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Our brand-new Rochdale Riverside store quietly opened on 6 April, two weeks into lockdown. We shut up the old shop on Sunday night and on Monday morning picked up where we left off in a new store, better-located and better-equipped to serve our family customers. Given what was happening in the world around us, rightly there wasn’t a big bang moment. We were all focused on the job at hand: trading food and supporting the Rochdale community we’ve been part of for over 80 years.

On Monday we were all delighted to finally welcome customers upstairs into our bigger and better clothing department. With double the floor space of the old store on Yorkshire Street, we now have a wider range of products on offer, including our popular GoodMove activewear range which has been selling really well across M&S.

This week it’s all about Father’s Day—and whilst things look and feel a little different when shopping for dad, with all the social distancing measures—it’s been lovely to welcome back some friendly customer faces, and some new ones too!

All set up for customers to shop for Father's Day with confidence at M&S Rochdale Riverside

Despite opening in unusual times, the positive feedback we’ve received from customers has been overwhelming. The new features make shopping with us so much easier. Our new multi-storey car park has made a huge difference: customers can choose from 500 spaces which are all accessible with a trolley. Our Click & Collect facility is really popular with customers—the team are already managing around 600 orders every week! Whether it’s a new dress, jeans or some homeware products, customers love the flexibility of ordering online and then picking up as they do the weekly shop. And as time moves on, things are only going to get better, as more families visit the retail park for all the other attractions and our café opens its doors too.

All in this together

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my amazing team for making the transition so seamlessly—moving to a new store brings many challenges in normal circumstances, let alone during the middle of a pandemic! A quarter of our workforce voluntarily stepped away to care for themselves or loved ones temporarily, while 40 new starters joined the team and were thrown in right at the deep end. Despite being completely new to M&S, they all rose to the occasion and mucked in together in true M&S spirit.

There are so many amazing stories I could tell but one that stands out is Peter. 

Peter has worked behind the scenes in our warehouses for 37 years. Although he’d never worked on the tills before, he decided to upskill during lockdown to help meet increased demand at our checkouts. He now regularly operates our self-checkouts and, as one customer put it, is “the life and soul of the foodhall”.

I’m also proud of the impact we’ve made in our community. Through our food redistribution partner Neighbourly, we were able to donate all of our excess food stock from our old store to our local charity partner Soup Kitchen Rochdale. It felt amazing that rather than being thrown away, the food was going to a good cause feeding local vulnerable people.

2020 is a year we'll all remember for the rest of our lives. For us at Rochdale Riverside, we'll of course remember it as the year the new store opened its doors. But we'll also remember it as the year we rallied together and served our community in its time of need.