A few weeks ago friends and guests of Milligan were welcomed to Capital Studios in Wandsworth, where the young, creative cinema brand Backyard Cinema has made its home. They started out quite literally in a back yard and grew to be part of Camden Lock Market’s vibrant entertainment scene, during Milligan’s ownership and transformation of the market space. Here they hosted after-market movie nights under the stars, with street food, deck chairs, bean bags and themeing which brought each cinematic world to life in the market itself.

Today, they have welcomed over 100k guests to Capital Studios in just a few months since opening and have their sights set on new venues with unique spaces where they can develop new concepts and host even more sell-out screenings.

Dominic Davies, one of the founders and Backyard Cinema’s creative director believes they are offering visitors something special. “Many visitors travel for up to an hour to get here – the whole experience is so unique. We’ve also brought something special to Wandsworth and the locals enjoy having us as an attraction that’s part of their community. Making our home somewhere like this, we can control the whole experience and train our teams to deliver the very best customer service.”

John Milligan said; “We’ve been really proud to partner with Backyard and watch with interest as they go on and grow their offer in new locations. Like retail, cinema has changed in recent years – subscription services and ageing cinemas means a growing number of people will favour movie nights at home. But the guys at Backyard are shaking that up. They create magical, multi-sensory worlds and have upped the anti with the F&B. The ticket sales speak for themselves!”

To find out more about Backyard Cinema drop John a line or visit their website.

February 2020, marks our official coming of age as it’s 18 years since Milligan first opened its doors. In that time, we’ve developed retail, leisure, mixed use schemes and urban markets around Europe and evolved our skills and expertise alongside the industry’s seismic shifts.

To celebrate our 18th birthday, the team rummaged through old photo albums and found pictures from when they were 18 – what a fresh-faced and good looking bunch we were!

John Milligan said; “For a bit of fun we thought we’d share pictures of ourselves when we were 18, which has gone down a storm amongst our friends and connections. The years have been kinder to some of us than others! I’m extremely proud to mark our 18th birthday this month, reflecting on all we’ve achieved in those years but also looking forward to a new era developing mixed use destinations with retail and leisure at their heart, led by the changing needs and expectations of our customers.”

Here’s to the next 18 years!

Paul Hanegraaf discusses our curation and placemaking in the market and how going back to basics can help retail today.

“It was chaos when we first got there… a classic example of push retailing – shoving as much stuff  (often junk stuff) at the visitor. It was terribly confusing. The clutter and duplication of product distracted from the richness of quality brands and the few makers that were long term or resident. Our first task was to transform it to a pull experience, creating an enriching, calm, enjoyable and entertaining destination, for more than just weekends.

Market curation and placemaking

“We began with a process of sifting and curation. Tat out, interesting and quality in. We reduced the number of traders and the ones we felt needed to be seen were taken to the front. We allowed open spaces on weekends for new quality traders to come in, making the place feel different with every visit. We worked with the resident makers to bring their making process to the fore and with stall holders to tell their stories, in addition to selling their product. With that conversation alone we saw penetration grow alongside transaction value.

“These transformations require a more theatre-like stage setting than a redevelopment programme. We transformed spaces, redecorated spaces, added theatrical lighting and better sound so as to make them work more efficiently. We learned that in creating a dynamic flexibility in the physical environment, we had the ability to offer multiple formats of engagement in just one space.

Enriching events and experiences

“We added amazing events and a Thursday night, after-market unsigned bands performance programme. A local music producer curated the line-up and three groups would play each event accompanying an outdoor dining experience. It created a wonderful Camden vibe… in the shadow of the famous Dingwalls that for so many years had done just that. We were doing evening food fairs with an array of street food, well before it became a cool thing to do, alongside cinema and movie nights under the stars.

Back to basics – the importance on conversation in consuming

“Our experience at Camden took us back to basics, the very basics of retail commerce. We learned again the importance of a conversation in consuming. Anytime a vendor had the opportunity to engage personally with the consumer, all things changed from transactional to human engagement and sales grew. We learned of a world of makers and brands that existed outside our retail world – remarkably committed, talented designers and makers – emerging companies striving to be discovered.

