We sat down with some of Victoria Square’s longest serving staff members to get the inside story on the centre’s history, best moments and celebrity spottings.

Michelle Greeves

Michelle is Centre Manager at Victoria Square and has been here since day one. Read More...

Gerry Blain

Gerry has been Victoria Square’s resident dome tour guide for the past decade. Read More...

Karen O’Hara

As part of the Centre Management Team Karen is our Administrator. Read More...

Tracy Dougherty

A member of House of Fraser since Victoria Square opened, Tracy has seen it all. Read More...

Jamie Maxwell

Jamie is a Customer Service Supervisor at Victoria Square. Read More...

Teresa McGinty

Teresa is a Store manager at Rituals. Read More...

Gerry Blain

How has your role has changed over the last 10 years?

When I first started at Victoria Square, I was actually a customer service supervisor but we couldn’t get anybody up here to look after the dome, so I decided to do it myself. I have been up here for about nine and half years now.

What does your job involve?

Basically, it is meeting people; being friendly; being helpful. My job title is ‘tour guide’, I advise people on what to do in Belfast; what to eat; what to do at night time, hotels and if people are travelling to the Giant’s Causeway, Fermanagh, Mournes, I give them advice on how to get there and what to do.

Let’s talk about the views from the Dome…

People say to me, ‘you must get bored with the views up here,’ but I never get bored of the views. They change because the weather changes; in rain, hail and snow, the views change. In the snow, it gathers on the glass and you have this spectacular view of the snow on the hills surrounding the city. The thing I hear most when people come out of the lift is ‘Wow,’ sometimes in a broad American or Australian accent but it’s often the same reaction.

What’s it like to work within such an iconic landmark?

I actually say I’ve got the best office and the highest office in Belfast. I like meeting different people every day in my job, I sometimes meet groups from America that have come over here to sing, so I would get them to sing in the dome.

I just love the craic and the atmosphere. Over the last 10 years, Belfast has seen a big increase in tourists - it has been massive. I meet people coming into the city every day and we meet over 20 different nationalities up here every day. We get our fair share of locals too. I get people coming up here who maybe come up at Christmas time and I have taken a photo of them for the last four or five Christmases. Then they keep coming back, which is nice.

What three words would you use to describe your role?

Friendly, helpful, guide.

What are your most memorable VSQ moments?

The thing about this dome is that so much actually happens here on a daily basis; it’s hard to pin it down to one or two memorable moments. We’ve had pop groups up here, sport personalities, politicians, dine in the dome events, photo shoots, charity abseils. The list goes on.

So, you get to indulge in a bit of celebrity spotting, then?

Oh yes. I am into rugby and football, so you get to see a lot of the personalities when they visit the dome. My favourite rugby player was a guy called Ruan Pienaar who played for Ulster - I had him and his family up here a few times. Most of the Ulster Rugby team have been up here. Frank Lampard and his wife Christine have also visited. Christine was up here with her dad just before she started at BBC One. I took photographs them and then her dad took a photo of me and Christine!

The dome has also been a setting for many memorable moments for your visitors?

Definitely. It’s a popular spot for proposals. For a period of time we were getting maybe a proposal every four to six weeks. I do remember this one particular proposal though. I was chatting to this couple and I was telling them about all these proposals that were happening up in the dome. The guy said to me, ‘Gerry, where are the toilets here in Victoria Square?’ I told him and off he went. I was chatting away to his girlfriend for about 15 mins and I was beginning to wonder, ‘where has this guy gone to? He came back up, walked over with a big smile on his face and got down on one knee. He actually went down to get an engagement ring from Lunn’s. Then he blamed me because I was talking about proposals!

You are clearly not afraid of heights working up here?

I am afraid of heights, believe it or not. But I have gotten used to it. My wife laughs at me if I have to climb up a ladder at home because my knees knock, yet I work in one of the highest buildings in Belfast. If the glass weren’t here, I would have to stand about 5ft away from the edge as I just couldn’t handle it. There’s also a constant vibration within the platform - it is constantly moving; it doesn’t matter if there are 50 people up here or no one, it is still moving - it has to, it is part of the design. You get used to it after a while.

