All the empty shops in Exeter city centre

Sadly, looks like the slow death of Exeter’s “high street” to Owl

Exeter city centre has seen vast changes over the past few shops with many shops coming and going from independent traders to massive chains such as Debenhams, Topshop and House of Fraser.

Anita Merritt

The presence of them remains unforgotten in Exeter, especially because where they once stood still remains the empty shell of what once stood there.

This week, some welcomed good news was received with the announcement that after five years since Jamie Oliver’s chain Italian restaurant closed its doors in Princesshay, the independent owners of existing popular restaurant and wine bar Margoux in Mary Arches Street will be moving into it.

An opening date will be announced shortly, but it is hoped to be in late February or March when it launches as a restaurant and cocktail bar.

The fate of the city centre’s numerous other vacant shops remains unclear.

Ann Hunter, board director of Exeter Chamber and InExeter Business Improvement District (BID) manager said: “Exeter is a city bursting with culture and a huge variety of retailers from award-winning independents to new eateries.

“Compared to the national average, Exeter has a low high street vacancy rate. We’re seeing a number of innovative and High Street changing developments coming through which will continue to drive growth for the city.

“St Sidwell’s Point which brings a leisure offer to the heart of the city, together with Colson’s Parade bringing a hotel and hospitality, are among some of the new and exciting developments due to open this year.

“We also have new leisure and hospitality businesses in the pipeline, so it is a really positive and encouraging time for the city.

“Footfall remains very positive here in Exeter, although down slightly on 2019. However, the national high street average is down 25 per cent. We are therefore continuing to see many people enjoying our vibrant city and we encourage them to continue to do so in accordance to government guidelines.”

Here is a reminder of the shops Exeter has lost while hope remains that they could be taken over during 2022 to bring more visitors to Exeter:


Argos in Exeter's Guildhall Shopping Centre

Argos in Exeter’s Guildhall Shopping Centre (Image: Devon Live)

Among the shops to be hit by the coronavirus pandemic is Argos in the Guildhall Shopping Centre.

In September 2020, Argos wouldn’t confirm whether several Argos branches across Devon, including its Exeter city centre, would reopen.

It has remained closed and signage on the outside now directs customers to how they can shop online.

Gok Wan’s Bling

The former TV show setting of Gok Wan's Bling

The former TV show setting of Gok Wan’s Bling (Image: Devon Live)

A sudden spark of three weeks of excitement was injected into the Guildhall Shopping Centre this summer when TV celebrity host Gok Wan took over the vacant unit opposite H Samuel.

The former home of The Works, which has stood vacant for a long time, was temporarily taken over by film crews after Exeter was chosen as the perfect location to host brand new daytime ITV series Bling.

Filming took place in a unit opposite H Samuel for the new ITV show Bling, hosted by Gok Wan (Image: Devon Live)

Gok and the first contestants arrived on Monday, July 12, to begin filming. Over three weeks they shot 20 episodes which have since been broadcast.

During his short stay in Exeter, Gok revealed he hoped the series would be making a return to could some more bling be brought back to life in the shop again?

The Boarding House

The former Boarding House and Animal shop

The former Boarding House and Animal shop (Image: Devon Live)

Established specialist BMX shop for bikes and parts, plus skateboards, snowboards and streetwear The Boarding House has moved to various locations in the city.

It recently relocated from Fore Street to the Guildhall Shopping Centre inside what was Animal. However, its stay there was short-lived and it moved to smaller premises opposite in Waterbeer Street.

The premises was the home of Surf shop Animal – a concession within Tony Pryce – until July 22, 2018.

Signs of a new lease of life are already evident with scaffolding erected around the building and signs of work going on inside.

Axe-throwing at a Boom: Battle Bar venue

In October, Devon Live reported how an application for a premises licence had been submitted to Exeter City Council, which could see a Boom: Battle Bar coming to the Guildhall.

As yet, Boom: Battle Bar’s official website is giving little away about the proposed Exeter venue other than saying that it’s ‘coming soon 2022’.

The quirky bars offer food, cocktails and an eclectic mix of fun games such as axe-throwing, skee ball, American pool and mini-golf.

Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe

Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe in Exeter

Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe in Exeter (Image: Devon Live)

Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe, the UK’s largest family of traditional sweet shops, opened its first store in 2004.

