The landmark city centre retail mall first opened its doors on October 17, 1983.The landmark city centre retail mall first opened its doors on October 17, 1983.
The landmark city centre retail mall first opened its doors on October 17, 1983.

IN PICTURES: Memories of the 'groundbreaking' Ridings Shopping Centre in the 90s

Phil Shelton, who worked as a fast food worker in The Ridings’ food court, has recounted his time at the award-winning centre at the height of its success.

The landmark city centre retail mall first opened its doors on October 17, 1983, when Phil was 13 years old.

He said: "I remember the building work seemed to take over the town centre. When it opened walking down shiny Malls full of shops was an adventure.

"We had never seen anything like it in the city but then again, I don’t think Britain had either.”

The centre was among the first of its kind in the UK, containing features such as a food court, inspired by American shopping centres, the first glass wall climber lift, which was an exact copy of those in the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Atlanta, and served as a template for other national shopping centres.

Phil, who grew up in Wakefield, began his stint at The Ridings as a dishwasher at The Pizza Shop, in the shopping centre’s food court, alongside his brother, Adrian, who worked as a chef.

The Pizza Shop was at the centre of the ring of units offering up all sorts of different options of food including Juicy Lucy, Damn Yankee and Mississippi Ribs and Chicken in the popular food court area.

"The centre was a great place to work,” he said.

"There was a real friendship between all the units in the food court and often staff would pop in and out of the back door of the units looking for a sleave of paper cups or plastic forks if they ran out or for a coffee to swap gossip.

"All the food served in our shop was from scratch in those early days we served a new concept in fresh pizza which was cooked in long tins and cut into rectangles with our secret sauce and had a various range of toppings.

"A bit different to today’s versions, I don’t think Wakefield had ever seen anything like it before.”

The Ridings centre was massively popular upon opening, with queues forming on the streets.

The following year, the centre went on to win the title of European Shopping Centre of the Year, a title it went on to win for the next decade.

Phil recalled the crowds who flocked to the centre to shop, spend the day and ride the first glass wall climber lift: “That lift used to get so busy with people wanting to go up and down in it they had to employ someone to control it going up and down.

“Another favourite pass time of visiting customers was to stand on the balconies just looking down on to the food court. Many a Saturday you would be lucky to get a spot.”

A highlight for Phil was Christmas, which he called the “big event” in the centre.

"Christmas was always the big event in the centre it was always so busy both in and out of the food court. Every year the centre made a big effort to trim up the place with amazing, animated displays that often were suspended over the food court and down the malls.

"The excitement started when the guys came in and preparations started to take shape at that time of year. The place had an amazing buzz in the run up to the festive season, there was always children running around the place.

"Coaches used to bring in bus loads of people from all over to visit the centre at this time of year to shop, look at the decorations and marvel and the decorations, glass lift and fishpond.”

Phil worked in the food court for three years before leaving to pursue other opportunities, however, a short while, his brother had the chance to take over The Pizza Shop so he came back to help.

"The days in the food court set me on the path to understanding working life and how a pay packet made a massive difference to you and the freedom it could bring.

"I was almost brought up and learned valuable lessons from all who worked there.

"Setting foot in that place every night after school and Saturdays gave me a haven away where I was respected by adults. How I miss those days!”

Four decades after first opening its doors, The Ridings was purchased by the Leeds-based property developer, Zahid Iqbal in March, who is currently in the middle of a massive redevelopment of the centre – with the hope of bringing business back to the once award-winning shopping centre.

Since its purchase, plans have been announced to modernise The Ridings, whilst ensuring it remains as the heart of the city, including the opening of an indoor adventure park and the announcement of an outdoor area, set to open next year.

On the revamp of The Ridings, Phil said: "I have been saddened over time to hear that the centre had fallen from favour which can’t have been helped by how the city has developed over time.

"The changes that have occurred, removing the glass lift and foot court etc always seemed such a shame.

"But now I hear that once again a new owner has taken over and it looks like The Ridings is getting another chance.

“It was the centre attraction in the town at the time and it would be great to see the centre regain some of its former glory and get back its place as centre of the city again.”