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Meadowhall marks 20th anniversary

Exterior of Meadowhall shopping centre
Meadowhall first opened for business two decades ago on 4 September 1990

It is two decades since Meadowhall was built, one of the new wave of out-of-town shopping centres which were springing up across the country in the 1980s and 1990s.

But how many of the people who visit or drive past now can remember what was there before?

Some of them may be younger than the centre itself and will never have known a world without Meadowhall.

In those pre-Meadowhall days, the area where it now stands was once home to steelworks.

Dunford Hadfields, Shardlows and Arthur Lees used to occupy the site but the land had become derelict before the Meadowhall plan came into being.

Derelict site where Meadowhall was built, next to Tinsley Towers
Meadowhall was built on the derelict site next to Tinsley Towers which have since been demolished

The idea to build a shopping centre there was the brainchild of two Yorkshire businessmen, Eddie Healey and Paul Sykes, who later sold it to British Land.

Their idea had raised some concerns, not least amongst retailers in Sheffield city centre and in Rotherham.

Les Sturch is the Director of Development at Sheffield City Council Sheffield City Council and he believes that, at the time, it was not a question of whether a new out of town centre would be built, but where:

"Going back 20 years both Sheffield and Rotherham town centres were in some trouble already and all around the UK a number of these big shopping centres were being proposed.

"Rotherham had already decided to go for something big out at Parkgate so Sheffield was going to suffer one way or the other from some trade going to a new centre - the question was where would that be."

Building work at Meadowhall in 1989
This picture of building work at Meadowhall in 1989 was taken by Mick Carver

The Meadowhall plan had attractions for those making the planning decisions.

The promises of a distinctive venue on a large derelict site and of 10,000 jobs for the local area could not be ignored.

Permission was given and the site was cleared in 1987. Construction work began a year later.

It opened on 4 September 1990.

Mick Osborne is the security manager at Meadowhall and was there from the very first day.

The centre has been a big part of his life, not just because he has spent 20 years working there:

"I met my wife, Dawn, here and proposed to her at the staff Christmas party.

"And my 18 year old daughter has been coming here all her life."

Doors open on the first day at Meadowhall
People queued and then ran to be the first through the doors on opening day

Mick is responsible for keeping safe the 25 million people who visit Meadowhall every year. So how does he manage it?:

"We've got a very professional team and an excellent partnership with the police and our retailers.

"We use the latest technology, CCTV and other systems, to deal with any problems very quickly and with the minimum of fuss ."

Although the promise was 10,000 jobs, in reality, that has peaked at about 7,000 people, many of them part-time.

Even so, Andrew Denniff, from Barnsley and Rotherham Chamber of Commerce, thinks Meadowhall has had a positive effect on the area:

"Something the size of Meadowhall has acted as a catalyst for regeneration across a large area that really needed it 20 years ago.

"It would be silly to pretend that it's not going to have an effect on the surrounding area but footfall in the centre of Rotherham is up by 20 per cent this year."

£756m a year is spent in the centre
25 million people visit annually
There is 1.5m sq ft of retail space
More than 200 stores and 50 restaurants
7,000 people work there
Car parking spaces total 12,000
It cost £250m to build
Meadowhall is now valued at £1.271bn

Meadowhall has divided opinion between those who love it and those who don't and call it "Meadowhell".

One man who is a fan is John Seekings, who moved from Rotherham to Portsmouth for work, but he has come back to visit Meadowhall on its anniversary.

"When you're down in the bleak south you certainly do miss it, you don't know what you've got up here.

"All you've got down there is little towns and a couple of small cities.

"I set off at five o'clock this morning and drove four and a bit hours to get here. I'm going to pig out on Meadowhall this weekend."

Meadowhall is continuing to evolve. Some of the improvements came as a result of the floods of 2007.

The centre was closed for a week and lost millions in revenue.

But as a result many of the stores took the opportunity to refit their units and bring their shops up to date.

Meadowhall has also worked to become more environmentally friendly with a recycling plant to provide heat and power.

The centre's rainwater harvesting system introduced in 2006 collected 6 million gallons of water.

There are plans to expand the site beyond the 1.5m sq feet of floor space it currently occupies.

It has been given planning permission for a £300m commercial and residential development on land adjacent to the centre.


Twenty years since Meadowhall opened

An extract from Look North's report on opening day
An extract from Look North's report on opening day

Meadowhall stake sold for 588m
11 Feb 09 |  South Yorkshire




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