Wandsworth department store Debenhams reopens as a hub of charity gift shops

By Sian Bayley, local democracy reporter
The big empty space left by Debenhams at the Southside shopping centre in Wandsworth has been replaced by local charities meaning Christmas shoppers can buy gifts while supporting their local area.
The multi-storey shop was taken over by the Rainbow Rising initiative last week after lockdown ended and non-essential retail was allowed to reopen.
It will be open until at least mid January and possibly beyond depending on what happens to the site.
It is understood a new entertainment complex is on the cards there.
Rainbow Rising partners with landlords to provide charities with rent-free, temporary accommodation.
Founder Shaylesh Patel told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “We think that there’s going to be an increasing demand for things like the Rainbow Rising mega Debenhams site, when a big building in the centre of town is going to be empty for a while whilst the landlord figures out what to do with it.
“We came up with Rainbow Rising because we sensed that, particularly in 2020, there needs to be a bit of a beacon of hope, and something positive and precious that needs to be given a platform. This is especially true because charities are beginning to lose funding, because they don’t have the shops to sell their products.
“Also, money is just a little bit tight for everyone. So this is the best thing that we could think of, which is ‘let’s give them the space for free’. Because space tends to be the second biggest problem that charities have. And at the same time by putting them in the forefront of the public limelight, in such a space, people get inspired.
“I think that’s what people need at the moment. So it’s a great place to connect people in communities with local good causes.”
Last Friday, Mayor of Wandsworth, Jane Cooper visited the space, which is also supported by the local council.
She met young unemployed adults who have enrolled with South Thames College to learn practical skills such as upholstery.
The huge space allows shoppers to snap up bargains on pre-loved gifts at Wandsworth Oasis, which raises funds for local HIV support and prevention projects.
You can then grab a snack from the community café run by BondedThruCancer, which supports the BAME cancer community, or get your bike fixed by Fix Your Cycle, who support the social enterprise Recycle Your Cycle, which works with the prison service to train prisoners in bicycle repair, helping with their rehabilitation and future employment prospects.
There is also a chill-out zone for stressed out shoppers, artwork and ping pong tables. Divine Rescue are offering free services such as training, mentoring and coaching for the local unemployed residents to acquire life skills.

They are also using their area as a food bank to provide support for those in crisis.

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