“ Ilford town centre: Ilford, Essex, England. „
ILFORD TOWN CENTRE I have spent many hours in Ilford's Town Centre over the last couple of decades but when I first went to Ilford it was as a teenager, one Boxing Night. I was living in Hackney at the time and there was a family gathering taking place in my home when the teenagers amongst us (I have many cousins) decided to go out to a discotheque/club. The place chosen was 'Room at the Top' in Ilford, Essex. I wouldn't have seen much whilst in the taxi travelling to Ilford as it was evening in late December but, to this Londoner, it felt as if were heading out to the country. I remember we seemed to be in the lift for ages until reaching the top floor and arriving at the venue. Strangely enough, I recall the lift ride more than the club itself. Years later I remembered this visit when I shopped in the department store called Harrison Gibson in Ilford High road and realised that this was the building that had once contained 'Room at the Top' by then it had gone. By this time I didn't consider Ilford as being rural. Admittedly there are more green spaces than in the areas of London that I was familiar with but certainly not 'the country.' VALENTINE'S PARK One of these green areas is Valentine's Park which is a large area of parkland containing amenities and being close enough to the town centre for workers to enjoy their lunch here, weather permitting. To me when I think of the town centre I it is as an administrative centre with shopping and entertainment facilities. THE EXCHANGE SHOPPING CENTRE Before The Exchange, Ilford had a C&A store. When C&A ceased trading in this country the Ilford C&A building became a much needed (to this area) in my opinion, Woolworths superstore and, when Woolies also disappeared from our high streets, it became and still is, a Wilkinson store. The frontage of this store provides a good starting point to The Exchange. When I first knew Ilford as a shopping centre The Exchange hadn't been built. I can remember how puzzled people were as it seemed a difficult task to construct an indoor shopping centre which would incorporate some existing shops on either side of a hill. Now the Exchange is a well-established indoor shopping centre, in fact much of it has been recently refurbished. This shopping mall can be accessed from high street stores such as Wilkinson's and Marks and Spencer. One side of the exchange lies on Cranbrook Road and the other is on the high Street. I like The Exchange and it certainly has helped to make Ilford a better shopping experience for all ages but, even after many visits I find it a little confusing in the way of entrances and exits as its been built on a hill meaning lots of use of escalators or lifts is needed to get to street levels. Once Ilford had several thriving department stores and Alders was one of these. The floor space has now been taken over by Debenhams. This shopping Centre can now offer many well-known stores and some which are not chains. It has a new Next store, Debenhams, Marks and Spencer, Rush (hairdressing), Headjogs (hairdressing), Rymans, Wilkinson's , Debenhams, WHSmith (with a Post Office within), Sony Store, New Look, Claire's Accessories, Deichmann Shoes, H. Samuel, Pound type stores and many more. Also for the hungry shopper there are many places to eat such as Burger King, Costa Coffee, Subway and a food court. This shopping Mall has 1200 parking spaces on six colour-coded levels included disabled and parent & Baby spaces on levels 1 and 3. http://www.exchangeilford.com CRANBROOK ROAD This is a long road going from Barkingside to the town centre. Wilkinson's has a prime position here but there are many smaller and interesting shops along this road, not so much in the way of fashion but furniture and home ware goods, bakers (Greg's), charity shops and so on. The Exchange has an entrance on this road. I am sure that many of the older community probably still miss the Fairheads store with its large choice of linen wares but the Bodgers' store (Station Road) is still going. Bodgers has been going for simply ages. I do like a department store but this isn't one of my favourites and it isn't one often visited by me, but it is handy at times if looking for small appliances, kitchen and dining ware, linen as well as furniture. HIGH ROAD The High Road must go on for about a mile and I have walked its length although not recently. I like to walk along the part near to The Exchange, especially now that much of it has been pedestrianized. During the London Olympics a large screen was set up here to show events live, with outside eating areas in place. Along this road there is an entrance to The Exchange. For high street shopping there are stores such as Barratts, Marks and Spencer, Primark, Miss Selfridge, Mothercare, Waterstones, Phone shops, banks and building societies, Boots the Chemist, Argos, Supedrug, Card Factory as well as some pubs, bars and restaurants. TOWN HALL Along Ilford's High Road can be