Mike Ashley's retail chains set out plans for reopening

Laura Onita
The tycoon has been trying to sell Newcastle United football club - Nick Ansell/PA

Sports Direct tycoon Mike Ashley is poised to open most of the chain's stores next month after drafting in health advisors to help make his shops, offices and depots safe. 

The sportswear billionaire is working with consultants at safety firm Risk Source to reopen around 500 outlets on June 15 including branches of Sports Direct, luxury brand Flannels, Jack Wills and Game.

His department chain House of Fraser is expected to open later the same week as it waits for further guidance from Whitehall about larger stores that have cafes and restaurants on site.

Mr Ashley is thought to be desperate to avoid controversy following a backlash at the start of the lockdown when he initially vowed to defy official advice and keep stores open throughout the coronavirus pandemic. 

A spokesman said the business has been working behind the scenes to make sure that its stores follow Government rules when restrictions are lifted. 

High street shops, department stores and shopping centres are all set to reopen within weeks in the biggest easing of the lockdown since coronavirus hit Britain.

Outdoor markets and car showrooms will be first to open no earlier than June 1, followed two weeks later by all other non-essential retail including shops selling clothes, shoes, toys, furniture, books, and electronics, together with tailors, auction houses, photography studios, and indoor markets.

Mr Ashley's business, which was renamed Frasers this year, has published a risk assessment setting out how it will handle a return to business.

It became a lightning rod for public anger in March after claiming that Sports Direct shops would stay open because they were essential for keeping the public healthy.

Mr Ashley quickly U-turned, saying in an open letter that previous emails to ministers arguing some stores should stay open were “ill-judged and poorly timed”.

Frasers now has temperature check scanners at its depots, where it has staggered breaks and shifts to prevent the virus from spreading. It has fitted plastic screens between workstations where staff pack orders and is also cleaning equipment more frequently. 

Protective screens have become a common fixture not just in the company's warehouses, but also at its offices and tills in stores. 

It has created a “retail restart” pack for employees in shops to bring them up to speed with the changes. There will be queuing systems outside stores and the fitting rooms will remain shut for now, with cash banned. 

Frasers said it will keep the plans under review and adjust them if needed after shops reopen. 

The company said: “Whilst the consumer reaction to the high-street reopening is very much unknown – and the shopping experience may be somewhat different to start with - the one thing we can properly manage is the safety and wellbeing of everyone involved, and this is our absolute priority."