Solihull was a big surprise. I often visit the wonderful Bullring and Westfield Merry Hill in Birmingham and, while the Malls are excellent, their locations can be ramshackle and busy nightmares. Solihull, on the other hand, is a smallish town just outside Birmingham and has a completely different vibe - it is calmer and the main street is a gloriously wide boulevard lined with great stores and shopping arcades, opening into a lovely square. At the heart of the surprising metropolitan borough, the fifth most affluent in the UK, is the Touchwood Shopping Centre.
The Mall was opened in September 2001 and was designed by Eric Kuhne, the architect responsible for some great Malls across the world. Touchwood sits atop a luscious green hill and occupies almost 650,000 square feet (after a major expansion which occurred in October 2015), 100,000 of which is dedicated to entertainment (mostly taken up by a stunning 9-screen Cineworld, whose main foyer looks like it was transported directly from the mid-nineties, wonderful!). The Centre is also attached to a huge arts centre and a theatre square.
One of the three entrances to the Mall
The Christmas decorations throughout the Centre were lovely
The Five Guys restaurant overflows right into the main walkway
While we always prefer to take public transport to Malls, we decided to go by car to Touchwood. There are plenty of large carparks surrounding the Centre, the farthest of which is a leisurely five minute walk away. The traffic was absolutely insane due to roadworks, so it was a bit of a thing getting to the Mall, but once we battled the holiday traffic and entered the Centre, all was instantly forgiven as we entered the warm, twinkly bosom of Touchwood.
The Mall is full of earthy, wooden tones, red brick and soft lighting. On the lower level there are two main atriums, one with wooden panels running along the ceiling depicting abstract images of what appear to be road maps which have a seriously seventies Mall vibe which we thought was pretty cool. The other main atrium is home to a massive four-level John Lewis department store and has more of a classical mood with a domed roof and large pillars, which houses a modern-looking cafe. The top level of the Mall is lined with little outdoor scenes cut into the decor - in fact the entire Centre is filled with interesting little touches wherever you look.
One of the main atriums with Touchwood's interpretation of a Christmas tree
This is a great candy store and a once-famous South African brand
There are little details all over the Centre which keep it interesting
Store-lined walkways shoot off from the two large atrium spaces and, because they are single-level, the ceiling seems miles away from your head. This means that no matter how busy the Mall became it never grew claustrophobic - and Touchwood certainly can get busy! By mid afternoon it was pretty packed, which gave an ideal opportunity to check out a film and head outside to check out the Solihull shopping streets. I’m not sure if it was just the day we visited, but the demographic of the Centre was very young; that’s not to say that it was rowdy or uncomfortable in any way, everyone seemed relaxed and well behaved, even in the cinema!
The stores are hugely varied in terms of genre and price, there is a fantastic mix in a world where modern Malls can tend heavily towards fashion stores above all else. Of course there are plenty of fashion brands, from boutiques to big stores such as Topshop, H&M and Hollister. There is a lovely Swarovski store, a Tesla store, Apple Store, toy stores, gadget stores, lifestyle stores, and of course the huge John Lewis, in which we could’ve spent most of the day if there wasn’t plenty else to check out. Devastatingly though, there was no record store or video game store, but there is a Game store and a huge HMV just outside the Centre.
Boulevards of stores flow from the two atriums.
The lovely high ceilings give Touchwood a spacious and relaxed feel
More little details - famous quotes are dotted all over the Mall
The entire top floor of this two-level Mall is taken up by the Centre’s twenty-or-so restaurants and eateries, so we headed upstairs for dinner and movies. The cinema was magnificent but the restaurant was a different story - after deciding on burgers over pizza, we headed to one of the burger places. Unfortunately though, after being pretty much ignored for over an hour, we walked out and headed to a pizza restaurant which was delightful, delicious, efficient and friendly to a fault despite our famine-induced collective grumpiness. There is plenty of choice, from American-style diner to Mexican to pan-Asian to Italian; just steer clear from the burger joint on the top level!
One of the things that really stood out to me was the size of the Mall. On paper, a Mall of this size should not have less than 100 stores and restaurants. I’m not sure if it’s that the individual stores are all massive, but this Centre seems comfortably full of stuff - there is not one empty lot and at no point did I feel that I had run out of things to do. The only reason we left was because stores were starting to close. The only thing I can conclude is that Touchwood is just very well put together. Even if you do grow bored of the Mall for some inexplicable reason there is an entire town to explore should you feel the need.
The main anchor is a huge 4-level John Lewis department store
Awesomely retro red lights make this walkway my favourite!
A view from the upper level
The Mall is absolutely spotless, with visible cleaners beavering away at all times. If you’re also worried about security, do not fear - there are black suited, ear-pieced security guards mulling around, looking like the agents from the Matrix. They made me feel completely secure, even quite late into the evening as people headed to the restaurants for dinner.
After our visit, I asked around a little and tended to get two similar responses regarding Touchwood Solihull. The first response is ‘I didn’t know this Mall even existed’. The second one is ‘well, I used to go to the Bullring or Westfield Merry Hill, but since finding out about Touchwood I now tend to go there more often than not’. Now, we don’t want to diminish Merry Hill or the Bullring in any way - I personally adore both of those magnificent Centres, each unique in their own way - but if you want a more relaxed vibe without compromising on any of the great Mall stores and entertainment to be had, Touchwood is the Mall for you. Definitely check this one out!
Address: Touchwood, Solihull, B91 3GJ, England, United Kingdom
Contact: 0121 709 6900
Number of Stores: 91
Number of Levels: 2 (main anchor John Lewis has 4)
Opening Times: Monday - Saturday 09h00 to 20h00, Sunday 11h00 to 17h00
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