Waitrose has been praised by The Chancellor of the Exchequer for taking on more than 70 unemployed people at its Northwich store.
Chancellor George Osborne met some of the group during a visit to the town on Friday, when he also gave his seal of approval to a £15 million regeneration scheme taking shape at Memorial Court.
Almost half of the 151 jobs at the Waitrose store, which opened in November, went to unemployed people, while a further one in five were offered to people who were working less than 16 hours a week.
Mr Osborne told the Guardian at Friday’s visit: “What’s fantastic about Waitrose is that they reached out to that community with the help of the local job centre and the local council, and have given these people opportunities and economic security.
“It’s really inspiring to hear, and what’s exciting is that it’s part of a bigger story of jobs being created in this part of Cheshire and Northwich on the move.
“One of the really great parts of my job is to meet people like I met at Waitrose who have been unemployed. One had been unemployed for a few months, lost her job at the beginning of last year, and another young lady had been caring for her children and wanting to go to work.”
The Tatton MP, who represents part of Northwich, was also given a tour of the building site where The Memorial Court entertainment and leisure centre is being created.
He was accompanied by Weaver Vale MP Graham Evans and Clr Mike Jones, the leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council, which is developing the scheme with Wates Construction.
The development will include a 400-seat theatre, a dance studio, 25-metre swimming pool, gym and outdoor café, and is due to open next spring.
“What’s really exciting for me is to see all the work that is going on in Northwich - the jobs that are being created, the regeneration that has taken place,” said Mr Osborne.
“It is great to see my Conservative colleagues delivering things here for Northwich.
“We’re in a bit of history - this is where the Beatles and the Rolling Stones played, literally where we are standing, and to see it now being got ready for a new generation is just fantastic. Graham and Mike and the whole team have done a brilliant job.”
Mr Evans said Mr Osborne’s visit was very important as it was important MPs played their part in the development of the town centre.
“Things are looking up in Northwich, and this fantastic new facility is good news all round for the people of the town,” he said. Clr Jones said he was excited about the Memorial Court project because “it’s about delivering confidence in the town.”
“We have a cinema and restaurants coming, and over the next five years Northwich is going to be a very different but a very vibrant and nice place to come and live and visit,” he said.
Waitrose Partners meet The Chancellor
The Partners at the Waitrose store who met Mr Osborne were Alison Barrow, Matt Snowden, apprentice Danny Hargreaves, Brenda Mugenyi, Ebru Alkac, Helen Smith, Katherine Lloyd, Phil Howarth and Amy Southern.
Single dad Phil Howarth, who has a three-year-old son, said Waitrose had “bent over backwards” to offer him suitable hours and to give him time to care for his son as he started his first year at school.
“Being a Partner is without doubt the most pleasurable and rewarding working experience of my life,” he said.
Danny Hargreaves broke his neck aged 19 in an accident, leaving him with serious nerve damage for two years. He obtained a job in a local factory but on a zero hours contract, and was often called at 6am to work the same day.
He has already worked on customer service and fresh food at Waitrose, receiving positive feedback from customers, managers and colleagues.
“The use of great training packages and Partner support took away any nervousness and worries I had so I can work confidently on the shop floor,” he said.
Helen Smith said being a Partner had changed her life, after being out of work for the first time in 27 years.
She had taken medical retirement from the Royal Mail after suffering severe depression, and was elated when offered an interview with Waitrose.
“I am ‘me’ again, my self-esteem is great, I have confidence and enjoy life in and out of work,” she said.
Helen was voted in as a Partner Voice rep in February, and has joined the social committee, helping to organise a number of events.
Mark Price, managing director of Waitrose, who attended Mr Osborne’s visit, said: “We’re very pleased Mr Osborne was able to visit our shop and meet our Partners, as well as finding out more about our investment in Northwich and the surrounding area.”
The Chancellor visits Roberts Bakery
Mr Osborne visited one of the north west’s biggest family businesses as part of Friday’s visit to the area.
Roberts Bakery in Rudheath employs 800 staff across a 16-acre site, and has annual sales of more than £90 million.
Mr Osborne was given a briefing on the firm’s plans for the future and was told how a third plant has been completed recently as the business expands.
“Frank Roberts and Sons is renowned as one of the area’s biggest and most successful employers, and is a great example of what is being achieved by businesses across Britain today as they drive the recovery and create jobs,” said Mr Osborne.
“The economy is growing, and businesses like Frank Roberts and Sons are creating jobs, helping more people benefit from the security and stability of a regular pay cheque.”