A (half) day out at the shops

It’s not often that I get a day out, or to be honest in this case a half day out, but with research taking place close by I had the opportunity to visit Stratford City, the new(ish) Westfield scheme.  And how interesting it was, I really should do it more often.

Approaching the centre from the train station, Stratford City is much more understated than its sister over in White City.  There is no grand entrance from the direction I walked and therefore the sense I got was of entering some huge space but having no sense of the scale.  Thankfully a printed mall guide was available which folded out into something larger than a sheet of A3 paper, the store list alone filling half of one side but despite that the font size was tiny that I don’t know how many people will actually be able to read it.  The challenge is that with so many stores and restaurants how on earht do you put it all down on paper – or alternatively why bother – or maybe just use electronic guides? 

First port of call the loos.  Always a good place to start since they are often indicative of a centre.  Wow!  Were they smart, clean, no spotless, and I guess they would be described by some one more poetic than me as elegantly modern.  This gave out all the right signals and even better, they were free!  (Always a point of much debate, “to charge or not to charge”, but in my mind anything that promotes dwell time is a good thing and with all these restaurants around you need to feel comfortable).

Walking around I was struck by the clever use of the overall space.  Hats off to the designers, it must have been tricky building around a major transport interchange, but the use of multiple floors gives it scale without giving the impression that you are walking miles and miles.  

You really will not starve in Stratford City. The food and drink choice is quite frankly both exciting and dare I say it baffling.  I can only believe that either a) the high footfall will allow every outlet to get its fair share or b) the winners and losers will be clear very quickly and we will see some rapid changes in the catering line up quite soon.

The fast food court was not open fully when I arrived, but McDonald’s was serving breakfast.  What I was struck by however was the number of tables laid out in 4s.  This is interesting since I cannot believe that the party size at Stratford City is significantly different from the average of less than 2 people. In short poor use of the available tables and chairs.

Despite the amount of catering I was slightly surprised by the lack of seating in the open areas.  There is nothing like a quick re-cap of where you are and where you want to go – even struggling with the equivalent of an Ordnance Survey map of the centre – and you don’t always want to buy another tea/coffee/smoothie just to sit down.

Whilst covered centres are extremely popular for all the obvious reason to some they are almost claustrophobic.  Westfield have tried to alleviate this with an outdoor area they have called The Street.  This is great idea and since you can loop out and then back into the covered malls it gives a sense of ‘getting some air’.  Unfortunately on the morning of my visit The Street was acting like a wind tunnel so I suspect few people would want to stay outside long.

What did strike me however was the sense of lack of maintenance.  The leather chairs and sofas were already looking tired, but more concerning was that several internal (yes internal) signs were missing letters so rather than giving directions to ‘the Street’ what I read was to ‘he treet’.  As ever even in such a huge scheme it is the little things that matter, the attention to detail that makes the difference, and shows your shoppers that you care.

All in all a great centre, in all senses of the word.  Some parts still to be completed I know, but I look forward to returning again to see not only what it looks like completely finished but also to see if the maintenance teams have been a little more active.

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