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More than 300 people are still working at Bluewater after starting there when it opened 20 years ago

By Jess Sharp

From an old chalk quarry to one of the biggest shopping centres in the UK, Bluewater has been on an exciting journey as it celebrates its 20th birthday.

The centre currently has more than 300 members of staff who have been working there since the beginning.

Senior events co-ordinator Ken Francis started at the shopping mall as a security guard when he was 42 years-old.

Watch staff talk about their jobs at Bluewater

The now 62-year-old from Echo Square, Gravesend said that his favourite part of the job was building up a repertoire with guests.

The dad-of-two said: "There are a lot of guests that come to Bluewater - some come in at 7am.

"You get to know them.

"Also, there are so many retailers I have got to know.

"Some have moved on from being a Saturday girl to a supervisor and then to an area manager.

"It was nice when we looked after Victoria Beckham when she has come in and she bought her children here and gone shopping just like a normal guest.

"A lot of people now come here to socialise and its a destination, we have 55 acres of parkland outside the building.

"Guests come now to walk around the lakes and have a nice time out other than shopping.

Ken Francis, Senior Events Coordinator at Bluewater
Ken Francis, Senior Events Coordinator at Bluewater

"When I joined, I remember thinking this is a brilliant place to work in. I look after lots of tours and we are so proud to show people around the building.

"I have seen people come from Belgium, Singapore, and France and because we have a good transport network.

"You do get some funny stories of people losing their cars and coming back at 2am the next morning to find it.

"We had one gentleman we looked for, he had gone home and had forgotten his wife.

"I have had 20 years at Bluewater and there has not been a day that I have not enjoyed coming to work.

Bluewater is a community. I call it our little corner shop."

The centre started construction in 1996, and at the time the plans were kept very secretive.

Carly Jennings
Carly Jennings

Business development manager Carly Jennings remembers going to work in an office on top of the cliff that surrounds Bluewater.

The mum-of-two from Essex, joined the team when she was just 21.

Now 44, she said: "I started working for Lendlease prior to construction in December 1995, and I moved down to the site in 1996 when construction started.

“The best memory for me is when we worked on a really exciting event back in 2008 and we had Jenson Button here.

"He was coming down for part of the event that we were running. This meant that we actually closed the perimeter roads off Bluewater and Jenson Button drove around the roads.

“Another event we did was Bluewater’s Got Talent and as part of it we had to rig a very large marquee outside and in order to do that we had to secure some of the points in the lake. I was out there in a dinghy helping to secure them.

"That was one of the funniest moments I didn’t expect to be doing that on a Tuesday coming to work.

“Bluewater is still what it was back then, a lot of what we worked to at the time was about the guests and guest experience.

"That has always been part of the ethos and that hasn’t changed but some retailers have changed.

“Although there have been tweaks with the centre it is still very similar to when we originally opened it.

As a centre we continue to evolve and no two days are ever the same when I’m here."

The centre has also been known to have visits from various celebrities.

The Beckhams have been shopping there
The Beckhams have been shopping there

Section manager for Marks and Spencer Sharon Trayler has described how it can cause quite a stir in store when a celeb is spotted.

The 61-year-old from West Hill, Dartford said:“We have had David Beckham and Victoria Beckham come in and that was the highlight of our time in Marks and Spencer.

We have also had Strictly's James Jordan from Strictly and Gloria Hunniford among the many famous people who shop here.

"We opened on Mothers Day which was lovely and when I first came I was an advisor on the customer service desk.

“We always considered Bluewater to be a posh shopping centre, but now all the other different shops are coming in as well now which is nice and the shops have change quite a bit as well now there are all different ones here now.

Bluewater is 20
Bluewater is 20

“The posh shops have always been here like Ted Baker and Coast.

“There are loads of funny experiences with customers and its just nice because you get to interact with customers all the time.

"Especially on the customer service desk and they aren’t just coming to bring things back but collect their orders and you do get to have a laugh with them and that is really nice.

"There is also the chance to have one to one with customers and we had our regular customer who would come in all the time and we still have them now.

“I think we will always be here.

The new Primark store opened on Wednesday. Picture: Chris Davey
The new Primark store opened on Wednesday. Picture: Chris Davey

"Primark has just opened and we never thought that would happen - things move on.

"Everyone will still come here because it is a hub and it is easy shopping and now a lot more of the ordinary shops are here people are going to come here more.

“It has been a really enjoyable time I have had here and I have loved every minute of it.

“It was a novelty at first to have such a big centre on this side of the river its just wonderful. Everyone used to go to lakeside but they come here now its just been amazing

“I have just loved being here, it just a wonderful place to work and I have met some absolutely fantastic friends and family in Marks and Spencer's.

“Its just been a really good time and Christmas is always a fun time here as well."

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