When Sandersons department store makes its Great Yorkshire Show catwalk debut next month, it will pay tribute to a special woman who, sadly, will not be there in person, but whose life and contribution will light up the fashion pavilion.
Deborah Holmes opened Sandersons in September 2016 at the newly built Fox Valley shopping park, 10 miles north of Sheffield, in her home town of Stocksbridge, fulfilling a long-held dream of opening her own independent department store. She died aged 56 in January, having been diagnosed with cancer five years earlier. Her legacy lives on in Sandersons, which is bright, beautiful, exciting and calming all at the same time. It’s one of those rare places that lift the spirits as soon as you enter.
“Debs was a very fashion-conscious woman, a very clever woman,” says her sister, Amanda Holmes. “She opened Sandersons while she was having treatment. Only her close family knew. It was an amazing distraction to keep her busy and focused and looking to the future, doing something positive with her life. She project managed the build, liaising with all the brands. She was in the store every day she was able to be.”
Deborah was married to Mark Dransfield, of property development company Dransfield Properties, which developed the Fox Valley former steelworks into a flagship shopping park. Their daughter, Rebecca, 23, works in the fashion business and their younger daughter, Lucy, 21, graduates next month from Newcastle University. Both help their father, who has taken over Deborah’s role as managing director, with the buying for the store. Family members will be attending the fashion show.
“Our parents owned a small grocery shop in Stocksbridge and Deborah always enjoyed the buzz of the retail environment,” says Amanda.
“She knew this area very well, she knew her shopper, knew they liked good things but didn’t necessarily like to pay over the top for it. She just instinctively knew which brands would work here and she knew that 35-plus shopper – she was that woman herself. She had a massive personality, she loved engaging with people and she created a buzz with all the shoppers.”
Deborah was the first in her family to go to university, studying history at the University of Sheffield. She launched a free newspaper, The Stocksbridge Trader, in the late 1980s, successfully turning it from a monthly to a weekly publication before selling it when she started her family.
Amanda, who is communications director for Dransfield Properties, says: “She had a great knowledge of the fashion world and she personally selected which fashion ranges should be in the store. She was always particularly keen to ensure Sandersons catered for every budget.”
Even as a youngster, Deborah was a fashion leader. “We used to pinch all her clothes,” Amanda says. “Deborah would save up and buy a really nice piece, whereas I would get five things from whatever the equivalent of Primark was, but then I’d borrow Deborah’s clothes. She used to go mad. She’d put a hair over the top of the wardrobe so she’d know when I’d been in. I also used to lend her clothes to my friends, which made her furious.”
A major feature of Sandersons is its huge feature wall featuring lots of pictures of Joanna Lumley and team members and customers, taken when she opened Fox Valley shopping park in June 2016. While it was still a disused part of the now adjacent steelworks site, Deborah had managed to persuade high-end brands including Ted Baker, Tommy Hilfiger and Barbour to share her vision. The park, which was built from scratch and not from existing buildings, has won an award from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, and now features fountains, artworks, seating areas and restaurants.
“We opened on June 16, 2016, about two weeks before the referendum,” says Amanda. “This whole shopping centre was created with £8m worth of ERDF [European Regional Development Fund] grant funding, so wouldn’t be here if we hadn’t been in Europe and been able to access that kind of level of funding for good quality architecture.”
Sandersons now hosts Joules, White Stuff, Hobbs, Part Two, Masai, Apricot, Remus Uomo, Tinta Style, Bariloche, Luca Vanucci, Robell and Pettits footwear, among others. There’s a Costa, a new Clarins area and soon there will an organic beauty section and a spa. There are also a number of local brands in there including Pura Cosmetics and products by artist Pete McKee.
“One of Debs’s biggest passions was customer service and that personal service,” says Amanda. “We’ve got to have that point of difference from the internet now. They need to want to come and have that experience.”
The fashion show at the Great Yorkshire Show will include a special tribute to Deborah, and models will be joined by a special guest, Paralympian and world champion Hannah Cockroft, from Halifax.
“Being in a wheelchair sometimes limits my choices when it comes to outfits but I love fashion so I’m absolutely delighted to be invited to join others on the catwalk. I can’t wait,” says Hannah.
John Lewis will also be joining Sandersons on the Kuoni catwalk, along with Yorkshire sheep farmer Sarina Dean and her cape brand Galijah.
The Great Yorkshire Show’s fashion area will be given a makeover this year with a new presenter, new home and an entrance, opening into the heart of the showground. The GYS Fashion Show, which has been part of the three-day-event for more than 20 years, will be next door to its former home, with more seating so 7,000 visitors will now get the chance to watch the show. For the first time, ITV Calendar’s Christine Talbot will present.
Amanda says: “Debs would have been incredibly proud. She really had a vision for how this store would grow and would be proud of the team she took on and particularly proud of how they have got through the last year.
“This is an amazing store and its DNA is so powerful – and Deborah is in every corner.”
* The 161st Great Yorkshire Show will be held from Tuesday, July 9 to Thursday, July 11 at the Great Yorkshire Showground in Harrogate. Tickets for the show are on sale at https://greatyorkshireshow.co.uk/ticket-information
* The Kuoni Catwalk will take place on each day of the show at 11am, 12.30pm, 2.30pm and 4pm, with a one-off celebrity special on the Tuesday at 2.30pm.
* The show will be produced by Bernadette Gledhill with hair and make-up by students from the White Rose Beauty Colleges from across Yorkshire.
* All the action from the Kuoni Catwalk will be on Twitter @greatyorkshow #KuoniCatwalk #GYSfashion