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Westgate Oxford harnesses its heritage

Westgate Oxford threw open its doors this week. Drapers takes a tour of the new shopping centre.

After two and a half years of construction, Westgate Oxford finally opened its doors to the public on 24 October, heralding an ambitious new retail chapter for the city. With its vaulted ceilings, soaring arches and flagstone floors, the centre incorporates elements of Oxford’s history and architecture in a fresh and modern way.

The old Westgate, which was first built in the 1970s, was razed to the ground to make way for the £440m new development. Anchored by John Lewis at one end, it comprises four distinct “zones”, each of which has been designed by a different architect. It is triple the size of the original shopping centre, at 800,000 sq ft.

Several art installations created by artists connected to the city are dotted through the centre – including a wall of bicycle reflectors by artist Rana Begum – and a mosaic comprising archaeological artefacts recovered from the Westgate building site.

“We’re making sure we keep the heritage of Oxford alive in what we’re doing here, in what is now the newest part of Oxford,” explains Emma Mees, senior portfolio manager at Landsec, which jointly developed the site alongside the Crown Estate. “Westgate is a modern take on the shopping centre, and on Oxford.”

The centre is a complete transformation of the dingy, dated Westgate of years gone by, and vastly expands the city centre’s retail offer. The upper ground floor houses high street names such as Primark, H&M, Superdry and Uniqlo, under a dramatic vaulted ceiling, while the “aspirational” lower ground floor features more aspirational labels – among them, Calvin Klein, & Other Stories, Cos, Gant and Tommy Hilfiger. There are 100 retail units in total, and 25 bars and restaurants. Sixty shops were open for the launch, and this will rise to 90 by Christmas. 

”The new Westgate shopping centre is in a great central location and will provide a convenient and exciting shopping experience for local customers,” says Sue Carvell, commercial director of Cath Kidston, which has opened a unit in the centre. ”After many successful years in our Broad Street store, we decided to relocate so that we can continue to serve existing and new customers alike.”

Although most retailers signed up so far are multiples, there are some independents. Local menswear store Burrows & Hare has taken a unit, adding to its existing location in Oxford’s covered market. Blackwell’s bookshop has also taken space in the centre.

“We want to build relationships with people in the area,” explains Dominic Chambers, leasing manager at Landsec. “It was really important to us to work with local retailers where we could, finding the best of Oxford and bringing it to life. Trying to work with the major retailers that will continue to bring people in, but having those exciting little independents as well to create something for everyone.”

While the strong retailer line-up and design will impress, the jewel in the crown of Westgate Oxford is surely the rooftop dining area. As well as providing a public events space, it plays host to restaurants including Pizza Pilgrims, Dirty Bones and Cinnamon Kitchen offer dramatic views of the city’s famous spires. Tapping into the desire for experiential retail are a cinema and crazy golf.

“We want to attract locals, the student population and tourists,” says Chambers. “We’re working with the relevant tourist bodies to put Westgate on the map – they can come up to the roof, see the views and do some shopping.”

Westgate’s long-awaited arrival marks a new chapter for the city, which could help it to divert some of the footfall from popular nearby outlet centre Bicester Village. With the subtle nods to its heritage and focus on experience, Westgate is likely to be a lure for locals and tourists alike.

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