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Bluewater is celebrating its 20th birthday this weekend

By Lynn Cox

Can you believe it? Bluewater is 20 years old this weekend.

The complex rose from a disused quarry in Greenhithe and is now one of Europe's leading retail and leisure venues.

The site has millions of visitors each year.

Bluewater has reached its 20th birthday

The centre opened on Tuesday, March 16, 1999 and quickly became a key landmark in the county.

In June 2002 it launched its Land Rover 4x4 Adventure Zone, where people could try a unique and extreme off-road riding experience.

Tim Hook, project manager of the then Blue Water Park with plans for the supercentre in the quarry site, on April 14, 1988.
Tim Hook, project manager of the then Blue Water Park with plans for the supercentre in the quarry site, on April 14, 1988.

The Adventure Zone was based on Land Rover’s established Experience Centres, where guests could savour first-hand the capabilities of the world’s most famous 4x4 vehicles.

In 2004 the centre launched its gift voucher scheme.

Bluewater's impressive 20th birthday cake
Bluewater's impressive 20th birthday cake

People could buy a gift card for a friend of family member from £35 to £500 which could be spent at more than 300 stores and restaurants at the site.

In 2005 the complex introduced its 'hoodies' code of conduct which was backed by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

However, the move to ban hooded tops and baseball caps at the shopping complex was deemed a "blatant discrimination based on stereotypes and prejudices".

The Children's Society called the ban a "kneejerk reaction". But Bluewater managers insist the ban is "not "children-specific".

They say the ban as part of a crackdown on anti-social behaviour at the retail complex.

At Christmas Bluewater celebrates with a lights switch-on and a spectacular fireworks display
At Christmas Bluewater celebrates with a lights switch-on and a spectacular fireworks display

In 2006, M&S completed a £1.8 million refurbishment to create a flagship store at the site.

2007 saw the Tour De France route pass Bluewater and in 2008 the shopping centre provided a High Dependency Unit.

The unit is located in the lower village at the site.

In August 2009 food lovers were excited to see the John Lewis Foodhall open.

It boasted more than a tonne of cheese, 5,000 apples - and a £21.9m price tag.

The food hall was officially opened during a ribbon-cutting ceremony, and hundreds of customers flocked through the doors to try some of the 8,500 lines of produce.

The opening of the new 22 million pound food hall
The opening of the new 22 million pound food hall

More than 170 jobs were created after the basement of the anchor store was converted into the foodhall - as part of an almost £22m store facelift.

In 2010 Bluewater hosted Jenson Button's homecoming after he won the F1 title.

The newly-crowned Formula 1 racing champ roared into Bluewater as its roads were transformed into a temporary race circuit so he could take a Mercedes SL AMG for a spin.

Hundreds of people lined up at Bluewater to greet their championship hero, as they often do when a celebrity arrives.

In 2011 the Glow events venue and Plaza opened.

The Bluewater Events Centre
The Bluewater Events Centre

The £60 million events centre include two main halls and a private gallery area and was billed to host exhibitions as well as some of the world's top music acts.

The site also includes a plaza which contained 12 restaurants, cafes and bars with Jamies Italian, Wagamama and Browns among them.

In 2012 the Winter Garden was re-launched with new restaurant offers.

The Winter Garden is accessed from Rose Gallery and houses the family dining area with something to suit all tastes.

In 2013, the shopping centre refreshed its branding and in 2014, Landsec bough a share of Bluewater and took over its management.

Bluewater
Bluewater

In March 2014 it celebrated its 15th birthday and despite things changing some what over the years - the complex revealed more than 2.8 million people visit annually.

In 2015 Top Shop's statement store opened at the complex and in May 2016 plans were announced to transform the failed Glow events venue with new restaurants, leisure facility and expanded Showcase Cinema

In November 2016, fashion retailer H&M open its statement store at the site.

The store boasted almost 3,200sqm of space and added beauty and homeware products to its offering.

The shop was built over the shopping centre’s central service yard, giving the retailer a larger upper floor and mezzanine level.

Millions of visitors go to the shopping centre each year
Millions of visitors go to the shopping centre each year

In 2017 the Plaza redevelopment opened and Bluewater was given the go-ahead to expand its West Village area and make alterations to other parts of the shopping centre, which was set to create 2,300 jobs.

Dartford council’s development control board voted unanimously in favour of granting outline planning permission for the improvements, without even debating the issue.

Later the same year, Primark confirmed it was to open a store at Bluewater.

The discount fashion chain revealed it was scheduled to open in 2019 and actually opened earlier this week.

The new Primark store opened this week
The new Primark store opened this week

Through the business, its partners and guests, Bluewater supports 7,800 full time jobs, and pays more than £154 million in wages each year.

On top of that, it has brokered employment for more than 50,000 people, the majority of which live in the county.

Since opening, Bluewater has welcomed millions of guests from across Kent, the UK and the world, and in doing so contributes £391m to the UK economy every year.

It also has award-winning parks and lakes which bosses say are testament to Bluewater’s commitment to enhancing biodiversity.

There are 900 different species including dormice and peregrine falcons which call Bluewater home.

The lakes and parkland at Bluewater have won awards and are home for many creatures
The lakes and parkland at Bluewater have won awards and are home for many creatures

People living near the centre can use the parkland which has been recognised as offering one of the best parks and green spaces across the UK, having been granted gold status and a business landscape award by The South & South East Britain in Bloom Awards, as well as several prestigious Green Flag Awards.

The complex has been part of the community for two decades and also offers shopping with free, extra wide parking and has more than 300 stores and more than 50 places to eat and drink.

It also has a 17-screen Showcase Cinema de Lux including IMAX, GraVity Trampoline Park and Dinotropolis Adventure Park, so there's something for everyone.

Each summer there is even a beach for people to enjoy and in winter an ice rink.

The Beach at Bluewater is open during the summer months.
The Beach at Bluewater is open during the summer months.

Over 20 years, the nearby community has played a vital role at Bluewater and supporting community development and local businesses in return, has been just as important to bosses at the complex.

As a result, Bluewater has pledged to support 20 Good Deeds, investing both time and money in community initiatives throughout this year and in the years ahead.

Some of the good causes to benefit will include Bexley Deaf Centre, in Slade Green which offers lip reading services to help people with hearing loss and The Hygiene Bank charity which, provides essential toiletries to support those vulnerable and struggling within the area.

Dartford-based Elements Gymnastics will be awarded funds and volunteer time to purchase and build specialist equipment to help advance their young gymnasts to an elite level.

There will be 20 projects which will be given a mix of funds and staff time, by way of thanks to the communities which have supported Bluewater over the years.

Bluewater from the sky
Bluewater from the sky

Lizzy Hall, founder of The Hygiene Bank said: "We all make financial choices, but for those living in poverty these choices can be extremely stark.

"When faced with eating or washing, the answer is obvious.

"Sadly this means hygiene products can slip out of reach, but basic hygiene is about wellbeing, self-confidence and dignity.

"Our mission is to provide essential hygiene and personal care products to those who can’t afford them.

"With the help of Bluewater and Kent residents we’ll be able to further raise awareness of the need to tackle hygiene poverty and support those in need.

"We would like to say thanks to Bluewater for all their support as we help those in need to get out of crisis.”

Find out more at bluewater.co.uk

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