The Brunel signals the future of the shopping centre

By Ben Fitzgerald - 3 October 2018

CommunityOpinion and FeaturesBusiness

Shopping centres have to work differently to return to their former status of the hub of a day out according to The Brunel’s Acting Centre Manager Jane Stewart.

No longer just a collection of shops, Jane is increasingly finding her team more and more involved in working with charities and community groups to provide space and support for exciting collaborative projects in addition to looking after their retailers.

Jane explained: “It’s no surprise to say that the way people are shopping is changing and so shopping centres need to adapt to be able to compete.   Where once a town centre was the destination for local shoppers, we now need to offer more in different ways to retain the position of being at the heart of the town centre and a real part of the community.”

With plans starting a few years ago with the concept of The Crossing to make The Brunel a place to shop, work and play, the centre is now hosting a number of non-retail activities and supporting an increasing number of local good causes.

When units are vacated they are often put to good use by partnering with creative enterprises such as Prime Theatre and The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama who ran workshops for around 1000 Swindon pupils earlier this year.  The Brunel hosted Swindon Fringe for the first time, plus local artworks were on display as part of Swindon Open Studios and the New College end of year art show.  Next month will see the arrival of Tommy, an artwork to commemorate 100 years of the end of World War One.

Jane added: “The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama needed something central and were struggling to find somewhere large enough to accommodate the Swindon school groups they would be working with.  We managed to reinstate power to an empty unit and provide them with what they needed, and this has now become a space used by Prime Theatre.

“We were very proud to host the Swindon Open Studios’ Art in Curious Places exhibition where we placed works by local artists around the centre.  Art has been an important part of bringing the community into The Brunel; last Christmas we hosted Threshold’s exhibition on the importance of possessions to Swindon’s homeless population.  We’re delighted to say that this exhibition has led to two of those involved now opening a juice business.  We are now supporting them with a temporary unit in the centre with the hope that their business venture will be their route to success.

“Our vision is that The Brunel is more than a shopping centre; that it becomes a social space for the people of Swindon and somewhere that supports thinking beyond opportunities.”

Helping young people become more aware of the myriad of career opportunities within the retail sector is also important to Jane and her team.  The Brunel worked closely with anchor store Marks and Spencer to develop Retail Codex, a six-month long structured learning experience for selected Swindon’s school pupils that enables students to experience various roles within a retail and shopping centre environment plus helps individuals improve their life skills and employability.

“We do a lot of projects with schools and colleges as we are well-placed to help support the curriculum and all ages of pupils.  We’ve had very young children from Robert Le Kyng Primary School learning about our recycling facilities and have worked with both Swindon College and New College on innovative creative arts projects.  It’s a win-win for us as not only are we able to support Swindon’s younger generation with great learning experiences we’re able to bring interesting displays, exhibitions and events to the shopping centre that helps to make The Brunel Shopping Centre much more than just a retail destination.”

The Brunel will also continue to support local charities with events that have become part of the centre’s calendar, including the Prospect Hospice Christmas wrapping station.  On 11 October the Swindon Lions will also be holding a diabetes clinic in aid of World Diabetes Day and Swindon Libraries will be holding children’s story time in the centre.

The Brunel’s management team also choose a charity of the year each year to promote and fundraise for.  2016 saw the team support the Youth Adventure Trust, 2017 was Wiltshire Air Ambulance and 2018’s is Oak and Furrows Wildlife Rescue Centre.  The next fundraising event will be a charity curry night held at Bengal Square in Peatmoor where all proceeds from diners and takeaways on the 9 October will be donated to the charity.

The team are now putting together the 2019 calendar of community support and events so if you think your organisation would like to partner with The Brunel Shopping Centre please contact them soon before all opportunities are taken.  Tel: 01793 525857.

For more information, The Brunel, visit www.thebrunel.co.uk.

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