What is your personal motto?

Enjoy today.

Karen O’Hara

You’ve worked at Victoria Square for 10 years and before that worked at the Victoria Centre - tell us about that journey…

My first job, when I was 17 was in the Victoria Centre. It was very different to Victoria Square – a completely different proposition. I worked in Poundstretcher, which was one of only about eight or nine stores and there was a restaurant and a dining area.

When the Victoria Centre closed, I moved on and worked in another retail store for eight or nine years. It was exciting to see what the centre was going to look like. It was such a huge and important development for the city. Every time you passed it in town you would see it progress, it was interesting to see the change. When I worked in the Victoria Centre, it was mostly office blocks and car parks – it was a huge regeneration project. A friend mentioned that there was a job fair in The Waterfront for Victoria Square. I went down, met some people from House of Fraser, applied and was employed as an administrator. I started on 4th February 2008, when the store was being fitted out.

What was it like being part of the team that opened Victoria Square’s flagship store?

Michelle Greeves, the current centre manger of Victoria Square was the store manager of House of Fraser at the time. She gave a speech about House of Fraser; and how the Victoria Square store was the first in Northern Ireland and how it was such a huge deal for Belfast. She was so passionate and enthusiastic and it filled me with pride and confidence to be part of a team that were bringing something so special to Belfast. She really inspired me and made me feel that I was going to be part of something special.

You moved on to join the centre management team – tell us about your role today?

Six years into the role in House of Fraser, I was working part-time and toying with the idea of going full-time. Then the role of centre administrator became available, so I applied and was successful. I didn’t want to leave Victoria Square, so when this job opened up I thought it was a good progression for me.

My current role in Victoria Square involves managing the front desk, meeting all contractors and visitors to the centre. I deal with the accounts, including invoices, management reports – there are a lot of spreadsheets! I also work on the craft fair, which takes place on the mall every weekend. I also interact with lots of different team members on a daily basis e.g. marketing, facilities, security and the cleaning teams, contributing to the smooth running of the centre.

What three words best describe your role?

Different every day, No two days are the same. You meet different people every day and deal with new situations.

How has Victoria Square evolved over the last 10 years?

It just keeps getting better and better. It’s always exciting to find out which new brand will open next. When I worked in the Victoria Centre, this part of town was tired and run-down. People didn’t really come into this part of the city very often, but now this is the part of the town to be in. It is nice to work in that atmosphere.

In the next 10 years, I envision that lots more exciting brands will come to Victoria Square. We live in a world where labels and brands are becoming more accessible and desired, and are more affordable than they were 10 years ago. There are now better jobs, more disposable income, and more students around town. I have sons and they love their brands and Victoria Square is the place they come to shop.

You must have spotted a few celebrities here over the years?

Absolutely. The most recent celebrity sightings I have had in Victoria Square include the ladies from Loose Women, who were in a few weeks ago, and Gloria Hunniford. I made her a cup of tea myself!

What do you love most about working at Victoria Square?

The thing I love most about my job is the team of people I work with. We work really well together and try to help each other in any way we can. I also love working at Victoria Square because the atmosphere is great. It changes from season to season, it never stays the same. Lastly, I love the stores - I always shop here myself.

What’s your personal mantra?

Keep calm and take each day as it comes.

What are your most memorable VSQ moments?

The most memorable moment for me over the past 10 years was the year I joined the management team. The marketing team put on a display in the centre, which was Alice in Wonderland. I was invited along to the press morning with my daughter who was four at the time. We went to Frankie and Bennies for breakfast, then met got to meet Alice, which my daughter loved.

My children are 24, 20, 17 and seven now. They were little when I first started and have grown up with me working in Victoria Square and shop here themselves. Their favourite brands here are JD and House of Fraser.

What has been your greatest achievement over the last 10 years?

