One of Europe’s biggest shopping and leisure destinations is gearing up for a day of celebrations to mark its 25th anniversary – Bluewater in Kent opened its doors on the 16 March 1999 and will be celebrating with a range of activities to mark the landmark date this Saturday.

Remarkably, 93 employees from the centre and its retailers also share the quarter-of-a-century anniversary having worked at the Greenhithe centre since it opened 25 years ago. On Friday, Bluewater’s Centre Director James Waugh will hold an employee event to celebrate staff achievements.

A photography exhibition showcasing images of Bluewater throughout its 25 years will also be unveiled. The exhibition, hosted by Dartford Photography Club, will be located on the Lower Rose Gallery, near Uniqlo, and will be open until Sunday 31st March.

Public celebrations will take place throughout Saturday with rolling entertainment between 10am-5pm in the Lower Rose Gallery, including Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalist Immi Davis, David Ribi from Channel 5’s Milkshake​ and Kent-based musicians Kings of Dhol who will be drumming up crowds with their South Asian drum performance.

Twist & Pulse, 2019 winners of Britain’s Got Talent: The Champions will also be part of the line up alongside tribute acts and other entertainment, while LEGO will be hosting activities within their Bluewater store.

James Waugh, Centre Director at Bluewater, said: “This is a landmark date in the history of Bluewater which has grown into one of the biggest and most-loved shopping and leisure destinations in Europe.

“It’s incredible to see that so many members of staff at our retailers and from the centre have remained here for 25 years – it shows real dedication and commitment to work in what is a true labour of love for many.

“We’ll be celebrating this Saturday with free entertainment for our guests and reflecting on a quarter-century of achievements, but we’re also looking forward to the next 25 years.

“What makes Bluewater special, and what keeps our guests returning week after week, is our commitment to innovate and look for new ways to engage with our guests.

“In the next few months alone, we will be hosting our first ever food festival, which will be one of the biggest in the region, while our incredible Ballerz football entertainment dome – the first of its kind in the world – will open to the public.

“It’s a genuinely exciting time for Bluewater – here’s to the next 25 years.”

Sharon Gathercole, who started as a Bluewater receptionist and admin support in 1999 and who is now an office support manager, said: “I remember that Bluewater put Northwest Kent on the map.  It is a fantastic hub for local people to visit and experience the best in retailing.  It also became the main source of employment locally and still is.

“When I first started at Bluewater, six months before the opening date, I was based in the marketing suite cabin on top off the cliff! It had a viewing platform and mini cinema and was used to showcase Bluewater to potential retailers. It was also used to invite the community to see what was happening and how Bluewater was progressing.  There was so much interest, and we entertained the many community groups who wanted to visit the suite.”

Amanda Harper, who started as an Admin Section Manager for John Lewis in 1999 and is now John Lewis’ Events & Marketing Co-ordinator, said: “The buzz as we opened our doors for the first time was incredible. The queues of customers waiting to come in and look around Kent’s first John Lewis store was brilliant to see.

“I love that every day here is different and the way the shopping centre changes through the seasons. I’ve enjoyed walks round the lakes and dinner al fresco in The Village and taken part in seasonal events too – we all know that Christmas is on its way when the iconic reindeers make an appearance! However, the best thing about working here is the lifelong friends that I have made during the last 25 years.”

In celebration of the centre’s birthday, here are 25 things you may not know about Bluewater:

