A North East based retail consultant has chronicled what has happened to Woolworths stores around the UK and in our region fifteen years after the chain entered administration.

Graham Soult of CannyInsights has this month released #Woolies15 - a fifteen-year round-up and report of what Woolworths stores are now, including a case study on the giant's former location in Newton Aycliffe.

In the North East, Woolworths had stores in Darlington, Durham City, Newcastle and Sunderland just to name a few before the last stores closed in January of 2009.

The Northern Echo: Graham Soult.Graham Soult. (Image: CANNY INSIGHTS)

This latest report is now Graham's third in his deep dive series where he analyses the former occupants of Woolworths sites every five years as he admits the ongoing use of the sites paints "a positive picture" for the high street as 83% are still in use.

"People do have a sense of attachment to Woolworths - even 15 years later. Often it's the retailer people say they would most like to bring back in surveys," Graham said. 

"Doing this report, I've tried not to wallow too much in nostalgia but use it and its history in a positive story about the chain.

"If you look at the findings, they shine a light on some wonderfully successful businesses."

The Northern Echo: Former Woolworths Newton Aycliffe.Former Woolworths Newton Aycliffe. (Image: CANNY INSIGHTS)

In the North East specifically, three locations that formerly housed Woolworths are now empty but have had previous occupants: Consett, Stanley and Peterlee. 

However, Newton Aycliffe's former Woolworths has been vacant since 2009.

In the report, Graham wrote: "Newton Aycliffe is the last never-reoccupied store still standing – yet the town of 26,000 people is undoubtedly in better shape than many of the 806 places that have notched up at least one post-Woolies occupant.

The Northern Echo: Former Woolworths Bishop Auckland.Former Woolworths Bishop Auckland. (Image: CANNY INSIGHTS)

"Across nine visits from 2010 to 2023, I’ve seen Aycliffe evolve from the 'tired and depressing' town centre I saw on my first trip to a place that had, by 2014, the air of somewhere 'forward-looking and cared for'."

Graham added: "As far as I can tell, Newton Aycliffe's Woolworths is the only one in the country which has not been re-developed.

"But, I don't want anyone to seize upon that because if you look at the improvements that have taken place in Aycliffe over the last 15 years it is a much better-looking town than it was when Woolworths closed.

The Northern Echo: Former Woolworths Stanley.Former Woolworths Stanley. (Image: CANNY INSIGHTS)

"I am reasonably hopeful that there is a chance by #Woolies20 that the site will be occupied again."

Graham then went on to explain that during the last 15 years quite a lot of 'churn' has taken place where a new chain has taken over and they have gone bust in turn.

One example of this is in Houghton le Spring.

The unit on Newbottle Street in the town housed Woolworths and then a Store Twenty-One before that chain collapsed, and an Iceland food store now operates there.

The Northern Echo: Former Woolworths Houghton.Former Woolworths Houghton. (Image: CANNY INSIGHTS)

Other more national findings of Graham's report reveals that the biggest single current occupant of Woolworths sites are Poundland - who own 134 of the former Woolies 'estate'. 

In the North East, B&M now operates the majority of former Woolworths - in Chester-Le-Street, Hartlepool and Whitley Bay. 

Looking forward to #Woolies20 in 2029, Graham believes that an upward trend of the ownership and usage of Woolworths sites will continue even if they are repurposed for other uses. 


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Graham added: "I think if you look at the picture across the UK, a few of the units that are vacant were freed up by the closure of M&Co and Wilko of course.

"They have not been empty very long, but we are seeing more retail uses. In the North East, almost all the former stores are in retail use but others across the country are seeing stores repurposed for other uses like housing.

"It's more likely than not that a landlord or a future owner would look at the building and repurpose it for other use."