What does this tell us about retail today?

“Today’s consumer wants fine product in a curated environment, but also the flexibility to browse. They crave a narrative that is engaging and that makes a purchase meaningful. They place importance on loyalty and thus the offer must evolve regularly, entertaining their interests and filling their impulses. They crave a new localism, a brand from their place, their town, their region that shares a bit of the life they live. They desire a community, personalised around their way of living.

“In a very interesting way, and as our experiences at Camden taught us, I think now is a time to listen better, push less, respond more and to very simply take it back to the basics… back to a time where entrepreneurs developed and operators delivered. Camden highlights how integral markets are as hubs and as the fabric of so many communities – breathing life into old spaces, connecting people from different walks of life through a mutual love of discovery, creativity and the conversation of commerce. They can be a powerful catalyst for town centre regeneration.

“It was this Camden learning that became one of the important threads to inform our CreativeTrade makers emporium concept, which will be where brands maturing from the likes of Camden Lock, will join to grow their businesses.”

Paul Hanegraaf is Milligan’s Creative Navigator, core to the team working to cleverly bridge the divide between architecture and developer. To find out more about our work in markets or CreativeTrade drop Paul a line paul@milliganretail.com

The Milligan team gathered in a West London studio recently for a photo shoot for our new website.

Thanks to Stefan, our patient photographer for capturing our best sides – we decided that the black and white takes were our favourites, adding a certain je ne sais quoi and a touch of class.

(Check out the final edits on our TEAM page.) Outtakes included below… for your amusement.


Milligan Team


Local authorities and voices from across the industry gathered at The Postal Museum last night for Gleeds challenge debate, Changing Places. Milligan’s Creative Navigator, Paul Hanegraaf joined the panel for a discussion on what the high street needs to do in order to keep up with today’s evolving retail.

Paul shared six key thoughts, making a call to local authorities and drawing attention to the control they hold over policy, building control, planning and investment.

  • Consumer: The tech enabled consumer is all powerful and fluid in their demands. They want the full line of choice, more time to browse and enjoy the impulse of traditional shopping.
  • Change: Retailers are facing massive challenges to transform their platforms. They must add immersive experience, engagement, learning and they must transform their settings and merchandise more swiftly.
  • Time: The pace of consumer and retailer change is challenging for real estate. Analogue disrupted digital and now digital disrupts digital… movements are counteracted by anti-movements. Change is constant.
  • People: It is people that make place, destination and experience so it is a behavioural and sociological challenge… and to sustain it, there must be an operating entity. Place making is not trees and benches and streetlights… it’s people, what they do and how they behave.
  • The New Brand & Localism: There are well over 150,000 new brands in the UK – go find them! New, emerging brands, platforms, services and offers must be wholly embraced as they are transforming consumer expectation. (There have been 4.6m new companies started at Companies House in the past eight years… if you assume a 30% success rate, that means in the past eight years there will have been 1.38m new succeeding businesses that is 3,000 a week for eight years! If 15% are retail that is 500 new retail brands a week for 8 years so there’s something every exciting happening on a local level.)
  • No Silver Bullet, only unique, bespoke solutions: There is no simple or singular answer… Milligan don’t have the answer, no one really does… the key is knowing the right questions to ask along the partnership journey to the answer.


“It’s with vigour and excitement that the Milligan team is approaching the New Year, seeing it as a welcome watershed to turn insight into action following the dramatic happenings impacting our sector in the late 2010s.

“Retail in some quarters has become a toxic word linked to failure, empty shops, unattractive high streets and shopping centres. To us at Milligan it is still the world’s number one leisure pursuit. It is a dynamic, constantly evolving business engaging with its lifeblood, the customer. In the last few decades there has been a trend to institutionalise and commoditise retail which has resulted in a ‘cookie cutter’ approach to our retail places. This is undoubtedly a race to the bottom with no long-term winners. Business rates, the internet and customers’ demands for a better experience have subsequently had a devastating effect on the physical retail landscape. The status quo has been destroyed and out of the ashes are arising some incredible opportunities that the retailers and developers of tomorrow are seizing.

