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The new town renewed: why retailers are reconsidering Bracknell

Fenwich canon moring (18 of 61)

Drapers takes a look at the newly opened Lexicon Bracknell, an ambitious £240m retail development that aims to become Berkshire’s new shopping hub.

Until very recently, the small town of Bracknell, Berkshire, was an unlikely retail destination. It sprung up in 1949 as part of a first wave of ”new towns” designated from 1946 onwards to provide housing and jobs in the wake of World War II. Like much post-war architecture, the town centre was dominated by uncompromising concrete and had long felt unloved and unappealing. Put off by the environment, affluent shoppers stayed away.

But a new retail and leisure development hopes to change all that. The Lexicon Bracknell, with its 580,000 sq ft of retail and leisure space, opened today (7 September). A joint project between Legal & General Capital and Schroder UK Real Estate Fund, alongside Bracknell Forest Council, it is home to the first new Fenwick store in 14 years, a glossy 80,000 sq ft space that includes a cafe, restaurant and roof terrace. High street heavyweights Marks & Spencer, Next and the Arcadia Group have all moved in, taking 80,000 sq ft, 22,700 sq ft, and 20,000 sq ft spaces respectively.

Fenwich canon moring (15 of 61)

“The existing town centre had failed,” explains Richard Poyser, leasing manager for Legal & General. “It had the wrong brands and the wrong retail space, so the Lexicon aims to reconnect to the wealthy catchment that lives in the area. We’re sat in this lovely green part of the world, but you had this horrible concrete bit in the middle, which didn’t have any relationship with the people who live here or their aspirations.”

Bracknell’s previous failure to attract shoppers is a double-edged sword for the Lexicon. It presents an opportunity: Poyser argues that many of the fashion brands attracted to the new development had been suffering from a “geographic black hole” in the area (their closest stores had been located in Reading or Guildford). However, it also means consumers need to be wooed away from shopping in nearby areas and taught what retail in Bracknell has to offer.

“We’ve got to re-educate this catchment. They are not used to shopping in Bracknell – or those who are, aren’t the target market for this kind of retail,” says Poyser. “We’ve got a massive marketing campaign over the first couple of months, giving people a reason to come and reminding them what’s going on.”

The design alone should help convince consumers. The Lexicon is a clean break from Bracknell’s concrete past, designed to reflect the surrounding area’s greenery. Architect BDP was tasked with bringing the forest into the town centre – there is a lot of planting, and timber and other natural materials have been used throughout.

An arched, cathedralesque roof made from a lattice of glass and wood tops the wide boulevard leading down to the Fenwick store. Although the roof protects shoppers from the elements, glimpses of the sky – bright blue on the day of Drapers’ visit – between the wood creates a sense of space and openness.

Lex 325

Trees line the middle of The Avenue, which has been pitched as the development’s higher-end street and is home to Seasalt, Joules, Cath Kidston and Superdry, as well as jewellery brand Pandora. “Living” walls covered with plants mask the 1,300-space car park, further softening the look and feel of the centre.

“We’ve opened in Bracknell in response to numerous customer requests,” explains Neil Chadwick, co-founder and chairman of Cornish lifestyle brand Seasalt. “There’s already a loyal customer base in the area shopping with us online; the Lexicon is a great location and feels like a great fit for us.”

Fenwich canon moring (7 of 61)

Drapers visits a week before the official opening, when the development is still a sea of busy contractors and high-visibility jackets. But even through the dust and last-minute building work, walking around the Lexicon is a pleasant experience that should appeal to the target market of wealthy young families. It is light and spacious, tapping into many frazzled modern consumers’ desire for stress-free shopping. The brand mix, while not revolutionary, ticks off the high street’s key names – H&M, Fat Face, New Look, Primark and Office are all present – and, again, is relevant to the target customer.

Part of the Lexicon’s appeal for fashion retailers comes from the wealth of affluent customers within a short driving distance.

Household income in the area is 28% above the national average and average salaries are the highest outside of London in the south east. Vodafone, Dell and Honda all have offices in the area and a glut of new housing is in the offing to help accommodate the growing population.

“We’ve always known there’s an affluent clientele here and in next-door areas like Sunningdale and Ascot,” says Hugo Fenwick, group trading director at department store group Fenwick, which previously operated fashion and home store Bentalls in Bracknell, but has rebranded and moved to a new unit in the Lexicon.

“Until the town centre was reborn, it wasn’t worth investing here,” he says. ”Bracknell has always been a great place to live, work and play, but until now, it hasn’t been a great place to shop. The location is a great advantage because the [catchment from the] 20 to 30-minute drive time is very wide and it is easily reached from the M3 and the M4. We’re aiming to be the department store for Berkshire.”

Bracknell 0817 008

Bracknell 0817 008

He adds that there has been a conscious effort to build a strong evening offer. The Lexicon will be the second site for Mediterranean restaurant concept Fuego, which is owned and run by Fenwick and is also found in its Newcastle store. It can be accessed through a separate lift and is open beyond store hours. Bill’s, Pizza Express, Nando’s and Wagamama can also be found at the centre, as well as a 12-screen Cineworld.

The opening of the Lexicon was originally planned for spring this year, but was pushed back following concerns the development did not appear welcoming enough for the target consumer. It has been worth the wait: the combination of space, light timber and greenery makes for an impressive development that should convince nearby shoppers that Bracknell is worth a visit.


The Lexicon by numbers

£240m: cost of the development

580,000 sq ft: size of the Lexicon

80,000 sq ft: size of the new Fenwick store

1,000: new homes planned in the surrounding area

28%: the catchment area’s household income above the national average

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