IT’S all rise for The Crossing, as hungry diners wend their way to Swindon’s biggest and newest food hub, right in the heart of town.

The venue, some 20,000 square feet on the first floor of the Brunel Shopping Centre, is the result of months of work to transform the shopping centre space into a light, contemporary gathering place where visitors, shoppers and local workers can drop by for a takeaway lunch, a sit-down meal, or a coffee and a chance to socialise.

A new escalator, rising from Canal Walk, takes you straight into The Crossing, which is the name for the area in and around the existing link bridge between Brunel Arcade and Brunel Plaza.

Now the Mayor of Swindon, Coun Maureen Penny, has given the dining hub her seal of approval – she recently cut a ribbon at the top of the escalator and declared The Crossing officially open.

The hub is home to a mix of independent restaurants and cafes, as well as High Street eateries and innovative new start-ups. If you are looking for something to eat, you can find Chopstix Noodle Bar, Subway, Triple Two Coffee, boutique bistro Eggelicious, and newcomers Indy’s Vegan Kitchen and Soul Shack.

Victoria Capener, who runs Indy’s, said: “We’ve been open about a month. My customers include all kinds of people. I sell the kind of vegan street food lots of people like, such as mac and cheese, and hot dogs.”

Alex Yarde, of Soul Shack, selling Caribbean fusion street food, has only been open three weeks and is doing well.

He said: “This is a new venture. I’m adapting recipes of my mother’s and grandmother’s. Most days, we’re sold out.”

Another independent is Tastes of Portugal, run by Isabel Simoes. Her café and grocery store sells coffee Portuguese style, along with custard tarts and all kinds of Portuguese pastries, as well as olive oil, cheese, fish and so on.

“I sold from Swindon’s tented market for two years,” she said. “It’s an adventure!”

A communal seating area for 200-plus people serves the eateries and the Street Food Kitchen accommodates the independents who offer quick service and plenty of good food you can take-away or eat in.

The Crossing is the culmination of a project by FI Real Estate Management (FIREM), which runs the Brunel.

Jane Stewart, deputy manager of The Brunel, says feedback from visitors to The Crossing has been overwhelmingly positive.

“People are telling us that they love the look and feel of it, really appreciate the wide choice on offer, and enjoy either being able to linger over a meal with friends or just check their emails over a quick coffee,” she said.

“We also love the fact that several of the independents have already built very successful businesses locally and have chosen The Crossing as the next step in their growth. For example, Triple Two Coffee have been so successful on the ground floor of the Brunel Plaza that they have opened a second coffee shop here, and Eggelicious has chosen The Crossing for its third restaurant, Eggelicious E3.

“McCtaff’s originally specialised as a home-made cake caterer but has expanded to combine cake catering with a traditional English tearoom. And Sweets Galore began in a unit in The Arcade before moving into a new unit at The Crossing, and also opening Desserts and More next store.”

As well as offering a place to meet and eat, The Crossing serves as a venue for live events – such as the launch for the recent Swindon Fringe Festival, live music on Sundays from 12 till 2pm and Fashion Live style nights. Come the summer holidays, lucky youngsters will be able to meet and eat with their favourite superhero, every Wednesday in August.

The first phase of the Brunel centre was opened in 1973. The walkway was once a narrow alleyway with shops the revamp has created a bright, open environment with lots of places to sit.

“We have this amazing space,” said Jane. “It’s a popular lunchtime destination, where you can get fresh food fast. It’s somewhere people can come and eat or meet or work. It’s used as a social, communal space. You see people having work meetings here, or sat with their laptops, or having a conversation over breakfast.”

The redevelopment was not entirely straightforward. The Crossing was originally supposed to open in June last year, but faced several delays and set-backs, including the loss of almost half the original restaurants when the provider went into administration last May. CPL Food Group Ltd had signed up to take on five units but the company faced serious financial difficulties and administrators were called in. They were due to run Burger King, Mexican street food restaurant El Taco Loco, Roosters Southern Fried Chicken and Real Café – as well as the Street Food Kitchen. The location of the new escalator had to be moved when an underground water main made the original escalator pit unusable.

Bernard Ferris, head of retail property for FIREM, said at the launch that The Crossing would attract young people, families and business professionals back into the town centre.

“We need a new focus and a new form of use that’s going to return the vibrancy the town deserves,” he said.

James Raspin, head of asset management offices and retail for FIREM said the firm’s investment in The Crossing demonstrated its faith in Swindon town centre.

“The Brunel is very much at the heart of the town centre, and we knew the demand was there from shoppers and others for more restaurants and cafes offering high-quality food of all types,” he said.

“Before FIREM took over the management of the Brunel there had been little investment in the centre for some time, and we’re very proud to have revolutionised the Brunel with this venture. It has opened up the area between the Plaza and the Arcade and brought a new dynamic to the centre. FIREM has a reputation for driving high-quality change, and The Brunel is now a flagship for us – proof of how investment, imagination and an eye for detail can be genuinely transformational.”

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