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Building for the very best
AS THE steelwork is lowered into place for the new Marks & Spencer store - their single largest store in the world - the scale and speed of the rebuilding programme is becoming clear. Roger Aldridge, M&S's Director of Estates and Store Development reviews the achievements so far and the successes still to come

When is the store opening and how many staff will be employed?
The store will open in Autumn '99 with about 650 staff. We have kept on our existing workforce so there will be around 200 new jobs.

How are you going to recruit?
We will first look to existing staff to see if any of them want to work extra hours, then we will go to the Job Centre to recruit from the area as much as we can. We always recruit on the basis of ability and suitability, but we expect the jobs to end up in the hands of local people.

What will be your favourite feature of the new store?
For the first time there is the space to display our full range of goods.There is also an enormous lightness and airiness in the new building with so much glass, natural lighting, lofty ceilings and plenty of space to show the products at their best.It will set a new standard for us and is very much our flagship store. We are absolutely thrilled by the way it is shaping up. It will be so gorgeous.

Will we see new lines introduced specially for this store?
At the very top end we will try to add new products. There are lots of initiatives coming through and we are working on various trials to bring them all together for Manchester.Manchester shoppers love their food and hopefully there should be a significantly extended range. How long will it take to get all the stock into the new store? It will take four weeks working almost 24 hours a day to get all the goods in and to dress the store with attractive displays. Everyone wants it to look just so for the opening.

How will people find their way around such a large store?
There will be new signing, 14 escalators, large capacity scenic lifts. There will be very large vistas across the sales floors - it will be very easy to see where particular areas are and easy to get to them. The original M&S store took the worst of the blast.

How did you feel when you heard about the bomb?
I was shocked and devastated when I heard about the damage, but enormously relieved when I heard there had been no deaths.I have enormous pride in the way the staff were so well organised in evacuating the store and helping people in the street. Our biggest single asset is our people. We take pride in them and we are thrilled they take pride in us. M&S made special efforts to find new trading locations as soon as possible.

How important is Manchester to you?
We are focusing our effort on the city centre. It has an enormous future and that is where we have concentrated. Manchester is a very important store, one of our top ten. We needed to get back in action as soon as possible for two main reasons. Firstly, we are here to serve our customers. They rely on us and need access to our goods, products and services. Secondly, we had to look after our staff -- they were upset, devastated and we had to make sure we didn't lose them. We wanted to get them back together to help their sense of community and pride. It was important for the morale of Manchester as a city that the city would not be beaten by this and put back on an even keel. That's been a huge achievement.

What do you think of the Exchange Square design - particularly as diners in your new restaurant will overlook the square?
I think it's going to be brilliant, it will be an enormous enhancement of the area. We couldn't have a finer outlook than the new Exchange Square. It will be a wonderful setting for our store and the other fine buildings. How do you think the Manchester Millennium team have performed? It's an incredibly impressive achievement.

On that Saturday a couple of years ago no one would have dreamed of the devastation. From nothing, the Council pulled together a group of people, started the immediate mopping up and rebuilding confidence in the city centre. What they have done is bring everything together to make an opportunity not to be missed. It was a very bold move and wonderfully handled. It is almost unbelievable we could come so far so fast. The whole place will be transformed, and we will see that accelerating over the next months

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