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LAST TEAM PICTURE

PUBLISHED: 16:34 07 January 2009 | UPDATED: 10:22 23 August 2010

FRONT PAGE PICTURE LINE UP - WOOLIES’ GANG: Left to right:  Neelam Bains, Pam Broad, Jeannine Daly, Frances Laurie, Mark Saunders,second row kneeling - Mandy Wild, Jill Ives, Gillian Richardson; third

FRONT PAGE PICTURE LINE UP - WOOLIES' GANG: Left to right: Neelam Bains, Pam Broad, Jeannine Daly, Frances Laurie, Mark Saunders,second row kneeling - Mandy Wild, Jill Ives, Gillian Richardson; third

SHOULDER to shoulder redundant staff at the collapsed Woolworths store posed for their last staff picture, writes Michael Adkins. Our exclusive images of about 30 staff who lost their jobs when the Gravesend store closed, emerged as the chain s last shop

SHOULDER to shoulder redundant staff at the collapsed Woolworths store posed for their last staff picture, writes Michael Adkins.

Our exclusive images of about 30 staff who lost their jobs when the Gravesend store closed, emerged as the chain's last shop was boarded up on Tuesday.

Up to 27,000 people were made redundant at 807 stores as the 99-year-old High Street favourite became one of the most iconic victims of the credit crunch.

Despite facing a bleak New Year staff put on a smile and posed for the camera dressed in festive costumes on Christmas Eve. They also took a group shot in the staff dining room moments before officially leaving - the day before New Years Eve.

Yesterday Marks & Spencer, which also has a store in Gravesend town centre, announced plans for over 1,200 jobs cuts, many through store closures.

Bosses reported revenue at outlets open at least a year had dropped 7.1 per cent

Mother-of-three Gillian Richardson, 52, from Gravesend, worked at Woolworths for over 20 years. Her sister Jeannine Daly also worked there as a sales assistant for over 28 years.

She said: "This is the thing about Woolies staff. We are more like a family, like a second family and it hurts so much because losing Woolworths is like losing one of your family.

"All of the people in the picture are currently out of work. It's a terrible shame but we all loved our jobs and have not regretted our time at the store.

"It was busy over the Christmas period but we just had to get on with our jobs despite the situation, what many of us have done for years and years."

Speaking about the sales frenzy, she said: "I just forgot it was Christmas really. All the decorations came down in the shop and all the sale signs went up. I was at home with the Christmas tree up and my daughter said to me 'It's Christmas' and I just started crying. We don't feel like we had a Christmas. We were all in good spirits and we all smiling when we were working because that's just us really. A lot of the customers were so nice to use. They kept saying, 'we are so sorry you are going. What are we going to do without you?' and things like that."

The sales assistant first started working at the Gravesend store as a 16-year-old Saturday girl. She remained for 10 years before leaving to have children, only to re-apply and work at the same store for another 11 years until its collapse. She added: "Many of these women work to support their husband's main financial income and need and want to work.

"I am bored at home already. The money I earned paid for the extras in life, the holiday, the new car or that extra special birthday present. I doubt we will have a holiday this year. I worked at Woolworths on and off for over 20 years. If you had worked there before and had experience and a good reputation bosses would not hesitate re-hiring you."

The images taken by Mrs Richardson also show the ravaged shop after the shutters were closed to customers for the last time.

In one picture a worker is captured sitting amongst the ransacked shelves after closing.

Woolworths in Gravesend opened in 1918 in the High Street (current site of Peacocks). A decade later they expanded and bought what was the Jubilee Pub next door. Then in 1955 the store moved to the current location but 10 years later a fire gutted the store and it was rebuilt on the same site.

The Gravesend town centre store closed on Saturday December 27 following several weeks of manic sales as administrator Deloitte fought to secure a buyer.

Redundant staff are now waiting to see what payment they are legible for due to the collapse. Rare footage of Woolworths in the 1960s can be viewed on a virtual museum set up by Gravesham Borough Council and contributors. Cine footage of the town, featuring the store, was supplied and narrated by resident Sid Whittaker. To view these and other historic films and pictures visit discovergravesham.co.uk.

michael.adkins@archant.co.uk

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