A council has assured shoppers their precinct will remain “vibrant” after Wilko, the anchor store, fell into administration.
Visitors to Rainham Shopping Centre are worried there would be “nothing left” at the precinct without the discount chain but Medway Council says it will continue to invest in its town centres despite the “disappointing” news.
In January, researchers found that footfall in Rainham had increased by a staggering 93% between 2019 and 2022 after Covid.
Trent Straine-Francis, who co-runs Nutmegs Patisserie in Rainham High Street, told KentOnline at the time the trend of people moving from London and working from home had provided a post-pandemic boost for trade.
"There was initially an increase in footfall," he said of the impact of Covid, "but with the cost of living crisis and household bills going up, consumer confidence goes down a little.
"But we’re still busy enough and it’s probably been about the same or maybe even busier [than before the pandemic].”
But with the anchor store now facing closure, there are fears this boost for the precinct will be lost.
Cllr Lauren Edwards, Portfolio Holder for Economic Regeneration and Inward Investment, described the news of Wilko going into administration as “disappointing”, but said the council remains committed to making Medway’s town centres “more vibrant places to visit and shop”.
She continued: “We are very proud that there are a wide range of shops and businesses in our town centres, including bespoke independent traders and household brands.
“We are continuing to invest in our town centres to improve our communities and support local businesses. Earlier this year, we signed the Federation of Small Businesses Local Leadership pledge, which highlights our commitment to doing everything we can to support businesses in Medway.
“Our economic development team is continuing to help local start-ups and support existing Medway businesses expand.
“We are also developing, with the help of local businesses, dedicated strategies for our town centres which we hope will attract additional external investment.”
Some shoppers in Rainham fear Wilko is one of the last draws to the shopping centre and losing it would “do away” with the social aspect of visiting the precinct.
One such resident is Pearl, who said: “Get rid of Wilko, you’ve got nothing left here. People utilise the shopping centre and the high street to meet people and socialise – when all the shops, banks, and post offices are closing, where do we go?”
Her friend Flo added: “That does make it a mental health issue too. We come here on Mondays to meet and spend time together and we can’t go anymore if there’s nothing left to do.
“A lot of people, especially older people, use the shopping centre for socialising and without that, without anywhere to go, people will leave their houses less and there will be much more isolation.
“There’s free parking here on Mondays but there’ll be nothing to do. Without Wilko there’s not much else to draw people here.
“All the shops are closing and for a lot of things you’re expected to shop online now but I haven’t got internet at home.”
Pearl continued: “A lot of older people don’t understand how to use the internet, or don’t necessarily want to use it.”
“Or they’re scared of getting scammed,” said Flo. “There are so many cases of people getting scammed online a lot of people don’t want to risk it.
“Another problem is a lot of places still want cash but banks are closing.
“There’s no post offices or banks. If shops like Poundland, Argos, B&M, might be next, what the hell are people going to do?”
Another visitor to Wilko at Rainham Shopping Centre, Geraldine, said: “It’s a shop that everybody goes in and they look for bargains.
“It’s sad for the local community that it takes away that element of choice of where to shop.
“It’s a big shop too, so I imagine it will be replaced with another big chain.
“There’s too many big shops in small areas like this. We need the old ways back with lots of individual little shops to go in. That will bring people back.”
Geraldine, who lives in Doddington but often visits her father in Medway, added: “I feel very sorry for the staff because they’ll be made redundant.”