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Darlington shopping centre celebrates 20th anniversary
CONCEIVED as a means of boosting Darlington town centre’s once-flagging shopping options, the idea for what eventually became the Cornmill centre was first discussed in 1984.
Various schemes were suggested, all based around what was ultimately built – a two-tier covered mall linking Tubwell Row and Northgate.
Building work began in 1989, following the demolition of existing buildings including the popular Pied Piper pub and the large Co-operative store.
More than half a million bricks were used in the construction of the centre, which houses more than 40 retail units and welcomes thousands of customers through its doors every day.
Such was the level of interest from Darlington residents during building work, that peep holes had to be cut in the hoardings so shoppers could keep an eye on the progressing development.
One of the key phases of the building work was the pedestrian walkway over Priestgate.
The centre’s name was chosen in a competition, with the winning entry from Wolsingham School student Richard Blair, from Witton-le-Wear, County Durham.
It reflects the presence of mills on the banks of the River Skerne, in Darlington, during the 18th and 19th Centuries.
Richard’s prize for coming up with the name was a BBC computer for his school, as well as a personal stereo for himself.
He was a VIP guest at the gala opening of the Cornmill, 20 years ago today, which coincidentally fell on the same day as his 17th birthday.
On top of those employed by the various retailers, about 25 people are employed by the Cornmill itself, including security guards, cleaners and behind-the-scenes staff led by centre manager Susan Young.
Three employees – Russell Longstaff, Terry Noble and Terry Wilson – have worked at the centre since it opened, clocking up 60 years’ service between them.
Mr Longstaff, 51, the centre’s service yard supervisor, is responsible for overseeing deliveries to retailers.
He said: “The reason I’ve stayed so long is the job variety.
“No two days are ever the same. I’ve met so many different people and faced many challenges over the years.”
In its early days, the centre was one of a string of North- East locations used for filming of the hit BBC comedy sketch programme the Fast Show.
Those with long memories may remember performer Mark Williams, dressed in a Birmingham City replica football shirt, encouraging his young family to “leg it” with armfuls of shoplifted loot.
A multi-storey car park development, incorporating more retail space, was completed in 2005.
As for future developments, plans remain on the table to convert The Northern Echo’s Priestgate offices into a large Debenhams store