The speaker for our lunchtime meeting on Friday 3 February was Oliver Wren, Centre Director for the Castle Quay Shopping Centre, who gave a talk about the recent developments at the centre.
Oliver started his talk by giving a bit of background to his own career, explaining that he had initially gained experience in a retail management environment, and had been a Senior Store Manager with Debenhams, before taking a sideways move into asset management. This had led to taking on a lettings role in the newly opened Westgate Shopping Centre in Oxford, before moving to Banbury. He had been in his current role for over 3 years. Although the Castle Quay Shopping Centre was now Council owned, he was not a Council employee but was employed by Montague Evans, who were managing agents for the centre.
His move to Banbury had come at an exciting time, with large scale expansion plans in place. However, it also coincided with the Covid 19 pandemic, which had been an immense period of struggle for the retail sector. Thankfully footfall levels were now back up to pre-pandemic levels, despite the closures of high-profile anchors stores, BHS, M&S and Debenhams. This was in part down to the imaginative re-purposing of space, such as the opening of Lock 29. This had allowed the centre to offer short term lets to a range of smaller businesses and also create a flexible performance and entertainment space. Whilst the new space had initially experienced Covid related difficulties, leading to the withdrawal of the original operators, Happerley, it was now a thriving, vibrant attraction within the centre.
Oliver also gave an update on progress with the waterfront expansion, which was now almost complete and had seen construction of a new hotel (Premier Inn), a Cinema complex (The Light) and several new eateries (including Nando’s and Pizza Express). The Light was a 7 screen Cinema complex but the site also incorporated a 10 lane bowling alley, climbing wall, interactive darts and pool tables. Most of the waterfront units were now filled. A large amount of additional car parking had also been created, including dedicated EV charging points. The two sides of the Canal had also been linked by a new footbridge.
At the conclusion of his talk Oliver answered questions from various rotarians. In thanking Oliver for his talk, host Mark Recchia paid tribute to the partnership working that the Castle Quay shopping centre had enjoyed with Banbury Town Council, and the Banbury BID, in ensuring that the town centre also had a vibrant programme of outdoor events.