M&S recruiting 130 staff ahead of opening Purley Way store

EXCLUSIVE: The company CEO’s life-long association with the Croydon store may have helped to give the beleaguered Whitgift Centre a reprieve. By STEVEN DOWNES

Marks and Spencer is recruiting more than 130 staff in advance of its opening a new store on the Purley Way in the spring or summer of 2023.

And despite wide-scale closures of its stores across the country, often moving its operation to cheaper out-of-town locations, with better parking options for new click-and-collect business, the company says it currently has no plans to close its flagship food and clothing store that has been a fixture in the Whitgift Centre for 50 years.

That news will come as some relief to developers and the local council planners, who have spent more than a decade dithering over a promised multi-billion-pound redevelopment of Croydon town centre.

Marks and Sparks were an integral part of the £1.4billion plans announced six years ago by “Hammersfield” – mall operators Westfield and Hammerson. That was the last time that the developers spruced up their designs for the town centre, when they wanted to build twice as many “luxury executive apartments” in a regeneration of the town centre that had been promised since 2012.

Now, with the 10th anniversary of the broken promises of Gavin Barwell, Boris Johnson and Westfield having come and gone, and after a pandemic that turned the screw on any hopes of a revival of high street retailing, M&S is one of the last major retail businesses still clinging on to a prime location on North End.

Hanging on: M&S on North End was promised an important part in the regeneration of the Whitgift Centre

In 2016, Marks and Spencer and John Lewis had been announced as the “anchor tenants” for a Whitgift Centre redevelopment that in fact has never seen a single brick being laid.

Then, the two stores were supposed to book-end North End, with a John Lewis homestore and Waitrose set to occupy the ground and upper floors of the former Allders building on George Street, with M&S close to West Croydon getting spruced up.

John Lewis were so hard-hit by the pandemic that they never re-opened the doors of their “At Home” store on Purley Way in 2020, where 120 partners worked.

Today, M&S has confirmed to Inside Croydon that it is poised to move to that very site, and they are actively recruiting in preparation for the move.

“We’re really excited to be opening a new M&S store on Purley Way which will offer local customers a range of M&S products across our Food, Clothing & Home departments,” a spokesman said.

“It will make a great addition to our existing stores in the local area and we hope to open to the public in spring or summer 2023.”

‘Shaping the future’: the M&S annual report outlined plans for the closure of 110 stores, many of them in town centres

This move appears to run counter to the company’s plans announced just a few weeks ago to vacate many of its more costly town centre stores around the country.

This might be regarded as a parting gift from Marks and Spencer’s departing chief executive, Steve Rowe, who got his first job as a Saturday boy in Marks and Sparks Croydon, where his mother worked on the lingerie counter.

In the company’s latest annual report, Rowe said, “We are now developing a growing pipeline of store relocations, moving to modern well-located sites, in the renewal format with omni-channel capability.

“We aim to fund the exit costs of the legacy estate through an increasingly active asset management and disposal programme.

“We have a pipeline of [about] 15 new full-line stores over the next three years and [about] 40 new Food stores, many in the larger renewal format with click-and-collect services for Clothing and Home.”

When releasing their 2021-2022 financials in May, Marks and Spencer said it is moving away from town centres because many had “lost impetus” due to “failed local authority or government policy”. Who could they have possibly had in mind?

It said it was now relocating some shops from older, multi-floor buildings with poor access and parking. “A high proportion, but not all, of our relocations are to the edge of town,” the company said.

Top job: Steve Rowe, M&S CEO, started work as a Saturday boy in Croydon

The company has already closed 68 larger stores, out of a total of 110 earmarked for relocation, with the company focusing on “fewer but better locations”.

Rowe, delivering his final annual report as CEO, said that M&S was “moving with the customer, where the customer is working and shopping”.

The retailer confirmed that 32 stores will move by 2025.

Marks and Spencer’s main Croydon store has been at the centre of uncertainty, and development blight, inflicted over the past decade by Westfield and the owners of the shopping centre, the Whitgift Foundation.

The then new French owners of Westfield, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, dropped Croydon from their “pipeline” of developments in 2019before the covid pandemic.

Hammerson, the owners of the Centrale mall and the reluctant partners in the so-called Croydon Partnership, have meanwhile been watching as their store rental business fell off the side of a cliff.

The Croydon Partnership was the shotgun marriage between the two giant mall development companies, Westfield and Hammerson, formed for the purpose of the development in Croydon, created at the behest of the then Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and the local Conservative MP, Gavin Barwell.

