FIFTY years after it opened, work has commenced on the demolition of the last remaining part of the original Sainsbury’s Basingstoke depot in Basingstoke.

The demolition work will pave the way for work to start on phase three of the company’s multi-million-pound replacement distribution hub.

To mark the milestone, former colleagues were able to visit the Houndmills site to see how the £100million makeover is progressing.

The Basingstoke depot opened in 1964 and was a national packing facility for Sainsbury’s meat and dairy products. It later became Sainsbury’s main distribution centre – serving hundreds of stores across the South.

In early 2012, Sainsbury’s announced plans to modernise the depot, securing 800 local jobs in the area.

Construction work began in the same year to demolish the existing distribution warehouse complex in Houndmills Road and replace it with a new 618,500 sq ft distribution centre. The work will be completed in 2015 and will create an extra 100 new jobs.

Addressing colleagues and former colleagues, during a special presentation, David Jacobs, Sainsbury’s head of implementation, said: “The original depot here in Basingstoke closes after 50 years of operation, and all product management has now moved across to the new depot.

“The Basingstoke depot has been part of my life for 35 years since I started in 1980, so it’s quite a landmark day for me.

“In 1964, Basingstoke was the cutting edge, state-of-the-art depot, and hopefully we will be able to show you that Basingstoke will be leading the way again.

“The distribution centre at Basingstoke represents a significant investment for Sainsbury’s. We are always looking at ways to serve our customers better and the improvement works will provide us with a central location to support our growing retail business in the South.”

Steve Bird, who worked on the site in the 1970s before returning to be operations manager at Basingstoke in 2006, said: “It is really exciting to see the new depot taking shape and it will help Sainsbury’s serve a growing number of customers and stores across the South. We’ve worked very closely with the local community during construction and are looking forward to the centre opening next year.”

Among the visitors was Steve’s 80-year-old dad, Charlie Bird, from Buckskin, who worked for Sainsbury’s from 1955 to 1992. He was among the first to work at the depot as a warehouseman, later becoming a forklift truck trainer and then chief instructor.

Impressed with the tour of the complete new Phase One and Phase Two parts of the new depot, Charlie said: “It’s so vast and so modern – it really is. I can’t believe what’s been going on at the depot since my time here.”

The site visit brought back many happy memories for Charlie.

He said: “It was a fantastic place to work and I met so many wonderful people, including Lord Sainsbury. It’s been a big part of my life – I had a wonderful time at Sainsbury’s.”