The greatest achievement from my time at Victoria Square has to be progressing from a part time job in House of Fraser to being part of the management team for the whole centre. It’s really gratifying working as part of a team at Northern Ireland’s largest shopping centre – working behind the scenes to make sure everything is ticking over and working as it should be.

Tracy Dougherty

You’ve been with House of Fraser for 10 years – what was it like in the run up to the big opening in 2008?

I started with House of Fraser as an operations manager. I began working in the planning stages in 2007 well before the store was finished and was involved in the fit-out stage. I looked after behind the scenes details, managing everything from HR processes, the loading bays, our visual team, personal shoppers and till process – we have over 100 tills across the store, so it was a busy time in the run up to the opening, making sure everything was running smoothly. It was a lot less glamourous in those days, with my hard hat and high vis jacket!

How has your role evolved over the last 10 years?

From 2007 right through until about four years ago, I worked alongside Michelle Greeves - now centre manager of Victoria Square - who was the store manager of House of Fraser at that stage. I learnt a lot from Michelle and we continue to have a great working relationship now that she is leading the centre management team. I was then promoted to become deputy store manager and today I work with the store manager and 18 other managers to ensure the smooth running for House of Fraser, Belfast.

What’s an average day like in your job?

There is no such thing – that’s what I love about my job. It’s varied and diverse, to say the least. No two days are ever the same and it’s a fast-paced environment. I’m in work from about 7.30/8 o’clock and my day starts with meetings exploring daily figures, how trade has been and matching against KPIs. Then I work with the store manager to look at standards across the store and staffing. Lately we have been looking at the 10th anniversary celebrations and what they will look like. We work with a lot of brand partners and spend time throughout the day with our teams and managers. We are always planning what the day, week and month ahead looks like and there is always some travel included there. Every day is different, exciting and challenging.

What was it like to be part of the opening team?

It was a hugely exciting time and there was such a buzz about Victoria Square opening and House of Fraser coming to Belfast. As the centre’s flagship store, it was the first – and still is – the biggest department store launch in the city and the excitement was just palpable. There was a real feeling that Belfast had arrived and huge excitement that all of these big sought after brands were now going to be available in Belfast for the first time.

10 years on, what continues to make House of Fraser and Victoria Square so important?

It has amazed a lot people that little old Belfast is up there within the top performing stores in the UK. A lot of brands are exclusive to us, which makes it really special for our customers. We are constantly innovating and evolving. The customer experience is always at the front of mind. In an era where online shopping is becoming more common, you have to make the retail environment exciting and engaging for customers to give them a reason to come into the store. That is at the heart of our approach; we’re constantly refreshing and improving the store, adding new and exclusive brands and we are committed to providing first-class customer service.

I am proud of that as our customers’ expectation grow and grow, the service that our staff provide and the rapport they build with the customers continues to improve. A lot of our staff have been here for ten years and they love their jobs.

10 years on, what continues to make House of Fraser and Victoria Square so important?

It has amazed a lot people that little old Belfast is up there within the top performing stores in the UK. A lot of brands are exclusive to us, which makes it really special for our customers. We are constantly innovating and evolving. The customer experience is always at the front of mind. In an era where online shopping is becoming more common, you have to make the retail environment exciting and engaging for customers to give them a reason to come into the store. That is at the heart of our approach; we’re constantly refreshing and improving the store, adding new and exclusive brands and we are committed to providing first-class customer service.

I am proud of that as our customers’ expectation grow and grow, the service that our staff provide and the rapport they build with the customers continues to improve. A lot of our staff have been here for ten years and they love their jobs.

What three words would you use to describe your role?

Varied. Exciting. Pacy.

Finish this sentence: ‘I love working at Victoria Square because…’

I love working at Victoria Square because of the people – my fantastic colleagues, the brilliant brands we work with and our customers. I love the fact that I get to work with and meet such a great range of people every day. House of Fraser employs 600 people in Belfast – it’s a huge and diverse team.

What’s been your biggest achievement to date whilst working at Victoria Square?

