Birch Hill (Bracknell): Opening

Waitrose Birch Hill opened on 19/10/1976.  The following appeared in The Gazette at the time.

Partners at the Waitrose Head Office now have their own local food branch, Waitrose Birch Hill. The new branch which opened on Tuesday 19th October, is the first shop to start trading in a small precinct on the edge of the Hanworth estate, a densely populated residential area, two and half miles from Bracknell town centre. A chemist, newsagent and post office, a bank, hardware shop and a Chinese takeaway shop will complete the centre when they open at the end of November. There are plans for a public house to be built next to Waitrose and there is a possibility that a Health Centre will be bullt on the spare land in front of the centre in the next few years.

There are no other shops in the immediate area and local residents clearly appreciate the new development. The local community officer has already visited Mr Gumm, the Branch Manager, to welcome Waitrose to the area and take a look around the branch. The week before Waitrose Birch Hill opened the Bracknell news ran a long feature article on Waitrose and described the opening day as a ‘Red Letter Day’ for the residents of Bracknell and welcomed’ this splendid supplement to the area’s shopping resources.’
Many customers from the 10 estates within a four miles radius of the branch are likely to be attracted by the car parking facilities. Parking is notoriously difficult in Bracknell town centre with no free car parks. There are 150 spaces in the shopping area, 50 immediately in front of Waitrose and a further 100 in the car park adjacent to the smaller units, just a few steps away from the 9 double -bay checkout points at the front of the Waitrose branch.
Birch Hill has a selling area of 13,000 sq feet, is one of the largest Waitrose branches and will stock the full Waitrose assortment. An innovation for Waitrose is the ‘Home Brew Section’, a small area devoted to the needs of the beer or wine maker, which includes everything from instruction kits and ingredients to plastic funnels. For those customers who prefer to purchase their drinks in a more immediately palatable form the branch has a large self-selection off-licence. The layout was planned jointly by the Waitrose merchandising and development departments with the result as it is now, say Mr Gumm, ‘as near perfection as possible’ and it certainly looks very attractive.

There are 125 Partners working in the branch, including weekend juniors; 21 Partners have transferred from other branches – 16 from Wokingham, 3 from Westbury Park and one each from Henley and Woodley. ‘This hard-core of really experienced Partners who already know the system and Partnership has made it much easier for the branch to settle down, ‘ says Mr Gumm. Recruitment for the new branch was not difficult. The Partnership is already known in the area because of the Head Office and many Bracknell residents currently shop at Waitrose Wokingham a few miles away.
Mr Gumm received over 500 applications for jobs in the new branch, so it was comparatively easy to select a really good team.
By the time the majority of partners moved into the branch on 4th October, all the major construction work had been completed and only a few electricians, carpenters and heating engineers were still at work, putting the final touches to the branch. New Partners were quickly able to get on with the basic principles of filling the shelves and beginning check-out training. The Branch Management are aiming at maximum flexibility, so as many Partners as possible are being trained to use the tills.

The opening of Waitrose Bromley, only two weeks before Birch Hill has meant that the past few weeks have been very busy for all those in Waitrose and central departments who are concerned with new Waitrose branches. But it also meant that the management team at Birch Hill were able to visit Waitrose Bromley, prior to its opening and see for themselves the kind of difficulties they themselves were likely to encounter. The new branch incorporates many design features which were introduced at Waitrose Bromley, including the new design branch office, kitchen and improved racking in the warehouse and freezer storage room.
In order to relieve some of the pressure on space at Bracknell Head Offices, an additional office area has been built on to the rear of Waitrose Birch Hill. The moves into it are planned to begin in December. The ground floor will house the printing office and on the first floor there will be offices for the new president of the Waitrose Branch Council, the Social Secretary, the Secretary of the Committee for claims and two dark rooms for photographic use. Partners working in these offices will have a separate entrance but will the branch’s spacious dining room and rest room.”

Edited excerpt of The Gazette, 23rd Oct 1976.

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