Nothing is off the table when it comes to filling Debenhams.

That is according to Washington Square manager Richard Ashcroft.

“Our letting agent has been working for months and we are looking at every option to fill the building. It is a large building and we are looking at single lets or multiple businesses in the same building.”

He said he was determined to get someone in the building and is “vigorously” pursuing every option.

Mr Ashcroft said he could not comment further as he was in meetings about the store all day yesterday.

Former council leader Mark Fryer spearheaded the regeneration of the town centre and said he was bitterly disappointed for staff who had been there from the beginning.

“Debenhams was our big marquee signing. Once they signed up the others came ­— Next, River Island and all the phone companies.

“At the time we were looking for either Debenhams or TK Maxx to sign up. I was on a holiday on the beach when word came that Debenhams was interested.

“At one time, a few years ago, Allerdale even thought about moving its offices to the top of Debenhams to be in the town centre.”

He said the town centre looked as though it was now set to become a centre of cafe culture.

“I was there on the first day it opened, and I was invited back on the last day. That was sad. I was speaking to people who had been there the whole time.”

He said the town centre replaced Newcastle as competition for Carlisle.

“Suddenly people from Workington, Cockermouth, Whitehaven and Maryport were coming into the town centre instead of going to Carlisle.”

Julie Wedgwood echoed Mr Fryer’s words: “I went in on Sunday and spoke to some of the women who were recruited through the business Routes to Work.

“There was such a buzz around the town and such a demand for jobs that we started a retail academy.

“Everyone who took the training was guaranteed a job interview and many of them were still in the job until the weekend. It is just so sad.”

She said when the town centre opened, people found they could suddenly buy wedding or special events outfits here, instead of going to Carlisle. Allerdale councillors have said they, too, will fight to fill the empty store.

TK Max has been mentioned as a possible for the building, but the company did not reply to questions before the paper went to press.