July 1, 2022 6.00 am This story is over 23 months old

Tribunals, deleted websites and radio silence: The Fresh Local & Wild mystery

Reopening day arrived, without a reopening

By Local Democracy Reporter

Fresh Local & Wild, a foodhall cafe which closed in Lincoln following allegations of not paying rent, staff or contributors, promised it would reopen this week – but a whirlwind of controversy has put those plans on ice.

The foodhall and cafe business opened at Lincoln’s St Marks Shopping Centre in December 2021 in the former Gap site, with an interesting and, on the surface at least, community-focused concept.

Fresh Local & Wild said it was a store to allow local artists and businesses to stock their items, earning commission on sales from concession stands in-store.

Forage & Fill, an eco-grocery business, had a dedicated section inside the store. | Photo: The Lincolnite

Ellena Ward, the registered owner and director of the company, said during the announcement of the store that Fresh Local & Wild have “a strong central ethos and are passionate about community” – a claim which has come under serious scrutiny in light of recent events.

Multiple whistleblowers who were either former staff members or contributors to the Lincoln store got in touch with The Lincolnite accusing Fresh Local & Wild of not paying people for wages or sales of products.

| Photo: The Lincolnite

As these accusations began to emerge, the store mysteriously and suddenly closed without warning from the company – as people financially affected by Fresh Local & Wild began to share their stories.

Some traders say they are still owed thousands by Fresh Local & Wild, and they will be encouraged by recent employment tribunals across the country.

Two people in Wales (find them here and here) and another in Bristol took the business to an employment tribunal in recent months, each winning their claims and witnessing a ruling that Fresh Local & Wild must pay back what they owe.

Fresh Local & Wild lasted just over four months at St Marks Shopping Centre, but the story of its closure is a complex tale. | Photo: The Lincolnite

One anonymous source told The Lincolnite that numerous people are preparing tribunal cases against Fresh Local & Wild for outstanding payments, no doubt energised by the recent settlements outside of Lincolnshire.

This isn’t the end of this saga, however, as in April the company updated its website to say that Lincoln’s store will reopen on Thursday, June 30 with “new experienced staff” and “a new beginning”.

A section of the company website blamed “staff shortages” on the store being closed, rather than what is suggested on the shop window.

In contrast to this, a sign in the shop window was placed to say the store was “closed to refurnishing”, while Google referred to it as “permanently closed”, unlike St Marks Shopping Centre – which still has Fresh Local & Wild among its listed stores on the website.

Read: “Smells stronger than a dairy farm”: Fresh Local & Wild promises “new beginning” for Lincoln shop

Since then, the website went down and claimed it was “under maintenance” before the domain was wiped altogether and most of the company’s online presence disappeared.

The website has vanished, with the domain name no longer connecting you to the Fresh Local & Wild site.

The Instagram account for the Lincoln store has been deleted, and the Facebook page has not posted since a job advert was shared for new staff in March.

The website said June 30 for reopening, though no movement was noted at the store and it still says it is closed. Contributors have been to the store in recent days and weeks to collect their excess stock, suggesting a return is not on the cards after all.

The landlords, St Marks Shopping Centre, said they were “disappointed” to hear the allegations of local businesses not being paid by Fresh Local & Wild, but would not confirm a permanent closure of the store.

Queues at St Marks Shopping Centre. | Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

These suspicious circumstances are highlighted by the fact that Ted Ward, who sometimes appears to go by Edward Pickering, is listed as the sole property advisor for the business.

This means he likely brokered deals for these stores across the country, despite previous convictions in Merseyside – where he was banned from running businesses for 12 years in 2010 and admitted to running a business while disqualified and bankrupt in 2014.

The Times described Ted Ward as “the High Street ‘saviour’ who’s too good to be true“, investigating his connections to a failed enterprise called 15:17, which saw five businesses dissolve and one liquidate under different variations of the same name on Companies House in just two years.

According to Companies House, Ellena Ward is still down as an active director of the company, though there is no sign of a Ted Ward or Edward Pickering – despite suggestions from traders that Ted still played a big role in Fresh Local & Wild.

The Lincolnite has attempted to reach out to Fresh Local & Wild on multiple occasions over recent months to bring the allegations to the company directors, but were greeted with no response each time.