When Michelle, now the Victoria Square centre manager, left the store in the October about 4 years ago to take up her new role, we had a period of about four to five months before the new store manager arrived. Myself and the team successfully ran the store over Christmas – it was the most successful Christmas since the store had opened. The Belfast store continues to be one of the best performing House of Fraser stores in the whole of the UK and I take great pride in this – we all do. It’s a huge team effort to ensure a store of this size runs smoothly and that we continue to exceed our customers’ expectations.

Hosting and being part of the MTV celebrations in 2011 was also a highlight - it has to be up there with my funniest times working with the store. We did a live window display where customers had to apply to Cool FM to dance in our windows to LMFAO to win tickets to the Awards. It was absolutely hilarious! To be part of that was amazing.

How will House of Fraser be celebrating the 10th anniversary?

When the store opened, we partnered with local artist Terry Bradley to design a shopping bag – it was fantastic and they were in huge demand. We’re bringing Terry back for the 10th anniversary and we will be exhibiting a range of his iconic paintings on the third floor, as you go into The Ivory bar and Restaurant. Terry is going to auction one of his canvasses in aid of Alzheimer’s UK and House of Fraser’s charity partner, Action For Children.

We kick started the celebrations on the first weekend in March with a Big Birthday Shopping Event, with big brand event offering a huge range of discounts across the store. Floral Earth hosted a masterclass with Jo Malone, showing people how to make their own posies and they’ll also be back for Mother’s Day weekend with a pop-up shop, selling Mother’s Day bouquets. We also brought Artic Stone - the only Handled ice cream company in Ireland back for a pop-up.

On top of that we will be having masterclasses with international Make Up Artists through our beauty brands, we will have giveaways and a recognition points offer, beauty giveaways when you spend £60, live music and much more.

What has been your biggest celeb spotting over the last 10 years?

Definitely Lady Gaga! It was right back at the beginning; she hadn’t hit her highlight then. That was really exciting. We also spotted Princess Anne at The Ivory when she was here to do some charity work; one of the stop offs was in Belfast city centre and she came to the Ivory. We arranged for some of our staff to meet her and that was really lovely.

What are your most memorable moments from the last 10 years?

I will never forget our opening day. The 6th March 2008 will forever be etched in my memory. There had been such a big build up to that day and it was so exciting and emotional for everyone involved.

House of Fraser and Victoria Square brought something very different to the city and a lot of our customers travelled from far and wide for the opening day – the queues outside were incredible. What I always remember about that day is that we had to assign staff to manage the flow of people in store - customers travelled up and down the escalators and a lot of the time, when they came off at a floor they just stopped to look around in amazement – staff were there to keep moving people along so there wasn’t an accident! It was the most successful ever store opening for House of Fraser at that time. It was quite emotional because we all worked so hard; we were so tired but it was really exciting and everyone was so proud to have been part of this special moment for Belfast.

What is your Personal Mantra?

I don’t say it every day but I think it every day; treat everybody like you would expect to be treated yourself. Always give somebody time and listen.

Jamie Maxwell

What does your role involve?

On a daily basis my main responsibilities are; Gift card sales, Customer enquiries, facilitating visitors to the dome and making sure everyone has a smooth, enjoyable shopping experience within Victoria Square. 

What three words would you use to describe your role?

Rewarding. Evolving. Diverse

What attracted you to start working at Victoria Square 10 years ago?

I was studying, when a part time role became available to help operate the dome and lift for the grand opening of Victoria Square. It seemed like an exciting opportunity to be a part of the leading shopping centre in Northern Ireland. I continued to work within Victoria Square for several years whilst studying and became a full time member of the team after completing my studies.

What is the biggest change you’ve noticed since you started working at Victoria Square?

I’ve loved seeing the shopping centre evolve and becoming a focal point for the community. Each year our events & marketing team do a fantastic job in making the experience extra special for all our visitors.

How do you see Victoria Square changing over the next 10 years?

I Hope the Shopping centre continues to be a hub for shopping, restaurant and Cinema lovers. I’m mostly excited to see all the amazing events that we hold throughout the year within the shopping centre, these allow us to welcome new and old customers to the centre and show them how much we appreciate their visits.