  1. Bluewater shopping centre opened on 16th March 1999 and rises out from a former chalk quarry among 50-metre-high cliffs – that is as high as 10 double decker buses.
  2. 2.7 million m³ of sand was used to build the centre.
  3. Bluewater covers over 1.8 million square feet.
  4. Last October, Bluewater collaborated with LEGO to mark World Fun Day, turning a regular escalator into a huge blue slide for everyone to enjoy. 3,800 guests enjoyed the slide, equating to 1 guest every minute the slide was open.
  5. Bluewater is surrounded by a strong natural ecosystem with 50 acres of parkland, nature trail, lakes, meadows, flora, fauna and over 900 species of wildlife.
  6. The green spaces of Bluewater have over 4km of cycle paths and walkways.
  7. The centre’s biodiversity management strategy safeguards 17 protected species of plants and animals within the surrounding land.
  8. The Nature Trail was awarded the Green Flag again in 2023 and a Gold Green Apple for Making Room for Nature. Bluewater was also awarded a Bees Needs award in 2022 and 2023 for planting to support pollinators.
  9. The roof at Bluewater is covered in grass and wildflowers, and the roof ventilation system draws in fresh and cooling air to ventilate the malls more efficiently.
  10. The only physical Sidemen Clothing store in the world can be found at Bluewater. It opened in July 2023, with over 10,000 fans of the Youtube collective visiting the store on its first day of trade.
  11. Bluewater is home to England’s longest zipline, Europe’s largest swing, and the UK’s only outdoor skydiving machine. All of these attractions can be found at Hangloose Adventure, which opened in 2021.
  12. Bluewater has achieved 100% diversion from landfill since June 2009. 80% of waste being produced on site is recycled.
  13. Showcase Cinema de Lux at Bluewater has 17 screens to choose from, each with fully customisable reclining seats as standard, and 2 supersized giant XPlus screens with immersive Dolby Atmos sound.
  14. Bluewater has 13,000 free parking spaces on site, all of which are 25% bigger than the average car parking spot – if lined up, those 13,000 cars would cover the distance from Bluewater to Gatwick Airport.
  15. A whopping 93 members of staff have been employed at Bluewater since it first opened in 1999.
  16. Construction work started on 1st May 1996. In all, 20,000 people worked 11.5 million hours on the construction of Bluewater.
  17. The design of Bluewater started with a poem. Pre-construction, architect Eric Khune penned a sonnet to solidify in his mind what Bluewater would be, starting with: “White chalk cliffs and waters blue, surround the crystal city new.”
  18. Eric Khune’s inspiration for the facade of the Winter Garden’s glazing came from his wife’s dressing table – particularly her perfume bottles and lipstick containers.
  19. The Thames O’Meter marks the central point of the Moon Court. On it, you’ll find a gauge which tells you the precise level of the River Thames at Tilbury Ness (the nearest measuring station to Bluewater).
  20. Bluewater’s West Mall is also known as the Guildhall, after its sculptures representing the British Guilds. Here you’ll find sculptures representing each of London’s 106 guilds. Beginning with the first guild, the Mercers of Silk Traders, the sculptures move through to the most recent, the World Traders, the Bluewater ‘Guildhall’ celebrates the makers and sellers of goods and services.
  21. Many famous faces have visited Bluewater over the years including: Ant & Dec, Tom Daley, Victoria Beckham, Frank Bruno and Gordon Ramsay – to name just a few.
  22. Bluewater has been home to the Chantry Model Club since 2000, where they have the use of the lake located by The Village car park. The club promotes the hobby of model boat building, and brings together people to enjoy building and sailing their boats together socially.
  23.  Making the centre comfortable and welcoming for all visitors is important to the team at Bluewater – the team have introduced free-to-hire sensory backpacks, available at the Guest Services Desk. The backpacks are particularly suited to autistic guests and include a variety of sensory toys, ear defenders and autism guides. Every Tuesday between 4-6pm the centre has Quiet Hours to provide a calmer shopping environment for guests.
  24. The centre offers accessible toilets and Changing Places facilities for people with disabilities, each fitted with specialist equipment such as a hoist and changing bench with enough space for 2 carers to assist. What’s more, Bluewater has newly-installed stoma-friendly facilities, which follow the Colostomy UK guidelines and include new wall hooks, lipped shelves, wall mirrors, and the correct disposal facilities.
  25. Bluewater has its own Chaplaincy team, based in The Place of Quiet in the Lower Rose Gallery’s welcome hall. The Chaplaincy team has been there to support guests and employees since the first brick was laid in the construction of the site.