THE Hampshire company behind England’s largest chain of independent photographic shops is to be owned by its staff after 65 years as a family business.

London Camera Exchange, headquartered in Winchester, planned to make the move to employee ownership in March 2020 but put the move on hold for a year because of the pandemic.

An employee ownership trust has been set up, with trustees chosen from the staff to represent the 140-strong workforce.

Outgoing owner Steve Hall – whose father Reg founded the business – said: “While the business is breaking direct links with the family of its founders, we are essentially moving to the ownership of the broader London Camera Exchange family.

“My father was a great believer in people and this is something that he would have wanted. I am pleased to be able to pass over the business to its loyal employee family in such great shape.”

Managing director Nick Richens, who is overseeing the transition, said: “London Camera Exchange has gone about its business in a modest and carefully-managed style over the years. This has allowed it to grow and prosper – most recently in a harsh business environment.

“It is testament to the people working within the group that it has stood the test of time and has established the strong foundations that will enable this new ownership model.”

Mr Richens will be chief executive of the new company, with current director Lee Harasyn stepping up as managing director.

Mr Harasyn said: “I am looking forward to building upon our success and taking London Camera Exchange forward as the leading photographic specialist.”

The company is predominantly a high street business and says the first Covid lockdown had a major impact on its revenue. But a rapid shift to online operations – with innovations such as virtual demonstrations and events – enabled it to maintain a healthy level of business throughout 2020.

In the past decade, the company has grown 32 per cent in an industry whose consumer market has shrunk by 70 per cent in the same period.

Nick Richens added: “Everyone across the organisation is very fired up and excited by the opportunity of working together to strengthen the London Camera Exchange brand and continuing to provide customers access to the latest equipment, trade-ins and the premium level of service they expect from our teams.”

Once non-essential shops are permitted to begin trading again, London Camera Exchange plans to expand its high street portfolio with the opening of a new store in Bristol.

The firm was founded in Guildford in the mid-1950s when Reg Hall and a business partner established a studio and then a camera shop. It has 26 stores from Plymouth to Newcastle, including two in Southampton and one in Winchester.

It recently won the Photography News Best Retailer title and a gold good service award from Amateur Photographer magazine for the 12th year running.

Peak turnover before the pandemic was close to £38million and London Camera Exchange has posted a profit in each of the past 10 years.