After five years in Exeter, Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe relocated in January 2017 to its new home in Church Street, Sidmouth.

Sadly Sidmouth’s gain was Exeter’s loss because the shop in North Street remains unlet.

Store Twenty One

Store Twenty One in Exeter

Store Twenty One in Exeter (Image: Devon Live)

The company went into administration in 2017, and the Exeter shop has remained closed ever since.

It also had branches in Honiton and Tiverton.

Nationwide, the chain employed more than 1,000 people and had around 125 high street shops.


Ladbrokes in South Street

Ladbrokes in South Street (Image: Devon Live)

Another pandemic casualty in the city centre is Ladbrokes which disappeared from its prominent position on the corner of South Street in 2021.

The betting chain had previously announced hundreds of Ladbrokes and Coral betting shops could be closed after a boom in online gambling during the pandemic.

Last March, Ladbrokes and Coral owner Entain said in its annual results this week that online earnings from customers betting through its smartphone apps and websites were up 50 per cent as users shifted online during the pandemic.

The Plant Cafe

The Plant Cafe

The Plant Cafe (Image: Devon Live)

The independent vegetarian cafe in Cathedral Yard was a popular place to eat in Exeter for many years.

In October 2020, it was listed for sale for £119,000. It still currently remains on the market.

Before its closure, it was the subject of an investment. It provided 20 inside covers, and in excess of 30 alfresco covers, the latter of which proved very popular and valuable, in particular during the summer months.

The Edinburgh Woollen Mill

The Edinburgh Woollen Mill in Cathedral Yard

The Edinburgh Woollen Mill in Cathedral Yard (Image: Devon Live)

A long distant memory in Exeter is when The Edinburgh Woollen Mill, which faces Exeter Cathedral, was still trading.

A reminder of how long it has not been trading can be seen from its dilapidated sign which now has letters missing from it.

In 2020, years after its closure, it was announced more than 50 stores were to be closed and 600 jobs axed by the company behind Peacocks and Edinburgh Woollen Mill.

House of Tweed

House of Tweed

House of Tweed (Image: Devon Live)

The specialists in creating luxurious handbags and accessories using bespoke designed tweed fabrics took over the former premises of Laura Ashley, but its time there was short-lived.

The womenswear and home furnishings retailer in the High Street was first turned into the Gift Company ahead of Christmas 2020.

Laura Ashley was one of a number of businesses that endured a prolonged closure following the Royal Clarence Hotel fire in October 2016.

Costa Coffee

The former Costa Coffee in Exeter High Street

The former Costa Coffee in Exeter High Street (Image: Devon Live)

A reminder of the impact of the Royal Clarence Fire is the coffee shop in the High Street which was located next door to Laura Ashley.

The building was damaged by smoke and water caused by the fire in the building behind.

It has never reopened. Costa Coffee confirmed it would no longer occupy the unit more than two years after the Royal Clarence fire.

It remains to let or with the option of possibly being bought.


L'Occatane in Exeter High Street

L’Occatane in Exeter High Street (Image: Devon Live)

Award-winning natural skincare, beauty and organic cosmetics products high street retailer L’Occatane had a prolonged closure following the outbreak of the Covid pandemic, but then announced in June 2020 it would be reopening – but at a new location.

It moved from its home in the High Street next to Waterstones to Princesshay where it remains today.

The unit in the High Street remains empty.

Las Iguanas

Las Iguanas in Queen Street, Exeter

Las Iguanas in Queen Street, Exeter (Image: Devon Live)

In August 2020, it was confirmed that Exeter’s Las Iguanas would not reopen following a takeover of the company.

Casual Dining Group was taken over by The Big Table who have acquired the Las Iguanas, Bella Italia and Café Rouge brands.

It had already previously been announced Exeter’s Café Rouge will remain permanently closed.

However, the good news is that finally, a new lease of life is due to be injected into the premises. Last November, a notice on its window revealed the venue in Queen Street is set to be transformed into a Revolution bar.

Inventive Service Company Limited has applied to Exeter City Council for a licence to serve alcohol and play live and recorded music between 10am and 2am daily.

It is also applying to provide late night refreshment between 11pm and 2am daily with the premises looking to operate from 8am until 2.30am Monday to Sunday.