found the impressive building of the London borough of Redbridge's town hall. This is a grade 2 listed building which was built in Victorian times. I have been in here several times for functions and concerts which my children have taken part in. The main hall is large. Two of the rooms can be hired and the Lambourne Room is licensed to hold civil partnerships and ceremonies. The town hall is a place of work with administrative offices within. A little further along and there are more council administrative offices but located in more modern sites. POST OFFICE The large main post office is now no longer operational as a post office with postal services having been transferred to W.H.Smith in the nearby exchange. I think this is a shame as I enjoyed going into this large post office which sold so much more than envelopes, paper and stamps. Okay, so does W.H.Smith but personally, I prefer the post office in its former home. The Royal Mail sorting office remains near to the town hall. THEATRE A few steps away from the town hall is the Kenneth More theatre. This is a much loved and much used theatre for the local community and a little beyond. It was opened in January 1975. I like this theatre as I think it has a good rake meaning that most, probably all, seats have a good view of the stage. The Kenneth More shows different genres of theatre and during the Christmas season there is always a pantomime which usually sells out. http://www.kmtheatre.co.uk CINEMA Cineworld has facilities which include a bar, food, venue hire, advance screenings, 3D, disabled access and parking. Contact: Clements Road, Ilford, Essex, IG1 1BP 0871 200 2000 http://www.cineworld.co.uk/ BOWLING BOLLYWOOD BOWLING Bollywood bowling opens every day and is available for parties. Food and drink is available, mostly of the fast food variety. Contact: 2-4 Clements Road Ilford IG1 1BP 020 8553 4130 http://www.bollywoodbowling.co.uk HOTSHOTSBOWLING/LASER DROME Hot Shots Bowling is just a little further away from the main shopping areas but still in the town's centre. Here, as well as bowling there is a laser room available. My daughter and my niece and nephew have held parties here. It's a useful venue as the birthday person can choose a bowling party, or a laser party or a mixture of both. Food is also available. CONTACT: 531-535 High Road Ilford Essex IG1 1TZ http://www.hotshotsbowling.co.uk RESTAURANTS/PUBS/BARS Some of the pubs in this area are: Great Spoon Of Ilford - This is a jdwetherspoon pub offering cheap drinks and food. It is on Cranbrook road. Jonos Free House is in Cranbrook Road. Maguires is in Chapel Road. O'Neil's is in Station Road, very close to the shops. Frankie & Benny's is close to the cinema as is Nando's. The town centre also has the usual shopping centre restaurants and fast food outlets including, Pizza Hut, If Bar, McDonalds and so on... DISABLED ACCESS I cannot speak for every facility and shop but would say that generally the town centre is good for disabled access. There are disabled spaces in car parks in the centre, including the indoor mall. As some of the shopping area is pedestrianized, this makes wheelchair access easier and safer. Within The Exchange there are lifts and disabled toilets. Most stores which are over more than one level have lifts as well as escalators. On the ground level of The Exchange car park can be found a Motability facility offering hire of wheelchairs, scooters etc. for disabled shoppers. LOCATION Ilford town centre lies within the London borough of Redbridge although its postal address is Essex. Residents of the area speak about not being sure whether to call themselves Londoner's or belonging to the county of Essex. But Ilford lies within greater London and is north-east of London. It's close to areas of east London such as Stratford, Leyton, Leytonstone, and also not far from Essex having good access to Romford, Brentwood, Chingford and Hornchurch. There isn't an underground station in the town centre although several are fairly close such as Gants Hill and Newbury Park, both on the central line. Ilford does have an over ground station which is located on Station Road near to The Exchange shopping Centre. It also has many bus routes stopping by the town centre making it an accessible place for many. There is also a taxi rank by Cranbrook Road which is very close to the rail station and shops. PARKING Parking is available in several car parks. The Exchange has its own multi-level car park and there are more public car parks close to the shops and amenities as well as areas equipped with parking meters. OVERALL There's so much here to mention but I hope I have given you an insight into what's offered in the town centre. I think The Exchange party rejuvenated the area but feel perhaps it has reduced trade along the High Street. It's also worth mentioning that this area is multi-cultural and although the town centre can have its problems in relation to crime, I feel that culturally it blends quite well.