If you’re not from round these parts (said in true Hampshire Hog accent), then you probably wouldn’t have heard of Whiteley. It’s a little place just off junction 9 of the M27, between Southampton and Portsmouth, that consists of a housing development, a leisure centre, a business park, and a brand new shopping centre.
I was invited to check it out a couple of days before it officially opened to the public. Go and look round a shopping centre, without hoards of other people, AND get lunch thrown in for good measure? Don’t mind if I do, thanks.
I’d never been to Whiteley before, but the first Good Thing I discovered is that the shopping centre is really easy to find. Even for someone like me, who gets somewhat panicky about directions.
Honestly! Getting lost in Farnborough whilst trying to pick up Roo’s birthday present put me right on edge. I had to stop in at Mummy Barrow’s house for a cuppa and a natter to get me back on track. But anyway, I digress.
The second Good Thing is that parking is free for 3 hours, and only minimal cost after that, and there are squillions of spaces. Hurrah!
The third Good Thing is the amount of places to eat, drink and generally relax. If, like me, you like to take your merry time ambling around the shops, then you’re in for a treat. There’s a Starbucks, a Caffe Nero and a Costa for coffees. There’s a great diner, a Frankie and Benny’s, Harvester, Prezzo, a Mexican place called Chimichanga, and Montagu’s; a bistro which looks great for a quick lunch, or a more relaxed and grown up supper. For lunch on the go, Whiteley offers an enormous Tesco and an M&S.
The fourth Good Thing is the range of shops. This was the real test for me, a shopping centre can have all the coffee shops and cheeseburgers in the world, but if there isn’t a decent range of retailers waiting to take my money then I’m not likely to give it the time of day. And this is where Whiteley really stood out for me, because as well as my high street favourites there is an area set aside for independent retailers. I was really impressed that such a massive centre, which could happily fill all its units with high street shops, has taken the initiative to support independent businesses. There you can find Little Soles, a wonderful shoe shop, which, much to my delight, stocks narrow width fitting shoes for children (something a very well known footwear brand, popular with parents of small children, do not), Solent Cycles, which is where I know I’ll find my husband, dribbling over the road bikes and trying to make friends with the staff, a greengrocers, a bakery, and Xpress Beauty, for if you have a hankering for a mani.
And the fifth Good Thing about Whiteley will appeal to those who care about the environment. The new buildings were built from the old, using much of the previous shopping centre as aggregate for the new. There are narrow drains that take rainwater back to feed the newly planted trees that are dotted around the place. Solar panels on every roof that feed energy back to the Grid. It’s all been planned with care and sustainability in mind. Which I rather like.
But best of all, because it’s all outside and all on one level, you don’t get the general irritations that are ubiquitous with indoor shopping centres. There are no queues for lifts that only work half the time, no steely glares from security guards when you finally give up on the lifts and take to the escalators, frantically clutching on to your buggy and all your shopping bags whilst praying you don’t lose your balance. There is no pushing and shoving and far fewer frayed tempers. Instead there are plenty of places to sit, where you’ll find delightful bronze sculptures of animals peeking over the benches – something both my children were very taken with. In short, shopping at Whiteley is an incredibly pleasant experience.
And one I will be repeating whenever I get the urge to spend money. Sorry West Quay, I’m sold.