Analysis: Change at Castle Mall is needed – as it is in all retail

General view inside Castle Mall, Norwich. Picture: Archant.

General view inside Castle Mall, Norwich. Picture: Archant. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press ©2003

By anyone's reckoning, 2018 has been a tough year for retail, writes business editor Mark Shields.

The transition of the high street and what we used to call shopping centres to an experience-based offer – in other words, offering what cannot be undercut by online competition – has accelerated beyond expectations and the casualties have been numerous.

Castle Mall has run with that trend, in an attempt to diversify and offer people different reasons to visit, by filling parts of the centre with activities such as children's clubs, a ping pong parlour and a giant chess board.

But it has also shuffled the pieces itself, moving some of its tenants back into the heart of the centre and freeing space for plans Mr Bradley will only hint at for the moment.

He says the finishing touches are being put to plans that will make the mall a more attractive place to relax, as well as eat and shop, putting them 'ahead of the game'.

More detail is expected in the coming weeks, but if Mr Bradley and Castle Mall can deliver, others will pay close attention.

On the way out...

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Comings and goings are part of the natural cycle of life in retail, but the past year has seen a spate of high-profile departures from Castle Mall.

They include:

• Argos – The retailer left its ground-floor spot beneath the cinema in March, with the loss of 40 jobs.

• Norwich City FC – The football club closed its first-floor official merchandise store this summer, leaving outlets in Chapelfield and Carrow Road.

• Poundworld – The latest budget retailer to hit the rocks, it closed its doors on the ground floor in July after rescue bids for the chain fell through.

• Norwich and Peterborough – The building society shut up shop as part of a national programme to close branches and rebrand to Yorkshire Building Society.

• Bags Etc – The national bags retailer went into administration in May, closing all its stores and cutting 350 jobs.

• Mothercare – Family store left its large unit on the first floor and has been replaced by The Original Factory Shop.

... and on the way in

Shops are not the only way to fill the vacant units at Castle Mall.

The centre has launched its own Kids' Club, which at its peak has attracted 250 children to a session, and has transformed another unit into a ping-pong parlour where people can play for free.

The aim, says centre manager Robert Bradley, is to find other ways for people to enjoy coming to Castle Mall other than simply shopping.

It is also looking at setting up an art gallery – Mr Bradley himself is a keen photographer – and an honesty library, where people can donate, borrow and swap books, while pop-up charity shops have come and gone.

Mr Bradley said he had been asked by Castle Mall's owners to drive up the amount of community activities it hosted.

'We don't make any money from things like the kids' club but it gets people through the door and makes them loyal to Castle Mall, which all helps the retailers we have here,' he said.