A Cup of tea with Alex Clark

Headline Date 31-05-2017

A cup of tea with… where we sit down and chat with those who make Victoria what it is. People with a passion for Victoria, people who live or work here and know the area, its history and its future better than anyone else.

This month, we pulled up a chair at Café Rouge and talked to Alex Clark, Centre Manager for Victoria Place Shopping Centre (VPSC).

How long have you worked in Victoria?

I have worked in and around London within the shopping centre management industry for the past 20 years. Property and managing property have always fascinated me.

For the past 5 years, I have worked specifically in Victoria for Savills (UK) Ltd who manage Victoria Place Shopping Centre on behalf of our client.

Many may not consider me a Londoner, more of an international interloper having been born on the west coast of Canada to English and Australian parents. We then moved and spent a considerable amount of time living on the South Coast of England. Which unsurprisingly is why I support Southampton FC and whenever possible return to see home games! I also try and visit the coast on a regular basis for sun, sea and all the other benefits that lifestyle brings. So long story short, I have worked here in Victoria for about five years, and it has been absolutely wonderful!

What is the biggest change you have experienced in Victoria?

Actually, there have been a couple of changes, all of which I consider very important. One has been more internal and related to the VPSC reconfiguration works while the Centre remained open. This was logistically a real challenge. Considerable investment was made to the Centre service’s infrastructure and the internal building environment of the Centre. I am sure people will agree the changes made have been worthwhile, and this has attracted new retail offers such as HEMA (which on a side note opened their first UK retail operation here within Victoria Place) Tortilla, LEON and Ed’s Easy Diner have followed. Other existing prominent national retailer operators have invested in shop fits and introduced new concepts. We have now been fully running with this new format for three years. Who knows what other changes may occur in the future.

The second change has been externally where we have seen the benefits of major investment and the development of the surrounding built environment. New retail, office and residential space, the upgrading of Victoria Underground Station and the introduction of subtle public realm space, must all be supported and cherished.

What is your favourite spot in Victoria?

While I am not one to generally loiter on street corners (!) one of my favourite spots to visit is actually on a street corner. There is a small landscaped area on the corner of Elizabeth Street and Ebury Street. It is a good use of space, very functional and overall a great idea. Alas, since it is just outside the Victoria BID footprint, my other recommendation has to be Westminster Cathedral Piazza. I find it so peaceful and relaxing.

What is your favourite story about the Victoria neighbourhood?

Would I be considered a romantic or just plain greedy if I mentioned these two stories?! The first relates to Claire Dumontier-Marriage at Victoria BID. We were discussing a joint marketing venture, which overlapped with Valentine’s Day. The conversation digressed as we discussed various stories and Claire told us she had originally worked at NEXT, where she met someone at the store (where love blossomed) and they have been married ever since. I loved hearing how working in Victoria had brought this couple together!

The other involved our previous Marketing Manager Chioma Ibe and the first ever VPSC themed event on the Victoria Railway Station Concourse for the launch party in 2014. We had a Princess and a Prince Charming (who I considered having removed as we could not have two good looking chaps on the station concourse at the same time!!!) to engage with the customers and bring them up to the centre. Anyway, unbeknown to us at VPSC, Prince Charming and Chioma met, love blossomed and they now have two delightful young children. Once again, Victoria played cupid!

What is your message for the ‘people of Victoria’?

It’s a difficult one as ‘the people of Victoria’ have probably heard many different messages and voices over the years.

Victoria has undergone considerable amount of regeneration. While there has been some inconvenience and disruption due to the building works, this development required foresight, designing, planning, time, investment and consultation with all stakeholders. This ensured the development of an important, vibrant and dynamic area. In contrast, when one looks behind the scenes, around the side streets, we find original Victorian / Edwardian architectural facades and long established residential communities which all add to the vitality of the area.

So I suppose my main message would be that all sectors need to consult, engage and work together to build strong relationships. The vehicles for doing this are all there; the Victoria BID and the Neighbourhood Forum to name a few, so use them and have a voice… and above all be positive! Do I get a sainthood?

What is the biggest issue/ challenge Victoria is facing?

Biggest Issues /Challenges, phew………. we can open a really big can of worms with this particular question.

From a business perspective, I have to mention business rates, which is a big hot potato for everyone. Whether you are a retailer or working in the commercial sector etc, everyone hast to build it in now. But on the other hand, we need to have investment in public realm areas. So you can understand why this is such a discussed topic, as it all comes down what services everyone is going to get.

Another challenge surrounds Victoria’s technical infrastructure – this is essential and really important to attract businesses, support existing local communities and encourage additional investment to the Victoria Area. We have to constantly review and look at opportunities to upgrade our technical infrastructure and look ahead to things like 5G.

From an environmental point of view, I don’t think I need to mention pollution, which is known as a main priority on the Mayor’s agenda. There are a lot of other people who are a lot more proficient in discussing this but suffice to say, it is certainly a challenge, not only for Victoria but for London as a whole.

Finally, (well for the purposes of this interview!) there is the issue of homelessness. Victoria is considered an international transport hub and a gateway into London for businesses, tourists residents and commuters and as such, this is a social issue which needs serious attention. In my opinion, a lot more needs to be done here from the local authorities and the government. There are amazing charities out there, who do a lot, however, they need to be supported.

Where is your favourite lunchtime spot?

As with a lot of people, plain and simple…..my desk. I now have daylight coming into my office which is nothing but pure joy! I try very hard to get out at lunch time. It is extremely important to visit not just retailers within VPSC but also to walk around the wider neighbourhood. So I don’t really have a favourite lunchtime place, but it’s good to have a bit of exercise to stretch one’s legs, to open one’s eyes and just see what’s going on, as Victoria is such a wonderful area to be in.

Our next Cup of Tea with….will be with Mick Clarke from the Passage and be out next month. To stay up to date with everything going on in Victoria follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram or sign up to our newsletter here.

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