This week I was sent a press release from the team behind Bluewater, sharing the details of their twenty year celebrations. Because when you start a blog that’s the random kind of stuff which comes into your inbox.
It did get me thinking though, twenty years. Where did that go?
It’s funny to imagine a teenager in our local area not having Bluewater to break them gently into the age of socialising without their parents. For us, before the days you could get a fast track to Bluey or a lift from the taxi of Mum and Dad, we had to make the epic adventure over the river to Lakeside, Essex.
How well travelled we were, making the journey by the 8.30am (!) bus, train and even on occasion, by ferry, with a fiver for a Extra Value Meal in our pocket and seven hours to fill, window shopping the latest limited edition Reebok Classics.
Coming of Age
As luck would have it, as I passed my driving test and began earning a full time wage, an enormous shopping mall declared it’s gates open on our side of the river, and Bluewater became our go to place for shopping, cinema, dates, lunch and so much more.
I sat my first ever interview in Ted Baker, age 17 and despite feeling like I was winning at being seventeen by being offered my first proper job, I turned it down as I wanted to focus on my A levels. I wonder how life might have panned out differently had I accepted that job? ironically I probably would have spent less time in the pub…
Bluewater has changed a huge amount in the last two decades, as have I, but having this hub so close to our home has undoubtedly shaped so many experiences in my life, and for that I’m grateful.
It all began as my friends and I turned eighteen. The memories of shopping for sixth form blazers and Miss Sixty low rise jeans filled our weekends. We shared meals in TGI’s and Santa Fe for each others birthdays, and how could I forget my first ever Nandos, the first of MANY.
As life moved on for me, cinema and Nandos with my future husband replaced the nights out out, and Bluewater was always our go to place for a Friday date night.
We soon set up house and we have so many lovely memories of building our first home together, discovering the fun in putting our personal stamp on our little place and heading for Next home section instead of the Topshop / Topman picking up an outfit for Saturday night. Well, to be fair we still did our fair share of that too.
As my commute each day drove right past the road overlooking Bluewaters site, popping in for coffee with friends, picking up tea or a birthday card became all too easy, and with free parking a plenty, it was honestly always far easier than heading into my local town.
In 1999 we got engaged and spent the next 12 months planning the wedding of our dreams, so much of which was made possible under the glass roof of the Bluewater mall.
We chose our wedding rings in Goldsmiths (bought with our hard saved Tesco clubcard points I kid you not), we discovered our incredible florist, Floral Explosion, in one of the central stalls, and picked up my Irregular choice shoes in Schuh, all right there in Bluewater.
Dad Muddling Through picked out his suits in Moss Bros (complete with the wrong coloured cravat, luckily spotted the day before our wedding and switched back in a quick phone call and ten minute drive) and everything from Bridesmaids gifts to hair accessories were all grabbed in the one stop shop on our doorstep.
The Baby days
Of course when we expanded from two to three we spent plenty of trips to Bluewater trying out prams, picking out nursery furniture, grabbing maternity clothes (any excuse to shop) and grabbing every last moment as a couple before life went cray cray.
I don’t think there has ever been a period of my life I was more grateful to be a ten minute drive from Bluewater than when I became a new Mum. Sleep deprived, lonely, and desperate to escape the same four walls, rain or shine Bluewater became a haven for me and so many other new Mums with it’s second to none baby changing facilities and places to comfortably feed, change or just sit for a while with your baby. Somewhere else other than the me shaped sofa of our living room.
If you have ever had a shopping trip poonami, then you know. In Bluewater you are never more than a minute away from a baby changing room, fact. And as baby changing rooms go, these were not a bad place to hang out.
With Tigs rocked to sleep in the motion of her pram, hours were spent wandering, meeting friends, feeding (alot) and occasionally getting some practical stuff done too.
Entertaining the Kids
I can’t lie, there was a period where I’d avoid bluewater like the plague. Namely when I had two children under three who had zero to no interest in being dragged around a shopping Mall. Visits became fast and focused, or strictly child free zones for a while.
