Boots to walk away from much-needed branch in Brighton

Posted On 24 Aug 2019 at 1:08 pm

Boots the chemist is closing its branch in London Road, Brighton, on Friday 20 September.

The decrepit building that Boots shares with the Co-op food store is due for demolition.

Customers and staff were reassured that while the Co-op would return to the replacement building, Boots would move to another nearby location in London Road.

Now, it seems, the multinational company that owns Boots has changed its mind.

A chemist that has had a presence in London Road for all the decades I have lived here, a vital service for local people, is to be stripped away.

Staff who, in some cases, have worked there for 35 years may be thrown on the scrapheap.

It is an assault on the high street and a hammer blow to the community.

It seems that nationally Boots’ profits may not be what they could be despite the enormous financial benefit accruing from many hundreds of thousands of NHS prescriptions.

Struggling high streets being what they are, the company is protecting its shareholders by closing around 200 stores across the country.

At a time when GPs are under pressure and patients are being asked to seek advice from pharmacists, Boots is closing pharmacies.

We are told that the London Road branch is not one of the 200 and that the closure is happening because lease arrangements at other sites in London Road have fallen through.

Local people find that hard to believe, given how well provided the area is with “To Let” signs and large vacant premises.

Patients unable to trudge to the Clock Tower branch or travel to other chemists will be encouraged to use online services. These look easy in television advertisements but bring major risks.

And each branch closure softens us up for online medical care and more highly profitable online prescribing.

Boots is protecting its long-term interests, not ours.

Boots in London Road, Brighton

London Road used to be a place where everyone in the local community could shop, whether they were from Moulsecoomb, Hollingbury, Hanover, St Peter’s, Preston or Patcham.

It was especially suited to people who were elderly or disabled or on a low income.

It wasn’t fashionable but it worked and it served the community.

In recent years, we have lost Natwest, HSBC and Halifax bank branches. An early loss was a branch of Marks and Spencer. Since then, we’ve lost Woolworths, an iconic Co-op department store, a major post office (a tiny one remains), Forfars, Maplins and now Boots.

In Elliot’s, we lost an established hardware store. And Ransomes, the wonderful all-purpose store, has been cut in half. There is one laundrette but the closest professional dry cleaner is up by the Clock Tower.

The façade of the old Co-op in London Road in Brighton

London Road is fighting back. It has students, good cafés and the best charity shops in town.

However, it also has rampant graffiti and a thriving and dangerous drugs market, in which sellers – many from other cities – openly deal in full view of shoppers and residents.

Each shop closure brings decline and greater risk to the community.

Local people want and deserve better. But who will speak for them? And who will speak for the shop workers, mostly female, who are losing their jobs?

Past closures have aroused barely a bat-squeak of protest. The women and men who worked in places like the Co-op and the post office left like ghosts.

There were no marches for them, no brass bands. The shop workers union USDAW was nowhere to be seen. The doors just closed and that was that.

These shop workers were pillars of the community. I see some of them in London Road, mostly drinking tea in modest cafés. They remember me and always smile.

These are people of courage and dignity, who don’t make a fuss. Much like Boots employees.

Clementina Black

On Saturday 7 September Frances O’Grady, the first woman general secretary of the TUC will unveil a plaque to suffragist and reformer Clementina Black, who was born in Ship Street, Brighton.

She was one of the first people to campaign for the rights of women workers.

Later in the month, during the Labour Party Conference, a plaque will be unveiled in Hove to Margaret Bondfield, a shop assistant who became a trade unionist, a Labour MP and the first woman Privy Counsellor.

But there is little point in commemorating these women if today’s shop workers are to lose their jobs without a fight.

It’s true that we need a national strategy to save our high streets. However, we don’t have to wait for a government strategy to demand an end to arbitrary and unnecessary shop closures which damage our communities.

Boots has made many millions from the NHS and our community. Our councillors and MPs should insist that the London Road branch relocates and stays open.

Jean Calder is a campaigner and journalist. For more of her work, click here.

  1. Fishwife, 49 Reply

    There’s a dispensing chemist about 30 seconds’ walk away, in Oxford Street: for other items currently sold at Boots, there’s a Superdrug just up London Road which is better stocked, gas a wider range of products and is usually cheaper. Boots is closing because it can’t compete with local rivals.
    Also, there’s a dry cleaner at the bottom of Elm Grove – much closer than the clock tower.

