Within the Mall community, there is a broad spectrum of Shopping Centres - from the magnificent, squeaky clean Megamalls which contain the finest brands on Earth, to the classic, endearing mid-sized American suburban Mall, to the bustling flea-market style Centres of Southeast Asia. Then, at the very bottom end of the spectrum is the Dirt Mall. They are run down, unloved and, quite frankly, a little on the musty side. They seem like the sort of place that only a mother could love. However, there is just something about them that attracts me.
In the Mall movie of Mall movies, Mallrats, it is the place the two heroes go to have their fortunes read. It is a world of leather cowboy hats, second-hand knick-knacks and comic books sold without hard cardboard backs (animals!). King Mallrat Brodie describes the Dirt Mall as the place that neither the police nor self-respecting customers come. Well, I must have no self-respect because I love a good Dirt Mall - they are gloriously sullied, have the strangest stores, and there are few ‘dirtier’ than the Britton Farm Mall in Gillingham, England.
The problems started when the Budgens supermarket pulled out of the Mall
The 'grand' entrance of Britton Farm Mall!
Gillingham is a small town on the banks of the Medway estuary in England’s east coast. Like so many others, Britton Farm Mall wasn’t always a Dirt Mall. It was built in 1982 by Medway Council, the local authority in charge of the town. It was a thriving little two-story Mall, anchored by a large Budgens supermarket frequented by the locals. However, in February 2017, rumblings began that the Budgens was on the brink of closure. By March the closure was confirmed and the Britton Farm Mall supermarket was one of 34 which closed around England.
Closure aside, the space was almost immediately rented by another retailer and things looked to be fine. Despite this though, people quickly began to forget about the Centre - invariably a quick trip to the supermarket would involve a little browse of the Mall followed by a bite to eat and a purchase or two; but with no reason to ‘pop in’, the Mall began to suffer. The new store never actually moved in and what’s worse, the owners of the Mall also began to forget about this little Centre and by the end of 2017 it was falling into a state of serious disrepair in a stunning display of how quickly entropy can convert a Mall from comforting order to exciting chaos.
The Mall is very dark, but this creates a distinctive mood
When did a couple of puddles ever put a hardcore Mall fan off?
So, how does the Mall actually look? Well the first thing you notice is the fact that many stores are shuttered with cheap chipboard. The Centre is dark, very dark - this is accentuated by the fact that it is in the style of a mid-seventies / early-eighties Shopping Mall, full of dark, exposed brickwork and ironwork. Pamphlets are pasted all over the place, usually for upcoming indy band performances. The floor has wet patches because the roof is leaking and the once bright and happy murals are looking a tad rough - amazingly though, there is no graffiti, which is a common site in many Dirt Malls.
The few stores still doing some sort of decent business include the Liddelows Larder Bakery and the aptly named Oasis Cafe, both of which have been in the Mall since the very beginning and continue to offer delicious baked goods, hot meals and coffee to those who still cherish and frequent Britton Farm Mall. Other stores include the likes of the ‘Fire Dancer’ new-age store - no Dirt Mall is complete without one of these purveyors of healing crystals, dream catchers, incense and dragon statuettes, often run by a hippy who isn’t aware that the sixties have ended. The Oasis cafe in particular has a bit of a cult following and even does deliveries for those scared to enter the shoddy Shopping Centre.
Since the closure of the supermarket there has been a mass-exodus
The Mall is being deep-cleaned and refurbished as we speak
As much as I laud these dilapidated Centres, one sad aspect of Dirt Malls is that they are either about to be saved by a new owner, or they’re on their way out - a star shines brightest just before its death! Luckily, Medway council have began to actively seek a private buyer. There was a brief period where local residents feared that their beloved Mall would be flattened in favour of a block of flats, but luckily this is not the case. They have recently deep-cleaned the Mall (as much as we love a Dirt Mall, the faint odour of urine is a definite no-no!) and are currently doing some structural work to ensure the Mall stays upright.
If you have never experienced a Dirt Mall and have been warned away by your friends, we suggest to go for it. If you’re looking for a different Shopping Mall experience, then you need to check out a Dirt Mall. I like to imagine that I’m in a facsimile of a Mall in some sort of dystopian, Mad Max / Fallout future whose mood and feeling no team of interior designers could emulate. They are filled with some items of questionable origin you would never find in any respectable Mall - random electronics, random fabrics, budget fashion, exotic food products, dodgy cosmetics, second hand comic books, doggy chew toys, cowboy hats, leather belts, retro games and electronic kids’ model cars are just some examples of the strange items you will find in a Dirt Mall!
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