“Great retailers and developers know it’s about a true insight into their customers’ needs and wants, creating an experience that, as necessity matches and at best exceeds this expectation. It has always been the most important thing to get right and maybe today the market is starting to rediscover it.”

John Milligan, CEO Milligan.

John Milligan, CEO and Melanie Taylor, Head of Retail and Relations look back at what we set out to achieve and how we managed Camden in the early days – listening to its customers and working within its authentic heart, alongside the traders.

John Milligan;

“We’re in the business of creating places where people are inspired to shop and Camden Lock Market was one of the most inspiring retail places we had seen anywhere in the world. We met and got to know the owners and original developers of the market, Bill Fulford and Peter Wheeler. We were incredibly excited when in 2012, as they were contemplating retirement, they agreed to sell the market to Milligan.

“Our vision was to create an entrepreneurial community around a thriving mix of market stalls, independent shops and businesses. With workshops, studios, galleries and cultural venues providing the infrastructure to support and grow a theatre of stalls, boutiques, cafés and restaurants we would attract more visitors. In turn, more visitors would attract more creative start-ups and grow a business community.

“As well as respecting and embracing the architecture and culture of Camden Lock, we sought to:

  • Improve flexibility and options available to entry-level operators
  • Encourage a more diverse offer, looking for uniqueness and quality
  • Add more workspace and expansion opportunities for operators
  • Reconsider circulation considering all trading pitches
  • Provide more shelter from inclement weather
  • Improve accessibility and the link with the Regent’s Canal and High Street
  • Create more seating for visitors and address a lack of capacity during peak trading

“We learnt so much during our ownership and management of Camden market that affects the way we approach our future projects. In particular, that a strong inspirational yet deliverable vision will engage the community and stakeholders and can move mountains of negativity and obstacles.”

Melanie Taylor;

“Running alongside our extensive research, was our ongoing commitment to the management of the existing trader community and attracting talented individuals to Camden Lock by offering them a range of retail opportunities.

“The existing operators were keen to understand the new owners’ plans! Longstanding agreements with retailers (rather than stall holders) under the old tenant-landlord Act meant that most operators were on historic leases with an automatic right to renew – a fundamental reason why there had been little change within the market for so long. We renegotiated the leases of every single operator to an ‘outside the Act’ lease, giving us the control, flexibility and freedom to make the required large scale changes, the opportunity to reposition, refresh and redevelop while enabling the operators to thrive on negotiated and appropriate turnover rents.

“In management terms, the biggest win for us was taking on an inhouse Market Manager with extensive experience of markets and market operators.  Jane would liaise with all the operators’ day to day basis – she understood their challenges and spoke their language. Part of our Market Manager’s role was to look after the needs of this unique collection of operators. Often, what they found most useful and valuable was business support and guidance covering everything from how to effectively rotate their product to how to serve customers and it was delivered via events, seminars and one to ones.

“Camden is a destination with rich heritage and character, and we did not want to change what was the essence of the success of the market.  However, the research highlighted a need for more quality product. It would be a place for emerging, independent, incubator brands to find a platform and start building their customer base. Anyone we brought into Camden Lock had to be unique and offer the market quality, difference and excitement. It became a thriving hub for designers and makers fresh from college, students and start-ups trading alongside operators who had been there for a considerable amount of time.

Camden Lock would be able to offer them a range of retail opportunities from incubator units fitted out and ready to accept their fixtures and fittings to small unit stores.  A talented occupier would be able to see a progression from ‘stall to store’, to see Camden Lock as a long-term opportunity and a steppingstone to grow their business.”

In Back to the Future Part III, Paul Hanegraaf describes the physical changes and discusses some of the details behind Camden which have informed CreativeTrade.

