A FORMER Basingstoke College of Technology (BCoT) student has returned home to take charge of the town’s shopping centre.

Neil Churchill has fond memories of his teenage years in Basingstoke. Now, almost 30 years on, he has returned to the town following his appointment as centre director at Festival Place.

Having studied at BCoT in the early 1990s, Mr Churchill has enjoyed a long career in retail management, and said he is excited to return to Basingstoke as high-profile brands move into Festival Place and a multi-million-pound regeneration scheme, including a revamped and much improved car park, nears completion.

He said: “I have great memories of my time in Basingstoke and feel a very close connection to the town. I am very aware of the importance of Festival Place not just as a shopping destination, but as a town centre and an important focus for the local community.

“Wherever I have worked, I have been passionate about local communities and about ensuring the shopping destinations in those areas support them in the best work they can. I feel that particularly strongly about Festival Place as it is, effectively, the town centre and a place where members of the community work, shop, eat and enjoy themselves.

“Without them, we wouldn’t be here, and I plan to become as heavily involved as possible in local groups and organisations to ensure we deliver not just an exceptional shopping and leisure experience, but also a real community benefit.”

The father-of-two was most recently in charge of overseeing at £30 million extension of Southside Wandsworth Shopping Centre in London.

Mr Churchill said that he wants to make a focus on family activities within the centre.

He added: “We know it is a privilege that families choose to spend their time here – whether that’s shopping, eating, watching a film at Vue or having fun at Flip Out. Making that experience as enjoyable as possible as we can is what drives us.

“The challenge ahead for us as a team is to reaffirm Festival Place as destination – attracting people from the wider catchment area for shopping and leisure while making sure that people who live in Basingstoke feel no need to go elsewhere.

“Retail is highly competitive and challenging and we know that we need to work hard to maintain and improve on our position as a Top 20 destination. It’s a challenge we’re really looking forward to.”