Stratford is my local shopping centre and I live five minutes away from it, so it is where I have always done my local shopping. The problem has always been there is nowhere in east London that is open past 5.30pm on a weekday apart from late-night shopping on a Thursday, which meant I had to do my shopping on a weekend – difficult as I always have plans – or cram it in my lunch hour.
And having said that the choice of shops in Stratford centre left a lot to be desired. There is still a decent sized New Look, but a tiny Dorothy Perkins, and some bargain clothes shops. Not much choice unless you go to nearby Ilford, or travel into central London.
Now we have Westfield on our doorstep and I will tell you what – it has been a long time coming. Quite a few comments coming through on the opening day described Stratford as a wasteland, and questioned why anyone would put a shopping centre there, but the truth is where else would you put it? It is on the Central line, and on the doorstep of the Olympics. A £1.5bn shopping centre has meant there has been tonnes of much-needed investment in east London because of it..
I went there opening night and it was packed full of excited people having a look around. Many have said you wouldn't know there was a recession with the amount of people who flocked in. Maybe - but one noticeable point was that people were looking around. Not that many had shopping bags, on the first day at least.
The shopping centre is markedly different to the Westfield centre because it doesn't have a lot of high-end shops, but to be honest the few that were there people were steering clear of and were empty apart from the staff there. Places like Primark were packed and so was Forever 21. I heard one girl say "finally, this is something I can afford," which shows there is a good range of shops in Westfield.
There are also a good range of restaurants on the top floor and some fast food restaurants on the lower ground floor, with a Vue cinema, a bowling alley and a casino due to open in December - so something for everyone and definitely a centre I will be visiting often.