Case Study: The Orbital Shopping Park, Swindon

The Orbital Shopping Park, Swindon

A retail centre specialist honoured a town’s aviation heritage when it turned to us for help with its programme of modernising out of town shopping developments into more family-friendly locations. British Land, owner of The Orbital, at Swindon, commissioned us to provide mainly bespoke items for a play area it wanted at the site which gets six million visits a year.

And reflecting both the town’s aviation past which saw Spitfires built there during World War Two, and it being the centenary of the RAF, they asked for an aeroplane theme for the play site.

Designed, made and installed between October and the end of January, youngsters now have a control tower climbing frame, small Spitfire springys and a centre piece which is an aircraft-shaped climbing frame featuring wings, a rope bridge for the fuselage to the tail section, a slide and RAF roundels painted on to finish the effect.

Jamie Turner, Centre Manager of The Orbital, said: “We are moving towards softening out-of-town retail parks and making them nicer areas for families to stay in and want to return to.

“A big part of this is the play area we’ve done with Hand made Places who made a lot of bespoke equipment for us and we are completely delighted with the result.

“Swindon has an engineering heritage and we worked with a local artist to come up with the aircraft theme because Spitfires were built just two miles from here and it is nice that it’s the RAF’s centenary too.”

The project cost around £32,500 and Jamie said it is an example of how retail parks are adapting to make them more welcoming to visitors.

“Parents can bring their children here and watch them play and safely enjoy themselves on what are, by any standards, fantastic equipment and facilities. We have put a few benches around for the parents, there is a coffee shop nearby and it all illustrates how we are changing the experience they have when they come here.

“The play area is just not something you expect to find at somewhere like this but it signals the way we are moving forward.

“In the past out of town retail parks had an image of being a load of sheds and not giving a very nice experience but we are changing that. We are softening the look and feel of the site, of providing places like the new play area so it is more family focused and inclusive for everyone of all ages. If the parents can relax and enjoy it then they will come back here time and again.

“We are moving away from the feel of rather soulless retail parks and developing what we call a shopping centre with no roof on. It is a very different approach and we know from the feedback of our visitors that they welcome it, approve of it and most of all, enjoy it as a family destination.

“I am delighted to say that Hand Made Places have played their part in helping us achieve this here and we are more than happy with the quality of their work, their continuing support throughout and the speedy timescale from start to finish. We signed off the project in October and it was handed over in mid-January and now it’s half term and the children have something to play on. It looks fantastic and the parents are thrilled.

“Being able to do that within the context of Swindon’s heritage is something we can all be proud of.”