The McArthur Glen Designer Outlet (hereafter ‘Outlet’) is one of Swindon’s newest, quickest growing and trendiest shopping centres. Located in West Swindon, the Outlet calls home to a series of Grade II listed buildings of the former Great Western Railway works. As a local I have seen the Outlet grow and expand substantially over the past two years. Admittedly I was as first rather irritable with the changes. There used to be a very nice cut through next to the Body Shop which went past the old Next and exited where the main Costa was/is. Great for speeding up the walk home. However they then conducted some weird kind of sorcery on the layout which involved in-filling this space with more shops. The day I found myself walking all the way round the Outlet to get to the other side was not my merriest of evenings. That said, I am prepared to accept the Outlet’s original and main purpose is not to facilitate my rain-dodging needs. The Outlet is open seven days a week and boasts evening trading hours with selected restaurants open till late. Refreshingly different to other shopping centres which tend to be based in the middle of nowhere, the Outlet’s central location enables easy access which mode of transport you take (expect planes, and helicopters, and probably dragons. The fashion world is yet to cater for aviation transport). It’s got two large car parks, charging only £1 for five hours, but is also served well by local bus routes. You can even walk to it from the train station. The selection of stores in this shopping centre are enormous. From Ralf Lauren to Marks and Spencer, Lindt to Cadbury, there really is something for everyone. So much so that it all can become overwhelming. I live and work locally so it’s easy for me to pop in and pop out whenever I want, however the rows of benches littered with exhausted husbands and boyfriends tell of an altogether more different shopping experience for some. For these weary travellers there is hope and comfort to be found in a steaming cup of caffeine, obtainable from one of the multiple coffee shops. Discussion of stores moves me nicely on to what is probably the biggest source of local contempt. A new store in Outlet for a chain which pre-exists in the town centre ultimately equals another empty unit on the high street. The town centre always loses when faced with competition from the Outlet. Examples that I’ve seen include Next, The Works, Monsoon and Accessorize. It’s painful to see it when it happens because, try as hard as they may to justify the move, the goods in the Outlet are there for a reason. At best they’re last season or made for just the Outlet stores, at worst the goods are damaged or items no one wanted the first time around. The Accessorize in town stocked completely different items to the one in the Outlet and I was fine with that. Now I’m frequently having to rely on a student sister who lives in another country (Cardiff, Wales) to buy for me, her older, supposedly professional, sister. Those phone calls never get any easier. Of course, this brings us into wider debates over economics, local government and consumer shopping habits, big discussions on which I could natter about all day so I’ll get this back on topic. As touched on before, a vastly unsold feature of the Outlet lies in its rustic brickwork. The old industrial works houses have been barely touched during the construction of this shopping centre, the large steam train at the North entrance serving as a prominent reminder of the building’s heritage and the wider history of Swindon’s industrial background. Given a lot of visitors are increasingly travelling further distances to reach this shopping Mecca this nod to the past is a welcome addition, even if it’s not heavily obvious why it’s there. It’s good to see listed establishments being converted to enable use in the modern age as opposed to being left to deteriorate and rot. The construction of a large number of flats next to the Outlet also suggest people are beginning to feel more positively about the area as a whole. The phrase “life in the old dog yet” resonates here well. After all, you wouldn’t need to go back far to see a very different landscape to the thriving one witnessed now. The Outlet shopping centre is a must for any brand fanatic in need of some retail therapy. It is also needless to say that it’s less desirable spot if you’re a middle aged man with a phobia of knee-length ruffle dresses. But then you knew that already. Regardless of where your interests best lie, there is no point trying to deny the pull and power of the Outlet centre. Like the mighty machinery that used to be assembled under the same canopies, it’s a shopping district that’s a force to be contended with.