intu the unknown

I love the USA, so much so that I chose to study it as half of my degree, you can probably imagine therefore that I enjoy it when aspects of America filter their way into the United Kingdom. This is not the case for many people though and there is often intense criticism when lazy/mass market/bland things from American society end up on our shores; drive-thru everything, fatty foods, Starbucks and increasingly larger motorways and cars are all contentious issues for those who don’t like the all-conquering nature of American lifestyles and culture.

Personally I rather enjoy the novelty of having a drive-thru Krispy Kreme and Boots at my local retail parks (’tis true!), but one of my favourite US-imports is the springing up of shopping malls throughout the suburbs of Britain (and sometimes their inner cities too). I actually studied the mall/shopping centre as part of my degree, and aspects of those studies weaved into my dissertation about consumerism, so I end up enjoying my visits to these retail-havens more for the experience/out of curiousity rather than shopping itself.

For many years I had never visited one of these ‘temples of consumerism’, but about 5 years ago I first visited Bluewater in Kent. For whatever reason Bluewater has remained my favourite, yet I have only been there once since (although I will be revisiting those memories on Friday when I go again). Westfield Stratford, Westfield White City, The Trafford Centre, Meadowhall, The Arndale Centre, The Bullring, Brent Cross and a couple more…I have been to a lot since, but by far my most regular visits have been to Lakeside in Essex.

Opened in 1990, Lakeside was one of the first malls in the South East and was able to capitalize from its location on the London commuter belt, right next to the M25. Adding to its appeal has been the large number of retail parks and businesses which have grown up around the site, including an IKEA and a large Tesco superstore. Despite arguments that traditional high-street shops have suffered greatly because of the likes of Lakeside (even more in the current financial crisis), the centre has continued to be popular with shoppers, even after Bluewater opened in 1999. The close proximity of the two coupled with Bluewater’s more upmarket shops (and large size) have meant that Lakeside itself has undergone several large developments…notably ‘The Broadwalk’ extension in 2007 which gave an upmarket row of restaurants next to the lake itself.

The Broadwalk

I guess it was inevitable given the success of the Westfield Group shopping centres, but the owners of Lakeside (and several other malls in the UK) have decided to rebrand their properties in an attempt to create a cohesive image across the group. ‘intu’ have invested in marketing, new uniforms and a splash of paint, and I’m not convinced that has worked out as well as they hoped. For a start, ‘intu’ is an unusual choice, and though it gives the option for a bit of wordplay it also does not seem bold enough. The word has been applied to the start of the existing names of the malls; so ‘intu Lakeside’ and ‘intu Trafford Centre’ are now the official names, but given the age and familiarity of these amongst shoppers it seems unlikely that the full names will stick. Westfield’s malls have generally been complete new-builds, or ones thoroughly revamped and renamed completely.

Lakeside itself is meant to be undergoing abit of an extension in addition to its ‘intu’ facelift, so it will be interesting to see how much of a difference it makes in regards to both the feel of the place as well as the quality of shops on offer. It will be a while before I add the word ‘intu’ before Lakeside, but I wish them every luck in convincing me.

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