Councils respond as virus closes towns

Fenwick in Tunbridge Wells to open next week
SHUTTERED: Fenwick will reopen next week after being closed since March

Fenwick has shut all its nine outlets, including its Tunbridge Wells department store. The retailer, which first opened in the town in 1982, in the then newly-built Royal Victoria Place, announced the decision last week and closed ‘for the time being’ on Thursday [March 19].

It is the first time the department store chain, which was founded by John James Fenwick in Newcastle in 1882, has had to endure a prolonged closure in its 140-year history. Fenwick’s Bond Street branch even remained open after a bomb went off outside the store during the blitz in World War II.

But in a statement last week, the family-run business said closing its stores was now ‘the right thing to do for our customers, our colleagues and our communities’.

Meanwhile the local authorities of Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge have been outlining measures to protect local firms during the Covid-19 crisis. Around 100 business owners joined a conference call hosted by the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council’s Chief Executive, William Benson, who warned that staffing levels at the Council were ‘likely to go down’.

And he told business owners: “What is most important for us is that we get the support announced in the budget – business rate relief and other measures – to you as soon as possible and make sure we get the money you need.”

The Council’s Head of Revenues and Benefits, Sheila Coburn, outlined how local firms will get the support outlined by the Chancellor. She said the retail, leisure and hospitality business in the town would not have to pay any Business Rates next year.

“There is no need to apply. Bills will be issued next week, but if you have not received one by the end of March contact us,” she explained. She added that grant funding announced by the Government would also be distributed by the Council in April.

In Tonbridge, the Council has launched a raft of emergency measures to support communities and businesses. Chief executive Julie Beilby says the Council is implementing ‘crisis response plans’ to ensure the delivery of key services.

Council offices remain open, but the public are being urged not to visit in person and to use telephone and online services instead or visit the website at

It’s understood that a Councillor has displayed symptoms of the virus, which has meant that all Councillors have had to self-isolate. The Council also has approximately 20 workers in self-isolation, but most services are being maintained.

Nicolas Heslop, the Leader of Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council, said: “While there may be changes to how we deliver services in the coming weeks, we will be doing everything possible to continue to support the people of Tonbridge & Malling and play our part in ensuring that the help the Government has promised reaches those who need it.”


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