It has been 20 years this week since the first shoppers entered Touchwood Shopping Centre – doubling the size of Solihull’s retail offering overnight.
The launch had been a long time coming. Early designs for the £110 million development were first seen by the public in 1998.
It was an exciting prospect – a 650,000-square-foot shopping complex divided into four main areas – three shopping arcades and a leisure village with restaurants and a nine-screen cinema.
But Touchwood wasn’t going to be your usual out-of-town shopping centre, developers promised – it was important that it moulded into the existing town centre.
The shopping centre would take its name from the historic Touchwood Hall, which was situated in Drury Lane in Solihull until 1963.
It would be built on land mainly occupied by car park space and was the brainchild of property empire Lend Lease – the firm behind one of Europe’s biggest shopping centres, Bluewater in Kent.
The build itself was a huge job. The original contractor, Swift, went into administration after seven months on the site and its replacement, O’Rourke, was tasked with making up for lost time.
Towering cranes dominated the skyline for several months and could be seen from miles around.
On its opening day on September 5, 2001, hundreds of curious shoppers flocked to the town centre to see what Touchwood had to offer.
Among the big names to launch on Touchwood’s opening day were John Lewis and Cineworld (which both remain in the centre to this day) and Sephora.
The official launch wasn’t until 10 months later, however, when Silhillians lined the edges of the mall to welcome the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.
Crowds of flag-waving schoolchildren overflowed into the streets and the excitement was palpable as the royal guests arrived to declare the town’s new shopping centre open.
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