Sheffield’s Meadowhall undergoes £60 million revamp
- Credit: Darren O'Brien/Guzelian
Behind the scenes at Meadowhall
Large shopping centres are often painted as bleak, faceless retail machines, where the only sound is the bleep and rattle of tills and smiles are not on special offer. But Sheffield’s Meadowhall – one of the largest of the large centres – prides itself on being different.
Staff in the 290 or so shops and 50 eateries tend to stay put, so they get to know each other and their customers (perhaps not all 25 million of them, but a good smattering), building relationships and adding to what is an unmistakably warm family atmosphere.
Pop into Burton on the High Street Mall and you’ll probably bump into manager Ken Bird, who’s been there for more than 25 years – pretty much from the day the centre opened in September 1990. It’s the same for Michele Farrell at The Body Shop and Jane Depledge at M&S, who’ve both hit their silver anniversary at the mall, and the dozens of other people for whom Meadowhall has become something of a second home (complete with a second family).
‘After 25 years, it’s more than a job to me,’ said Andrew Brown, the centre’s payroll and personnel coordinator. ‘I’ve met some good people and I’m working with colleagues who I now class as very good friends. Meadowhall has always been about the people and I love that.’
Security manager Mick Osborne couldn’t agree more. He’s been there from the very first day, and it’s where he met his wife, Dawn, and proposed to her at the staff Christmas party.
‘Meadowhall has played such a big part in my life,’ he said, with admirable understatement. ‘It has a big family culture, with varied departments and good people who all work together to achieve the same goal. Coming to work here every day is a real pleasure.’
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Even more so now that the £60m internal refurbishment programme, launched in 2015 to mark the centre’s 25th anniversary, is almost complete.
‘When Meadowhall launched in 1990, it was symbolic of a new era of shopping and leisure in the region,’ said centre director Darren Pearce. ‘It gave people the chance to visit shops not seen before in Sheffield, breathed new life into the site of the old Hadfield steelworks and brought much-needed jobs to the city.
‘I’m proud of the role the centre has played in the local and regional community in the last 27 years, bringing people together and ensuring the best possible experience for all by listening and responding to the consumer, the market and to wider economic changes.’
Meadowhall was originally the brainchild of Yorkshire businessmen Paul Sykes and Eddie Healey, who later sold the development to British Land. Their idea initially raised some concern amongst retailers in Sheffield city centre and a little further afield in Rotherham, but the promise of 10,000 jobs and the revitalisation of a large derelict site proved irresistible.
Now, the £60m refurbishment programme – the biggest in Meadowhall’s history – is designed to ensure Sheffield’s retail behemoth continues to provide an ‘innovative, compelling and creative shopping experience’ for years to come. But it’s not just about spend, spend, spending; it’s about socialising with family and friends too.
‘Many of our visitors come not only to browse and shop, but to be entertained and enjoy a meal out,’ said Darren.
And it’s not as if they don’t have plenty of options to choose from. Meadowhall now has more than 50 food and drink outlets offering grub from around the globe, including Spain, Japan, Italy and India. Carluccios and Wagamamas are among the major international brands in the mall, but they stand alongside smaller local artisans, like Coffika, which takes its name from fika, the Swedish custom of unwinding with friends and family over coffee and sweet baked goods.
‘It’s not just about how we are transforming our centre physically that’s making a difference,’ said Darren. ‘The breadth and depth of our retailers is also diversifying. We consistently attract designer and high-end brands like Flannels and Neals Yard, and department stores like House of Fraser have the confidence to offer concessions like Mulberry, Crème de le Mer, Biba, Jo Malone, Michael Kors and Kiehl’s, making Meadowhall one of the region’s key destinations.’
The revamp means Meadowhall is now split into four distinct areas, each with a different theme. The Arcade hosts shows and displays throughout the year; The High Street focusses on families and children; Park Lane is the high fashion zone; and The Gallery has an urban, industrial vibe to appeal to teenagers and younger adults.
Dated features like arches and Juliet balconies have now gone, replaced with natural materials, modern glass and structural balustrades. Sustainability has also been at the heart of the project throughout as Meadowhall tries to minimise its environmental impact by recycling rainwater, introducing natural ventilation, reducing carbon emissions, planting a lovely living wall and installing electric car charging points.
‘Our vision has been clear from day one,’ said Darren, ‘and that is to provide a centre that reflects what today’s visitor wants.’
With an annual spend of somewhere in the region of £750m, it’s probably fair to say Meadowhall is delivering on its promise. If you want it, they’ve got it. And if you can’t find it, just ask Ken or Michele or Jenny.
Meadowhall plays an important role in Sheffield’s economy, supporting one in every 100 jobs, contributing 1p in every £1 and accounting for 18 per cent of the business rates collected in the city. But it’s not just a money-making machine; it’s also invested £1.8m in community programmes in the last five years and acts as a day-to-day social hub for scores of people
:: Meadowhall hosts Mini & Me meetings on the first Friday of every month for parents and carers and their babies and toddlers. These are free sessions with a different theme each month, including baby massage, sleep (you remember that; it’s that thing you used to do at night before the kids came along) and play, led by guest speakers and expert demonstrators.
:: Every Monday up to 100 guests arrive at the centre to dance the morning away to a live band playing ballroom music. The weekly tea dance has been a mainstay of Meadowhall’s calendar for more than 20 years and is still as popular as ever.
:: A twice-weekly running club meets and sets from Meadowhall, and there are weekly buggy walks for parents and children (apparently the children have to be in the buggy, not the parents) that utilise various routes around the mall.
:: Staff from the centre have also set up and run a community-based football club, Darnell United, for local children, which is supported by South Yorkshire Police as part of it bid to combat anti-social behaviour.
The £60m revamp has made good use of local design and manufacturing expertise, and more than 60 per cent of the construction budget has been awarded to local businesses and trades.
:: More than 400 construction jobs were created by the two-year refurbishment programme.
:: Sheffield-based EE Ingleton Engineering provided 3,000sq m of perforated metal cladding (that’s enough to fill two football pitches should you, for whatever reason, wish to do so).
:: Dearneside, a group of architectural metalworkers based at Parkwood Springs, made 1,500m of glass balustrade (enough to take you to the top of Ben Nevis).
:: Eight tennis courts-worth of timber cladding – that’s about half an acre in old money – was sourced from FSC-certified forests.
:: And, all in all, 750m of new circular columns have been installed which, for those of you who like these sort of comparisons (and why the heck would you not?), would stand just a smidge shy of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, if you piled them on top of each other.