A unique combination of fashion, leisure and nature has opened to the public today (Friday), marking the arrival of the UK’s first shopping centre combined with a nature reserve.
Rushden Lakes is a new retail experience, offering big name brands and leisure facilities set beside stunning lakes and nature trails.
The centre is the gateway to the Nene Wetlands nature reserve; one square mile of wild and man-made habitats, managed for wildlife and people by The Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire.
As the first retailers opened their doors at the multi-million-pound development, thousands of shoppers from across the area and further afield flocked to be among the first to explore the site.
People were queueing from early this morning, with many stores offering exclusive early bird offers and prizes for lucky shoppers.
Paul Rich, centre manager of Rushden Lakes, said: “There is simply no other shopping experience like this in the UK.
“This is a hugely innovative and exciting development and I’m delighted that we’re finally open.
“We are already having an incredible first day, and we cannot wait to keep welcoming people to this beautiful part of the world and show them a truly unique experience.”
This weekend more than 20 stores are opening, with Marks & Spencer launching their latest concept store featuring its full range – including home and café – together with Primark, New Look, JD Sports and H&M.
As well as leading fashion and lifestyle brands, such as Jigsaw, White Stuff, Joules and L’Occitane – all of which are coming to Northamptonshire for the first time – today’s launch also sees the opening of big names such as Pandora, Fat Face, Moss Bros, Boots, Holland and Barrett, Paperchase, Schuh and Clarks.
Owned by The Crown Estate, Rushden Lakes boasts 230,000 sq ft of retail space alongside stunning lakes, set in more than 200 acres of SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) reserve, operated in partnership with The Wildlife Trust BCN.
It is also a designated RAMSAR site - the international convention on the use and protection of environmentally important wetlands – which means the area is comparable in its importance to the Camargue in France, or the Zambezi Delta.
Paul said: “This is only the first day in a phase of openings.
“Stores will continue to open throughout the summer, and we are working towards a full launch weekend at the end of September.”
Among the new stores scheduled to open later in August is the first full bricks-and-mortar store for House of Fraser in more than eight years, which will feature a beauty hall and a champagne bar overlooking the lake.
The leisure offer at Rushden Lakes centres around the Nene Wetlands Visitor Centre - from The Wildlife Trust BCN - which is the first such centre in the region, and the boathouse from local canoe and boating experts Canoe2.
Paul said: “Our aim is to squarely connect to a new audience with outdoor activities, wildlife and nature.
“The Nene Wetlands Visitor Centre is the gateway to an incredible 1km nature trail around the lake and the Nene Valley.
“The Wildlife Trust BCN is also offering shoppers the interactive Wildlife Discovery Centre - which includes an abandoned barge and otter holt - and bird watching on the lake and via hidden cameras in inaccessible areas.”
The lakes have been made accessible by Canoe2, who will provide hire of canoes, kayaks and swan pedalos on the lake, as well as offering short break adventures and camping across the Nene Valley.
Future phases of Rushden Lakes – expected to be open in early 2019 - will also deliver a 14-screen cinema from Cineworld, trampolining and additional retail and leisure.
Paul added: “Our focus is on nature, quality retail and fantastic family fun.
“We genuinely believe we are redefining the UK retail landscape – where else can you come to shop by canoe?”
This was echoed by Brian Eversham, chief executive of the Wildlife Trust BCN.
He said: “For many visitors to the Rushden Lakes Shopping Centre a walk around Skew Bridge Lake, and the newly installed sculpture trail, will be their first introduction to the stunning landscapes and wildlife of the Nene Valley and we hope that many of them will go on to explore other parts of the Nene Wetlands reserve.”