Plymouth’s Drake Circus Shopping Centre celebrates 15 years of helping the community

Plymouth’s Drake Circus Shopping Centre marked 15 years of trading in the autumn of 2021 – having changed the face of retail in the far South West’s biggest city.

The 39,484sq ft complex opened in October 2006 and has provided a home for some of the leading names in high street retail and continues to attract leading companies.

But it has also helped the Plymouth community too. So, with the festive season, and 2021, still with us, it’s time to look back on 15 memorable moments from across the years to mark the anniversary and celebrate the good work the British Land-owned complex has done.

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Greg Lumley, centre director at Drake Circus, said: “There’s no doubt that we have changed since our opening in 2006. We spread our wings with our landmark leisure development – The Barcode – in 2019, but giving our visitors the very best shopping and leisure experience remains at the heart of everything we do.

“I’m incredibly proud of lots of things, particularly the work we’ve done, and continue to do, to support our community and the amazing work of organisations and individuals across the region. And as we look back on some of the most memorable moments from the past 15 years, we’re very much looking forward to the next 15 years and the exciting things they will bring.”

Inside Plymouth’s Drake Circus Shopping Centre

Here are the fabulous 15 landmark events that have marked a decade and a half at Drake Circus:

1 Drake Circus Shopping Centre opened its doors on October 5, 2006, bringing 46 new stores, restaurants and service providers to Plymouth.

2 Since 2009 Drake Circus has been the starting point for the Santa Fun Run. Each year members of the community dress up in Santa costumes to run the route through the city which takes them through the centre, using the 24-hour walkway.

Macmillan Cancer Support is just one charity that has used Plymouth’s Drake Circus Shopping Centre for fundraising

3 In 2011, the centre launched its programme of support for charities and has since raised more than £60,000 working with more than 100 community partners.

The National Literacy Trust’s Young Readers Programme in operation at Plymouth’s Drake Circus Shopping Centre

4. One of Drake Circus’ longest standing partnerships is with the National Literacy Trust on the Young Readers Programme. The successful initiative has played a vital role in encouraging thousands of children across Plymouth to develop a love of reading and helped their literacy skills.

5 Since April 2016, 100% of the waste managed for Drake Circus customers has been diverted from landfill, with more than 500 tonnes recycled and the remainder sent for incineration to generate energy.

Drake Circus mall was involved in Plymouth’s first Fashion in the City event

6 In 2016, Drake Circus mall was involved in Plymouth’s first Fashion in the City, an event where students and graduates from Plymouth College of Art helped to put the South West on the map for looking chic. Following a series of events across the city, Drake Circus Shopping Centre hosted a weekend of catwalk shows attracting 25,000 visitors and 45,000 social media interactions.

7 2017 marked the start of Drake Circus mall’s work with the city’s dementia-friendly co-ordinator to make it a dementia-friendly centre. This saw centre colleagues and retailers take part in specialist training, and on March 22, 2017, Drake Circus hosted a Dementia Tea Dance in partnership with Plymouth Dance. As dancing helps people with dementia not only stay fit but engage with the world around them, volunteers and dementia trained dance professionals helped to bring families together during this special session.

Drake Circus Shopping Centre – factfile

Drake Circus Shopping centre is a 39,484sq m enclosed mall in Plymouth city centre.

It was designed by London-based architectural practice Chapman Taylor and constructed by Bovis Land Lease.

It was built on the site of a demolished shopping arcade , which included a large C&A store and an escalator to a higher level, and a multi-storey car park.

Construction began in 2004, but the scheme hit a snag in 2005 when the anchor tenant, the department store Allders, went into administration.

At the time, Plymouth City Council stressed this was “not a deal breaker” and construction continued.

New tenants Next and Primark were soon signed up and Zara soon followed, though it became the first major chain to pull out when it closed in 2012.

In 2005, P&O Estates sold the development to Morgan Stanley Real Estate Fund for £55m. The following year Kandahar Real Estate took a 50% stake.

The tiple-level mall opened to huge fanfare on October 5, 2006, and was an immediate success, picking up two retail industry national awards in 2007, including Retail Week magazine’s Shopping Location of the Year honour.

But its architecture was controversial from the start. Architecture magazine Building Design awarded it the inaugural Carbuncle Cup for being the nation’s ugliest new building, calling it a “crime against architecture”.

Internationally-renowned architect David Mackay described it as “very ugly”, Jeremy Gould, professor of architecture at the University of Plymouth, called the building “inexcusable” and Kevin McCloud, presenter of TV’s Grand Designs, said it was not in keeping with the rest of the city centre.

The Times placed it on its “worst new building in Britain” list and said it was so “surreally grotesque” that surrealist artist Salvador Dali “should be spinning in his grave with envy”.

In 2011, British Land bought the complex for £240m, and a few years later paid £67m for the huge block of Plymouth city centre shops which includes the now closed Debenhams and still open House of Fraser department stores. It also spent £53m constructing the Barcode, a nearby leisure complex with a 12-screen multiplex and 14 surrounding restaurant units, some still vacant two years after it opened.

However, Drake Circus Shopping Centre remains and continues to evolve, with the current churn of retailers meaning it lost the likes of Mothercare, Carphone Warehouse and Cath Kidston recently, but has just gained three high-end Watches of Switzerland outlets for Omega, Breitling and Tag Heuer brands.

The mall has 66 store units, and eight anchor tenants and 1,270 car park spaces.

8 In 2017 Drake Circus also introduced a sensory shopping hour, which continues to take place on the first Saturday of every month. During the hour, businesses and shops in Drake Circus mall are asked to follow National Autistic Society (NAS) Autism Hour guidelines and combine them with dementia-friendly shopping.

9 Since April 2018, 100% of the electricity that Drake Circus Shopping Centre buys for its customers and common areas has come from renewable sources.

Drake Circus Shopping Centre’s stairs turned rainbow-coloured to support Pride for the fist time in 2016

10 In 2019, Drake Circus’ stairs turned rainbow-coloured for the first time in support of Pride. The centre also hosted events throughout the week of Pride, including arts and craft workshops run by Plymouth College of Art and local artists.

11. 2019 saw the opening of The Barcode, creating 250 jobs and bringing adventure golf, and several restaurants including Zizzi, Five Guys, Nando’s and Cosy Club to the region.

British Land-owned The Barcode is an entertainment and leisure complex build adjacent to Drake Circus Shopping Centre, in Plymouth

12 On October 22, 2019, Cineworld opened at The Barcode, featuring 14 screens including the South West’s first 4DX and IMAX screens, the latter being the third biggest in the UK.

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Business Live’s South West Business Reporter is William Telford. William has more than a decade’s experience reporting on the business scene in Plymouth and the South West. He is based in Plymouth but covers the entire region.

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13 Five electric vehicle charging points were installed at The Barcode for the first time in 2019 as part of the work to support a more sustainable future.

A Giving Box was installed at Plymouth’s Drake Circus Shopping Centre to help people give to charity

14 In 2020, the Giving Box was installed at the centre, designed to help the community give back to some of the amazing people and charities that continue to support them. The current charities that the Giving Box is raising funds for include Andy’s Man Club, Macmillan, Plymouth Domestic Abuse Services and Woodside Animal Welfare Sanctuary.

15 In October 2021 Drake Circus celebrated its 15th birthday. Since its opening, the centre has welcomed more than 253 million visitors and is now home to 73 brands, including 58 shops, 15 cafes and restaurants, an adventure golf and cinema.

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William TelfordBusiness Editor, Plymouth Live