A temporary jobcentre is to be set up in Hull’s former Marks & Spencer building to help people who have become unemployed as a result of the pandemic.
Hull-based commercial property developer Wykeland, which purchased the former M&S store last summer, has agreed to let the ground floor of the landmark building to the Department for Work and Pensions for it to be used as one of a network of 80 temporary jobcentres.
It means local people hardest hit by the economic impact of the Covid pandemic will be able to get the help they need at a prominent location in the heart of Hull city centre.
The sizeable area allocated for the facility will also ensure DWP staff will be able to assist significant numbers of visitors while maintaining social distancing.
The DWP is setting up the temporary employment advice centres across the country to deal with increased demand as a result of the pandemic.
The new centres will increase capacity to provide tailored, face-to-face support in a Covid-secure environment, to help more people back into work and to progress into new roles.
The facility in the former M&S building is the only one announced so far in Hull or East Yorkshire. The DWP has said more temporary jobcentres will be introduced across the country as locations are confirmed.
An area of 25,000 sq ft on the ground floor is currently being fitted out to meet the DWP’s requirements and the facility is due to open this summer.
Wykeland development surveyor Tom Watson said: “We are delighted to be working with the DWP to establish this vital facility, which will provide thousands of people with access to the advice and support they need at this difficult time to get back into work.
“We are developing longer-term plans to bring this landmark building back into permanent use but, in the meantime, we had no hesitation in making the ground floor available for this important purpose.
“The former M&S store is one of Hull’s best-known buildings and could not be better located for people from across the region to reach, so it ticks all the boxes in terms of accessibility.
“It also offers a substantial, open-plan space to accommodate large numbers of visitors while maintaining social distancing, so people can visit with confidence.”
The centre is being established as thousands more people across Hull and the East Riding are seeking work having lost their employment as a result of the pandemic, with many others facing an uncertain future on furlough.
The latest local unemployment figures, published this month, showed there were 6,640 more claimants in Hull and 4,275 more in the East Riding compared with March 2020 before the impact of Covid. This means the total number of unemployed people in Hull and the East Riding combined has increased by 10,915 (70%) over the past year (Source: Office for National Statistics, March 2021).
The DWP has said it will review the need for the temporary jobcentres as the economy recovers and social distancing rules are eased.
The former M&S store has been vacant since it closed in 2019, bringing to an end more than 100 years of trading in Hull. The store was shut as part of a nationwide closure programme and the building was subsequently put up for sale.
Wykeland purchased the freehold of the former M&S store and another building in Whitefriargate, incorporating the HMV store and the former New Look unit, last year.
The acquisitions reflected Wykeland’s ongoing commitment to investment in its home city and the developer has been working on strategies to bring the former M&S building back into use.
As part of this, earlier this year Wykeland gave the frontage of the former M&S building and other properties it owns in and around Whitefriargate a thorough makeover using a specialist chemical-free cleaning system designed specifically for conservation work that removes grime and dirt without damaging the limestone.