FORTY years ago, Sutton’s town centre was transformed when a new, open-air precinct called the Idlewells opened its doors to traders and shoppers.
Built on the site of former slum housing, it became home to a number of household brands such as Boots, Holland and Barrett and Ladbrokes as well as others no longer there like Civic Stores, Woolworths and Wine Ways - which had an opening offer of £2.54 for a bottle of a gin or whisky.
It also boasted a new library, indoor market and bus station.
The modern, indoor Idlewells of today was developed in 1994 and has since become home to a retailers such as New Look, Argos, Specsavers, Superdrug, Boots, Peacocks and Bon Marche, as well as independent shops.
This month marks the 40th anniversary of the Idlewells and visitors will be invited to take a step back in time at a photo gallery with images of when it was first built up to the present day.
The birthday celebrations will culminate in a birthday party at the centre on 29th October when there will be traditional games, face painting, candy floss and competitions.
Local historian Darren Ellis has provided details on the history of the Idlewells and he remembers the day it opened when he was a young child following a huge build up in the press.
He says: “In 1971, the only shopping centre was the Victoria Centre in Nottingham. It had an outdoor market but nothing on the scale of the Victoria Centre.
“The council realised that times were changing and they identified this as the most rundown area. It was also central, so they decided to build a shopping centre.
“It was something very exciting - it had been talked about for so long. When it opened there was a huge fanfare. I was only a child at the time but it was exciting for me.
“Before the precinct, there was not much there. The Idlewells was something huge for the town.”
Mr Ellis also said that when the Idlewells precinct opened, it paved the way for other retailers to start trading in the town including the supermarket Fine Fare which was at the site where Asda now stands.
He added: “Somebody must have thought that if there was a shopping centre, the town needs a supermarket. It probably triggered an investment boom.”
Today, the Idlewells is still enjoying success and despite the recession, manager Andrew Wraight says there will a tenant in every shop by Monday. He said that many people visit the centre every day of the week because it is at the heart of the community.
“You see a lot of the same faces because we do have a high element of convenience shops and products,” he said. “There are people who visit us every single day of the week and that is great for a community feel - people are happy to stay local.”
Looking to the future, he said that the Idlewells could support traders by increasing their floorspace in shops.
“It’s all about retailer demand,” he added.
For details on the 40th birthday activities at the Idlewells, visit www.idlewells.co.uk or search for it on Facebook. What are your memories of the Idlewells? Contact reporter Catherine Allen on Mansfield 450302 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.