

“All those people employed will be spending their money in our town, so it’s a roll-on effect. It’s all revenue coming in and can only be a win-win situation.”

Deputy leader, councillor Peter Chowney, who is also lead member for regeneration for Hastings Borough Council, said: “This is obviously good news, especially where a large premises that has been empty for some time is involved. We are also getting well-known brands coming in.

“Around the country there are high numbers of empty premises in high streets but in Hastings we are doing pretty well and bucking the trend. We have a low percentage of empty shops and premises than many other towns in the south east.”

Ward councillor Peter Pragnell, who is also county councillor for Ashdown and Conquest ward, said he was ‘delighted’ that two national brands had confidence to move into Hastings.

He added: “We always hate seeing empty buildings around and as councillor for the area, I’m always happy to see improvement here. The fact that local people will be employed can only be good.”

Focus DIY closed its store in Sedlescombe Road North late last year after the firm filed for administration. Around 30 jobs were lost. The company blamed falling sales brought on by the recession.

Dunelm Mill, which is based in Syston, Leicestershire, specialises in home furnishings and cookware, and is expected to open its Hastings branch in two months time.

A spokesman for the company said a typical Dunelm Mill store usually employs around 50 staff.

Pets at Home, headquartered in Handforth, Cheshire, offers a complete range of services and products for dogs, cats, and other pets.

A spokesman for Pets at Home said the company’s existing store at Ravenside Retail Park in Bexhill will remain open as usual.

He added the upcoming store in Hastings is expected to employ around 15 staff. It is expected to open by Christmas.

* see page 14 about an upcoming event to help tackle unemployment in Hastings.