Walworth community ‘devastated’ as closure of M&S looms

Campaigners today handed over a petition to their local Marks and Spencer branch urging the corporation to halt its planned closure.

The retailer announced it was considering shutting down the Walworth Road branch last month – which has served the community for more than 100 years – due to changing shopping habits.

Despite residents’ outcry against the plans and a petition signed by 3,500 people, M&S said the closure would go ahead, with a provisional closure date of June 8.

Emma Saunders, 49, who lives off Wandsworth Road, said: “What a lot of people don’t realise is M&S has so many staple items that are cheaper than our other local supermarkets.

“This isn’t just a campaign from annoyed middle class people, the community relies on this store.”

MP Neil Coyle with campaigners outside M&S this morning (Picture: The Walworth Society/Sandra Lane)

Ms Saunders, who has been a resident of the area for 18 years, said the closure was another sign of how Walworth Road has been neglected as shops move out to more affluent neighbourhoods.

In an email sent to Neil Coyle, MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark – who has supported campaigners against the closure – a spokeswoman from M&S said the retailer was “exploring suitable alternative sites nearby”.

Ms Saunders said: “A lot of people perceive this area as working class – it feels like they don’t think we deserve an M&S.

“Walworth Road is a microcosm of what is happening across the country – one area like Elephant and Castle around the corner gets a huge regeneration, then a couple of hundred metres down the road it’s derelict.

“Our high street is dying, M&S was a great employer for young people round here. Now it’s becoming so depressing.”

Gordon Scott, regional manager at M&S, said the decision to close the store was a result of changing shopping habits which meant the Walworth Road branch was no longer profitable.

Campaigners hung makeshift bunting from underwear bought from M&S outside the entrance to the Walworth Road store (Picture: The Walworth Society/Sandra Lane)

Ms Saunders said: “It’s a really unfair playing field – our store has been neglected in terms of restocking – how can they make that decision if they aren’t stocking it properly?

“They only recently introduced Click and Collect, which has turned out to be really popular, but haven’t given it time to see if that can boost profits.

“They’ve said they made their decision but we still are going to try.”

Mr Scott said: “We would like to thank all of our customers who have shopped in the store over the years, who we will keep serving up until closure and beyond that, from our other stores nearby and across London.

“After consulting with our colleagues, we have informed them of the closure and our priority now is continuing individual discussions about what this decision means for them. Wherever possible, we will offer them alternative roles with M&S.

“We’re rotating our store estate to make sure we have the right stores with the right space to offer customers a brilliant shopping experience and we are keen to explore suitable alternative sites in the local area.”

Pictured top: Neil Coyle MP presents the petition to the Walworth Road M&S store, alongside campaigners this morning (Picture: The Walworth Society/Sandra Lane)

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