“In my new role at Milligan, I’ve been struck by the length and breadth of projects and expertise collected here over the years. Before joining, I was well aware of Milligan’s reputation for innovative thinking but I hadn’t fully appreciated some of the challenges overcome, commercial successes and bespoke approaches all of which now make up a rich and insightful bank of knowledge.

“Those team members who repositioned Maremagnum in Barcelona, sold the MetQuarter delivering significant returns for investors and helped shape CenterParcs’ and Camden Lock Market’s customer experience into what it is today, are still here. Thanks to these successes they are fully equipped to take on the challenges our industry is now faced with and to maximise the sweet spots where retail, leisure and experience collide. Strengthened with my own experience of working on major regeneration developments for both the public and private sectors, we are providing clients and partners with guidance and solutions on a range of buildings, shopping centres, and town centres. We are finding our combined experience, cross-sector knowledge and future-facing insights is giving them the reassurance that we can find the right, bespoke solutions for each project.

“Over the coming months we’ll be bringing you bitesized articles and new content which look back at the exceptional Milligan track record. ‘Back to the Future’ voiced by different members of the Milligan team, will recount the learnings our team has gathered over a series of retail, leisure, local authority, residential and mixed-use developments and how we now apply them to our future thinking. I’ll also be dipping in to my own experiences over the last 15 years working on major projects in Barnsley, Bath, Belfast, Guildford, Newport, Liverpool, London, Manchester and Sheffield.

“We will bring to life, the six pillars of our approach:

  1. We recognise that everything starts and ends with understanding people
  2. We create place-specific, bespoke solutions
  3. We continually seek new ways to deliver value
  4. We ensure that the mix of uses enliven the space and build the brand
  5. We see things through from concept to execution
  6. We earn trust through speaking plainly and honestly


“Stay tuned to our social channels to follow the series:


Twitter “

Stuart Harris, COO.

Milligan’s COO, Stuart Harris is donning his cycle helmet and lycra this weekend as he prepares to cycle over 500km through the South of France to this year’s MAPIC. The ride is organised by Club Peloton and aligned with a number of charity partners. The main beneficiary, Coram is the UK’s oldest children’s charity and has been transforming the lives of vulnerable children for 275 years.

Stuart said; “This is a brilliant challenge for a really worthwhile cause. I’m not an everyday cyclist so this has meant three months of hard training, although it’s made easier by the fact you are constantly reminding yourself that you’re raising money which will transform children’s lives. We’ve got three days riding ahead of us starting in Le Puy En Velay and ending in Cannes covering over 520 km with nearly 8,500m of climbing!”

Stuart will fly to Lyon before commencing the route along with nearly 50 other cyclists from Le Puy En Velay, aiming to arrive in Cannes on Tuesday to meet colleagues Mike Anderson and Xavi Alemany who are also attending the conference.

It’s not too late to sponsor Stuart  https://my.race-nation.co.uk/sponsorship/entry/230623

The ‘IKEA Design’ concept store at Milligan development Zubiarte, Bilbao is going from strength to strength. Less than a year after opening, IKEA has further committed to the scheme. It is looking to expand its unique home design concept to further enhance the customer experience and meet customer’s needs, creating an area close to the car park where shoppers can return to collect orders, after creating their bespoke room designs alongside design specialists in-store.

IKEA is in the middle of a big transition to expand beyond its out of town warehouse model, to smaller stores in city centres. The design concept which majors on having IKEA experts on hand to assist customers in every aspect of creating their perfect living space also offers home visits as part of this consultation. The Swedish furniture giant opened more city stores than flagship stores last year in a move which reflects changes in shopping habits and the desire for more convenience.

Xavi Alemany, Director Asset Management for Milligan Spain said; “Zubiarte is well located and attracts a wealthy demographic of shopper. Our customers want great service, convenience, a personal approach and good value, so it’s easy to see why this new generation of IKEA is doing so well here”.

IKEA, Zubiarte opened in December 2018, after the €8 million refurbishment of Zubiarte.