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Steve Fawke

Plan to pull Brunel out of receivership ‘on track’

A plan to pull Swindon’s Brunel shopping centre out of receivership is on track, with year-on-year footfall up 3.4 percent over the vital Christmas shopping period.

That was the message from centre manager Steve Fawke, who was brought in by the shopping centre’s owners in October to attract more customers to the 40-year-old arcade, which makes up 60 percent of the town centre’s retail offering.

Mr Fawke said a succession of owners, who tried to maximise profits at the expense of investment, was partly to blame for the failure of the 530,000 sq ft shopping centre, which in 2012 – 40 years after the first shops opened – was the first shopping centre in the UK to go into receivership.

Speaking at Swindon Chamber of Commerce today (Friday, February 14) Mr Fawke said: “The new owners are passionately committed to improving the Brunel, and we’ll be looking to bring it out of receivership in the next year or so.

“Vital maintenance work will be done very soon, and we’ll have a shopping centre that is warm in the winter and cool in summer.”

Things are already looking up for the centre, he said. Fourteen million people visited The Brunel last year; two million of those in the five weeks of December.

Visitor numbers were up 3.4 percent for the period, compared with a UK average of 0.4 percent.

“In January this year, footfall was up 7.7 percent year-on-year, although last January Swindon was covered in snow,” he added.

“But we’re bucking some trends and heading in the right direction.”

The meeting also heard from Rebecca Rowland of InSwindon, the not-for-profit company responsible for running the Business Improvement District scheme.

The BID scheme raises money to improve the town centre by applying a one percent levy to the business rates of all of the 540 businesses in the town centre.

This year, the levy should bring in £349,000, which is spent on everything from running events and promoting the town as a shopping destination to keeping the area clean and safe.

InSwindon is responsible for the Christmas lights display and switch-on event, and is looking at ways of helping independent retailers to access a ‘click and collect’ scheme.

Click and collect is an important tool for town centres against online shopping. Customers buy online, but collect in store at their convenience – saving them the wait for the courier.

“We want to help independent traders access this, because unlike the big retailers they don’t have the budget to implement e-commerce and m-commerce,” said Rebecca.

“This might be delivered through the InSwindon website, but we need to get this up and running by Christmas,” she said.

Looking to the future, both speakers agreed that high streets needed to adapt to new shopping habits, and agreed that leisure – including restaurants – would become a vital part of that, especially in profiting from the night-time economy.

“Swindon town centre is in darkness after 6pm,” said Steve. “These things are going to change.”