Wed. Jun 29th, 2022

Georgina McMurray visits the Jack’s supermarket on County Road everyday.

Having lived in the area most of her life, it’s a familiar walk along the busy thoroughfare which is still undergoing extensive road repairs.

However, frequenting the discount supermarket has become more of a necessity than choice in her older years.

READ MORE:Anfield’s battle to go from shuttered shops to ‘destination’

She explains she comes here “just to get out”, but that she can’t go far due to health conditions and mobility.

On Monday, it was announced that Tesco, its owners, will be closing the Jack’s store, leaving County Road without a fully fledged supermarket.

“I’ll have nowhere to go,” Ms McMurray explains, heading towards the store on a regimented visit on a brisk but sunny morning.

Another local resident, Jean Dowling, has lived off County Road for over 50 years and explains how she relies on the shop for her “basics” which she’s popping in to collect.

Photo of Jack's on County Road
Many people in County don’t have cars and were reliant on the store for “basics”
(Image: Andrew Teebay/Liverpool Echo)

She says she can get taxis to other stores in surrounding areas, but this can become a logistical difficulty when packing up her walking aid along with shopping.

Ms Dowling told the ECHO: “The area has gone down so much so it’s almost unsurprising we’re losing another supermarket. This road used to be buzzing.

“It’s like [Jack’s] don’t see any future here.

“Once Everton goes, I think we’ll be even more on our own.”

Charlotte Sumner won’t have been old enough to see County Road in its heyday, but standing in the Jack’s car park, she’s all too aware of how the area is going through a stark phase of “neglect.”

She told the ECHO: “Jack’s is a lot cheaper compared to Tesco, so it is going to impact people.

Photo of County Road
The County Road highstreet is in need of innovation and new ideas, according to locals
(Image: Liverpool Echo)

“Inflation is going up, the cost of living is going up. Everything is going to become a bigger burden on people.

“The area is being badly neglected and left behind. You only have to look around to see that.

“When you look at South Liverpool compared to North Liverpool, somewhere like Lark Lane is absolutely thriving and County Road is like this – set to lose what little it already has.”

‘Everyone is feeling the pinch’

The Jack’s store opened on County Road in 2018, taking over from its parent company Tesco.

But the building could soon end up shuttered like many of the other inactive shop fronts along County Road.

According to Jason Terry, Tesco’s CEO for the UK and Ireland, it’s the right time to move on.

He said: “[Jack’s] has enabled us to consistently attract new customers to Tesco from our competitors over the last two years and we know they increasingly recognise the value they can find at Tesco.

“With the learnings from Jack’s now applied, the time is right to focus on ensuring we continue to deliver the best possible value for customers in our core business.”

Jack’s opened the stores as discount supermarkets in a bid to rival Aldi on prices, offering “smaller and simpler” predominantly British grown produce.

Not all in the County area welcomed the change from Tesco to Jack’s, with some like Ms Dowling saying there was widespread annoyance when it was “downgraded”.

She added: “When they put the cheaper supermarket here it’s like we’re no-marks. It’s like we don’t deserve any better. Now it’s going entirely.”

Photo of County Road
“We’ve put a lot of events on in that car park. That’s going to be lost now where we’ve brought communities together” – the loss of a supermarket will hurt County in more ways than one
(Image: Liverpool Echo)

While its conversion wasn’t universally welcomed, its prices will have offered some respite as the cost of living is cranked up in the most deprived parliamentary constituency in England.

Inflation rose to 4.8% for food and drink prices in December.

Inflation on the whole could rise above 6% in the coming months as energy prices soar by as much as 50%.

The rise in grocery prices could end up increasing a household’s annual grocery bill by almost £200, according to a report by The Guardian.

For Gerard Woodhouse, CEO of the L6 centre and councillor for the County ward, it’s disappointing that the supermarket will be leaving the area behind.

He told the ECHO: “What’s really sad is that it’s a focal point in County.

“We’ve put a lot of events on in that car park. That’s going to be lost now where we’ve brought communities together.”

But away from offering a community hub, the provisions it provides will depart at a critical time.

Cllr Woodhouse added: “ Everyone is feeling the pinch. Everyone. People who are working. People who are in full time jobs and not getting tax credits.

“They’re all in the same boat.”

‘Hunger is a political choice’

Dave Kelly is one of the founding members of Fans Supporting Foodbanks along with West Derby MP Ian Byrne.

The initiative started just a few streets away outside of Goodison Park in 2015 where it collected food donations on a match day.

Seven years later it still collects donations at both Liverpool and Everton home games, a clear indication that times aren’t getting easier in Walton or the wider areas of Liverpool.

The initiative continues to support a network of foodbanks across the city, as well as providing a quarter of its food to North Liverpool Foodbank.

According to Mr Kelly, the number of people relying on local services has increased over the years, with added mobile pantry services also being set up for people to use.

