After much speculation on what might be planned for the iconic former Debenhams building in Bournemouth town centre – plans to transform the building in The Square can finally be revealed.
Verve Properties, the developers who also recently transformed the nearby Avenue Centre, are delighted to announce plans that will see the much-loved building restored with many of the original features reinstated or uncovered. Verve Properties are an ethical property firm that regenerates old buildings bringing them back to the community. The company is focussed on securing local, independent, and socially conscious brands to work with, to ensure that the regeneration reflects the changes Covid has accelerated in social and shopping patterns.
Plans are in place for the first parts of the store to reopen in mid-July this year, with more elements opening all the way through the year and into 2022. First to open will be Bobby’s Beauty Hall, a traditional ice cream and coffee parlour, an art gallery, and a dog café in the Lower Gardens. The beauty hall will have local, sustainable, and conscious brands sitting alongside the big brands. As an independent beauty operation, Bobby’s Beauty Hall will offer products and brands not previously available at the Debenhams that previously occupied the site. There will also be a Sushi and plant-based Poke Bowl Bar, a nail bar, treatment rooms female and male grooming. The watch repairing station ‘In Time’ will be retained.
On the first floor the large windows overlooking the Square will be opened up, new balconies installed, and the floor will house a food and market hall. This will include street food outlets including plant-based food, a Deli a bar and speciality retail market pods. Spa facilities are in the planning stages and will hopefully open in 2022.
The second floor will house an art gallery with more details to be revealed in the coming weeks. Accessed from Terrace Road, old buildings at the rear will be reorganised to create a garden area and a micro-brewery, craft ale smokery bar. And following that, plans are in place to open a 4th floor restaurant and bar and roof terrace bar. – all with a key focus on the local community.
There are also plans in place, due to be announced very soon, for a very special collaboration with the Bournemouth-bred artist Stuart Semple, which will involve memories of the town.
Back in 1915, Bobby & Co opened in The Square in Bournemouth and remained under that name for over 50 years, only being rebranded in 1972 as part of the Debenhams group that is now departing the building. The reactions to hearing about the closure of the Debenhams in The Square had caused concern as local people had worried that without department store that has dominated shopping on The Square and been a focal point of socialisation for over a century, that people would be driven away. There are also concerns about losses of local jobs. And with The Twentieth Century Society reporting in the Observer last month that “landmark UK department stores up and down the country are at risk as Covid changes city centres and that locally beloved buildings, from 1930s classics to brutalist edifices, are facing developers’ wrecking balls” – it is little wonder that people in the area were concerned.
Verve hopes that this commitment to restore Bobby’s to its former glory will be welcomed by residents and visitors alike. Ashley Nicholson Director of Verve Properties says, “Bobby’s has historically always been at the heart of the town centre and the community. When we started our research into the history, we kept unearthing how bedded into the community the building was. We also found much of the architectural detail had survived but was covered up – so we took inspiration from that and have sought to restore what we can to bring back the grandeur of this iconic building, whilst the same time introducing some modernity to make it fitting for today. The copper domes will be repaired, the flagpoles reinstated, the 1970’s canopy removed and replaced by the original design, the 1933 front entrance designs reinstated, new ornate first floor balconies to match the others installed and so on, all of which aims to be front and centre of our plans for a rebirth and celebration of both the Bobby’s name and original architectural style”.
Verve’s decision to invest in the project came about due to a strong belief in the potential for UK high streets to reinvent themselves after the economic downturn of the past 10 years. Online shopping and the pandemic have each played a part in dismantling the structures upon which high street retail used to rely.
Responding to that issue, Ashley goes on to say, “If shoppers are going to be tempted back into town centres, then retailers need to value three key elements in any new structure and design. The first is to consider what kind of shopping experience people will still want to happen “in real life”- beauty, clothing and footwear are good examples of retail that people want to try out in person. The second element should focus on how to make the shopping experience a fun and enjoyable one. The third should be to remember that ultimately town centres are there to serve the local community.
It will take time to deliver Bobby’s back to its former glory, the building has suffered a lack of investment over many years, but with the patience and support of the community this project can play can be a significant role in the re-imagining of the town centre in a post Covid world. Regeneration is vital, but gentrification that alienates a community is the opposite of what new retail projects should be aiming for. We are therefore very excited to be able to bring this ethos to our plans for Bobby’s bringing back the glamour and the style of the original Bobby’s from the early 20th Century.”