Published: 21:34, 15 June 2020
| Updated: 21:59, 15 June 2020
Shoppers returning to Bluewater today have been advised to expect a different experience to ensure social distancing remains enforced.
The doors to the popular mall near Dartford reopened with the majority of retailers back up and running for hundreds seeking some retail therapy.
Back at Bluewater - how the centre looks on the first day of shopping post-lockdown
Robert Goodman, senior centre director of Bluewater, explained they would be maintaining a "robust approach" to social distancing with signage and one-way and keep left signs to "manage the flows".
He said managing capacity was "part of that" and said management would be looking at ways to regulate that should the destination get "very popular".
"Each store has its own occupancy level and they will be managing that," Mr Goodman added.
"It's likely when Bluewater is popular to see queues outside each of the stores.
"We're really excited to be welcoming our guests back. Food and beverage will be limited to takeaway only.
"We have our team of social distancing champions to ask guest's queries and very much their role is engaging and explaining new measures in place.
"I'm happy to welcome back our on site Kent Police team who will be very visible here at Bluewater and we have our security team.
"When you visit, there will be differences - you will see visible cleaning and hand sanitising stations as you come in and around the mall.
"We've been working closely with our retailers to establish their occupancy levels and working jointly to manage the whole occupancy level.
"It's going to be different when you come shopping at Bluewater."
Queues snaked around the mall this morning as the first shoppers returned to stores with Primark proving extremely popular as it did for many people throughout the county today.
Mr Goodman added he was excited to welcome back the 7,000 staff employed at Bluewater after "challenging times" since lockdown started on March 23 and said there is a "well-established support" network in place for them to safely return to work.
Essential stores such as M&S Food, Boots and Holland & Barrett have been open during the past three months with non-essential stores coming back.
Dozens of retailers have been under the pump and faced huge financial uncertainties but Mr Goodman said management had made sure supporting tenants, staff and customers had been "a real priority".
"Early on we provided a rent relief support fund across our business primarily for food and beverage operators and small and medium businesses," he added.
"For now, we've got a number of food and beverage outlets open for takeaway only.
"We're waiting on government advice on wider opening on our restaurants but we're just waiting to hear on that.
"Clearly it's been challenging times but I'm really looking forward to reopening the majority of our retail and food and beverage outlets as takeaway only for now."
The site has more than 50 acres of parkland and lakes and social distancing measures are in place for visitors to maintain a safe distance.
Mr Goodman said: "That's proved really popular for people to come in and bought some food to take away.
"We're looking at the external seating areas so there's plenty of opportunity to buy food and take it away outside.
"In all our planning preparation it's to make sure we've got plans in place and communicate what we're doing.
"We're guided by government advice in everything we do. Health and safety is our number one priority.
"There's lots of detail on our website about the stores, their opening hours and FAQs there too."
Mr Goodman confirmed the mall is already looking at how to ensure social distancing is enforced during the run up to Christmas.
"We use technology to count footfall so that allows us to measure the occupancy and we'll be using that data to manage the building," he said.