As the girls grew a little, and found their own feet as individuals, that fear dissolved and Bluewater again became a destination we could all enjoy as a family. In fact nowadays the kids love popping over there with me for a mooch, and it’s so alien to think back of a time the very idea of taking them would bring me out in a cold sweat.
We have enjoyed days out at The Beach in the Summer, Ice Skating at Christmas, cinema trips, The Dinosaur trail, Park play dates, Build A bear parties, Nature Trail explorations, Trampoling, The Giving Tree, girly lunch dates, Bus adventures and best of all, like mother like daughters, my kids love a Nandos as much as their Mum.
Friendship and Food
As well as just far too much shopping, memories of Bluewater over the last two decades overwhelmingly feature fun times with friends. Coffee dates after the school run, dinner with old work colleagues, brunch in Bills, Birthdays in Browns and movie nights with friends. There are over 60 places to eat at Bluewater and I reckon over the last two decades I’ve tried most of them!
Despite where you’re coming in from, with so many links, Bluewater has always been the easiest option of a central meeting point and over the years the entire landscape has evolved into more than just a shopping centre.
A personal highlight was discovering the Nature Trail last summer. I couldn’t believe the hidden treasure lurking beyond the car park, and it’s somewhere the kids and I will definitely return to again and again.
Hide The Bags
Of course the ridiculous amounts of clothes in our wardrobes, we have Bluewater to thank for. I’ve been trying hard to shop in more of a need over want mentality, but with such amazing choice right on my doorstep, sometimes I just have to put myself on a Bluewater ban 😉 Although as I get set to return to work this Spring, surely some new work wear items are a fair cop?
I have no doubts that Bluewater will continue to evolve with our family, and the future may involve drop offs and pick ups while we bite our nails with worry. There may be first dates and tears, shopping trips and dinner dates. Eighteenth birthday gifts, milestone occasions and who knows, maybe wedding shopping and baby gifts a second generation around.
Whatever our family future holds, I have no doubts that Bluewater will feature in the memories we are yet to create.
Celebrating 20 years since opening, Bluewater has pledged to support 20 Good Deeds, investing both time and money in community initiatives throughout 2019 and in the years ahead.
Some of the good causes to benefit will include Bexley Deaf Centre, offering lip reading services to help people with hearing loss and The Hygiene Bank, providing essential toiletries to support those vulnerable and struggling within the local area. Dartford-based Elements Gymnastics will be awarded funds and volunteer time to purchase and build specialist equipment to help advance their young gymnasts to an elite level. All 20 projects will receive a mix of funds and staff time, by way of thanks to the communities that have supported Bluewater for the past 20 years.
Since opening, Bluewater has welcomed millions of guests from across Kent, the UK and the world, and in doing so contributes £391m to the UK economy every year. Through the business, its partners and guests, Bluewater supports 7,800 full time jobs, paying over £154m in wages each year. Additionally, Bluewater has brokered employment for over 50,000 people, the majority of which are from Kent, via the nationally recognised Learning Shop.
The award-winning and beautifully maintained parks and lakes are testament to Bluewater’s commitment to enhancing biodiversity, with 900 different species including Dormice and Peregrine Falcons calling Bluewater home. The parkland is available to the local community to enjoy and has been recognised as offering one of the best parks and green spaces across the UK, having been granted gold status and a business landscape award by The South & South East Britain in Bloom Awards, as well as several prestigious Green Flag Awards.
Bluewater, Europe’s leading retail and leisure destination, has been a key part of the Kent community for 20 years, and offers great shopping with free, extra wide parking and has over 300 stores and more than 50 places to eat and drink. Plus, with a 17-screen Showcase Cinema de Lux including IMAX, Gravity Trampoline Park and Dinotropolis Adventure Park, there’s something for everyone. Find out more at bluewater.co.uk