Fans Supporting Foodbanks organiser Dave Kelly standing at the RLB360 attraction with Chris Devaney, who runs the activity
Fans Supporting Foodbanks organiser Dave Kelly (right) standing at the RLB360 attraction with Chris Devaney, who runs the activity

He explains how the closure of Jack’s will be a “massive problem” for those on the lowest incomes around County.

He told the ECHO: “[These closures are] one of the reasons why we’re currently doing food pantries and rolling them out into food deserts where there’s very little or no choice or alternative selection for quality foods.

“One thing the pantries have taught us is there’s currently more and more people suffering in-work poverty.

“It’s something that I expect to continue to grow and have a greater impact on communities like Walton, so it’s a sad day for the Walton and County Road area with a large company deciding to move.

“All the statistics in the world are there for you to see that the situation is worsening. If you’ve got more foodbanks in the UK than MacDonalds, it tells you how bad things are becoming.

“The demand is becoming ever greater and it is a struggle to keep on top of it.”

While Mr Kelly is hopeful the site is eventually picked up and reopened in some capacity to serve the community, he believes greater steps can be taken at a government level to ensure fewer people rely on Fans Supporting Foodbank’s services.

He added: “We’re not just providing food for people in need. We’re trying to get the law changed so that people have access to food.

“Hunger is a political choice. Hunger and austerity can only be ended by politicians.

“All we can do is put a sticking plaster over a gaping wound.

“That’s why the Right To Food campaign, and getting the Right To Food enshrined in law, is an absolute must.”

Alternative approach

For local Cllr Roy Gladden, the closure of Jack’s is a case of “one step forward two steps back”.

This is because County Road is currently at the heart of the County District Centre regeneration project.

Led by Liverpool City Council, the project is aiming to restimulate the area with a 10-year master plan covering highways repairs, cultural projects and greater access to employment and training.

Across the road from Jack’s, the under-refurbishment Spellow library is soon to be a new community hub – one of the centrepieces of the regeneration master plan.

However, there is a sense that when County Road is gaining a foothold, following months of stalled roadworks and a declining highstreet, further setbacks are delivered – such as the departure of its only supermarket, with one of the few working cash machines along the road after its three banks also closed.

Cllr Gladden told the ECHO: “There’s close to £7m being spent on the area across the highways and new community hub, but along comes these people who just pull the plug on the supermarket and say ‘see you round’. No discussion.”

Similarly with the banks, Cllr Gladden believes there is now an appetite to look for an alternative approach, perhaps looking to run a cooperative from within the Jack’s building.

This view is shared by Cllr Woodhouse who believes that all stakeholders in the area need to come together to push for whatever they think should replace the discount supermarket.

He told the ECHO: “The community needs to come together to see if we can do anything for the site, maybe turn it into a community shop.

“Partners, councillors, we all need to get together and discuss what can we do. I know we have the other community shop down the road, but only so many people can use that shop and not everyone can walk to it.

“The majority of people in County don’t have cars.”

‘An opportunity in every negative’

While the closure of the supermarket marks another blow for an area that can’t afford to have more of its services taken away, for some residents the departure of Jack’s could offer a reset and a now opportunity to resculpt County Road.

Terry May is the owner of

Bernie May’s boutique hotel and bar on County Road

, situated in the ornate building that was formerly The Glebe pub.

He like others have continued to invest in the area they grew up in a bid to see its fortunes turned around.

While there will be an element of challenge as a result of the supermarket leaving, he believes some positivity can be ground out of the situation.

Photo of the Glebe
Bernie May’s at the site of The Glebe on Country Road, which was reopened by Terry May

Mr May told the ECHO: “County Road needs a positive spin putting on it and a bit of innovation. I do fret a bit though. You don’t want to see a big empty building there, as there’s enough of them on the road.”

Similar to the two ward councillors, he believes there’s the opportunity to do something different at the site.

He added: “You could divide the inside of the shop up and house a range of incubator businesses in there.

“And if they wanted to expand, we can help people get into a shop on County Road.

“It gives people that bit of confidence – those who want to have a crack at running a business but have never felt able to.

“I don’t think it would be difficult at all to sell an idea like this. It’s crying out for it. You look at the likes of Lodge Lane. Lodge Lane 15 years ago was dying. You look at it now and it’s full of independents. It’s buoyant down there. I think that’s what people are generally crying out for around County.”

Mr May does admit there are significant challenges facing the area in terms of investment and its knock on effect on the community, but he feels following the same path it’s been on for much of the last two decades won’t garner better results for an area in need of significant change.

He told the ECHO: “It just takes a bit of innovation. Let’s stop doing what we’ve always done because it doesn’t work.

“It’s in an area where times are tough. The general feeling was Sainsbury’s was too expensive but Jack’s was [a downgrade on what we had]. We all don’t want 16p tins of beans.

“It’s trying to find that happy medium in between.

“I think there’s an opportunity in every negative. Again, it’s just making sure that there’s some innovation, or someone having a bit of vision, saying ‘we could do something with this’. But that will take a lot of parties coming together and pushing in the same direction.

“That’s sometimes the issue on County Road.”

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