The future of Romford's former Debenham's building is once again uncertain after the businessman who reopened it ended its lease.

Here we look back over the past of Aklu Plaza in Market Place, Romford, two years after it was rescued after the demise of the department story chain.

The plaza replaced Debenhams in November 2021, after it was taken over by the owner of Food Bazaar, Mr Aklu Miah.

Historically the building was first occupied by Stone’s, which was once Romford’s biggest shop. The construction of the site had ended in 1860s, according to Havering libraries.

In 1973, Stone’s became the iconic Debenhams store, which operated in the premises for nearly 50 years.

The building was sold for £12million in December 2019 to private UK investors Mitul Jay Patel and Rohan Jay Patel of NWT Real Estate, with the help of real estate giant Savills.

Debanhams continued to trade at the site for another three years, until finally shutting down in May 2021.

Read More: Romford shopping mall Aklu Plaza future debated by readers

Havering Council had said at the time that the council was working with the owners to “look at possibilities”. A council spokesperson claimed: "Like elsewhere, with spaces of this size, we’re more likely to see the building used in a number of different ways."

In September 2021, it was announced that a new shopping hall, Home Superstore, would take over the ground floor of the building. Part of the first floor was to feature around 20 to 25 outlets selling items like Indian clothing to jewellery and cosmetics, as well as have a food court offering global cuisines.

The mall itself was rebranded as Aklu Plaza, named after the owner, which was officially launched with a week-long 'Fish Mela' event in November 2021 after some delays.  

Mr Miah told the Recorder that year: "Something like Debenhams doesn't go away every day. Because of Covid, there aren't many people who want such a massive retail area.

"When I took it, some of my friends thought I was a bit crazy but what can I say? You have to gamble in life.

"I took a gamble and I want to try it out and I hope the whole community supports me."

During Aklu Plaza’s launch event in November 2021, however, staff allegedly suffered racist abuse with a protest by a far-right group outside the mall.

The first floor of the mall remained shut until April 2022 as its opening was further delayed despite hopes that it would open by March last year. It was eventually launched with a large wedding apparel store, SK Boutique, occupying much of the space.

Mr Miah applied for permission to change the use of the mall’s top floor into a banquet hall in January 2022. This was approved after more than a year in February 2023.

Months later, the mall's flagship Home Superstore shut down, followed by SK Boutique. Kacha Bazaar, a Bangladeshi food shop and a furniture showroom, now remain open in the mall with most of the other units shut.

Mr Miah recently informed the Recorder that he has ended the lease of the building that lapses by end of this year. He added that it will now be up to the new tenant to determine the next course for the building.

Speculations are now abuzz about what could come in place of the mall. Some Recorder readers suggested the building could be used by John Lewis, and that Romford needs a big proper department store.

Others said it could be utilised to provide community services like a library or a music concert hall. 

Havering Council has been contacted by the Recorder for their comments on the site's likely next phase.