AT the helm of the Kennedy Centre for the past eleven years, centre manager John Jones is very much working to keep the shopping centre at the centre of the community in West Belfast.
With thousands of shoppers filing in and out of its doors daily, John told the Andersonstown News how, while not having trained in a centre management background, it is a role that he has enjoyed ever since his career began in hotel management at the Stormont Hotel.
“The Kennedy Centre was always well established in this area,” he said. “I’m sure many people will remember the 2007/8 period when a deal was done for Sainsbury’s to become the anchor tenant and that superstore was built in 2009, having tripled the existing centre in size and we now have the largest Sainsbury’s store in the north, right here in West Belfast.
“In 2010 we opened the upper level that included the Food Court and Funky Monkeys. With the addition of the jobs and benefit office and Poundstretcher we are one of the largest employers besides the Royal Victoria Hospital with over 1,000 staff,” he said.
John spoke of how he and his team are always looking at ways to “improve the centre, improve the shopping experience for our customers”.
“We always want to keep our standards high – at all times. We pride ourselves on always having been at the heart of the West Belfast community. On any given day here you could have a school, sporting organisation or dance troupe showcasing their talents to our shoppers and their parents. It’s a great opportunity.”
John continued: “A large part of my job in 2018 is to deal with health and safety. It has really just exploded over the years and there are certain checks that need to be done before we even open our doors. It’s a business in itself.”
The Falls Road mall, John explained, is very much used as a base for social interaction.
“You would’ve had customers coming to the former Curley’s site – they are still coming to the mall now. If even just to sit and have a cup of coffee, people watch, meet their friends. It’s important that we keep that going.”
The Dublin native described the West Belfast community as a “very tight knit one” and “forward thinking”.
“I see a real focus on education in West Belfast. I love working here. The Kennedy Centre is delighted to be involved with such innovative and excellent initiatives such as the West Belfast Partnership Board’s Aisling Bursaries and Belfast Media Group’s annual Aisling Awards not to mention the yearly Féile an Phobail festival.
“I can’t not mention Hugh ‘Curley’ Kennedy who had a vision. This place was his vision and he is here everyday of the week. This centre was his vision 40 years ago and he is still pushing it on and I’m delighted to be part of that ongoing process.”