  2. Sheila Reply

    Yes there is a chemist in oxford Street and yes for non prescrition superdrug is cheaper and bigger

  3. fed-up with Brighton politics Reply

    Boots lost the plot a very long time ago, and especially when it was taken over by Walgrens. I have not dealt with Boots in many years – they have totally forgotten they were originally a pharmacy – and fortunately I now have a little local Kamsons, which is actually a pharmacy and just deals with prescriptions and over-the-counter non-prescription stuff, including the cheaper generic alternatives to pricey everyday medicines. Being an oldie myself, I perfectly understand that online ‘apps’ are not the solution for many people.

    Cllr Moonan of the Health and Wellbeing Board thought it was OK that Boots was going over the road a bit and did not think a representation was necessary but, now that it isn’t going just over the road, does the H & W Board actually have any powers or teeth to do something about this?

    I note that Fishwife above uses the words up and down liberally. Up is still up and if you have to go down you have to go back up. Fishwife is presumably very fit, which many of us oldies are not.

    Jean, maybe you and your supporters could contact Kamsons, who do local and proper pharmacies, unlike Boots.

    • Fishwife, 49 Reply

      You presume wrongly. I was using “up the road” figuratively: without a theodolite I’d be hard-pressed to prove it, but I’m pretty sure that stretch of London Road is level.

    • George Reply

      How did this article go from a Boots closing to something about women suffragettes?

  4. fed-up with Brighton politics Reply

    Would suggest that ‘along the road’ would have been more appropriate then. Nothing much in Brighton is level.

  5. Kev DaCosta Reply

    Fine Fare and Boots were the longest standing occupants of that building when I was growing up. I’m sorry it’s being torn down, many memories of it.

  6. Arthur Pendragon Reply

    It’s a shame to lose ‘little Boots’ but it is a time warp from the 1980’s. The dispensing chemist on Oxford street (yes 30 seconds away!) is a Coop in fact. Mind you superdrug is a soulless experience and without knowledgeable pharmacists to consult London Road would be much the poorer. Though most of the staff in superdrug are also women Jean, just a bit younger than you dear.

  7. Henry Page Reply

    The problem is with the management in these companies. It’s all very well having a short-term strategy, but what of the long-term? Newhaven lost one of it’s longest standing shops when Woolworths closed down, but the Poundstretcher that replaced it is thriving, which begs the question: why did Woolworths go bust if companies such as Poundstretcher can make the store profitable? In my view the differences between the two are much less than the similarities, in terms of what is being sold.

    Boots fails to capitalise on grouping it’s disparate business in one location. Too many Boots are Pharmacies or Opticians or Hearing Care. In my opinion they need to bring the standalone practices into larger premises shared with the Pharmacy/health and Wellbeing and try and consolidate their various businesses, which have served the public and the company well over many years.

    Instead of writing here in protest, why not write to the CEO, Sebastian James, Boots UK, Beeston, Nottingham NG90 1AA. Tell him you want Boots to maintain a retailing presence in London Road.

  8. Christopher Hawtree Reply

    I do not understand why Jean Calder laments the loss of chain stores, such as Boots (subject of an acerbic poem by D.H. Lawrence) when – as others have pointed out – there is a chemist round the corner. We need local stores that keep the money locally. There is no need for us to support such people as Philip Green and the distant people who run Boots. People also need to ask whether the accumulation of stuff is the Good Life. You can’t take it with you, even if you drape a carrier bag beside the coffin.

  9. Martha Gunn Reply

    One of the most bewildering things I have ever read by the normally sensible and insightful Ms Calder. Completely off the mark about access to a pharmacy. And then a series of elisions and non-sequiturs that take the breath away and render the article meaningless.
    But Ms Calder and Boots have one thing in common – they both need to catch up and join the c21st.

  10. fed-up with Brighton politics Reply

    I’m not sure it’s true that the Well pharmacy in Oxford Street is a local store that keeps the money locally (see Christopher’s comment above). Co-op sold all their pharmacies to Bestway Group some years back and they are actually a large chain, now rebranded as Well. Bestway has interests in several sectors, not just pharmacies, so Well chain is still part of an international conglomerate, albeit a British one. Boots tried to buy the Co-op chain at the time it was up for sale, as did a US buyout firm and others.

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