'I felt like the Queen' says Sheffield grandmother invited to cut the ribbon at Morrisons where she has dined every weekday since her husband died 22 years ago
When staff at a newly-revamped supermarket in Sheffield were choosing who should cut the ribbon at its reopening, there was only one candidate.
Freda France has visited Morrisons in Ecclesfield for her lunch every weekday since her husband Harry died 22 years ago, and the 88-year-old credits the ‘marvellous’ staff and fellow customers there with helping her cope with her grief.
The grandmother-of-two, who travels from her home in Shiregreen to the store, where she also does her shopping and regularly visits the pharmacy, was thrilled to be invited to perform the honours this morning.
“I felt like the Queen, which is fitting because I couldn’t have been looked after better by everyone there if I were the Queen,” she said.
“They’ve been absolutely marvellous to me since I lost my husband. Everyone's so friendly and there’s always someone who’ll carry my tray and bring my coffee over. They even try to keep my table free for me because they know I like to sit in the same spot.
“I was so upset when Harry died, and I thought I’m here on my own, but their kindness has kept me from feeling lonely and helped me to keep living my life.
“Harry was one of those people who would always look after others, and I think he'd be happy to see I’m being looked after.”
Freda, a regular Star letter writer, told how the first day she visited the cafe she had set her knife and fork down and another woman, who has sadly since died, moved them to her table as an invitation to join her. From that moment, she said, it had felt like home and she has since made countless friends there.
Her proud granddaughter Victoria Wood described the supermarket as Freda’s ‘shop, cafe, pharmacy and social hub’.
“They’ve been amazing with Nanan. The day after my granddad died she swore she would never be stuck in the house, and they’ve been so lovely to her ever since,” she added.
The ribbon-cutting invitation came around six months after Freda rang into Toby Foster on BBC Radio Sheffield, who was asking for examples of good customer service, and sang the store's praises.
“She didn’t think anything of it but the next day she got to the cafe and they’d laid out all her lunch for free,” said Victoria.
“A few months later they told her they’d held a vote about who should cut the ribbon and the unanimous result was that it should be her. She was over the moon to be chosen and bought a new outfit for the occasion. It meant so much to her.”
Freda, who left school aged 14 and whose various jobs included working at Mappin & Webb, clothes shops and Co-op, is clearly a woman of habit. Every Saturday, she eats at the department store Atkinsons – where she also praised the staff – and on Sundays she attends church.
Duncan Brooks, store manager at the Ecclesfield Morrisons, said: “Freda was one of the very first customers to shop at our store so we could not think of anyone we'd love more to reopen it. We're very grateful to her for coming along this morning to cut the ribbon for us."