On September 7th 1967, M&S opened M&S Belfast, our first store in Northern Ireland. It paved the way for UK investment in the local retailing market, and since these humble beginnings, stores in Northern Ireland have grown from one flagship, to 20 across the province.
Today, we celebrate fifty years of M&S in Northern Ireland. While celebrations will take place across all of our 20 stores, the main celebrations will be in M&S Belfast – where it all began. M&S Chief Executive Steve Rowe will be in attendance, as well as many customers and colleagues who have been a part of the M&S journey over the past 50 years, and have been paramount to our success.
2017 has already proven to be a phenomenal year for us in Northern Ireland. In June, we announced our commitment in playing our part in delivering one million hours of community volunteering by 2025, to help make a difference to the projects and initiatives that really matter in the communities we serve. This initiative will be piloted in Londonderry~Derry, where we currently operate two busy stores.
In addition to this, during the two week period of Making Every Moment Special earlier this year, staff from every one of our local stores took on 50 ambitious community projects. They dedicated themselves to everything from renovating charity shops and animal shelters, to tea parties and sewing bees, and helped over ten thousand people in the process.
As we take a moment to reflect on the past fifty years, we are also keen to celebrate the future of M&S in Northern Ireland. It was announced today that a brand new Food Hall will open in Craigavon next year, and with more new stores in the pipeline, it will guarantee that the next 50 years of M&S in Northern Ireland will be just as special as the last.
Of behalf of M&S, I would like to extend a huge, heartfelt thank you to our customers, suppliers and dedicated colleagues past and present over the last five decades. For half a century, we have been proud to serve the people of Northern Ireland, and our continued expansion at Aldergrove, Carrickfergus, Newry and now Craigavon, brings even more opportunities to make every moment special. We can’t wait to see what the next 50 years will bring.