SD Kells says Government-backed loan has provided 'vital lifeline'

SD Kells' flagship store on Bedford Street, Belfast. Picture by Kelvin Boyes
Ryan McAleer

ONE of the north's largest independent fashion retailers, SD Kells, has secured a vital lifeline loan package to save the business during the coronavirus crisis.

The family-owned chain, which employs 170 people in 19 stores around the north, said it successfully sought the UK Government-backed Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) through the Ulster Bank.

Trading since 1928, SD Kells specialises in menswear, womenswear, school uniforms and children's clothing lines. It also operates a sizeable wedding and formalwear hire service.

But the Fermanagh-based company's managing director, Ian Kells, said turnover came to a halt as a result of the business closing its stores in response to the lock down.

Earlier this month, the retailer's flagship Belfast store on Bedford Street was targeted in a ram raid robbery, which significantly damaged the premises.

“Turnover has halted yet expenses carry on. This is the reality for our business and many others across Northern Ireland.”

He described the loan as “a vital lifeline” that will protect jobs and “plug the gap” until trading can resume.

“Every day presents a new challenge”, said Mr Kells. “These are difficult times for all businesses and unfortunately we've also had to respond to sudden unexpected events too.”

Despite initial criticism of the low UK-wide approval rate for CBILS among lenders, Ulster Bank said it had approved more than 95 per cent of business customer requests for support during the coronavirus to date.

“There is an understandable sense of trepidation among business owners,” said Nigel Walsh, the lender's director of corporate and commercial banking.

“But we're committed to serving the needs of local businesses of all sizes and across all sectors. Our teams are working hard to deliver a wide range of sustainable support measures and we're engagning proactively with customers to outline the support available to them.”

Paying tribute to SD Kells, the bank boss said: “This family business has played a central role in the economic fabric of towns and cities across Northern Ireland for almost a century, and Ulster Bank is proud to have supported the business throughout that journey.”

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