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Wednesday, 23 March 2016


I read today that BHS is to find a way to reinvent and revitalise itself. I'm an ex-BHS employee (1973 - 1984) and I recall my time working there.
Trips to Belfast always bring back some very happy memories of my working life in the city centre. Over forty years ago, I became a Trainee Manager in British Home Stores, since condensed to the simpler and trendier BHS.  I pass by the entrance and think about the happy and not-so-happy memories.  I worked there in the 1970s, dark days in Northern Ireland, when murder, bombs, riots and high tension kept our senses alert and our nerves stretched.  
But the happy times outweigh the rest.  
I remembered the camaraderie, banter and that whole notion of people from different religious and social backgrounds working so well together. When the shop closed, we all went home (most evenings via the Castle Inn pub) on our separate ways behind walls, barriers and barricades, back to "our own people."  It was both ridiculous and crazy, but that's the way it was.  
On a recent trip home, inside the store, two distinct memories came back.  The first was of the staircase in the corner where our manager stood on the fourth or fifth step to address the whole team every morning, ten minutes before opening.  On my first morning I was invited onto the stairs so that the team could have a good look at the new boy. Nervous and red-faced, I must have looked a picture.  
The second memory, as I climbed the stairs, was seeing the lighting department, my domain as department manager for more than a year. The thought of busy Saturday afternoons climbing rickety ladders to take down a light fitting makes me shudder in this health and safety era. But we did stuff in those days without thinking of anything more important that serving the customer well.  
As I write I recall bomb scares and especially a bomb-sniffer dog that did its business on my department. I cleaned the mess up and yes, I shovelled shit for my employer!
My BHS Belfast (and beyond) days shaped me in many ways, instilling the retail lessons of shop floor inspections, the dangers of big-headedness (you might be a manager but the citizens of Belfast keep your feet on the ground), the development of a "can do" attitude and a genuine love for retailing. The memories and experiences of my "apprenticeship" years have been invaluable. 
I moved from Belfast to BHS, Manchester, then Romford, Wood Green, with holiday cover stints in Hackney and East Ham, before ending my eleven years in Head Office on the Marylebone Road, London.
Retailing has changing a lot since "my day"and accounts from various people tell me the slog now far outweighs the fun. I'm glad I'm out of it but Belfast BHS with all the external pressures gave my working life more than a good start.
 I hope the modern day version of BHS survives.

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