Tamworth Co-operative Society is celebrating its first anniversary in new headquarters after changing premises for the first time in 120 years.
Chief executive Julian Coles has been reflecting on a momentous period in the Society’s history which saw it sell its iconic town centre HQ and department store building in Colehill.
Tamworth Co-op last moved home in July 1902 and has only gone a few yards across the road. Its new head office – the former Co-op bank at number 8 Colehill – is directly opposite the old premises.
The building has undergone a major £800,000 refurbishment programme and now boasts first class staff facilities. Meanwhile, work is progressing to make the former department store the centrepiece of a major regeneration scheme helped by a £21.65m award from the Government’s Future High Streets Fund.
The historic façade has been preserved with the original part of the building earmarked for a business enterprise centre. Demolition of the 1960s section has just been completed to make way for the relocation of Tamworth College that will bring 1,500 students, staff and visitors into the heart of the town.
The decision to sell the department store to Tamworth Borough Council was made with a ‘somewhat heavy heart’ because of the history and nostalgia involved. However, Mr Coles says it was in the best interests of the Tamworth Co-op – and the town.
“We wholeheartedly believe that the site is being put to the best possible use as it will help to revitalise Tamworth town centre. Keeping it was no longer a viable option for us because it had continued to sustain significant losses. The project will create employment opportunities and enable other local businesses to prosper in Tamworth town centre.”
He described the move to a new head office as a great success with staff enjoying a far better working environment. And although they are no longer physically in their old premises, they enjoy excellent views of its period frontage every day.
“We get wonderful views of it from the windows of our new reception area, our accounts office and our bereavement centre which moved with us. In that sense it feels like we haven’t lost it at all – we’re just a stone’s throw away.
“Also, our former home required considerable investment to bring it up to date. When we moved out of the building and into the excellent facilities we now enjoy, it became very apparent just how outdated the old premises were.”
Mr Coles points to the antiquated central heating system as a major example of this:
“It was a very inefficient boiler system which struggled to maintain a reasonable temperature. None of the offices had anything like the advanced and energy efficient air conditioning and heating systems we now benefit from.
“This is something the staff have commented on more than anything. We have all been far more comfortable in the height of the summer and in the depths of the winter too. I don’t think anybody would want to turn the clock back now.”
While the new building is equipped with high quality modern facilities, it also retains its own period charm and sense of history. Number 8 & 9 Coleshill is a grade II listed building dating back to 1820.
Long before it became the Co-op bank the property was for many years the family home of Thomas Argyle. It was originally sold complete with a yard, large garden and greenhouse.
The elegant building has been in the Society’s possession for many years and was last used by the Co-op Bank until its closure in 2018. Prior to that it was a Tamworth Co-op food store called ‘The Pantry.’
While the interior has been fully updated, the nameplate across the front of the building mirrors the original lettering on the department store as a nod to the past.
A display cabinet in the main reception area also contains a fascinating collection of memorabilia, as does a second display in the impressive new boardroom.
A framed painting of Tamworth Co-op founder, Reverend William MacGregor (1848-1937) ensures the much-revered philanthropist maintains a presence at all board meetings. He also remains literally part of the furniture in the chief executive’s new office, where his initials are carved into the wood beneath the seat of his original antique chair.
In addition to the boardroom, accounts office and bereavement centre, the new HQ also includes the Society’s members services department and general offices.
As part of the move, Tamworth Co-op retained the unit previously occupied by Thomas Cook travel agents. It has been taken over by the Lifestyle and Mobility concession which used to trade from the department store.
The building next door, number 9 Colehill, will soon be brought back into use too. Planning permission has just been approved for rental commercial units on the ground floor, with flats on the upper two floors.
Although delighted with the end result, Mr Coles says the work threw up some ‘unexpected challenges.’
“We had to do a lot of unanticipated work to reinforce various areas with steel.
“Memorably an old well was also discovered in the middle of where the new boardroom now stands which created additional headaches and expense.
“The relocation process really was quite challenging. We originally planned to move straight into the new building in the early part of 2022, but were forced to move to temporary offices on the Amington Industrial Estate at the end of February.”
Despite the hiccups, Mr Coles is in no doubt that the pain has been worth the gain.
“It all seems a distant memory now and the huge effort it took has definitely proved worthwhile.
“The building is also future proof in that we have space for further offices should we need to expand the operation at some point. Our new head office is a credit to everybody who worked on the project, from the builders and the architect to our staff who worked incredibly hard on the logistics of the move. “
He added: “We were founded in Tamworth in 1886 and have a great history to look back on, but now we’re very much focused on the next chapter.”