Following the recent announcement by Marks and Spencer that they are to close their Middlesbrough store, I asked for an urgent meeting with M and S bosses to discuss the decision.

This week, I had a very cordial meeting with Alec Brown, Head of Public and Regional Affairs and Communications Manager Rachel Dunachie after they agreed to come along to Westminster and meet with me.

Like many of their stores, our much-loved Linthorpe Road shop predates the Second World War and it needs a great deal of investment. However, perhaps more pertinent is that our Middlesbrough store has been among the very worst nationwide in terms of performance post Covid. It has been the slowest to recover.

Clearly, the cost-of-living crisis bites deep and shows no signs of abating. In a town that already has significant economic and social challenges, perhaps that is not entirely surprising.

So, the decision of the company is understandable. I truly feel for the employees affected and I hope they are found positions within the company locally.

I did broach the subject of them retaining a Food Hall but that is not in their plans either to invest in part of the existing store as would be necessary, or to look at other town centre possibilities.

It has happened in other towns where M& S have closed a store but then returned sometime later with a Food outlet. Whilst there no reason to think that is going to happen any time soon it may be a future possibility.

Clearly retail has changed and continues to change radically. Online purchases are now very much part of people’s everyday shopping habits but, sadly, in terms of physical retail, car dependency dominates.

Given these changes town centres up and down the country are having to reinvent themselves.

For Middlesbrough, as with all towns, this is a major challenge – but is one we can rise to.

Andy with Alec and Rachel from M and S
Andy with Alec and Rachel from M and S
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