Rushden Lakes’ first year has been described as phenomenal with more than four million visitors.
This weekend marks 12 months since the first shops opened at the retail and leisure development just off the A45.
While several million visitors were expected in the first year, centre manager Paul Rich said the response has exceeded all their expectations.
He described it as a ‘phenomenal’ year and said: “We have had about 4.5 million visitors in the first year and 30,000 people are using the bridge each month.”
As well as people walking, cycling and even canoeing to the site, customer feedback has shown that people are happy to drive up to two hours to get to Rushden Lakes, with Paul adding: “It’s not unusual to have people coming from Milton Keynes, Leicester and Peterborough.”
With the official Rushden Lakes Facebook page having more than 28,000 followers, the popularity of the site boasting names including M&S, House of Fraser, Primark, H&M, Joules and Superdry is clear.
The line-up of restaurants has been increasing throughout the year with more on the way, including three other restaurants likely to open before Christmas.
The boardwalk area has been another success, with the lake providing an idyllic setting for diners which has been boosted by the outdoor seating areas, especially in recent weeks with glorious weather and beautiful sunsets.
Events and attractions such as an ice-cream seller have helped add to the atmosphere on the boardwalk.
Another success story is the partnership with the Wildlife Trust, putting the Nene Wetlands at the heart of the development.
Paul added: “When Rushden Lakes was on Countryfile, it encapsulated it really well.”
Paul is very proud that customers have described the site as a ‘spaced out, relaxed, calm environment for a retail development’ and he feels this is just one of the many features that makes Rushden Lakes stand out from the rest.
Accessibility is one area where the shopping centre scores well, with everything on one level and feedback from customers has led to more accessible parking bays being introduced.
Customer service is also important for Paul and his team, with parking being one of the areas they have taken a lot of questions about.
High visitor numbers were always expected in the first few months which is why they had marshalls trying to keep the traffic moving.
Since then, Paul says customers are starting to change their habits so they come at different times of the day to avoid peak periods.
And with more spaces becoming available once phases two and three are completed, he is confident any traffic or parking issues will ease.
So it has been a successful first year for Rushden Lakes, with about 900 people employed there, and they are now looking forward to what’s still to come.
This weekend will see flyers with details of eight exclusive offers being given out.
And in recognition of Rushden Lakes’ green credentials, one of the birthday promotions is that from 4pm each day, shoppers who spend £30 or more at any store or restaurant will be able to claim their very own sustainably-sourced, reusable cup to take home.
Paul said: “Something that is at the forefront of everybody’s mind is the issue around plastics and re-using plastics, and we thought let’s do something that people can take away with them.
“The promotion will be running until August 5 and we have got 500 of the cups.”
This weekend will also see the opening of AJ Cycles, the first shop in phase three which will soon be joined by Decathlon, Hobbycraft, Cotsworld Outdoors and Wren Kitchens.
Work is also progressing well on phase two which will include a 14-screen cinema, more restaurants and leisure attractions including indoor climbing and 360 Play.
Paul, who has been working in shopping centres in the UK and Europe for 20 years, admitted he loves working at Rushden Lakes and said: “Every centre manager takes an awful lot of pride in their work.
“The excitement is building with the cinema and 11 new restaurants on the way.”
And he added: “I can’t wait for the next 12 months.”