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‘It’s sad that when things start to reopen, we’re not going back’ – former shop worker

Dorothy Perkins worker Catriona O’Connor on life after the British high street giant

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Former Arcadia Group employee Catriona O'Connor. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Former Arcadia Group employee Catriona O'Connor. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Former Arcadia Group employee Catriona O'Connor. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Last New Year’s Eve, Catriona O’Connor paused for a photo with three of her colleagues after leaving work.

They had just closed the shutters of the Dorothy Perkins store on Patrick Street in Cork for what they feared would be the last time. They had emptied their lockers and taken their cups from the canteen. Outside, it was more difficult to plan their next move.

Their employer Arcadia had become the latest British high street giant to go into liquidation. It has since closed its brick-and-mortar stores, selling well known brands like Topshop to online retailers.

“We shut the doors for Level 5 restrictions on New Year’s Eve,” she said. “We were in liquidation at that point and knew it probably would be the last time we were locking the doors.

“We got our notice then. It was pretty fast moving from working for Arcadia to being unemployed.”

At the shop across the road from Debenhams, she looked after many regulars, kitting them out for special occasions like funerals, christenings and weddings.

“It’s very sad to see so many buildings empty in the city,” she said. “For the older customers and the regulars, it will be very sad.

“We had a group of sisters who used to come in to us every Friday. We used to call them the Friday girls.

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“We’d show them all the bargains. They loved it. They’d come in for lunch and have a nose around the shop. They were lovely women, and their whole routine is going to be gone now.”

She got the job straight after her Leaving Cert and stayed because she loved it so much.

“You have to have that element of customer skills and you face a lot of backlash and come home with a pain in your head some nights. It’s one of those jobs that gets forgotten about and taken for granted,” she said.

Now on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, it’s daunting and scary to know she will have to start again in the middle of a pandemic. Her partner works in construction, but can only carry out essential jobs.

She will get the basic statutory redundancy payment, not the four weeks per year of service package that had been negotiated in the past.

Although they have held protests, she is not sure her colleagues are up for the same battle that former Debenhams workers have engaged in for almost a year

.“My initial plan was to upskill and go back to college and do something else,” she said.

“It’s hard to know what my next step should be. We’re saving for a mortgage.

“The best option for me would be to get a job and push the whole college thing back.”

But she worries about how she will manage childminding for her two-year-old son. “In retail, they want young staff they can call with an hour’s notice. It’s hard for the likes of me with a little fellow.”

She’d prefer to return to retail, specialising in merchandising.

“We were like sisters, all of us,” she said. “It is sad on a personal level that when things start to reopen, we’re not going back there. It’s an old building and it was ours in a way, our second home.”


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