Inside the Willow Brook Centre – a guided tour

Tesco Extra Store Entrance

The Willow Brook Centre, Bradley Stoke’s new £80 million shopping centre, is now just weeks away from opening its doors to the general public. Construction of the complex, which includes a Tesco Extra store, a shopping mall and further retail outlets around a new Town Square, has progressed rapidly over the Summer months and the centre could be ready to open as early as mid-October.

The Journal has been documenting progress on construction of the complex since work began on the site in December 2007 – a photographic record of the development can be seen in our PicasaWeb Gallery, which now includes over 700 shots taken from public spaces around the site.

With the first phase of the project nearing completion, The Journal was last week invited into the complex by centre manager Scott Lahive to record scenes inside the shopping mall and around the feature Town Square.

These fascinating shots (complete with explanatory captions) can now be viewed in our PicasaWeb Gallery:

Step by step around the Willow Brook Centre

From the construction compound alongside the Three Brooks public house, we pass first through the service bay area at the back of the new Tesco Extra store, where deliveries to the new store will arrive. The Internet home delivery service will also operate out of this area.

Once into the main building, we pass through an area of offices before entering the store proper. The fitting out of the ground floor of the store seems almost complete, with row upon row of shelving units and freezer displays. The dominant colours are white and yellow, contrasting with the red and blue of the Tesco Extra signage. The store’s checkout tills appear to be fully installed, mostly covered in protective sheeting.

Close to the store entrance, located at the Town Square end of the mall, escalator units lead up at a shallow angle to the first floor “mezzanine” level, where electrical goods, clothing and other non-food merchandise will be sold.

Leaving the Tesco Extra store, we now enter the shopping mall of the Willow Brook Centre. Facing us at ground floor level are the mall retail units, five of which are expected to be trading on the Centre’s opening day. Tenants already confirmed for these units include Reflections Hairdressing, Carphone Warehouse and Nationwide Building Society.

Mr Lahive explains that the projected opening date for the Centre is officially “October/November”, although a date as early as mid-October remains possible.

We now walk towards the entrance at the Town Square end of the mall and survey the units under construction that will form two sides of the Square. Of the six ground floor units that will be completed by the Centre’s opening day, two are likely to be occupied by coffee bars, while other tenants will probably include a fast food restaurant and a confectioners. There are hopes that a large sit-down restaurant will take on one of the larger units at a later date.

In response to earlier reports that the developers of the Willow Brook Centre might be struggling to find tenants for some of the units, Mr Lahive explains that it is not unusual for shopping centres to open with a number of unoccupied units, as prospective tenants like to see evidence of “footfall” before committing themselves.

Turning back into the mall, we now walk the full length of the arcade, up to the entrance off Bradley Stoke Way. The ceiling of the mall is formed of white triangular sections and natural light entering from skylights at the top of each side wall produces a striking effect on the white and grey interior.

There are plans for “mobile” stalls to be positioned along the centre-line of the mall. These flexible units are expected to appeal to smaller market-style traders and might also be of interest to local small businesses looking for an inexpensive way to showcase their products.

Looking out from the Bradley Stoke Way entrance, the new bus-only slip road on the northbound carriageway can be seen under construction. Buses will enter the site here and travel up the side of the mall before rounding the Town Square to join the existing access road near the new petrol filling station.

We now ascend a staircase to reach the first floor of the mall. Much of this level will be given over to management, servicing and security functions, although it does include two retail units and a unit currently foreseen to house Bradley Stoke’s first-ever dental practice. The public will access the upper floor units via a staircase near a third entrance to the mall, located on the side of the complex that faces the existing Tesco store (which will be demolished once the new Tesco Extra store opens).

The two retail units on the upper floor are fronted by a narrow balcony that projects over the lower floor walkway of the mall and offers views towards either end of the complex.

Our visit now over, we descend to the lower level of the mall and make our way through the aisles of the Tesco Extra store, returning to our starting point in the construction compound.

The Willow Brook Centre certainly looks as though it has the potential to serve as a fitting focus for a community that has waited so long for a town centre worthy of the name.

The Journal would like to thank Mr Lahive for finding time in his busy schedule to show us around the Willow Brook Centre.

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