I think that, on the whole, the local community can be proud of the effect Willow Brook has driven over the last ten years. Whether it is the thousands of people who have, at some point, worked on site, or the awards and accreditations that the team have worked so hard to achieve; or the close working relationship we have developed with local organisations ranging from the local police beat team to Olympus Academy Trust; or from Bradley Stoke Journal to the local hotels that benefit the wider community beyond each of our businesses.
The team here, led by myself for the last four years and Scott Lahive before me, have really placed Willow Brook at the heart of the community, and we are really proud be there. As the centre has matured, we have been able to use our position to promote wider benefits to the community. The jewel in the crown of our community work is the Stars of the Stokes Awards, which have been more successful than we could have imagined when I first began making calls to try and secure sponsorship for our idea three years ago.
Ultimately, and particularly in times of pressure for retail across the UK, I believe that community shopping centres like Willow Brook should operate as more than just somewhere to grab a pint of milk and a coffee. Our kind of centre does not have the budgets of large town or regional centres to blow customers out of the water with money thrown at every aspect of their experience. Centres like Willow Brook exist at the focal point of the community and, in my view, have a duty to act in the interests of the community, both inside and outside their walls, wherever possible.
I think that we do this well at Willow Brook, and have settled into this role well, particularly in recent years. In this time we launched the Stars of the Stokes community awards and TheInterchange.blog. We have hosted a general election debate, coffee mornings for two charities and annual church carol services. We have created a fresh series of events, beginning with the beach and feature umbrellas this summer. We have visited more than ten schools to work with them on projects. Financially, we part funded and supported the war memorial in the town square, at which we now work with the Scouts to facilitate the annual Remembrance Day parade which is attended by hundreds of people. We have sponsored projects at four schools, two sports clubs, Bradley Stoke Radio, Proms in the Park, Bradley Stoke Community Festival and Cotswold Edge Literary Festival. This culture of community follows through to how I run the business – whenever we contract out works or services we aim to work with a local or regional business, more than 75 percent of our team live close enough to walk to work and local charities are given use of our meeting room and promotional space free of charge.
Our approach to business works well for us and, I hope, will continue to do so. I recently did some statistical reviews of our lettings performance. I appreciate that our customers are disappointed when stores close down, but looking back. I find it amazing that there have been only five tenants at Willow Brook who have decided to ‘move out’. Over ten years this is an amazing figure, particularly in the tough times that the industry has seen in the last decade, and will continue to see. The majority of shopping centres across the UK would be delighted to see only 13 percent of tenants not renew their leases over a ten-year period; there are a good number that can expect to see that number in a bad year. There have been another seven who have closed due to circumstances beyond our control, where a chain has gone out of business or been forced to close a number of stores. This is always disappointing, although we are lucky not to have been affected in as bad a way as many similar centres.
Looking forward, we are due the decision on our development planning application before Christmas. I am confident that we have provided sufficient information and hope that the application is granted. If so, I believe that the development will prove hugely popular with our community once it is completed.
Purple Apple Awards
Shopping centre industry marketing
2015 shortlisted ‘Marketing Team of the Year’
2018 shortlisted ‘Marketing Strategy’
2018 shortlisted ‘Digital Strategy’
Shopping centre industry awards
2013 Waste Management of the Year, Winner
2014 Energy Management of the Year, Winner
2018 shortlisted Operations Manager of the Year (Peter Moonan)
Zero Waste Awards
2013 Silver Award
Green Apple Awards
Environmental management awards
Internationally recognised environmental accreditation
2015, 2016 and 2017
All years 2010 to 2018
Disabled Parking Award
Disabled friendly parking
Internationally recognised cycling friendly business/building accreditation
2018 Gold Award
In ten years we have:
- Had 45 million customers
- Had 19.5 million cars park in the car park
- Had two centre managers
- Had three operations managers
- Invested more than £35k in local sponsorship (sports teams, community projects, school programmes etc.)
- Had 500k website visits
- Spent more than £2.5m with companies based within 10 miles of Bradley Stoke
- Seen c700k buses pass through the bus lane
- Hosted charities which have raised c£500k
Last but not least:
- There are currently more than 750 people employed on site
Photos – Top: The official opening ceremony on 13th October 2008, performed by Bradley Stoke mayor Robert Jones, assisted by Tesco Extra store manager Oliver Hill. Above: Centre manager Andy Wynn and some of his team welcome the arrival a Gromit art trail sculpture as part of the 2018 ‘Summer at Willow Brook’ promotion.
This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of the Bradley Stoke Journal news magazine (on pages 6 & 7). The magazine is delivered FREE, EVERY MONTH, to ALL 8,700 homes in Bradley Stoke. Phone 01454 300 400 to enquire about advertising or leaflet insertion.
Last 5 posts in New Town Centre
- Willow Brook shopping centre prepares for more businesses to reopen - 9th June 2020
- Discount retailer One Below to open store at Willow Brook - 19th September 2019
- Hospice charity shop now open at Willow Brook - 6th September 2019
- Children’s Hospice South West to open new charity shop in Bradley Stoke - 10th August 2019
- Willow Brook backtracks over speed bumps - 2nd August 2019