The Real Food Store

The Real Food Store by Exeter Central Station

The Real Food Store by Exeter Central Station (Image: Devon Live)

The community-owned food store beside Exeter Central station announced it would be closing at the end of September after “weathering a few storms” in the 10 years since opening.

The Real Food Store competed with the big food chains to bring local produce into the city. But after having to move from its successful base in Paris Street, its finances were knocked sideways by Covid.

The store was evicted from Paris Street in 2018 to make way for the Exeter city centre bus station redevelopment.

Announcing closure, the store’s board said: “We are proud of our record in bringing local produce to the city centre providing you with an alternative to the national chains. But pride is not enough to sustain our business through the unprecedented challenges and changes we have faced over the past 18 months.”

Cafe Rouge

Cafe Rouge in Princesshay

Cafe Rouge in Princesshay (Image: Devon Live)

After much speculation, in July 2020 it was finally confirmed that Cafe Rouge in Princesshay would never reopen after a prolonged closure.

High Street dining parent company Casual Dining Group plunged into administration with the loss of 1,909 jobs.

The restaurant was renowned for selling delicious French-inspired cuisine.

The Cove

The Cove in Princesshay

The Cove in Princesshay (Image: Devon Live)

Tucked away at the bottom of Bedford Street, The Cove launched in 2010.

Since then it has diversified to offer a wide range of facial treatments, waxing (including permanent hair removal) alongside the classical treatments such as manicures.

It moved out of Princesshay into neighbouring Banrfiled Crescent and the shop remains vacant.

JD Sports

JD Sports in Princesshay

JD Sports in Princesshay (Image: Devon Live)

In June 2019, it was announced the national sportswear chain would be moving from Princesshay to take on units formerly occupied by Burton Menswear and Evans on the High Street.

It meant the branch of JD Sports in Princesshay, which replaced USC at the shopping centre in 2009, closed and it has remained empty ever since.

A spokesperson for JD Sports said at the time: “We are moving to larger premises which will let us present a fuller range of our products in the store.

“We have not got a confirmed date for the move and reopening, however, we anticipate it will be the first half of 2020.”


Debenhams in Princesshay

Debenhams in Princesshay (Image: Devon Live)

In January 2021, online fashion retailer Boohoo confirmed it had bought the Debenhams brand for £55 million and would relaunch the department store as an online-only operation.

Bosses said the deal, worth £55million, would not include saving Debenhams’ stores which would close for good as part of a structured winding down of the business.

The large Exeter department store in Princesshay reopened for a closing down sale – but then closed its doors for good.

Topshop/ Topman/ Selfridges

Topsham/ Topman/ Selfridges in Princesshay

Topsham/ Topman/ Selfridges in Princesshay (Image: Devon Live)

Topshop was among those who did not reopen following the coronavirus lockdown, despite droves of hopeful customers peering through its windows for a flicker of life.

In February 2021, Asos confirmed it had sealed the takeover of Topshop and three other brands from the collapse of the Arcadia retail empire for £265 million.

The online fashion retailer bought the Topshop, Topman, Miss Selfridge and HIIT brands from administrators.

It meant Exeter’s store was among the shops that closed permanently as the brands become online only.


BrightHouse in Sidwell Street

BrightHouse in Sidwell Street (Image: Devon Live)

The rent-to-own high-street store went into administration in March 2020. The chain had stores across Devon and Cornwall, with outlets in Exeter, Torquay, Plymouth and St Austell.

It is believed to have closed after facing an influx of compensation claims for selling to people who could not afford to repay.

The firm had 200,000 customers and was the largest operator in the rent-to-own sector.

Rent-to-own customers make monthly payments for household items, in effect renting goods until they have paid in full.

The Sidwell Street site still has fencing outside the store to prevent rough sleepers from taking shelter outside the premises.


Timpson in Sidwell Street

Timpson in Sidwell Street (Image: Devon Live)

The shop which offered services from key cutting to shoe repairs closed in Sidwell Street, but customers can still go to its other location in the Guildhall Shopping Centre.

Sharps Bedrooms

Sharps Bedrooms

Sharps Bedrooms (Image: Devon Live)

For many years a familiar sight along Sidwell Street was Sharps Bedrooms.

The nearest showroom is now believed to be Taunton. The business offers bespoke fitted wardrobes and home offices, with storage solutions tailored to customers exact needs.

