NEWS of doom and gloom on the high street is frequently in the headlines and Warrington is no stranger to that.

We have seen the demise of Bridge Street and more recently retail giant Marks and Spencer left the town centre.

But if you look at the developments at Golden Square over the past few months, it paints a very different picture of Warrington.

The Disney Store is set to open in the shopping centre in August, the former BHS unit is being transformed into a Superbowl UK bowling alley and recent ITV footage of almost 1,000 people enjoying the England v Sweden game on Golden Square’s ‘Summer Screen’ shows how much of a community hub it has become.

Speaking ahead of the World Cup semi-final, Ian Cox, director of Golden Square, said: “ITV’s sports correspondent came and as soon as the game finished the next live report was from here. The atmosphere was fantastic.

“We’re expecting an even bigger turnout on Wednesday evening. All the bars and restaurants are benefitting which is great.

“That’s part of the reason we do it – so people can come and enjoy the offer that Golden Square’s got.”

Ian admitted that the frequent activities in the Old Market Square are to roll with the changes in people’s shopping habits.

Other activities include the summer play park for youngsters, the main stage for Warrington Music Festival and the Christmas market among many others.

The Chapelford resident added: “It’s almost like an events venue and that’s how we’re trying to position it. Retail has changed. The high street wasn’t what it was 20 years ago.

“Everyone knows the impact of online shopping. Everyone does it so there’s no point in trying to pretend it’s not happening.

“You’ve got to embrace the changes in people’s shopping habits and realise why they want to come out shopping now.

“It’s not just for shopping, it’s all the add-ons as well. It’s about creating an experience that people can go out and enjoy.

“The events and what we’re trying to do in square are a massive part of why Golden Square is still hopefully continuing to be successful despite the downturn in the high street.”

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Some of the facts speak for themselves. Around 11.5 million shoppers come to Golden Square each year.

New restaurants have opened like Dorado Lounge with Patisserie Valerie set to follow and Deichmann, Tessuti, Lush, Bodycare, Millets and Schuh have all reinvested in their stores recently.

READ: Patisserie Valerie set to open in Golden Square

But Ian, who has worked at Golden Square since its £120million extension in 2007, reckons Warrington still faces a perception problem.

He said: “One of the frustrations in the past is there’s been quite a negative perception about retail within Warrington town centre.

“Anything negative you read often cites Bridge Street and the demise of retail.

“People judge Bridge Street as a barometer and forget that Golden Square is part of that town centre and a huge part.

“Like anywhere you’re going to go through your ups and downs. Any town centre would rue the loss of something like Marks and Spencer.

“We can’t hide from the fact that Marks and Spencer have gone but if you look at their rationale and the giant store they’ve got within a stone’s throw in Gemini maybe it was the right thing to do.

“It’s how you react to that and what the next step along is. We’re always on the front foot in regards to bringing new retailers in. I think it’s safe to say Golden Square is bucking the trend in terms of the leasing activity.”

Part of that comes back to the shopping centre’s activities which Ian says has a knock-on effect on leasing. Shops, bars and restaurants naturally want to take advantage of that footfall.

So Ian never takes the Old Market Square for granted.

Ian, dad-of-four to Evan, 12, Jude, 10, Lola, eight, and Amelie, three, added: “It’s an absolute godsend. It has its heritage. It’s a listed structure and it is a key part of Warrington’s history so it’s fantastic to be a part of that.

“But also I don’t know of any other centre that has a ready-made events space for thousands of people.”

Some negotiations can take months but the team’s hard work has recently been paying off.

Ian, who previously worked for Shop Direct and Iceland Foods, said: “We have a whole host of retailers we’d like to see in the centre and we’re negotiating with them all the time and we’re trying to ascertain what their plans are to see if we’re on their radar.

“We show them that Warrington is on the up and show them things like the Summer Screen with the World Cup and everything.

“An active events and marketing plan can be a big part of convincing a retailer to come in.

“The vision for that square is very much food and drink. Very recently we opened Dorado Lounge in the old post office and the reaction to that has been phenomenal.

“On the back of that we’ve now completed the deal for the Irish bar – that could be open within six weeks.

“We’ve also completed a deal for Patisserie Valerie in the square. It’s all very much complementary to what the council is doing with the Time Square development.

“Looking at their long-term vision, I think it is really positive for the whole town centre. Working alongside them is key.”

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Ian, who has been the centre’s director for five years, also wants Golden Square’s free events to be just that – something families put in their calendars in advance.

The 42-year-old added: “We’ve tried to up the amount of events to create this bond with customers.

“We’re at the heart of the community so we need to be making sure we’re putting stuff on for people.

“The Summer Screen hasn’t just been about the World Cup, we’ve been showing family movies every weekend.

“I’ve seen Moana about 14 times as I’ve got two young girls but when we showed that film it was rammed.

“We also had a vintage car show here a few weeks back. That was great. We had more than 50 vintage cars on a Sunday afternoon from the 1900s onwards.

“Things like that make shopping a lot more fun and ensure Golden Square is a destination for a day out.

“We’ve got to be a place where families want to go to. The music festival in particular is something that I’m really proud of.

“Steve Oates brought it to life 10 years ago and we got on board a few years ago to use Golden Square as a venue.

“We felt we should be involved with community events and what we added to the mix was the headline act.

“Steve has got the emerging talent coming through but we’ve brought in a bit of funding to ensure there’s always a headline act .

“It was Fun Lovin’ Criminals this year. We’ve had Cast, Space, Happy Mondays and Lightning Seeds.

“They actually did Three Lions but it was a couple of years too early. It was the year of the Euros when we were beaten by Iceland!”