The large ex-Debenhams in Wandsworth’s Southside shopping centre is set to host a bowling alley, electric go-karting, laser tag arena, arcade, rope climbing, and minigolf course, alongside myriad other activities like pool tables & darts – as well as a bar / restaurant and live music venue, a soft play area, and a branch of Wafflemeister. It’ll be run by Gravity, who already run lots of similar venues – notably large trampoline centres – at places like Dartford, Stevenage and Bluewater.
This will be Gravity‘s first inner London venue, and it’s quite a wise choice – as it gives them a huge amount of space in densely populated area with good parking. These venues work for adults as well as families, and (Coronavirus concerns aside) this looks like a potentially profitable investment. Most of Gravity’s venues are trampoline parks (maybe hence their name) – but this is a far more varied proposal. The developers expect to run it on a ‘pay one price, play all day’ basis; it will no doubt be overrun with families in the day but in the evening the unit will be transformed to include a more adult feel and be geared up to attract young adults and corporate events.
The planning diagram above shows the proposed layout of the ground floor, which is dominated by the go karting circuit (which includes a raised section above part of the seating area) with both the current entrances from Garratt Lane and the shopping centre staying in use (and they’ll be electric ones – so it won’t be full of diesel fumes!). The diagram below shows the proposed layout of the top floor (which has all manner of activities – again, the left hand side with the stage and the main seating area is the part facing Garratt Lane).
This should be good news for Wandsworth town centre. We did have concerns about how the landlords would fill such a large space, which – because it was purpose built as a department store – has very few windows and wouldn’t really lend itself to alternative uses such as offices without major building works. Visitor numbers to Southside has already been declining (a nearly 4% drop between 2017 and 2019), and the loss of Debenhams will have cut numbers further – so this is a good way of getting people back to the shopping centre, and to Wandsworth town centre more generally. Gravity themselves – in their planning application – note that when they opened a similar venue at Xscape in Castleford, the wider centre saw a 22% increase in customer numbers when they first opened.
Southside has quite a broad catchment (the diagram below from the planning application shows the core catchment – i.e. areas for which it is the major centre – in purple), and the developers reckon that adding a major entertainment venue like this one could extend it quite towards inner London areas (where customers have plenty of other shopping options, but not so many entertainment venues like this one). There aren’t many similar options around – maybe the nearest similar one is the FlipOut trampoline park in Earlsfield (and that may explain why there’s not much trampoline space in the proposals).
Note that this is about the Debenhams in Southside shopping centre, not the Debenhams at Clapham Junction! Last week Wandsworth Council gave the go ahead for the conversion of the Debenhams / Arding & Hobbs to an office building, in line with the plans we’ve previously reported on (and we’ll publish an updated article on that soon).
In a week where the future of Debenhams looks very uncertain, it’s good to see that both our local branches are well on the way to finding new uses: the work on these plans is a clear vote of confidence by the developers in the long term future of our town centres. The Southside branch has proved a little harder to repurpose (that branch was closed earlier – by Debenhams themselves – while Clapham Junction’s kept on trading, before being given notice by the landlords) – which is maybe not surprising given that the purpose-built nature of the building makes it rather less flexible than Clapham Junction’s Arding & Hobbs building.
The diagrams below show the frontage facing Garratt Lane (which barely changes other than a different sign) and the mezzanine floor (which hosts the family entertainment centre & high ropes climbing). The second floor (not shown) will host a laser tag arena.
If you’re interested in the details, and want to make any formal comment on the planning application top change the use of the unit from retail to entertainment, it’s on the Wandsworth website at wandsworth.gov.uk/planning, where you’ll need to search for application reference number 2020/3270. It’s a little out of our usual area of focus – but we also welcome your thoughts & comments on these plans.