Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 11.19.44A CAMPAIGN to help drive the economy in Sunderland’s city centre has received a welcome boost, with a leading store now adding its support.

Earlier this year the city became one of 34 from across the country to be chosen for the Healthy High Street initiative, operated nationally by Business in the Community and aimed at delivering measures to help high streets improve their economic vitality.

The campaign, spearheaded by Sunderland’s Business Improvement District and the Bridges, has included creating a late night shopping culture in the city.

And this week (Nov 12) that campaign has received a further lift, with the news that Marks & Spencer will stay open on Thursday nights.

The leading high street store will now join major retailers including Argos, Boots, Primark, Wilkos, Next and Debenhams who have embraced Sunderland’s Thursday night shopping, along with many of the city centre cafes.

Ken Dunbar, Chief Executive of the BID welcomed the news and emphasised the importance of late night shopping to the retail and late night economy.

“People’s shopping habits have changed immeasurably, with many people shopping online at times which suit their busy lives, he said.

“To preserve the vitality of towns and city centres, it is vital to ensure that shops change to meet the needs of today’s discerning and often time-starved customers.

“There is strong evidence that shops which open late, help to bring more customers who otherwise wouldn’t visit the town and city centre.

Those new customers spend more time and money and enjoy the experience of everything that the retail and leisure businesses have to offer. It’s all about creating a compelling experience, which is what the BID is trying to do.”

Boots manager, Karen Ayton, who is one of the Healthy High Street leads added that “it is impossible to imagine not being open late on a Thursday.

“It is worth too much to us not to open and we know that when more and more shops come on board, footfall and spend will grow.”

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Kevin de Silva, M&S Store Manager said he was delighted that they would part of the late night shopping campaign in Sunderland “not only for Christmas, but for 2016.”

We know how successful it has been in other towns and cities and we had to be a part of it. It’s still a big venture for us, but one we are ready to commit to for the long term to help bring vitality to Sunderland’s High Street.”