Pioneering Norwich business closes

Sarah BrealeyA pioneering business offering jobs for people with disabilities has closed after less than a year of trading.Sarah Brealey

A pioneering business offering jobs for people with disabilities has closed after less than a year of trading.

Wholefood Planet was the first shop in Norwich which was also a social firm - a social enterprise aimed at creating employment for disabled or disadvantaged people. But the lack of custom has meant that the shop has been forced to close.

The shop on Oldhall Road, Harford, which was set up with involvement from City College and Norfolk County Council, opened in February last year, selling wholefoods and some local products, as well as a caf�, which opened soon afterwards. It also had a dry goods packaging business on the site.

When it opened, hundreds applied to work at the store, which employed five people, including two with disabilities. In March last year the shop was officially opened by Kevin Brennan, minister for the third sector, who praised its work.

The Wholefood Planet licence was set up by Social Firms UK, and it was intended as the first of a series of Wholefood Planets around the country. But the rest of the industrial estate remained empty and although it was close to Tesco, there was little passing trade on the site itself.

Debbie Olley, from Norfolk County Council's adult social services, said: 'It is extremely sad that Wholefood Planet - which offered valuable employment and training to people with learning difficulties - has had to close, because it is no longer financially viable.

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'Like any new business, Wholefood Planet needed to be self-sustainable and despite a significant contribution from us towards the start-up costs, the business has been unable to grow quickly enough to support its running costs.

'We have been actively seeking alternative options, including finding a new business partner, but with no success. Given the economic climate, we had no alternative but to seek closure.

'I would like to pay particular tribute to the staff at Wholefood Planet, who have worked incredibly hard over the past year to try to make this project a success. Our priority now is to work with them to find alternative employment opportunities that meet their individual needs.'

Dick Palmer, principal of City College Norwich, said: 'City College Norwich, in partnership with Norfolk County Council and Social Firms UK, enthusiastically supported the Wholefood Planet enterprise and we were saddened that the shop became a victim of the recession. Unfortunately the launch of the enterprise coincided with an incredibly difficult time for retailers, particularly smaller businesses.

'The college remains committed to the model of community interest companies as a viable and innovative way in which to train and provide valuable work to adults with learning difficulties, as well as other disadvantaged groups.'

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