John Lewis is considering turning empty stores into affordable housing as part of new proposals to help drive growth at the historic retailer.

Dame Sharon White, chairman of the John Lewis Partnership, told employees on Thursday that the retail group is "exploring" opportunities to venture into private rented housing with third parties as it looks to "repurpose and potentially reduce" its shop portfolio.

It comes after John Lewis announced it would be closing eight stores across the UK – including its department store in intu Watford.

In a letter to staff, Dame Sharon wrote: "As we repurpose and potentially reduce our shop estate, we want to put excess space to good social use.

"We are exploring with third parties the concept of new mixed-use affordable housing."

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Dame Sharon said the idea is one of a number of suggestions from employees selected for further development as it considers its long-term future.

However, nothing has been confirmed for any such move to go ahead. The Watford Observer has contacted John Lewis for comment.

Meanwhile, product rental and resale was also mentioned by Dame Sharon in the letter as another new area the group is considering.

It said it is looking at the potential to grow its financial services arm as well as a potential expansion into horticulture and garden products.

In addition, the retail group said it could close more Waitrose outlets as it assesses its supermarket arm's current store estate.

The letter said: "We expect to see continued rebalancing of stores, opening new ones where we see strong customer demand and potentially closing others where demand wanes.

"Our existing stores will be updated to meet customers' expectations."