I have spent many hours in Ilford's Town Centre over the last couple of decades but when I first went to Ilford it was as a teenager, one Boxing Night. I was living in Hackney at the time and there was a family gathering taking place in my home when the teenagers amongst us (I have many cousins) decided to go out to a discotheque/club. The place chosen was 'Room at the Top' in Ilford, Essex. I wouldn't have seen much whilst in the taxi travelling to Ilford as it was evening in late December but, to this Londoner, it felt as if were heading out to the country.
I remember we seemed to be in the lift for ages until reaching the top floor and
arriving at the venue. Strangely enough, I recall the lift ride more than the club itself.
Years later I remembered this visit when I shopped in the department store called Harrison Gibson in Ilford High road and realised that this was the building that had once contained 'Room at the Top' by then it had gone.
By this time I didn't consider Ilford as being rural although it has more green
spaces than in the areas of London that I was familiar.
One of these green areas is Valentine's Park, a large area of parkland containing amenities and being close enough to the town centre for workers to enjoy their lunch here, weather permitting. When I think of the town centre it’s as an administrative centre with shopping and entertainment facilities.
THE EXCHANGE SHOPPING CENTRE
Before The Exchange, Ilford had a C&A store. When C&A ceased trading in this country the Ilford C&A building became a much needed (to this area) in my opinion, Woolworths superstore and, when Woolies also disappeared from our high streets, it became and still is, a Wilkinson store. The frontage of this store provides a good starting point to The Exchange.
When I first knew Ilford as a shopping centre The Exchange hadn't been built. I can remember how puzzled people were as it seemed a difficult task to construct an indoor shopping centre which would incorporate existing shops on either side of a hill.
Now the Exchange is a well-established indoor shopping centre; much of it has been recently refurbished.
This shopping mall can be accessed from high street stores such as Wilkinson's and Marks and Spencer. One side of the exchange lies on Cranbrook Road and the other on the High Street.
I like The Exchange and feel it’s helped to make Ilford a better shopping experience for all ages but, even after many visits I find it a little confusing in the way of entrances and exits as its been built on a hill meaning lots of use of escalators or lifts is needed to get to street levels.
This shopping Centre offers many well-known stores and some not so well known. It has a Next store, Debenhams, Marks and Spencer, Rush (hairdressing), Headjogs (hairdressing), Rymans, Wilkinson's , Debenhams, WHSmith (with a Post Office within), Sony Store, New Look, Claire's Accessories, Deichmann Shoes, H. Samuel, Pound type stores and more.
For the hungry shopper there are many places to eat such as Burger King, Costa Coffee, Subway and a food court.
This shopping Mall has 1200 parking spaces on six colour-coded levels included disabled and parent & Baby.
This is a long road going from Barkingside to the town centre. Wilkinson's has a prime position here but there are many smaller and interesting shops along this road, not so much in the way of fashion but furniture and home ware goods, bakers (Greg's), charity shops and so on. I’m sure many of the older community still miss the Fairheads store with its large choice of linen wares but the Bodgers' store (Station Road) is still going.
Bodgers has been around for ages. I like department stores but this isn't one of my favourites but it’s handy if looking for small appliances, kitchen, dining ware, linen and furniture.
The High Road goes on for about a mile. I like to walk along it especially now that much of it has been pedestrianized.
During the London Olympics a large screen was set up here to show events live, with outside eating areas in place.
Along this road there’s an entrance to The Exchange. For high street shopping there are stores such as Barratts, Marks and Spencer, Primark, Miss Selfridge, Waterstones, Phone shops, banks, building societies, Boots, Argos, Card Factory, pubs, bars and restaurants.
Along Ilford's High Road is the impressive building of the town hall, a grade 2 listed building, built in Victorian times. I’ve been in here several times for functions and concerts.
Two of the rooms can be hired; the Lambourne Room is licensed to hold civil partnerships and ceremonies.
The town hall is a place of work with administrative offices within.
Further along the High road are more council administrative offices located in more modern sites.
The main post office is no longer operational as a post office. Postal services have been transferred to W.H.Smith in The Exchange. I used to enjoy going into this large post office which sold much more than envelopes, paper and stamps. Okay, so does W.H.Smith but personally, I prefer the post office in its former home.
A few steps away from the town hall is the Kenneth More theatre a much used theatre for the local community and beyond. It was opened in 1975. I like this theatre; it has a good rake meaning that most, probably all, seats have a good view of the stage.
The Kenneth More shows different genres of theatre. During the Christmas season there’s always a pantomime.
Cineworld has facilities including a bar, food, venue hire, advance screenings, 3D, disabled access and parking.
Bollywood bowling opens every day. It’s available for parties. Food and drink is available.
Hot Shots Bowling is just a little further away from the main shopping areas but still in the town's centre. Here, as well as bowling there’s a laser room. My daughter, my niece and nephew have held parties here. It's a useful venue as one can choose a bowling party, laser party or a mixture of both. Food is available.
Some of the pubs in this area are:
Great Spoon Of Ilford - This is a jdwetherspoon pub offering cheap drinks and food. It is on Cranbrook road.
Jonos Free House is in Cranbrook Road.
Maguires is in Chapel Road.
O'Neil's is in Station Road, very close to the shops.
Frankie & Benny's is close to the cinema as is Nando's.
The town centre has the usual shopping centre restaurants and fast food outlets including,
Pizza Hut, If Bar, McDonalds and so on...
I cannot speak for every facility and shop but would say that generally the town centre has good disabled access.
There are disabled spaces in car parks in the centre and the indoor mall.
As some of the shopping area is pedestrianized, this makes wheelchair access easier and safer.
Within The Exchange there are lifts and disabled toilets. Most stores which are over more than one level have lifts as well as escalators.
On the ground level of The Exchange car park can be found a Motability facility offering hire of wheelchairs, scooters etc. for disabled shoppers.
Ilford town centre lies within the London borough of Redbridge although its postal address is Essex. Residents speak about not being sure whether to call themselves Londoner's or belonging to Essex. But Ilford lies within greater London and is north-east of London. It's close to areas of east London such as Stratford, Leyton, Leytonstone, and is not far from Romford, Chingford and Hornchurch, in Essex.
There isn't an underground station in the town centre although several are fairly close such as Gants Hill and Newbury Park, both on the central line.
Ilford does have an over ground station which is located on Station Road near to The Exchange shopping Centre.
It also has many bus routes stopping by the town centre making it an accessible place for many.
There is also a taxi rank by Cranbrook Road which is very close to the rail station and shops.
Parking is available in several car parks. The Exchange has its own multi-level car park and there are more public car parks close to the shops and amenities as well as areas equipped with parking meters.
There's too much here to mention it all but I hope I’ve given an insight into what's offered in the town centre.
I think The Exchange partly rejuvenated the area but feel perhaps it’s reduced trade along the High Street.
It's also worth mentioning that this area is multi-cultural and although the town centre can have its problems in relation to crime, I feel that culturally it blends quite well.