Businesswoman unveils plans to convert building into shopping and leisure attraction

A town businesswoman hopes to give Lynn a big boost by filling a former department store with shopping and leisure attractions.

Kelly Ranger, who runs the pop-up market at The Place on New Conduit Street, is now looking to revitalise the former Debenhams building on High Street.

It has been lying empty since the business closed in 2020, although Starlow Investments was granted permission to build flats in its two upper floors earlier this year.

Plans have been unveiled for the former Debenhams store. Picture: Ian Burt
Plans have been unveiled for the former Debenhams store. Picture: Ian Burt

Ms Ranger, who also runs the mobile business Rockers and Hippies, is now looking to get in touch with town traders who could make use of the ground floor space.

She hopes to create a series of self-contained units for them to operate in – before adding a major attraction such as mini golf or a retro arcade.

Having tried to get in touch with the Debenhams landlord for a number of years, she has now been able to inform them of her plans – and now she believes, with their blessing and a financial contribution, their implementation could begin in the next few months.

Kelly Ranger hopes the plans could revitalise that section of Lynn town centre
Kelly Ranger hopes the plans could revitalise that section of Lynn town centre

Ms Rangers harbours ambitions of creating something similar to the Afflecks site in Manchester, where 60 small shops operate under one roof at any given time.

“Obviously, Debenhams is a very big building – so just having shopping wouldn’t be sustainable. So I thought there needed to be some sort of leisure attraction in there as well,” she told the Lynn News.

“The footfall for that end of town has just dropped completely since it’s closed, so to have something up there to draw people up again would do so much for the businesses that are along there.

“We’ve seen so many that have opened and closed within a year down that street, because people don’t go down there.”

Kelly Ranger
Kelly Ranger

Ms Ranger now finds herself in a “chicken and egg situation”, attempting to entice Lynn business owners to sign up for the project before it is in place while simultaneously convincing the landlord to come on board.

However, she is now handing out leaflets around town to inform others of her plans – and hopes that reducing rent for those struggling with sky-rocketing bills could prove to be a key part of her offer.

“I’m hoping if we can get the word out, it will help,” she said.

“Since I started this business (The Place) three years ago, it’s been extremely frustrating for me. For little fish like me, there’s lots of red tape – and it’s very expensive.

“So we’ve been trying to find a way to bring the community together again, and just offer a bit more variety for Lynn town centre.”

It may only take a few weeks to put individual trading units into the Debenhams building, according to Ms Ranger, although a leisure attraction would take longer.

Plans to turn the upper floors of the former department store into four two-bedroom flats and a single four-bedroom property were given the green light at the start of the summer.

In a report at the time the application was approved, a report from a planning officer said: “The loss of the retail use is not considered to adversely impact on the overall vitality of the town centre.

“It is a very large retail unit to fill, and it is of note that the large ground floor is to be retained as retail, save for a new staircase and dedicated cycle parking for the flats.”

The Lynn News contacted the landlord of the Debenhams building for comment.

The business originally closed when Covid-19 restrictions were first put in place in early 2020 but, after two months of speculation, bosses confirmed it would not reopen.