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Comment: How My Teenage Daughter’s Visit to Debenhams Impacted on the Lives of Thousands 

Published on: 7 Aug, 2021
Updated on: 13 Aug, 2021

By David Reading

Ash reporter

The Debenhams building that has existed since the 1960s will soon be no more, it seems. People will have their own personal memories about the store, centred on shopping. For me and my family, a visit to Debenhams was a terrible landmark in our lives.

One afternoon in October 1993, our 17-year-old daughter Sarah took the bus into Guildford and spent a couple of hours shopping, ending with a visit to the Debenhams restaurant. There she treated herself to a slice of lemon meringue pie.

Unknown to Sarah, the dessert contained a fine dusting of peanut, to which she was fatally allergic. Back home, she became suddenly unwell. An ambulance was called but she died very quickly of food-induced anaphylaxis. None of us knew how serious her allergy could be.

David Reading and his daughter Sarah

Though immensely tragic, the story had a knock-on effect that has benefitted thousands of people across the country. At that time vast numbers of people with life-threatening allergies were hampered by a scarcity of information.

Knowing how to avoid dangerous allergens and to administer self-treatment is paramount to staying safe. And so a small group of us got together to launch a national awareness campaign, lobbying government, the food industry and the medical community.

The national charity we set up, The Anaphylaxis Campaign, has helped to make life safer and less fearful for countless people.

So Sarah’s decision 28 years ago about where to eat that October afternoon had an effect that is still felt today. It’s known as “a sliding doors moment” – where a simple choice to do one thing rather than another alters the trajectory of your life and the lives of others.

Debenhams reacted quickly and responsibly to Sarah’s death, providing start-up funding to the new charity, introducing allergen awareness into all their restaurants, and becoming involved in the national debate to put allergen awareness high on the food industry’s priorities.

This is why, for us, the closure of the Debenhams store at the bottom of High Street generates a complex assortment of memories.

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Responses to Comment: How My Teenage Daughter’s Visit to Debenhams Impacted on the Lives of Thousands 

  1. Roshan Bailey Reply

    August 7, 2021 at 10:10 pm

    Thank you to David Reading for sharing these memories despite the emotion he must be feeling, and special thanks for everything he and others with similar experiences did to publicise this issue, make changes happen, and undoubtedly save many lives which would otherwise have been lost needlessly.

  2. Allen Johnson Reply

    August 8, 2021 at 11:42 am

    It is moving that David Reading took such positive action as a result of losing one so close.

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