£1.5million renovation to bank after town fire
As HSBC prepares to reopen in Sudbury - talking about last September’s devastating fire is still an emotional subject for the staff there on the night.
Lesley Wilson, the branch’s retail manager is still upset by the thought of the fire, which ripped through shops and flats on September 6, 2015.
Shortly after it started she was stood watching 22 years of her work life being destroyed by flames, helpless as the emergency services did all they could to save the buildings and the people inside them.
After watching the daring rescue of Christina Deke and having seen the total destruction of the Oxfam and Celebrities Nails stores it could appear that HSBC and other stores got off lightly.
But having spent more than a year working from the streets, other banks, and finally in two separate temporary cabins, at last on Monday staff will be able to return to the bank’s home in Market Hill on the corner with Friars Street.
“It’s fantastic to be back, it really is,” said Sally Roscoe, senior clerk who first worked at the branch in 1969, taking a career break from 1974 to 1986 before returning and working at the branch ever since.
She is one of seven staff there, with more than 200 years combined banking service between them, most of this spent at Sudbury’s HSBC branch.
Its not surprising then that the fire had a massive effect on the staff who work there.
The emotions were still clearly raw for Mrs Wilson as she recalled the night.
“I got the call at 6.20pm, I then got another call as the key holder and the emergency services wanted access.
“I was there by 6.40pm and there was smoke at the nail bar, 30 minutes later it was gone.”
By being able to access the bank the fire service was able to save the majority of the listed building.
The bank is actually made up of three buildings and the property closest to the fire was still left heavily damaged by fire, smoke and water.
As she gives a tour around the new look building she described the scene after the fire.
“The stairs to the second floor were here but then there was nothing. All of it was gone.”
“We stayed here until 1pm when the fire brigade passed control onto the police.
Fighting back tears she added: “It was devastating to see all the damage. It was heartbreaking. I get emotional even now. It’s been a journey these past 13 months.”
Despite the despair brought by the blaze, for Mrs Wilson and her team it was back to business by Monday morning.
“It was emotional on Sunday and on Monday it was back to practicalities. The staff wanted to set up a doorstep service,” said Mrs Wilson.
Setting up on the bench opposite, staff were on hand to assist customers with their queries, supported by other local branches.
Mrs Wilson describes it as the ‘Dunkirk spirit’, they became known to the locals and were in constant dialogue with the steady stream of emergency services that kept a watchful eye on the building.
The staff were then given a desk in the adjacent Barclays building, while also being supported by Nationwide and the town library.
In turn they made sure they used the cafés and shops that had also been affected by the fire to keep that circle of support going.
Finally on October 2, the temporary branch arrived in the market square.
This was later replaced with another unit in the Kingfisher Leisure Centre car park.
All of the bank’s staff were retained during the near 13 months since the fire, working from the temporary units or nearby branches.
Being a listed building specific materials had to be used and saved, therefore the refurbishment - costing around £1.5million - has taken longer than staff had hoped.
But Mrs Wilson said she was delighted with the end product and excited to return, full of praise for her staff and the branch’s customers.
She said: “It’s been a challenge but a positive one. I’m really proud of the way my staff coped with all the upheaval.”