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Written By: inIlford

13th / Oct / 2021

A massive ‘congratulations’ is due to Ilford’s ever popular Exchange Shopping Mall for reaching an amazing landmark. Namely, 30 years in business serving the town of Ilford, the Borough of Redbridge and much further besides. Through the good times and not so good, it has always managed to provide an extensive variety of shops and services, from designer clothes to dentistry, nail bars to newspapers, eye tests to ice cream and just about everything in between.

To mark the occasion, I recently put a series of questions to Marketing Manager Debbie Huntley about the Exchange’s journey so far.

What have been the most notable achievements over the last 30 years?

I’d have to say the ability to adapt to the ever changing needs of the community. It has always been about the community, so as the years have gone by, the owners have always tried to meet the expectations. Recently, it has been the arrival of the new Family Zone, providing dedicated family parking and the Wild Cubs free play experience. The Centre also now has the only Changing Place facilities in Redbridge, ensuring we are catering for all our guests needs. We also provide the Family Changing Room with feeding area and nappy change facilities.

Is there anything else you are particularly proud of?

Yes, our Shopmobility Scheme and also our new Guest Lounge, both located on level 1. We have also gained national recognition after being awarded World Host Business status for 2020.

What have been the main challenges over the past 18 months?

Keeping our guests (shoppers) and customers (tenants) safe during the pandemic was not easy. We were open the entire time with our team in the frontline. They were frequently dealing with unique situations as the rules were constantly changing, even suffering abuse at times. Keeping the Centre operational for essential stores, while having to make savings also made life difficult, along with communication issues.

How have you responded to losing such big names as Debenhams?

It is always sad to see our tenants leave as they are part of our Exchange family. However, we need to keep moving ahead. We have been working with our Leasing Team to help bring in new stores that will help drive footfall. These things take time and we are looking forward to announcing the new developments that will be coming in the next year.

What do you have planned this Christmas?

This year we are looking forward to Christmas and have been working very closely with the BID to ensure that Christmas spirit will be felt in and around the Centre. Our Christmas lights will be going up at the end of October in line with the Christmas light switch-on in the town and the opening of our Grotto and Snow Play. Captain Calamity will also be joining us for his much loved Santamime Show.

How is the future looking in the Exchange?

The future is looking good. There are some exciting developments in the works over the next couple of years. We are always seeking new ways to improve our guest experience and how we can stay at the heart of the community.

We wish Debbie and the rest of the team every success for the remainder of this noteworthy year and beyond!

To put the last 30 years into context, it might be worth taking a retrospective look at was happening in the world back in 1991. Probably the most significant advance of that year was the birth of the World Wide Web. Something we almost take for granted today and is surely worth an essay on its own. Also of great significance in this part of the country was the opening of the Dartford Bridge (a mixed blessing for most that use it).

Other signs of the time that year include John Major as Prime Minister, the launch of the Big Issue, the first branch of PC World, Ed Sheeran being born and Dean Saunders becoming our most expensive footballer at £2.9 million. The newly crowned US Open tennis champion Emma Raducanu was still some 12 years away from conception.

In the world of entertainment Kate Winslet was making her TV debut while Oasis performed their first gig. At the cinema, the big pictures included Home Alone, Silence of the Lambs and Terminator 2.

There is no doubt that shops and shopping habits have changed dramatically since the doors of the Exchange first opened. For many though, feeling the fabric, flicking through the pages or simply trying different sizes, as well as getting advice from an actual person will never be replaced. In any case, a trip to the shops with friends, including coffee and cake or a lunchtime nibble and natter is a lot more fun than sitting at home with just a keyboard for company. Equally, no screen that I know of has ever cared enough to tell me that ‘my bum looks big in that’!

Congratulations once more to our beloved Exchange for 30 splendid, sometimes defiant years and long live the proper, hands-on shopping experience!

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