Page last updated at 20:38 GMT, Monday, 16 March 2009

Bluewater marks 10th anniversary

Bluewater shoppers
Bluewater said today's visitors expect entertainment as well as shopping

More than 400 long-serving workers at Bluewater have been honoured as Europe's biggest out-of-town shopping centre celebrates its 10th anniversary.

All the staff given awards on Monday have worked at the Kent complex since it opened on the 240 acre site of a former chalk quarry, just off the M25.

Since 16 March 1999, the centre has had more than a quarter of a billion visitors and has created 22,000 jobs.

One of the long-serving staff Jo Webster said Bluewater was "iconic".

Miss Webster and her brother Andrew manage the specialist pen shop opened by their parents Len and Jackie Webster.

"Bluewater has evolved and matured. It was iconic when it opened and I still believe it is iconic today," she said.

Victoria Beckham used to bring the children and have a really good day
Ken Francis

Former butcher Ken Francis also started at Bluewater on its first day but now works here as an events co-ordinator, responsible for looking after visiting celebrities.

He has met JK Rowling and Joan Collins but said the nicest celebrity he had met was Victoria Beckham.

"We haven't seen much of her lately, since she went over to LA, but before that she used to bring the children and really have a good day," he said.

Bluewater's general manager Andrew Parkinson said shoppers today expected a "whole experience".

"They are after some entertainment as well, and that is a different experience from 10 years ago where it was a little bit more 'you pay your money and get your product'," he said.

Shops closed

However, some traders have argued that Bluewater has affected other shopping centres in nearby towns, with Dartford experiencing a 25% drop in employment on the day the centre opened.

Alan Beckham, director of Mitchells Carpets, which has been in the town since 1972 and he said retained a loyal customer base, said it now had more shops closed than it had open.

"Unless something is done to Dartford town centre pretty soon things are only going to get worse," he said.

Tracey Manley, chief executive of the Thames Gateway Chamber of Commerce, said that while some high street retailers had not been too happy with the competition, out-of-town shopping centres offered "a completely different shopping experience".

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The shopping centre is celebrating its tenth aniversary



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