‘Budgens of Holt was more than just a building - it was the heart of the town’

PUBLISHED: 06:30 25 June 2020 | UPDATED: 16:16 25 June 2020

The damage after the devastating fire at Budgens of Holt. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The damage after the devastating fire at Budgens of Holt. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2020

It stood in Holt for more than three decades, but took just minutes to burn down. A former employee of Budgens, Donna-Louise Bishop, explains why the fire has left more than just an empty space in the heart of the town.

Budgens in Holt suffered a devastating fire on June 20. Picture: Lee SmithBudgens in Holt suffered a devastating fire on June 20. Picture: Lee Smith

Budgens is on fire!

Oh Christ.

It’s all gone.

It was 9.26pm on June 20 and I was just about to settle down in front of the television with my partner when those words appeared on my phone.

Veronica Pearson, when she opened Budgens of Holt, aged 10. Picture: Supplied by Veronica PearsonVeronica Pearson, when she opened Budgens of Holt, aged 10. Picture: Supplied by Veronica Pearson

The text message was from my sister, a loyal employee of the Holt-based supermarket for nearly 18 years - unlike me, who’d only lasted three days working there during my early 20s.

For the rest of that evening, I watched in disbelief via social media, with thousands more onlookers, at the devastating photos and videos showing the building burn to ashes .

Despite my brief time on the tills and stacking shelves, even I had to admit that it was a place which was undeniably synonymous with Holt.

Originally built in 1985, incidently the same year I was born, the building’s iconic green has been retained throughout the years going as far as to be included in the space-age style trollies of recent times.

Then there was the havoc which ensued when the entrance was relocated to a different door. I never did get the hang of it.

And who else can remember the old turnstile behind the original tills, separating the alcohol section from the rest of the shop? I can still see impatient children (me) playing there while harassed parents (mine) packed away their weekly shopping. Not surprisingly, it was later removed during one of the refurbishments.

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There are so many memories associated with this one place. Not just by me, but by many others in the town and further afield. It may have been just a building, but it was so much more than that.

As a young child, I would spent hours waiting outside in the car for my Nan to finish chatting to friends.

Then as a teenager, I would venture out during many a lunch break to grab a quick bite to eat and take it back to the staff room of the pharmacy I worked at around the corner. Even now I can still remember the hot wedges from the deli.

And although I’d moved away from the area by the time I reached adulthood, I still popped in to see my sister at work and say hello, while taking in any new changes.

It is not the first time the Georgian town has been hit with a fire (in 1708, it was devastated by a blaze which destroyed most of it in the matter of three hours) but it is certainly the biggest one in recent years, and one that has attacked the heart of the town.

Friendships and the beginnings of families were born and flourished within this iconic workplace. I could name half a dozen couples that met and fell in love in the aisles of that shop, many who have gone on to marry and have children.

Other stories make up its foundation, including staff who have faced and lost health battles, individuals who have become familiar faces in the town many live and work in, and a workforce which helped to create a sense of community.

Budgens had become a lifeline to many as Holt’s only supermarket, even if we all did have a little moan now and again about some of the prices. To many of the residents, even more so during the coronavirus pandemic, the staff have been a beacon of hope working round the clock to make sure people were fed and looked after.

I don’t know what the future holds for the store, and I am sure I am not alone when I say I am incredibly grateful no one was injured during last week’s incident. A special thanks goes to the fire service for keeping everyone safe.

And to the person who garnished the car park with the banner “we love Budgens staff“, the other who has organised a clap for employees this Saturday evening , and all who have donated to the fundraiser or added a green heart to their Facebook profile picture, thank you for acknowledging what the true meaning of this building really was.

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