Barwell, as a governor of the landowners, the Whitgift Foundation, acted as one of the prime instigators in bringing Westfield to Croydon, in doing so delaying a deal with Hammerson that had previously been agreed by leaseholders in the increasingly run-down Whitgift Centre.

It might be worth recalling how Tory politicians Gavin Barwell and Boris Johnson were promising a bright new future for Croydon… in 2013.


Two extensive planning applications and a massive CPO later, all pulled together at huge cost to the tax-payer, and there has been no progress in 10 years, the latest proposals being for a bit of meanwhile use by a Secret Cinema-style operation in the old Allders building.

Mayor Jason Perry won’t be the only one to be a little relieved that he does not have to work up some “meanwhile use” ideas for the Marks and Spencer site on North End, too.

At least, not for now.

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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7 Responses to M&S recruiting 130 staff ahead of opening Purley Way store

  1. Lewis White says:

    Marks and Spencer in the Whitgift occupies a position at the North end of the site, which makes it more connected to the busy West Croydon end of town, the only part of Croydon where one gets a feel of the old bustling , packed Croydon Town centre of the 60’s to 90’s.

    Funnily enough, at that time, this North end of the Whitgift was probably the less busy end, in the high days of Allders and Grants, which pulled the centre of gravity to the South. Now that end is a ghost town, with a pedestrianised dead zone at the George Street junction crossed only by huge trams before they hurtle down Crown Hill, my feel is that the life has departed from the South, and has gravitated Northwards, so maybe the location of M and S Croydon is a good one.

    Let’s hope that enough shoppers continue to shop at M and S Croydon Town Centre. I will be popping in tomorrow to pick up some clothing ordered from the M and S online. Maybe I will make another purchase when in store.

    A sad fact is that shoppers on the Purley way will probably be coming to the new store by car.
    I suppose that in time the pollution there will reduce with the onset of electric vehicles.

    But, thanks to Steve Rowe, M and S CEO, for keeping faith with his and his mother’s old workplace, and with Croydon.

    It’s up to the developers now to come up with an attarctove future-proofed mixed use scheme for the Whitgift Centre.

    In the meantime, all those new Croydonians who are coming to live in the many new and converted high rise blocks will need clothes and food, so let’s also hope that lots of them walk to their local town centre M and S to purchase their needs……

  2. Hazel swain says:

    just what Purley Way needs .. another big store and more traffic than the road and surrounding area can cope with

  3. Ian Kierans says:

    M+S going to the Purley way has to be a good thing for at least the 130 who will be employed there.
    once this is open it is a possible scenario that the North end one will close at the end of its agreement or before if it can be negotiated. That would be a sad ending to a store that many grew up getting their uniforms from along with BHS (Gone) and Debenhams (Gone) Alders (Gone) House of Fraser (died when Ashley mucked it about and it ended in administration and has not really recovered).
    Yes a lot of items have gone online. Some say it is cheaper on sites like Amazon. But what has been the cost? Department stores and large store chains pay a lot of tax both to Councils and to Central Government thereby helping the economy and balance of payments. Online shops with head offices offshore may pay some tax to Central Government but not as much as those stores did nor do they employ a many in the local communities,

    May M + S continue to exist in the Borough and though a bit on the pricey side we should if we can still make a point to buy something there every week and be happy to pay the couple of quid more a few times a year.

    With respect to traffic – the Purley Way could have the capacity to funnel at least a third more traffic as a thoroughfare. The issue with it is the design and uncalled for bottlenecks to accommodate other pet designs and political white Elephants of the successive Local and Central administrations that clearly have not a clue in how to jointly deal with strategic traffic needs over a 50 year period and clearly also get contractors building and maintaining roads and pavements whose repairs are regularly unable to withstand four successive seasons of use.

    • Hindsy says:

      Please, please, please, keep the Croydon North branch open. We seriously need it no matter what happens

  4. Kevin Croucher says:

    “The company says it currently has no plans to close its flagship food and clothing store”.

    Why do they even bother to issue statements this? It has been obvious for years that the town centre as we have known is finished. Personally I think this is a very bad thing, moving to out of town developments like Purley Way, which is really little more than a few warehouses with a huge car park attached.

    You may as well order you stuff online as go out there, I find it a thoroughly unpleasant experience, nothing like I remember of shopping on the High Street. Then there is the effect of all those thousands of extra car journeys, not to mention the people who can’t get there because they don’t have a car.

  5. Gillian Custance says:

    So exciting M and S Purley Way can’t wait. Hope it has a café.

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