As Bradford continues to enjoy an increasingly buoyant retail scene, things are definitely on the up at one of the city’s historic shopping centres.
Two new anchor tenants have played a big part in a major resurgence in the fortunes of Bradford’s Kirkgate Centre this year.
Both TJ Hughes and Boyes have taken on significant retail space in the centre, helping to draw footfall back up to an area of the city centre which has suffered a little in recent years.
With plans afoot for a transformational development at nearby Darley Street by Bradford Council, which would see a new modern market with a dedicated underground servicing area and a new public space to host outdoor stalls and specialist open-air events, there is now real optimism afoot in the top end of town.
And after concerns raised about the number of empty units in a planning report last year, there is no question that the Kirkgate is resurgent, and the confidence shown by two very well established retailers to take substantial space clearly shows that belief.
Centre manager Catherine Riley has no doubt that the centre is on an upward trend, and says the new anchor stores have been part of that.
“Kirkgate is bucking the trend by winning successful national retailers to the centre. We are delighted to have them along with our other new tenants, Brow Art Beauty Salon and Rabbit Hole.
“Success breeds success so we are also seeing existing retailers like Greggs investing in new facias to cater to what our customer wants.
“Of course we are in talks with other prospective tenants and hope to have more exciting news soon.”
Referring to the planned work in Darley Street, Catherine said Kirkgate was very much the place people were looking to be at the moment.
She said: “With everything that’s going on in this area, this is absolutely the right place to be.
“Everybody at the centre is proud of what’s going on. People who maybe have not looked at Bradford for a while are coming back in. The centre has a busy air about it. Other retailers are commenting on how busy it is. The figures are well up.
“The centre has a fantastic value led offer with strong footfall and great names like Primark who everybody loves. The centre of town is contracting and becoming more focused on the two shopping centres and the retail park so we are a natural place for great retailers to gravitate to.”
Having been centre manager for more than two decades now, Catherine is aware of the importance of continuity and the strength of the employees who run the centre – and those who work in the shops.
Four of the management team recently celebrated 100 years of service between them – Catherine herself, Centre Administrator Sue Smith, Customer Service Manager Mirko Maric, and Cleaning Supervisor Joyce Clark.
Catherine, Sue and Mirko all began their journey within a few months of each other. in 1994. The longest serving staff member is Joyce, who began working there in February 1993.
“The people who work here are the lifeblood of the centre – both the management team and the staff in the stores,” said Catherine.
Every member of the Centre Management team has received World Host status meaning they have undergone dedicated training to ensure that they are providing the best possible customer care. In addition, the Centre has just been awarded the Savills Silver Award for Customer Service Excellence.
The work Catherine and her team has done over the years was praised by Mike Cartwright, from the West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce.
He said: “It’s great to see that the Kirkgate Centre is doing well and we hope that the current trend continues. Most people are aware that the face of retail has changed in recent years and that online shopping has had massive ramifications for the high street.
“Praise should go to Catherine and her team for keeping the Kirkgate a successful shopping hub – we work closely with her on various matters and we look forward to that continuing in the future.”
The £21m market plan which will transform an area close to the centre took a step closer to development recently, with Bradford Council acquiring the old Marks and Spencer unit on Darley Street, seen as a ‘key building’ in the project, which will include a market and public square.
It’s anticipated the detailed design stage will be complete by this autumn, and construction work/demolition will begin in the first quarter of 2020, with the completion and opening set for spring 2022.
The new market facility will include a floor featuring street food vendors, music performances and possibly bars – it’s hoped this part of the scheme would open late to bring much needed evening footfall to the area.
Catherine says that and other developments leave her very optimistic about the future prospects of the Kirkgate Centre and of Bradford itself with the continued investment, and the plans for the new market.
“Bradford is undergoing somewhat of a renaissance with new shops, the planned market, station refurbishments at both the interchange and Forster Square and of course Bradford Live; not forgetting all the new evening activity on Ivegate,” she said.
“The face of retail is changing rapidly at the moment. That brings opportunities as well as challenges. Kirkgate is well placed to respond to those challenges and to keep the centre at the heart of shopping in Bradford.”