I went to have a look at the new Broadway shopping centre that opened last week in Bradford. To be honest, it isn’t much to write home (or indeed blog) about, just some shops undercover. But this is a massive improvement on the building site that Bradford has been since 2004 when they demolished a huge chunk of it to make way for Westfield to build a shopping centre that was going to be instrumental in helping Bradford to bounce back. Thanks to the recession the build was put on hold and Bradford spent eleven years with a very tired M&S, a lot of charity shops and a big hole in the ground to call a shopping destination.
What was interesting about my visit was how poor the shopper experience was. Coming from my house at the very edge of Bradford (aka M&S loving middle class suburbia that increasingly describe themselves as living ‘near Leeds’) there was zero signage in the city centre showing where the new car park entrance was. After a few three point turns, asking some builders and a full lap of the city centre ring road it turns out that if you come in from the other side of the city (i.e. the motorway side) it is signed in letters that are literally ten foot high. So I think we can assume that the architect, centre manager etc. are not Bradfordians as a few temporary signs would otherwise have been a no brainer.
Inside, the builders were still finishing off a few units so the centre had cranked up Ibiza classics to full blast on the PA system to cover the noise. Which wasn’t really being appreciated by the generally older crowd there for a good nose round late on a Wednesday morning.
In another example of not-quite-what-the-brand-team-imagined, the M&S café was inevitably heaving with the sort of people who don’t appreciate Jess Glynne at full blast before noon and the freshly trained barista was getting rather flummoxed by a never-ending line of polite requests from OAPs for “just coffee, with cold milk” when she’d been taught to make flat whites, espressos and macchiatos and “just coffee” wasn’t even on the café menu.
Back in the centre, there weren’t enough floorplan map signs and the sum total of anything experiential was the local mini dealer who had set up shop in an empty unit with a couple of cars to look at. I know it’s usual for shopping centres to open with empty units as leases can be signed at the last minute and shop fits take time and Trinity in Leeds which left me distinctly underwhelmed at the time has since become a regular haunt since their great Trinity Kitchen food hall / street food curation concept finally opened. But still.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad Bradford finally has some shops – it could be dead handy to have a decent sized Debenhams half an hour down the road and my Dad who is 80 and a bit wobbly will find it much easier to get around a warm, dry, flat shopping centre than the old Bradford city centre. But the whole ‘generic shopping concept dumped from on high’ thing is just depressing.