The Oracle, Reading
The Oracle is a large indoor shopping and leisure mall, located on the banks of the River Kennet on the site of a 17th century workhouse of the same name in the town of Reading in the English county of Berkshire. It was developed by, and is owned by, a joint venture of Hammerson and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.

The Oracle takes its name from a 17th century workhouse built by funds from a local man John Kendrick. This once occupied a small part of the site now occupied by the shopping centre. In March 1997 Hammerson acquired a 22 acre site of largely derelict and undeveloped land immediately to the south of the town centre. Most of this site was previously occupied by Simond's Brewery (latterly owned by the Courage brewing company) and by the Reading Transport bus depot (formerly the Reading Corporation tram depot). The brewery had earlier relocated to a new site adjoining the M4 motorway, whilst the bus depot was relocated to a location just west of the town centre as one of the first phases of the redevelopment. Hammerson’s strategy was to create a combination of big-name retailers at the new centre, including a number of international retail banners fairly new to Britain. The merchandise mix has strong emphasis on fashion and is slightly higher-end than the average for Reading’s main street shops. Peter Cole, the development director for Hammerson said “We were looking to bring in a retail mix that would enhance what was already there - we wanted to get the right caliber retailers to suit the slightly higher-end shopping demographic of the area.” The main shopping malls comprising phase I of The Oracle were opened in September 1999, followed in November by the Riverside restaurants, pubs and cinema that made up phase II. Once phase I was complete, the way was open to relocate the Debenhams department store from its previous location on Broad Street into the centre. This in turn allowed for the redevelopment of the old Debenhams site as phase III of The Oracle, linked to phase I by a bridge over Minster Street. Phase III provided The Oracle with its all-important direct link to Broad Street, and was opened in May 2000 by Princess Anne. Although now well-respected and appreciated by local residents, the Oracle caused local controversy when first opened. On the other hand, many of the stores within the Oracle did not previously exist in Reading and have substantially improved its status as a shopping destination. The Oracle also provides two large car parks providing 2300 spaces. In line with other car parks in central Reading, charges are comparatively high, especially for long term parkers. In 2002 Reading was named eighth best town centre in the country. In 2007 the Oracle centre was ranked 16th in a league table of best performing retail centres in the UK compiled by economic analyst Experian. In a separate poll carried out by Verdict, Reading was placed 10th in the table of UK shopping destinations.

The centre contains 90 shops, including department stores from the Debenhams (136,000 ft²) and House of Fraser (150,000 ft²) chains. A third and larger department store, John Lewis (still referred to locally by its older name, Heelas), is adjacent to the Minster Street entrance but not part of the centre itself. There are also 22 restaurants, cafés and bars along the riverside of the Kennet, and a 10-screen Vue cinema. The Oracle increases Reading’s retail footage by one-third, and it has attracted some retailers who would otherwise not have located in Reading. The Oracle’s clean-lined, retro-modern storefronts follow the curving banks of the Kennett, with space beside the waterway for patio tables, granite stadium-style seating and sail-like canopies. The Free Form Arts Trust were appointed as the arts agency with responsibility for the appointment and contractual arrangements with artists. Specially commissioned artworks include the Crystal Beacon, a reflective translucent prism by Welsh artist John Gingell that tops off the multistory car park. Two bridges have been installed spanning the Kennet, Cooks Bridge, a straight footbridge which links The Riverside Car Park to House of Fraser, and Delphi Bridge, an ‘ellipse-shaped’ bridge giving access from the Vue cinema to Debenhams. The overall center design concept was created by Haskoll & Co., London. They were called in to design a "retail for leisure" concept, linking the site to a heritage trail around the town. Steve Belam is General Manager of The Oracle.

  • BCSC award for best new centre in 2000
  • ICSC award for best International Shopping Centre in 2001
  • Secure Car Park award 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010
  • Loo of The Year award 2001 and 2002
  • BCSC Best Advertising Campaign 2003
  • BCSC ‘Established Centre’ Gold Award 2007
ROSPA Gold Award 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010

Notable stores
In addition to Debenhams and House of Fraser other notable stores include:

Notable Food Outlets
  • Café Rouge
  • Jamie's Italian

  • Boots
  • Burton Menswear
  • Dorothy Perkins
  • The Disney Store
  • French Connection
  • Game
  • Gap
  • H&M
  • HMV
  • Hobbs
  • McDonald's
  • Morgan
  • Mango
  • Orange
  • Topshop
  • Topman
  • Sports World
  • Starbucks
  • Timberland
  • Vision Express
  • Vodafone
  • Vue (cinema)
  • Waterstone’s
  • Zara

Building Activity

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