Debbi Tovey is beaming with pride – and it’s not just because she gets to work with a lot of cool robots. 

The 45-year-old is one of 84 long-term unemployed people taken on by Tesco at their new facility in Church Manorway, Erith.

From the outside it looks like any other warehouse but on the inside thousands of products speed around on conveyor belts amid a whir of technology.

It is Debbi’s job to replenish shelves where the heaviest, most breakable and most popular items are still picked by hand and put into trolleys as at most distribution centres.

News Shopper:

Lead operations manager Simon Maslen in action. 

But stacked dozens of feet high at either side of the building are tens of thousands of blue trays containing other products which the machines are in charge of.

The mother-of-three told News Shopper they only start looking at her like they are ready to take over mankind "when I’m tired and hallucinating".

Debbi, who lives in Frinsted Road, Erith, said: "It’s worrying how they always know exactly where to go.

"I have never seen a system like it before and it’s a lot quicker for a start.

"I do miss the direct interaction with customers a little bit, because I have been involved with customers for a long time, but I do like being able to get on with the replenishment without any interruption."

News Shopper:

Mmmm, cream eggs. 

Opened in October last year, the centre employs 550 people and is one of the most advanced of the six Tesco now have in the UK.

For most of the products all it takes is a click online from a customer for the crate it is contained in to zoom out of its bracket and down to a picker.

They stand at a station and take one of the items out of its box before popping it with the rest of the customer’s order in a different tray.

For Debbi, the job has been a lifeline after nine years out of work bringing up her three children Chloe, 12, Billy, 16 and Danny, 17, as well as dealing with the loss of her mum.

She said: "This was the 403rd job which I applied for. I’ve got my confidence back and I am me again as well as earning money which is what I wanted to do.

News Shopper:

The whole thing makes your head spin. 

"My kids are really proud of me and my eldest wants to come and work here."

Debbi is one of those Tesco took on who had been out of work for more than six months.

The applicants went through courses of up to 12 weeks run in combination with Job Centre Plus to get them ready for the retail business.

London corporate affairs manager Roberto Munoz said: "You just don’t realise how much people’s confidence gets knocked if they don’t have a job for that amount of time.

"This is an area of the business that’s growing scarily fast".

Full of beans 

  • The centre has enough tray storage to store more than two million tins of baked beans.
  • 30,000 products are transported on 2.4 miles of conveyor belts.
  • Erith employs 550 people who help fill 150 vans a day worth of online orders.