Today, I have finally managed to make my little trip to Westfield Stratford City. Given all the hype surrounding this centre when it opened last year, and given I had already missed two opportunities to attend the study tours, I'm pleased to report that the wait was definitely worth it.
The strength of the offer - whether you are looking for retail, leisure or catering, the complementary open and closed design, its architecture and high rise façades (sorry guys, I am a geek when it comes to architecture), having all the kiddie retailers together, the luxury offer as a separate cluster; this is truly a shopper's paradise.
Now given I absolutely loathe shopping (I probably shouldn't say that, given the industry I work in), particularly in overcrowded, claustrophobic malls, for me the ultimate shopping experience is enjoying a feeling of space, no queues, easy accessibility, good architecture (did I mention I'm an architecture geek?!), having the complete freedom to dwell at your leisure. Old habits die hard but from 11.30am to 1.15pm, Westfield Stratford ticked all the boxes for me.
A few selling points. Aside from my delight with John Lewis (big fan!), the Hollister shop front is truly unique. With no visible signage giving any indication of what it is, the façade itself entices you in. Initially I thought it was a fancy restroom given the separate entrances for the "Bettys" and "Dudes". Inside you are taken on a journey; the whole experience factor comes into play.
The catering offer is also of a very high standard. You can visit all corners of the world on the third floor. At Indi-go, one has one's palette tickled with one of my favourite delicacies, savoury chaats. Beautiful. Also upon entrance, which I forgot to mention sooner, Unze (an Asian footwear retailer) has taken the new step of a taking a store in a shopping centre - something that I had not seen before, but a real coup for the local Asian community. Clever thinking.
Leather seating - again a plus point. What more could a shopper ask for when he (generally it is the men isn't it!) wants to have some time out? Gentlemen can leave their other halves to mill around, as they take some downtime on such very comfortable seating. The space and lighting is designed to allow you time and space to catch up with yourself, and re-energise. A lesson for all - quality seating in a centre really works.
Another big tick in my review is accessibility and the way the scheme integrates with the rest of the town. You are truly integrated not only with the centre, but with the immediate location. Whether you arrive by car, public transport or on foot, this offer has truly revived the East End, which was most needed.
And finally the view of the Olympic Park on the top floor. Mr Westfield definitely picked a prime space to build his centre! You can barely wait to see the flow of spectators to the park over the summer; it will transform the shopping experience.
Having road tested this scheme, it is definitely up there for me. Given the Bullring and Merry Hill Centre were what I thought big enough as shopping destinations, Westfield Stratford is a bit of a revelation. To have a vision of this magnitude but moreover, to deliver a scheme to such a standard is a remarkable feat. The question is whether we will ever see a scheme of this size built again in the UK.
Next time I visit, and I most definitely will, a trip to Aspers is in order. I am intrigued to see what the casino looks like inside. Might even try my luck at the tables!