A COLERAINE business, which has “struggled alone” to recover from a devastating fire more than a year ago, has received a personal visit from the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister, Arlene Foster.
She broke away from a whistle-stop tour of County Londonderry on Thursday to stop at Henderson Wholesale in the Loughanhill Industrial Estate to offer her support to owner, Paul Henderson, whose warehouse and entire stock were lost in an arson attack last June.
And after hearing that neither police nor the Northern Ireland Office had been in touch with the businessman since the uninsured fire, she vowed to look into what assistance Invest NI could give to help - especially in the area of cross-border trade.
The senior minister made the personal stop at the request of local MP Gregory Campbell who was approached by a desperate Mr. Henderson after he battled on without assistance, reopening his wholesale business in temporary premises with borrowed shelving, just days after it was torched.
Revealing to Mrs. Foster that he hadn’t long taken over the business when the recession struck, Mr. Henderson explained that he was unable to afford insurance on his stock so he was forced to pay his suppliers upfront for the burned items before he could reopen.
“Several people lost their jobs that day and every day has been a struggle since then,” he told the Minster. “I have had no help from anybody - not the Northern Ireland Office, not Stormont... nobody. So, I just wanted the Minister to come here and see for herself how hard it has been.”
Viewing the newly rebuilt premises, which Mr. Henderson cannot yet afford to fit-out, the Minister told the Times: “Walking around today and speaking to Paul, it is obvious he has been dealt a very hard blow.”
She commended him for getting on his feet so quickly, telling him: “You did well to get all this done and back up again.” But she and Mr. Campbell warned against offering “false hope”.
“We will contact the local office of Invest NI and get them to call out with Paul to see if there is any way they can be innovative in helping him because we are in a situation here where he has been dealt a very harsh blow in the middle of a difficult trading period,” she said.
“We need to see if we can do anything to help Paul so that’s what we’ll do now that I’ve had a look around and Gregory can keep in contact with us.”
Reminding the Minister that the DUP was always “keen to support local businesses” he did warn that “the criteria are difficult” when looking at avenues for government assistance.
The Minister hinted, however, that one such avenue may lie with Paul Henderson’s cross-border sales.
“Invest NI deals with exporters and exporting goods from NI so the fact that Paul is exporting to the Republic is something that we can explore,” she said.
“We don’t want to raise any false hope but it is only when you come out and look at these things and then go back and have a chat, examine it... and take it from there,” she added.
Originally known as Walker’s Cash ‘n’ Carry, it was renamed Henderson Wholesale when Paul Henderson bought the business from the previous owners after working to them for some 20 years.
The large warehouse, which sells everything from toys and gifts through to hardware and cleaning products was razed to the ground in an overnight arson attack on June 16th, 2010. No one has ever been caught for the blaze.