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Signed, sealed . . . and now delivered - Gravesend Messenger hands over petition to save Marks and Spencer, Gravesend

We won the battle over the official handover of our petition to save Gravesend’s M&S store after the retailer did a U-turn and agreed to accept it – in public. But have we won the war?

The Messenger team with Vera Purll prepare to hand over the petition

The company’s consultation on closing the New Road branch and pulling out of Gravesend after 101 years in the town is drawing to a close and there’s still no word that it has changed its mind over the shop itself.

The shop could close as early as next month if the decision goes ahead.

Campaigner Vera Purll, 93, joined Messenger staff in handing over more than 2,000 signatures to regional boss Marc O’Connor outside the store’s entrance this week.

The company, which says the store is not “financially viable” due to the investment needed for an upgrade, had insisted that it had not originally snubbed the campaign, although it had wanted it to be done in quiet, behind closed doors.

It relented and Mrs Purll stood alongside the Messenger team spearheading the campaign as they met Mr O’Connor to present a file of names opposed the move.

This included an impressive 803 signatures collected by the grandmother-of-one; 40 by the Emmanuel Baptist Church, in Windmill Street and 63 collected by an anonymous campaigner.

In addition 182 people visited the Messenger office in High Street to pledge their support while 1,063 signed online.

These signatures were also included in the file given to Mr O’Connor.

Mrs Purll seized her chance to tell the regional manager she was “praying” for a rethink and reminisced about the store, in particular “a wonderful oak staircase” and how she bought her going-away outfit for her wedding at M&S.

Vera Purll, Messenger editor Bob Bounds and M&S regional manager Marc O'Connor

She said: “I could never understand why everything was sold separately and not as a suit. I used to say to my mother ‘Why can’t they sell it as a suit?’ But my going away outfit for my wedding was from Marks and Spencer.”

Mr O’Connor explained the thinking behind selling clothing separately: “Our competitors did sell it as a suit, but we were the first people to sell separately so you could have the exact size you wanted top and bottom.

“We were the first people to make that accessible to our customers.”

Mrs Purll also recalled how people from the Medway Towns would come to Gravesend because they did not have an M&S store.

Of her campaign, she added: “I’d love to be up on the board. People say to me ‘Are you the lady collecting the signatures?’ over coffee tables, brick walls, you name it.”

She also complimented the staff and said she was pleased that the petitions was being handed to “somebody official”.

She said:“I’m going to nag them to heaven.”

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