The Atrium: the changing face of Camberley
PUBLISHED: 15:56 24 August 2011 | UPDATED: 08:32 05 January 2015
Until recently, Camberley was best known to most as the home of Sandhurst Military Academy. Now, however, a £130 million entertainment and living complex, The Atrium, is battling it out to be the talk of the town. GEOFFREY WEST finds out more
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine January 2009
It's been a while, 23 years to be precise, but Camberley's stunning new development, The Atrium, has finally become a reality.
This £130 million complex was originally discussed back in 1985 when Surrey Heath Borough Council identified the site for redevelopment. Now, its cinema, bowling alley, gym, restaurants and cafes, and three blocks of living accommodation, not to mention some stylish new shops, have completely changed the face of Camberley.
This not so miniature village is much more than just an architectural beauty, however; it's a highly practical hive of community activity. What's more, in these times of Green Belt worries and over-development, The Atrium replaced what was mostly an open air car park. It's popular with residents, too; all the opinions we canvassed were 100 per cent positive.
A new café culture
"It will pull Camberley together," says Joan Waters, sales assistant at Buy the Book, one of the town's leading bookshops, based in the nearby Mall shopping centre. "Apart from adding a 'café culture' element to the town, The Atrium will have the kind of retail outlets that aren't offered elsewhere."
Customer Linda Arundel agrees: "So there'll be a bowling alley as well as a cinema? Wonderful! That is much needed," she says. "As a senior citizen, the cinema will be great for my husband and I in the evening and there'll be excellent job opportunities for the youngsters in the new food outlets. We used to have a cinema with a snooker club attached but both closed years ago and there's been nothing to replace either of them until now."
A joint venture between Standard Life Investment and Crest Nicholson Regeneration with Surrey Heath Council, The Atrium opened to the public in November. The eponymous atrium at the development's centre is on four floors, linked by escalators and lifts, and has glazed walls and a glass roof, beneath which are many of the restaurants, allowing 'al fresco' dining in all weathers.
There are four shops on the ground floor, accessible via the newly pedestrianised Park Street: Next, Zavvi, SportsDirect.com and Laura Ashley, and a Lidl supermarket will open on Charles Street. In the central areas are the trendy food outlets: Bar Estilo, Bella Italia, Café Nino, Prezzo, Nando's, The Real China, Starbucks, Chiquito, Frankie & Benny's and Wagamama.
Also on the ground floor is a Bowlplex 20-lane bowling alley with nine American pool tables and on the first floor is the 2,000-seat Vue cinema, with nine floor-to-ceiling screens, a sensational layout and incredibly comfortable seats. There's also a new Gold's Gym and a multi-storey car park.
Jonny Rees-Davies, ex-Household Guards officer and now The Atrium's centre manager, takes me on a tour of the site and, as we stand on the Atrium's top floor, beside the cinema, Jonny proudly points upwards.
"That glass roof is made of ETFE, a material used in the Beijing Olympic swimming stadium," he says. "It filters light so things won't get too hot in summer and we can ventilate the central area naturally, drawing air in at the bottom, expelling it at the top."
One group of young mothers I speak to, Mandy, Lindsey, Sarah and Tania, are really looking forward to the opportunities the development will bring for youngsters.
"The Atrium will attract people into the town," says Mandy. "The restaurants and the cinema are what we're interested in. We've got children so, for us, it's great because at present our nearest cinema is either Bracknell or Basingstoke." Lindsey adds: "Between the four of us, we've got 15 children, so the bowling alley is going to be a godsend, too. I don't envisage any rowdiness or trouble, because it's going to be a family-oriented centre, wonderful for entertainment. It'll make our lives much easier; we think it's absolutely great."
In fact, the cinema looks set to be a draw for people not only in Camberley, but all over the county.
"In Camberley, we've created one of the most luxurious, state-of-the-art cinemas in the UK," says Tim Richards, founder and chief executive of Vue Entertainment. "Next year, all the leading film directors will be shooting in the new 3D, and this innovation can only be enjoyed in cinemas with the latest digital projectors, such as ours. When you watch a movie in 3D, it feels like you're actually there - inside the film and part of the action."
The bowling alley has its 20 interactive lanes, each 60ft long, and there'll be LCD screens, interactive bumpers and futuristic lighting, allowing bowlers to enjoy new 'glow bowling'. The Stadium Sports Bar & Grill has giant plasma screens, showing sporting events continuously, along with the nine American pool tables, up-to-date arcade video game machines and the latest in gaming technology. "It'll be a great place for people of all ages, toddlers to 90-year-olds," says Frances d'Ardenne, brand and PR manager for Bowlplex plc. "It really is a beautiful site - our architect has done us proud."
The Atrium also has three blocks of luxurious apartments, all of which have an allocated parking space. The first block, Aspect, was launched in 2006.
"We sold all of the flats within ten days," says Helen Boniface, sales and marketing manager for Crest Nicholson Regeneration. "The Centro block was built next and we sold all of those in four weeks - many to owner occupiers, as opposed to Aspect's predominantly buy-to-let investors. Residents are mostly young professional people who want the convenience of living in the centre of town. However, it's equally suitable to senior citizens: one older lady moved here because of the sheer convenience and security."
The Courtyard block of 108 flats has just been completed and to date only 31 are still available.
Good for the town
And for anyone worried that such an impressive addition to the town could see the end of the town's unattached shops, Jonny Rees-Davies concludes: "The other shops in Camberley? Well, I'd say we should benefit them, because of our leisure facilities being very different from those of, say, The Mall. The Atrium has been designed to include something for everyone and we believe it will quickly become the destination of choice for the people of Camberley and surrounding area."
HAVE YOUR SAY
We want to know what you make of The Atrium development. Do you think it is a step in the right direction for Camberley? Would you like to see your town follow suit or do you prefer an old-fashioned high street to modern all-singing, all-dancing developments? Get in touch with Surrey Life by writing to the usual address, e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org