Original staff member of Banbury town centre M&S reflects on 38 years of service before its closure
Surinder Dhesi is the only original member of staff remaining that has been with the store since it opened in November 1982. She started her employment on July 27, 1982 and trained at the Oxford store.
She has spent some time reflecting and looking back at her time at the Banbury town centre store. She shared a few of her thoughts with the Banbury Guardian.
Surinder said: “It is a very sad day. My main concern is for our elderly customers and how they are going to do their shopping when their mobility is poor.
"I have worked for Marks and Spencer for 38 years, and I have had only five weeks off due to four family bereavements and when I had the mumps.
"I would like to pay tribute to our wonderful customers who have supported the Marks and Spencer Castle Quay Store over the years and have become good friends.
"The amazing colleagues who I have grown up with, who have been my second family, who have made working here a pleasure and I will miss them."
The Bridge Street Marks and Spencer food and clothing store will permanently close this Saturday August 8.
The Marks and Spencer branch in Banbury's Castle Quay was originally due to close on Saturday, April 18. But the store decided to stay open longer to help people during coronavirus outbreak.
Banbury will still have a M&S store at the Gateway Retail Park alongside the M40, but this will be out of the town centre and is not as easily accessible by public transport as the Bridge Street store.
The store was the first major store to come to the Castle Shopping Centre, which was later extended to become Castle Quay, when Debenhams arrived in town.
Reaction to the store's closure has been one of universal shock and despair with one Banbury resident setting up a change.org petition to persuade M&S to keep it open. More than 2,600 people have signed it to date.
During her 38 years at the store Surinder was active in the store's Business Involvement Group, which involved community outreach programmes.
She said: "I have been the chairman of the Business Involvement Group for many years. I have enjoyed fundraising with my colleagues for local charities."
The first charity fundraiser was raising money for a mini bus for PHAB, and over the years money has been raised for the Scanner Appeal for the Horton Hospital, a sensory garden at Frank Wise School, Banbury Let’s Play Project, Katharine House Hospice,the maternity unit at Horton Hospital, the Sunshine Centre, the Lake House Adderbury, Chasewell Playgroup, Maggie’s Centre Oxford, Dogs for Blind and Dogs for Good.
She has also been involved in doing the Midnight Walk for Katharine House Hospice and litter picking on the Oxford and Banbury canals. She has also been a former Banbury mayor and longtime councillor for both the town and Cherwell District councils where she still serves.
Surinder added: "When I started working for Marks and Spencer I worked on the food department. I have worked on the customer service desk, fashions and now back on the food department.
"I work as a sales adviser, but I have also enjoyed my role as promoting our Marks and Spencer credit card and helped in other Marks and Spencer Stores.
"I was one of the finalists in the good customer service award in London, and another was awarded to our Business Involvement Group for our charity workv- raising money for the Sunshine Centre and doing the makeover of their play areas.
"I would like to pay tribute to the amazing members that I had on the Business Involvement Group. They were the key people who helped the Banbury store get recognition of community service in the region.
"I enjoy the interaction with customers, always putting them first and making sure they don’t miss out on special purchases."
What will Surinder do after the town centre mainstay closes this weekend? She plans to carry on serving the community through roles on the town and district councils and through her other community service roles.
She said: "I am a member of the Banbury Rotary Club and am a town and district councillor, which keeps me busy. I will enjoy sometime with my family and grand-daughter and look for another job."