EDDC seeks views for arts and culture strategy

Details of EDDC’s arts and culture strategy can be found here, including invitation to tender for strategy process with 18 January closing date – Owl

John Astley, local author and facilitator of Exmouth community in this week’s Exmouth Journal writes:

Readers of this column will be familiar with my pieces on art and culture. For example, ‘Problems with Art’ (June), ‘Champions of art and culture help connect communities’ (October) and ‘Art and Nature’ (November).

All of these pieces were linked to my role of Education Champion for Arts and Culture East Devon (ACED) which has made a good start in bringing together artists in the widest sense. to discuss their own practice, and crucially their role and how it is played in the everyday life of East Devon. You may know that EDDC has now taken this Arts & Culture initiative a step further by inviting responses to a call for tenders for the new East Devon Culture Strategy (go to the EDDC or Thelma Hulbert Gallery (Honiton) websites for details. The tender documents reiterate the aims. aspirations and priorities of the East Devon Culture Strategy:

I. Better homes and communities for all

2. Greener East Devon

3. A resilient economy

The documents, with quotes from Councillor Nick Hookway EDDC portfolio holder for tourism, sport. leisure and culture. emphasise the social and economic value of the arts and heritage industries to East Devon. This whole initiative raises many key questions about the nature of arts and culture, or perhaps that should be culture and the arts, in East Devon. There are some institutional arts and culture agents already established in that locality. but there are also a very large and diverse number of artists of many practices across our communities. Many of these individuals, and small scale organisations, are actively engaged in creating and promoting the arts within our communities. The diversity of artists who are currently members of the ACED network is impressive, and they bring a great deal to this new cultural strategy They are also looking forward to the successful implementation of the Arts & Culture strategy to help them to continue. and develop as practising artists.

At our most recent Network Forum meeting a good deal was said about the Creative Industries, which is a term that covers a range of economic activities which are concerned with the generation and exploitation of knowledge. information. and artistic endeavour across a wide spectrum. This approach reflects the idea that human creativity is the ultimate economic resource, on a personal and social scale. This seems to be at the heart of the EDDC strategy.

However. we also need to consider the idea of the Culture Industries: a more focussed generalisation of the way artists work within a range of everyday conditions that affect their practice. Are with talking about the solo painter or illustrator, the musician, the filmmaker, the dancer or singer, local galleries, the cinema, the local theatre groups and so on? They are all economically active, it is their labour and livelihood; but it is also their vocation, the way in which their aesthetic values drive them to do what they do.

So, the motives of those engaged with art and culture are inevitably diverse, with some practitioners and organisations being much more profit-driven than others. Many artists in East Devon have created a CIC or Social Enterprise. through which to do their work in a not-for-profit manner. Many artists are very wary of the manner in which the profit motive often trumps aesthetic values. The idea of Culture is also central to this arts and culture strategy because I would argue that ‘culture is ordinary’: it is the lived culture of a particular time and place, our everyday lives which includes our creative and artistic labour ‘Our’ culture also has a history to it, and usually with most artists. ideas about what a future social life should be like, could be like, given more leadership and encouragement. More opportunities. support and access to resources, and less bureaucracy!

So, all of these issues, ideas and arguments about aims, motives and the like, will need to be discussed, and decisions made in the most democratic way possible. Don’t be left out of this discussion!

Poacher turned gamekeeper makes new “gathering” claim, but says the one he attended was work related

Dominic Cummings’ claim of another rule-breaking No10 party to be investigated

ITV News 

Fresh allegations made by Dominic Cummings of another rule-breaking Downing Street party will be investigated as part of the ongoing Whitehall investigation into claims of other such events.In a blog on Friday, Mr Cummings alleged a party took place in May 2020, around a week after the outdoor drinks gathering the Guardian pictured last year.

Boris Johnson‘s former top aide said an email was sent out inviting people to a “socially distanced drinks” event which he warned could break Covid regulations.

But the event “definitely happened” despite his protests, the former political adviser said, after he went home for the day.

ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston said it had been confirmed to him Sue Gray, the top civil servant appointed to investigate several parties allegedly held on Downing Street during the pandemic, will expand her investigation to cover Mr Cummings’ latest claims.

Mr Cummings said in a lengthy blog there would be an email chain linked to a senior government official Ms Gray could track down.

