853 exclusive: The homeware chain Wilko is to leave Woolwich later this year with Greenwich Council planning to turn its site into a new leisure centre, 853 can reveal.
While the leisure centre plans have been around for some years, the future fate of one of Woolwich’s most popular stores has been a mystery to shoppers, with Greenwich Council hoping that it would stay in the area.
The council plans to demolish most of the block, the nearby Bull pub, and council housing at the rear of the site to create the new centre, which will replace the Waterfront Leisure Centre.
It emerged over Christmas that Wilko was planning to open a new store in the Charlton retail parks, putting its future in Woolwich in doubt. Now the chain has confirmed to 853 that it is moving out.
A Wilko spokesperson said: “We love serving all our hard-working families and want to bring our great range of Wilko products to them for many years to come. We’re moving from our existing location in Woolwich to a new location in Greenwich Shopping Park to be able to offer the best store we can for our customers and team.
“We plan to relocate in late summer 2020. We are looking forward to welcoming old and new Wilko customers.”
The loss of Wilko will be a major blow to Woolwich, and represents the town centre’s biggest departure since M&S closed its Powis Street store in 2014. In 2011, the chain – then known as Wilkinson – showed its commitment to Woolwich by reopening just 11 days after its front entrance was damaged in the summer riot.
By moving to a retail park which is less convenient for public transport users – and is already notorious for traffic congestion – the departure of Wilko for Charlton also represents a reverse for the council’s claims to addressing pollution and the climate emergency. It also has a store on a Thamesmead retail park as well as in Lewisham and Bexleyheath town centres.
One problem for Greenwich Council in attempting to regenerate Woolwich is that it owns very little of the town centre itself, giving it less freedom to direct where stores go. In neighbouring Lewisham, the council has been able to use its ownership of Catford Shopping Centre to promote initiatives like the Catford Mews cinema. However, Woolwich town centre is largely owned by British Land – meaning the council can’t simply move businesses from one part of Woolwich to another.
The council says the construction of the new leisure centre will expand the local economy and “attract visitors from across the local area”. However, the loss of Wilko from Woolwich means the scheme will have backfired on the council – at least for the time being.
Greenwich Council’s ruling cabinet will discuss plans for the leisure centre at a meeting at 4.30pm on Wednesday.
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