The Ridings is going back to its roots through a multi-million pound refurbishment project.
A new food court with hot-food outlets and a dessert counter, a pop-up bar and a children’s play area are set to open on the top floor of the shopping centre next month.
And the facilities, designed by Wakefield retail expert Kate Hardcastle with centre owners New River, have been inspired by the centre’s history and Yorkshire beauty spots.
Creative consultant Ms Hardcastle said: “We have taken all the influence we need just from what’s on our doorstep.
“There’s a strong sense of Yorkshire pride and we wanted to feed into that and bring some of that to The Ridings. The centre is really important to Wakefield.”
A pop-up shop has already opened on the upper mall to house independent retailers in the region, whilst the design for the new food court and play area will incorporate a giant image of local scenery, as well as plants and greenery, a tree in the central bar area, and wood and fabric furniture - much of which has been hand-crafted on site by Calder Park-based contractor PDS.
The Ridings centre director Lee Appleton said: “People love sharing photos of The Ridings back when we had the glass lift and the food court. That holds a lot of memories for people.
“We wanted this latest redevelopment to be a nod to the past, with the food court, the plants and the greenery.
“And we wanted it to be all about Yorkshire - all the materials we have used are a nod to our environment in the heart of the county.”
Ms Hardcastle, who lives in Bretton, came up with the vision for the project after spending weeks observing the centre, its staff and customers and speaking to people in the community.
She remembers visiting The Ridings in her childhood and wanted to bring back some Yorkshire pride to the centre.
“I really believe that retail has to feel good”, she said. “It’s not just about shopping, it’s about the whole experience.”
She continued: “I think of all the projects I have done for two decades now and this has got to be one of the most personal to me. There are very few projects where you can have a chance to work on something that you have fond memories of as a child and be involved in delivering its next phase.”
The food and beverage area and play facilities opening next month are part of an ongoing £5m refurbishment at the 34-year-old centre.
The toilets on the lower mall have already been revamped, new signage written in Yorkshire dialect has been installed and a new events space has been created on the middle mall.
The makeover, which is expected to create around 30 jobs, will also see an indoor market and food hall ‘All Saints Market’ open on the lower floor, offering locally-sourced produce, and the creation of a new customer service lounge with mobile phone chargers and click and collect services.
Mr Appleton said: “The whole team in the centre are so proud of what we have got coming. It’s beyond expectations. Everyone is talking about it, and we are looking forward to our customers experiencing it.”
The new facilities have already been used for a retail masterclass.
TV celebrity turned business star Carol Smillie was among the first to get a sneak preview of the makeover, at the event, hosted by Welcome to Yorkshire and Kate Hardcastle, last Wednesday.
Speakers and guests were the first to experience the centre’s new food court The Ridings Kitchen, which was turned into a lecture theatre set up, and tree bar - named The Garden.
Sir Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, said: “The calibre of guests at this event was second to none and what a great venue to start this series of masterclasses.
The refurbishment is looking fantastic, making The Ridings an even better place to shop, eat, drink and relax in.”
Pictures are by Porl Medlock photography