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Bluewater Shopping Centre staff celebrate 25 years with memories of visits from Gino D'Acampo and Jenson Button

From selling the first-ever item from the store to helping Gino D'Acampo find a parking spot, Amanda Harper has seen a lot in her time at Bluewater Shopping Centre.

The 50-year-old from Gillingham is one of 93 members of staff who have worked at the mall since it first opened its doors in 1999.

Amanda Harper has worked at John Lewis in Bluewater for 25 years. Photo credit: Amanda Harper
Amanda Harper has worked at John Lewis in Bluewater for 25 years. Photo credit: Amanda Harper

Amanda, from Parkwood in Gillingham, started work at John Lewis before the building work was even completed.

She remembers the excitement when the shutters went up for the first time and how her section – pictures, mirrors and gifts – was the first to sell something within the first minute of the store opening.

“I still remember the excitement of those shutters going up,” she said.

“The buzz as we opened our doors for the first time was incredible.

“There were queues of customers waiting to come in and look around Kent’s first John Lewis store.

Bluewater was built 25 years ago. Picture: Stock Image
Bluewater was built 25 years ago. Picture: Stock Image

“We started in January but the centre didn’t open until March. We had to get used to where everything was but when we first started all the floors were empty, so it was hard to get our bearings.”

Amanda says her fondest memory in the past two and half decades has been arranging a cooking demonstration by celebrity chef Gino D'Acampo and helping him find a parking space.

“He called me to say he had arrived, so I went out to try and find him in the car park, not sure what car I was looking for, and I saw this red Ferrari pull up with an arm waving out the window.

“I thought, ‘That’s him’.”

She also remembers another celebrity visit, the famous bunny driving a remote control car, who drove around the centre when it first opened.

Bluewater on its busy opening day in 1999
Bluewater on its busy opening day in 1999

Amanda, who has married and had a son since working at Bluewater, said she loves working in such an iconic building.

“We were given a tour wearing hard hats before the building was even finished and were shown the architecture and all the little design details such as the roses increasing in volume in the Rose Gallery and the different professions listed around The Guildhall.

“I love that each section of Bluewater has its own unique design and feel.”

And she said she loves being able to enjoy the peace and quiet on the secret rooftop garden for John Lewis staff only.

“It’s so relaxing,” she said. “When you’re up there it doesn’t feel like you are in a shopping centre at all.”

“And I love the way the shopping centre changes through the seasons. We all know that Christmas is on its way when the iconic reindeers make an appearance.

Aerial view of the construction work at Bluewater, Dartford. 16 April 1998
Aerial view of the construction work at Bluewater, Dartford. 16 April 1998

"However, the best thing about working here is the lifelong friends that I have made during the last 25 years.”

Fellow Bluewater stalwart Sharon Gathercole has also worked at the centre from six months before it first opened.

She said: “I was based in the marketing suite cabin on top of the cliff.

“It had a viewing platform and mini cinema and was used to showcase Bluewater to potential retailers. It was also used to invite the community to see what was happening and how Bluewater was progressing.

“There was so much interest, and we entertained the many community groups who wanted to visit the suite.”

Early days of construction from September 1997
Early days of construction from September 1997

The 62-year-old’s favourite memory in the past 25 years was when motor racing champion Jenson Button made an appearance the day after winning the Formula 1 World title at the 2009 Grand Prix in Brazil.

She said: “We set up a track for him around Bluewater and he popped into the offices too.”

And Sharon, who lives in Bexley, described what she loves most about working in the Greenhithe centre.

“When I drive into Bluewater in the morning, I love the surroundings, the trees, the wildlife, the lakes, there are so many species of birds – it is not just a concrete shopping centre.”

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Talking about how Bluewater has changed over the years she said: “There have been a lot of physical changes, but additionally I have worked with the different centre directors in this time, all bringing new ideas and fresh ways of working.

“The retail offering has moved with the times and continues to grow along with the restaurant and leisure offers.”

The centre is gearing up for a day of celebrations to mark its 25th anniversary on March 16 with appearances from some of the best-known performers from ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent.

Today, Bluewater’s centre director James Waugh held an employee event to celebrate the achievement of 93 staff members who have worked there since it first opened.

Dartford MP Gareth Johnson also came along to commemorate the centre’s success and he attributed this to its community focus.

“It has been such a success story,” he said.

“Bluewater has never seen itself as separate from the local community.

“The centre director meets regularly with a local residents’ group because it wants to be a good neighbour, which is why people like it.”

Mayor Cllr Rosanna Currans, Dartford MP Gareth Johnson and centre director James Waugh
Mayor Cllr Rosanna Currans, Dartford MP Gareth Johnson and centre director James Waugh

He added: “It never stands still. It is constantly evolving and has so much to offer. I am really excited about the next 25 years.”

Dartford Mayor Cllr Rosanna Currans also joined in the festivities.

“It’s a wonderful place to come and spend all day. It’s so welcoming,” she said. “It’s given job opportunities to so many people in Dartford.”

A photography exhibition showcasing images of Bluewater throughout its 25 years will also be unveiled.

The exhibition, hosted by Dartford Photography Club, will be on the Lower Rose Gallery, near Uniqlo, until March 31.

Public celebrations will take place throughout Saturday with rolling entertainment between 10am and 5pm in the Lower Rose Gallery, including Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalist Immi Davis, David Ribi from Channel 5’s Milkshake and Kent-based musicians Kings of Dhol who will be drumming up crowds with their South Asian drum performance.

Twist & Pulse, 2019 winners of Britain’s Got Talent: The Champions will also be part of the line-up alongside tribute acts and other entertainment, while LEGO will be hosting activities within their Bluewater store.

Mr Waugh said: “This is a landmark date in the history of Bluewater which has grown into one of the biggest and most-loved shopping and leisure destinations in Europe.

“It’s incredible to see that so many members of staff at our retailers and from the centre have remained here for 25 years – it shows real dedication and commitment to work in what is a true labour of love for many.

“We’ll be celebrating this Saturday with free entertainment for our guests and reflecting on a quarter-century of achievements, but we’re also looking forward to the next 25 years.”

And he mentioned the mall’s commitment to come up with new ideas to engage with its guests.

“In the next few months alone, we will be hosting our first-ever food festival, which will be one of the biggest in the region, while our incredible Ballerz football entertainment dome – the first of its kind in the world – will open to the public.

“It’s a genuinely exciting time for Bluewater – here’s to the next 25 years.”

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