It was with great applause and much appreciation that The Exchange opened the new food court this month, jam-packed with local, independent businesses showcasing the heart and overwhelming sense of community that encapsulates Ilford. The new area, called Cranbrook Walk, can be found in the ground floor section previously occupied by TK Maxx. 

With the Deputy Mayor cutting the ribbon to officially welcome the public into the new space, live music on hand and games at the ready, it’s little wonder that there was an incredible atmosphere as the food court greeted its first customers. A noticeable difference to the previous incarnation that was removed in the 90s, there are a plethora of options on offer to meet every culinary requirement and dining deliberation; street food, Indian food, authentic Italian pasta, grocers, a market, gelato and many more! Each one local and independent, it’s designed to be a little slice of world food in an Ilford base.

Speaking to Joe Ridley, Community Marketing Manager for the Exchange, makes it clear to see how much of a success this venture was and just how much it was needed.

“The centre now is evolving and it needs to keep evolving to meet the needs of our customers so while before there wasn’t a need for a food court, there is now a clear demand for it. This is what the community wants; a shared space but not a generic one. It’s unique.”

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With a shift in shopping habits and social behaviours, most notably the change to online shopping providing an easier access to the world of retail, there’s a need more than ever to keep things feeling fresh and making the entire experience of going shopping into something you’ll want to leave the house for. So what is it about the Exchange that makes it different? Joe is happy to explain.

“Simply put, we’re always trying to meet the needs of our customers. Retail has changed so much and so rapidly that it’s a responsibility of a shopping centre that aims to serve its community to make those decisions that will improve the centre and get people to stay here longer, because it’s a better place to be. Trends have changed, habits have changed, and this is delivering on that as much as we possibly can.”

By regenerating this section of the shopping centre as another place for the community to gather, not only is the Exchange exemplifying the sense of kinship within the local area but it is also reflecting the diversity and community of Ilford that makes it so unique. The space was made available after a shop switched locations within the centre, opening up a walkway that was almost a natural position for a food court. Timing and opportunity colliding to turn this plan into a reality makes this a truly serendipitous project.

And that’s not all; while the food court is here to keep the community’s belly from grumbling, there is another service coming to the Exchange in the next few months that will serve it in a whole new way. The NHS Health Centre will be opening in the summer months, welcoming on board around 100 more staff and offering a central location to help with every medical malady you might encounter.

“It’s going to be fantastic for the town of Ilford to have that health hub. Rather than having services dotted around Ilford this is everything you need in one place; medical expertise is on hand to help and available right on your doorstep.”

With so much on offer at the Exchange, there’s a reason it is able to thrive while other spaces begin to wither, and Joe can easily put his finger on the cause.

“Community; we do more projects, more outreaches, it’s not just a ‘come and do your shopping’, it’s a place where families feel safe and secure. It’s your shopping centre, it’s your place. Other places might not have that same community feel to them but we’re here to serve you.”

So the next time you’re in the mood for a delicious snack, a full sit-down meal or just a chance to catch up with a friend over coffee and cake, consider the Exchange in Ilford as your next go-to destination. You won’t be disappointed!

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