The Bridges shopping centre is bucking the current retail trend, thanks to a number of innovative measures which are helping drive footfall and boost sales.
The city’s premier shopping centre is enjoying an increase in visitor numbers, at a time when many high streets up and down the country are having to rethink their retail strategy.
And, according to centre director, Andy Bradley, it is the Bridges’ commitment to partnership working and its diverse offering which are helping attract shoppers – and putting the centre ahead of the game.
“We know that for the high street to thrive and grow we need to make the offer appealing in a range of different ways,” he said.
“The future is undoubtedly experiential, which is why we have looked at ways to enhance the shopping experience.”
The creation of a number of pop-up retail outlets – “which give added value for shoppers and don’t compete with the existing retailers” – is one of the reasons for the positive results, according to Mr Bradley.
These have included a six-month stint by Google Garage, offering free courses and sessions for the public, a free Ping Pong Parlour, Army Rifles recruitment office and a space occupied by Springboard Training.
In 2019 the Bridges also opened its quiet room, a dedicated area for families with children or adults with autism and additional needs who can escape from the busy centre if the shopping experience becomes overwhelming.
“The feedback we’ve had from families who have used the quiet room has been excellent and they have really appreciated this facility,” said Mr Bradley.
The Frederick Street Gallery also opened its pop-up art gallery in the Bridges, giving it a much wider platform to showcase its artwork and the opportunity for shoppers to enjoy a range of art courses.
The Bridges also welcomed its first photographic studio recently, with the arrival of GA Photography, set up by local couple Gabriel Petre and Amy Drummond. The launch of the studio not only meant an additional asset for shoppers, but also gave a small Sunderland business the opportunity to grow.
“Being in the Bridges has been a fantastic opportunity for the business and it has been extremely well received,” said Amy.
“For a small business to get a unit in a large shopping centre has been amazing and we are glad to be able to offer an additional experience to visitors.”
Andy Bradley believes offering these opportunities is essential for the centre to thrive and grow.
“The short-term contracts have really helped smaller businesses and community organisations get in front of a wider audience and it’s also a great way for the Bridges to show them some support,” he said.
The centre director believes partnerships with organisations such as Sunderland BID and Sunderland City Council have also played an important role in the Bridges’ success.
“We have always recognised that partnership working across the city is what’s needed to make the city successful as a whole,” said Mr Bradley.
The Bridges has partnered on a whole range of city-wide initiatives, from the highly successful Sunderland Food and Drink Festival to the Lights Out Halloween event.
“Shopping centres these days need to be everything to everyone,” added the director.
“And our results show that the Bridges in many ways is ahead of the game, looking at ways to ensure that retail in the city centre remains vibrant.”