April 27, 2022 5.00 pm

Traders ‘owed thousands’ as St Marks confirms sudden Fresh Local & Wild closure

A sketchy past and stories that don’t add up

A store at St Marks Shopping Centre in Lincoln has closed abruptly as numerous suppliers and staff claim to be owed money by the business.

Fresh Local & Wild opened at St Marks in December 2021, replacing the former Gap premises at the shopping centre and promising to put local businesses at the forefront of their store.

The concept allowed for artists and businesses in Lincolnshire to stock their items at a physical store, with concession stands and shelves full of local produce and artwork.

People said the business’s vision was pure and honest, providing a platform for small, local independents to promote and sell their products in-store for a commission of the sales.

The registered owner and director of Fresh Local & Wild, Ellena Ward, told The Lincolnite during the announcement of the shop opening in Lincoln they have “a strong central ethos and are passionate about community and sustainability”.

This, however, is now under major dispute from artists and contributors alike. A number of local businesses and artists, who asked to remain anonymous for security purposes, contacted The Lincolnite to say they were owed significant sums of money by Fresh Local & Wild for the sale of their stock in the Lincoln branch.

It has been claimed staff within the business are also not being paid, and with more information starting to filter out about the company’s alleged antics, the store owners made the decision to close, though the store itself has not officially confirmed this.

One whistleblower said they felt they had been ‘conned’, adding they’d had no form of communication with the business for a number of weeks.

The Lincolnite has put these allegations to the owner of Fresh Local & Wild, who is yet to respond to the questions at the time of publication.

A sign in the window, which looks to have been rushed, suggests the shop is temporarily closed for “refurnishing”, but this claim has been quashed by St Marks Shopping Centre, confirming the store is now closed.

A sign in the shop windows says “closed to refurnishing”. | Photo: The Lincolnite

Valerie Johnson, centre manager at St Marks, said: “We can confirm Fresh Local & Wild has now closed at St Marks.

“Since opening in December 2021, St Marks has offered regular support to the team at Fresh Local and Wild in the hope of building a successful partnership.

“We are disappointed to hear local independent businesses haven’t been paid for their work or time.”

The company is believed to have ties with a businessman called Ted Ward, who sometimes appears to go by the alias of Edward Pickering. He is believed to have brokered deals for Fresh Local & Wild stores across the country, despite being disqualified from running a company after a previous conviction in 2010.

In 2014 he also admitted to two counts of running a business while disqualified and bankrupt, though a police investigation in Merseyside into possible fraud was not followed up.

On Fresh Local & Wild’s website, Ted Ward is listed as the sole property advisor for the business, and Ellena Ward goes by the name of Ellie Ward, as managing director. The other named person on the site is James Horner, under the role of group food and beverage manager.

Mr Ward’s connections don’t stop at Fresh Local & Wild, as The Times reported last year about his connections in brokering deals for 15:17 stores across the country before watching them close months later, with businesses dissolving shortly afterwards.

Ellena stated in an email to The Lincolnite ahead of the store’s opening that failed enterprise 15:17 – which has seen five businesses dissolve and one liquidate under variations of the same company name in the past two years according to Companies House – is a different entity to Fresh Local & Wild.

However, the common connection of Ted Ward leaves question marks hanging over this business model, and it is unclear what the future holds for those awaiting payment, as well as the site at St Marks itself.

Lincolnshire Police has been contacted for a comment.