Over 50 rotarians, partners and guests enjoyed an excellent 3-course meal at the annual Partners’ Lunch event on 14 February in the Alexandra Hotel. Guest speaker was Sam Nugent, manager of the new Marks & Spencer Food Hall at the North Road Retail Park, Fort William.

Sam gave those present a quick and fascinating summary of the history of M & S from the early days of Michael Marks (a Polish immigrant) and his “Penny Bazaar” in Leeds in 1884, his partnership with Thomas Spencer ten years later and how, within the next 30 years they established 234 stores around the UK. (They now have over a thousand)

Sam reminded everyone that, among other things, M & S were first to introduce expiry dates for their food (1972) and first to develop “melt in the middle” chocolates ! They introduce 250 new food products every year, the research and testing of each product costing around £50,000.

The company is not just a retail shop but is also wholeheartedly committed to environmental issues such as recycling all paper and card, climate change, beach clean-ups and a no-waste policy. At the company’s expense, every employee is encouraged to spend one work day per year helping with a community project.

The 8,000 square foot Fort William store is their most remote in the UK and, with the exception of Sam and his two managers, all 64 staff were recruited locally. The store is performing well and 80% of the staff are on permanent posts. The company is also working closely with the Job Centre and is supporting the Claggan Greenfingers Project, the Lochaber Rural Education Trust and the Caol Community Centre.

On behalf of the Rotary Club, past-president Paula Ross thanked Sam for his interesting and encouraging talk, stressing that the Club was glad to have M & S in town and welcomed its support for so many community projects. Paula added “as a neighbouring worker in the aluminium smelter I will be popping in for my lunch”. A hearty round of applause echoed from those present.

Past-President Donald Young, President Donald McCorkindale, President-Elect Iain Johnston and Sam Nugent, Manager of Marks & Spencer Food Hall, Fort William