What do you like most about your job?

The customers! We have customers who call regularly to visit us and we always love to hear how their experiences are during their visit. It’s also very exciting welcoming new customers to the centre. When manning the dome, it’s always a pleasure to speak to visitors from across the world and give them a snap shot of Belfast.

Finish this sentence: ‘I love working at Victoria Square because…’

I love working at Victoria Square because of my work family! It takes a large team to help run the shopping centre and I thoroughly enjoy working with each of them. Each department plays a key part in helping ensure the centre is running smoothly and it wouldn’t be possible without a great team working together.

What’s been your biggest achievement to date whilst working at Victoria Square?

One of my biggest achievements would be my role progression within Victoria Square. From being a dome/lift attendant and progressing to customer service supervisor. With a bit of hard work and determination, I’m proud of my achievement and glad I got to progress in a fast-paced environment such as Victoria Square.

What advice would you give to new recruits?

Victoria Square is a great environment to learn in. From summer holidays to Christmas, there is always a great atmosphere in the centre. Working during each season gives you a lot of customer and retail experience. For example, Christmas is always busy within Customer Services due to our very popular Victoria Square Gift Card.

Who’s the most exciting celebrity you’ve spotted in Victoria Square over the years?

We spotted Peter Kay shopping with his family last year in Victoria Square. My family love him!

What is your personal mantra?

Take each day as it comes, tomorrow will always bring a new day and a new opportunity.

What are your most memorable VSQ moments?

We recently did role swaps with other departments and our management team for ‘Customer Service Excellence Week.’ Everyone had great fun while also learning new elements of the business. This week brought our team closer and would defiantly be one my most memorable moments while working at Victoria Square.

Teresa McGinty

Rituals is one of the original stores that opened 10 years ago – tell us more about the brand…

Rituals is a Dutch owned company. Its philosophy is to turn every day routines into one meaningful ritual. The company was founded 17 years ago and is now in 27 countries. The Victoria Square store is the only Rituals store in Northern Ireland and the first company owned store in the UK and Ireland.

You have worked here from day one – what was that opening week like, looking back?

Ten years ago, I was working in another shopping centre; everyone was talking about Victoria Square opening and excited at the prospect. There was such a buzz about Victoria Square opening and all of these big brands that were coming to the city; some for the first time. I wanted to be part of the team that opened Victoria Square and I was excited to work for such a new and unique brand in Northern Ireland. I have served and talked to customers and visitors from all over Ireland. People talk about how beautiful it is, the dome in particular. It makes me very proud to be part of the centre.

What does your job involve, day-to-day?

My job involves sales, customer service and building brand awareness. We run a lot of events, which are built around providing a meaningful experience for the customer and helping them to bring meaningful rituals into their every day; stopping to take a little time for themselves.

What is it like to work in Victoria Square?

It can be a little chilly at times (laughs) but this is such a great place to work. Victoria Square is also one of the most beautiful centres in the North and South of Ireland. There is a real community here, it’s like being part of a family.

What three words would you use to describe your role?

Fun, different and exciting.

How has the Rituals store grown over the last 10 years?

Awareness of the businesses and brand has grown over the past 10 years. We get a lot of people coming in based on recommendations from friends and family. Customers are very loyal to the brand and are quick to recommend us based on the quality of our products.

For Rituals as a company, our Victoria Square store is one of the brand’s most successful stores. At Christmas we are among the top two Rituals stores in the UK and Ireland. I am very proud of how successful we have become over the past 10 years and how much of this repeat business is generated by word of mouth recommendations from our customers, who just love the brand.

What’s ahead for Victoria Square in the next 10 years, do you think?

I expect to see Victoria Square grow and progress even more over the next 10 years, with more and more brands coming to the centre. It is hard to believe it has been 10 years already, it has flown by. I am looking forward to being a part of the Victoria Square family for the next 10 years.

Have you spotted many celebrities over the years?