The government has previously denied that rules were broken on Downing Street during the pandemic.

It is also understood that the garden gathering reported by the Guardian which is said to have taken place five days before the event mentioned by Mr Cummings in his blog, will also be covered by Ms Gray’s inquiry.

Mr Cummings also claimed there was a party in the Number 11 flat shared by the PM and his wife Carrie on the evening he left Downing Street for good on November 13, 2020.

“Staff in the press office said they could hear the music playing loudly in the press office below (the press office is directly below the flat),” he said.

He added: “Officials I spoke to in 2021 said to me and others that there were various parties after I left and the PM was aware of them. I have also been told there are other photos of other parties against the rules in 2021, some picturing the PM.”

Claims by Mr Cummings add to at least 10 allegations of Covid-rule-breaking carried out by members of the Tory party during the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite the government’s denial that rules were broken on Downing Street during the pandemic, a leaked video released by ITV News showed Number 10 staff laughing about attending a Christmas party in 2020.

The video sparked swathes of new allegations and a number of resignations.

But Mr Cummings has insisted a gathering in the Downing Street garden where staff were pictured with cheese and wine during the first lockdown did not break rules and was not a party.

Mr Cummings himself can be seen in the image.

The former No 10 adviser said: “It is alleged by many that this shows ‘a party’, ‘rule breaking’ and so on. This is wrong.”

Following meetings that day, he said: “Someone brought a bottle of wine out to the table. It may have been Martin (Reynolds, who is Boris Johnson’s principal private secretary) but I think it was the PM himself who went inside as I was packing stuff up and brought out wine.

“We carried on chatting about Covid, about domestic priorities, and about how to sort out the Cabinet Office which had totally collapsed. Shortly after Carrie joined us.”

Mr Cummings said that No 10 staff were “encouraged” to meet in the garden between April and August because it was “safer” during the pandemic.

When asked about the image last month, the prime minister also said the image showed people working.

“Those were people at work talking about work,” Mr Johnson said.

“Those were meetings of people at work talking about work. This is where I live, it is where I work. Those were meetings of people at work, talking about work,” he added.

A Downing Street spokesperson also claimed the gathering was a work meeting and that Mr Johnson went back to his flat at 7pm.

Back in December, the prime minister’s spokesperson said: “In the summer months, Downing Street staff regularly use the garden for some meetings.

“On 15 May 2020, the prime minister held a series of meetings throughout the afternoon, including briefly with the then health and care secretary and his team in the garden following a press conference.

“The prime minister went to his residence shortly after 7pm. A small number of staff required to be in work remained in the Downing Street garden for part of the afternoon and evening.”

UK first country in Europe to pass 150,000 Covid deaths

To put this grim milestone in perspective; these deaths number more than the entire population of East Devon (148,000 in 2020) – Owl

Miranda Bryant 

More than 150,000 people have died in the UK from coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to government figures.

Britain on Saturday became the seventh country to pass the milestone after the US, Brazil, India, Russia, Mexico and Peru.

It comes after an additional 313 deaths were recorded, bringing the pandemic total to 150,057 people who have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid.

However, separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics show there have been 174,000 deaths registered in the UK where coronavirus was mentioned on the death certificate.

In the past seven days, 1,271 people have died, a 38% rise on the week before.

It comes as an additional 146,390 Covid cases were reported on Saturday, bringing the overall total since the start of the pandemic to 14,333,794.

In the past seven days alone, 1,227,288 people have tested positive, according to official figures, marking more than a 10% rise on the week before.

Last January, the UK became the first European country to pass 100,000 deaths.

While the latest wave of the virus, driven by the Omicron variant, has not led to deaths rising as quickly as during previous waves, hospitals are under increasing pressure as admissions and Covid-related staff absences rise.

Earlier this week, Boris Johnson insisted England can “ride out” its biggest ever Covid wave “without shutting down our country once again”. But the prime minister admitted that parts of the NHS would feel “temporarily overwhelmed”.

While England is currently under plan b restrictions, which include mandatory face masks in most public indoor spaces and advice to work from home where possible, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have introduced tougher measures, including for socialising and events.

Across the UK, 18,454 people were in hospital with coronavirus on Thursday, according to government figures, a 40% week-on-week rise and the highest number since 18 February.