EXACTLY seven months since its predecessor shut - and a global pandemic later - Helensburgh’s newest supermarket has welcomed its first customers.

The ribbon was cut for the official Morrisons store opening today (Thursday) and staff at the former Waitrose site in Cardross Road couldn’t hide their delight at reaching the milestone.

A local piper welcomed the first visitors to the store this morning, and store mascot Molly, knitted by the Grey Matters Active Ageing group, did likewise, while long queues were spotted at lunch-time as Hermitage Academy pupils sounded out the new hotspot.

Speaking to the Advertiser ahead of a limited morning ceremony, in the light of ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, store manager Scot Byers and people manager Leigh McMurdo summed up their emotions.

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“I don’t know if excited is the right word - we’re over the moon,” explained Leigh.

“We’re absolutely delighted,” Scot said.

“Everybody uses the term ‘journey’ and it certainly has been a journey for us.

“Right through the planning stages to seeing it executed, there’ll be nothing that could fill us more with pride than cutting that ribbon.”

The decision by Waitrose to close its Helensburgh shop in May, seven years after it opened as the company’s 300th UK branch, left more than 100 people out of work.

Morrisons has since taken on around 250 employees, interviewing more than 700 people from over 1,300 applications.

Every former Waitrose worker was guaranteed a virtual interview, and Scot is confident that with his team now in place, the new store is here to stay.

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He said: “It’s absolutely fantastic that we can do that, especially at this time.

“The negative is that more than 100 people lost their jobs at Waitrose but actually we’ve added to that, and our home delivery operations help with that.

“What we want to be known for are the principles of being at the heart of the community, being known for our service, our price, our market street and our availability.

“We want to do the best for the people of Helensburgh. We absolutely understand what Morrisons means to Helensburgh and we want to do the best job we can.

“Every one of the management team and colleagues have that ambition.

“What we offer, and the variance in the offering, will suit the Helensburgh public.

“We’re confident in our own offering. We know the local market - just eight miles away there is a Morrisons store in Dumbarton, so we’re very suited to what’s in and around us.

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“Our price point will help us greatly but our service and the five things I spoke about, that’s why we’re going after them, because that’s what matters to the people of Helensburgh.”

Scot, originally from Dumfries but now living in Helensburgh, has grown his career with Morrisons and has been with the groceries giant for 18 years.

Leigh has three decades of service under her belt with the retailer, having spent time in the nearby Dumbarton outlet, which is around twice the size of the Burgh branch.

Both agree that people and community are at the heart of the company’s ethos, and that has already been demonstrated through the work of community champions Alison Sturgeon and Claire Wright in establishing links with local organisations.

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Helensburgh and Lomond Foodbank has benefited recently, along with the Grey Matters group, Friends of Hermitage Park and local care homes, while the school across the road will be a close ally too.

Leigh added: “When Scot and I came down to Helensburgh we were struck very quickly by the sense of community.

“It’s a very active and vibrant community and Morrisons wants to play their part in that.

“It’s hugely important to Helensburgh and us, but hugely important to the company as well, to have strong links with the community.

“In these strange times everybody’s priorities have changed and there has never been more of a need for community.

“Whatever we can do to play a part in that we will do.”

The store, which includes a selection of Nutmeg clothing, Market Street favourites, a cafe and petrol station, and has a firm focus on locally-sourced produce, will be open between 7am and 10pm Monday-Saturday and from 8am until 8pm on Sundays.

Home deliveries start on Monday, December 7 and there will also be a dedicated shopping hour for NHS staff from 6-7am, as well as a 10 per cent discount for teachers until January 3. For more details visit groceries.morrisons.com.

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