Alex Hurrell, Reporter
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
North Norfolk’s first Waitrose supermarket is due to open for business on Thursday, after a whirlwind six-week conversion.
Ashley Broad, 41, moves to North Walsham from a previous post as manager at Waitrose’s Ely branch.
He will be commuting 110 miles each day to work from his home near Thetford, “one mile inside Norfolk”, where he lives with his wife Samantha and children Emily, 13, and William, nine.
Although he enjoys mountaineering, Mr Broad has found a distinct lack of mountains to climb in Norfolk and spends more time nowadays cycling. He hopes one day to cycle to work.
Mr Broad recently completed his first triathlon, swimming 300m, biking 20k and running 3k.
He has worked for Waitrose for more than 20 years, at 18 different branches, including Eaton, Norwich, where he was a department manager for several years.
Contractors have been working 24/7 for the past fortnight to ensure the former Focus DIY store, on Cromer Road, North Walsham, is ready for town mayor Dave Robertson to cut the ribbon at 8am.
Delivery lorries have been arriving at the rate of five or six each day all week and staff have been stacking shelves as builders, electricians and others put the finishing touches to the 21,000 sq ft sales area.
The store, the fourth in Norfolk, is the first one Waitrose has built in the county for more than eight years and manager Ashley Broad is confident it will attract customers from a wide area. The nearest alternative branch is at Eaton, Norwich, 21 miles away.
“I think it’s going to be even more successful than was thought. It’s an absolutely stunning building,” said Mr Broad, 41, who lives near Thetford, and was previously manager at Waitrose’s Ely branch.
One would-be customer had turned up with his shopping bag yesterday, when the Waitrose signs were first erected, thinking the shop was open.
“I’m always astounded at how far people are prepared to travel - up to an hour in some cases. Hopefully it will draw people to North Walsham who would not otherwise have come,” Mr Broad added.
“We recognise we have an important role in the town and are committed to ensuring it remains a vibrant, prosperous shopping destination.”
Waitrose had had 10,000 leaflets printed which would be in the store, giving customers information about the businesses and services available in the town centre, and a community board would also provide information.
The company claims more than £1m will be generated each year through wage and bonuses for the store’s 170 employees. The vacancies attracted more than 750 applications.
Mr Broad said the firm would also be supporting local good causes. Waitrose stores each gave away £1,000 per month, through the company’s Community Matters scheme, to be shared between three causes and in December this would be trebled, benefiting the first three supported by the North Walsham branch: the Benjamin Foundation, Cromer and District Foodbank, and Merchants Place, Cromer.
And the branch would also donate 250 hours of its employees’ time through its partner volunteering initiative.
North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb welcomed Waitrose’s arrival and praised the employee share ownership operated by the John Lewis Partnership, of which Waitrose is a part.
Mayor Mr Robertson said he was delighted that the plans had been approved and the shop opened in less than a year. He added: “I really do believe Waitrose will have a positive impact on North Walsham. I’m excited by the potential of increasing footfall and therefore bringing economic confidence to our town.”
And Mair Stockdale, chairman of North Walsham Chamber of Trade, said members looked forward to a mutually-beneficial relationship which would help North Walsham’s regeneration.