Banbury minister pleads with M&S not to close its Bridge Street store

A vicar from the St Mary's Church ministry has pleaded with Marks and Spencer to keep its town centre store open.

Tuesday, 4th February 2020, 4:27 pm
Updated Monday, 10th February 2020, 9:22 am
Revd Dr Louise Adey Huish, who has appealed to M&S to keep the Bridge Street store open
Revd Dr Louise Adey Huish, who has appealed to M&S to keep the Bridge Street store open

Rev Dr Louise Adey Huish has told M&S bosses there are no alternatives for those who depend on town centre shopping. Many of these are elderly people who have nowhere else to buy fresh food, she says.

And she says the Gateway 'flagship' M&S, which the company wants people to shop at, has all the charm and atmosphere of 'an airport hangar'.

In an email to the store's chiefs, Dr Huish said: "I’d like to register my dismay at the proposed closure of Marks and Spencer in Banbury town centre (Castle Quay). I have lived in the Banbury area for over twenty years, and I am also a member of the Ministry Team at St Mary’s Banbury, the town centre church.

M&S Bridge Street store in the Castle Quay shopping mall

"M&S is the only store to sell fresh food in the town centre and its disappearance will seriously diminish what the town has to offer. Its café is also very popular, and a number of the more elderly people in our congregation walk to M&S daily for a cup of coffee and to pick up their food shopping.

"Most of the people I have spoken to value M&S more than any other store in the town centre, saying that ‘they always end up in Marks and Spencer’, or ‘it’s my main reason for going into the middle of Banbury’.

Like most market towns, Banbury struggles to maintain the life and prosperity of its town centre, and yet its population is increasing daily as new housing estates are springing up all around. There are no obvious alternatives other than Oxford and Stratford (both around 25 miles away, and difficult to access by public transport). I am deeply concerned for the life of the town, and also for the staff losing their jobs, many of whom have worked in the store for years.

I understand that the ‘flagship M&S store’ at Banbury Gateway is considered to be an adequate alternative to the town centre store, but this is simply not true. It is a long way out of the town, and unlikely to be accessed by anyone who does not have a car. The parking is dreadful, and the store itself has about as much charm and atmosphere as an airport hangar.

"M&S is one of the focal points of the town, both geographically and emotionally, as is underlined by its position at the end of Castle Quay mall; this is reinforced by the fact that it’s the easiest way through to the other branch of the mall (with the Museum, the canal, and a number of popular shops). If M&S abandons this site it will leave a significant hole right in the middle of the shopping outlet.

News of the proposed closure of the M&S Bridge Street store was broken in the Banbury Guardian last week - see story here. A retail expert said he thought it would be 'unlikely' the store could be saved.

Steve Jackson, M&S Head of Region for Central, said: “Shopping habits are changing, so we’re reshaping our store estate so it is fit for the future, ensuring it meets the needs of customers today – and those of tomorrow. Proposing to close the M&S store in the Castle Quay shopping centre is a difficult but necessary part of these changes. Over the coming weeks our priority will be supporting the great team of colleagues at the store, as we discuss what’s best for them.

“We remain committed to local customers and, if the proposal goes ahead, we will continue to serve them from M&S.com and other stores in the area, including M&S Banbury Gateway Shopping Park, where customers can pick up a full range of M&S products.”