The Junction centre manager Leona Barr on why shopping in store still matters
The Antrim based destination outlet shopping centre which offers a day out for all the family, is currently undergoing an exciting new redevelopment plan.
Northern Ireland’s shopping behaviour has come under increasing scrutiny recently as local businesses continue to urge the people of the Province to come out and support the shopping centres, small businesses and restaurants which employ local people.
Centre manager Leona Barr, who started working in retail at the age of 16 and who initially worked at Next in the discount shopping centre before applying for her current role, faces the challenges posed by online retailers head on.
‘‘I had never worked in an outlet environment before, it is a lot different and I found it really interesting,’’ she explained. ‘‘I’ve been in my current position for 11 years now and I just love it. Retail is a great industry to be in. With online competition it’s like anything, you just have to move with the times and embrace it and see how you can work alongside it.‘‘Shopping is a day out for people in Northern Ireland, there is still that attraction of bricks and mortar.
‘‘I also think the retail and leisure offer that we have here, which is only going to get better with our redevelopment, is one that should be kept in mind. ‘‘Feeling and touching things in real life is great, which is something you don’t get online. With an outlet we are able to give people that extra incentive too. You need to rummage through the shops to get some of the bargains, and you need to be on site to be able to do that.’’Having been the first dementia-friendly shopping centre in Northern Ireland, the Antrim based shopping destination is also mindful of how the act of shopping can help combat the issue of loneliness.
‘‘It’s that social aspect,’’ Leona explains. ‘‘Look at in here on a weekday morning’’, she adds gesturing around the buzzing Costa Coffee in which every table is filled. ‘‘People love coffee shops and we have really good ones here. Coffee shops are definitely the new pub, they have been for years.’’ Explaining how the dementia-friendly initiative came about, Leona explains: ‘‘The Junction was already really accessible due to the flat grounds and the ample car parking facilities, so when a dementia volunteer approached us I thought we would be perfect for the scheme.
‘‘We trained all of our retailers, and now each store has a nominated ‘dementia friend’ to assist anyone who needs additional help whilst shopping. As part of this myself and the retail manager here, Valerie, became dementia champions ourselves, so we can train anybody new to the centre.
‘‘The morning we put new dementia-friendly signage up we had an event on with Alzheimer’s, and we had our signage up for an hour when a lady from Mid Ulster came up to us and told me how much it meant for her to have clear and visible toilet signs. All of our dementia- friendly stores also display the stickers. I’ve been told it means a lot to the people living with dementia and their families to know the people within the store will take the time with them.
‘‘You have to remember, memory loss may be a symptom of Alzheimer’s or other dementia, but the emotional side remains with them, so it is vital they feel safe and happy here. We want them to regain that independence and be able to come here and enjoy a day out, which is what the facilities here allow.
‘‘We’re a real destination experience due to the offerings we have and cater to the whole family, from the little ones and teenagers right up to the mums, dads and grandparents.’’The Junction, which is in the midst of exciting redevelopment plans after being acquired in 2016 by the Lotus Group, is currently launching a host of new stores including a McDonald’s in November as well as a new restaurant parade near the cinema in addition to 200,000 sq ft of new retail space. ‘‘Off the back of these exciting plans we’re in advanced talks with a host of really big retailers, so there’ll be lots of exciting announcements over the next six months or so,’’ Leona concludes.
The Junction will be transformed this Halloween, kicking off on Thursday, October 25 from 6pm until 9pm with a show-stopping fireworks display, a funfair complete with spooky ghost train and bumper cars, a fancy dress competition, arts and craft workshops including face-painting and much more. The celebrations will continue throughout the weekend, with a special Halloween Rave for Babies on Friday, October 26, plus a range of trick or treat trails on both Saturday 27 and Sunday, October 28.
Visit: http://thejunctionshopping.com for more details including a full list of retailers and restaurants.