Popular Wigan shopping centre boss looks back at career as he retires

He cast his eye over a decade and a half of working in the town as he called time on his career.

Thursday, 15th July 2021, 3:37 pm
Updated Thursday, 15th July 2021, 3:38 pm
John Sanson in the Grand Arcade
John Sanson in the Grand Arcade

John Sanson retired from his role as centre manager at the Grand Arcade last week after 15 years in his job.

Mr Sanson has been in post since before the first customers walked through the doors, having started working for the developer in mid-2006 during the construction phase.

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John Sanson with the George Formby statue in the Grand Arcade

Mr Sanson said he had greatly enjoyed working in the town but had come to the difficult decision that it was the correct moment to step down.

He said: “I’ve been in the work market for 48 years and never been unemployed. I’m 65 now and there are lots of things I want to do so I’ve decided to retire.

“I was thinking about it for a while. There were lots of factors, both personal and professional, and with the retail situation I decided this was the right time.

“The best thing for me about working in Wigan has been the people, they are brilliant. I’ve made a lot of friends here over the years so will be keeping in touch.”

John Sanson during the construction of the Grand Arcade

Mr Sanson said one of the highlights of his time in Wigan came in March 2007 when the Grand Arcade was opened to the public, on time and with the majority of the units full.

He said: “That probably topped it all for me. I arrived nine months before to get it all set up and we opened on time, with staff and systems in place and the centre 95 per cent let.

“There were a lot of things that attracted me to working in Wigan. The shopping centre management business is quite a close-knit community so I knew the guy who opened The Galleries and the town centre manager Mike Matthews.”

However, his decade and a half at the helm at the Grand Arcade has also seen John face his fair share of challenges.

He has had to keep working through some dark days in the area’s history and has been steering the centre through the Covid-19 pandemic over the last 16 months, with lockdowns and restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus bringing the biggest challenges shopping has faced in decades.

He said: “We had a lot of staff furloughed for Covid and I worked through it because I wanted to. It was hard because we weren’t getting the footfall through and we were trying to protect staff while keeping essential services open.

“We had a bank, a pharmacy, a post office and places selling food, so they were essential workers and I don’t think they were seen as such and that’s a shame.

“I don’t think anyone of my age group would have seen anything like that situation.

“One of the hardest jobs for me was the day after the Manchester bombing, coming into the town centre with armed police in the shopping centre and police on horseback outside.

“It was very difficult to continue as normal knowing this awful atrocity had happened down the road. That was a defining period of my career for me.”

The retail industry has also altered a lot with the rise of online shopping which has seen a number of big high street names vanish forever, with Debenhams most recently closing its anchor store at one end of the Grand Arcade.

However, despite all this John remains optimistic about the future both for his industry as a whole and the Grand Arcade in particular.

He said: “The Grand Arcade will always be here although it will be different. Debenhams probably won’t be retail and The Galleries development is going to be a lot of other things and not purely retail. It’s a changing world.

“Retail was in trouble before Covid and that has just accelerated the situation. Some retailers are doing extremely well and I think retail will find its level.

“It won’t all go online. People still want to go out and I have always said that shopping is leisure. People want to go out for a meal, a drink and be entertained.

“It’s not just going into a shop and purchasing something, it’s the whole experience.”

Prior to his arrival in Wigan Mr Sanson worked in towns and cities including Warrington, Oldham, Portsmouth and London and also spent time in Canada and South Africa.

He also spent some 15 years training the next generation of managers on the shopping centre diploma course at the University of Reading.

He says he is pleased to have seen progress on causes he has championed such as measures to prevent the abuse of shopworkers, which now might be making its way into Government legislation.

He says he is planning to spend some of his retirement travelling, with ideas in the pipeline to visit parts of the UK this year before foreign adventures hopefully resume after the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said: “I’m not looking for anything else, a little job or anything like that. I’m going to go and enjoy myself.”

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