Oh yes – there have been so many people in and out of here over the years. The biggest celebrity sighting I have had personally, would be Jamie Dornan.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

What I like most about my job is the team that I work with. My assistant manager, Ciara has been with me for five years. I love throwing and hosting events in the store about twice year, and also seeing the company grow in UK and Ireland.

What’s your biggest achievement over the last 10 years?

My biggest achievement whilst working in Victoria Square is the year on year growth the store has experienced. The Victoria Square store is now one of the top performing Rituals stores in the UK and Ireland. I am proud to be part the team that helped achieve this success and part of a company that values its people.

What’s your personal mantra?

Take a few minutes out every day to enjoy everyday rituals – a little bit of me time is good for the heart and soul.

What are your most memorable VSQ moments?

A couple of years ago, the centre management team ran a ‘Victoria Cares’ campaign, where customers were invited to provide feedback on members of the staff across the whole centre. I received the highest amount of positive comment cards and won the award and a £500 gift card. That was a really memorable moment and it meant so much that our customers

Michelle Greeves

You started your career at Victoria Square at the flagship store, House of Fraser – tell us about the build up to the opening in 2008?

It was a 6 month countdown, to recruit a world class 600 strong team, to deliver a world class store, with world class brands. There was huge excitement and expectation of what Victoria Square would bring to the city, including so many ‘first to market brands’ to Belfast and Northern Ireland. There was so pride from all of the teams as they prepared to showcase their new brands, through much hard work and long hours, in the build up to March 6th 2008.

What was it like, being there on that first day, when the doors to House of Fraser opened for the first time?

Emotion, pride and nervousness was felt by the entire House of Fraser team, but also the entire centre. Months of hard work, in training to be the best, and now our moment had come. Customers were queued around the building, as they waited with anticipation to be the first to shop, and spend Christmas money they had saved, for this moment. We were totally overwhelmed by their reaction, as they adored this new shopping centre, and all it had brought to Belfast.

You moved on from House of Fraser to become Centre Manager of Victoria Square – how has your role evolved over the years?

I feel extremely proud and privileged to have been given this opportunity. It has allowed me to develop skillsets I had not previously been given exposure to e.g setting budgets and managing to those, and developing marketing strategies. Its has also allowed to continue to bring my skillsets to the centre, eg. My passion for retail and leisure, allows me to build strong relationships with all of the centre brands, as I understand their business, and can ensure we support in creating experiences within the centre. The customer has to be at the heart of everything we do, and their memories and experiences have shaped Victoria Square.

How would you describe a typical day at Victoria Square (is there such a thing)?

Probably spinning lots of plates. Whether it is reviewing the cleaning standards in the centre, and trying to understand how we raise the standards for our customers, or discussing some of the new exciting events we are holding, and trying to think of creative ways to delight our customers, the role is so varied and exciting

What three words would you use to describe your role?

World Class Experience

What do you feel Victoria Square has contributed to the city of Belfast over the last decade?

We have created a unique environment where customers enjoy spending time, whether shopping our 150 unique brands, or enjoying a coffee or food with friends, to watching the latest blockbuster on the big screen….it is a special place where our customer make memories. Victoria square has also contributed significantly to the economy, through raising over £75million in rates to employing over 2,500 people (116 of whom have been there from day 1 like myself). Victoria Square remains Northern Ireland’s largest ever retail-led commercial development, regenerating part of the city, and subsequent surrounding areas.

Tell us about your proudest moment/biggest achievement over the last 10 years?

Being part of Victoria Square from 2008 has been my greatest privilege and source of pride. This centre that has achieved so much from literally changing the skyline to include our beautiful Dome, to creating a wonderful customer experience through my talented team. But also having a positive economic impact locally, to engaging with so many communities, to help raise over £200,000 for local charities. We are a local shopping centre, employing local people, and supporting local brands. We have a Sunday fayre which supports local artisans, and also 5 local shops and restaurants.

After 10 years, how do you continue to improve the customer experience to make shopping at Victoria Square memorable?

We continually gain feedback from our customers to understand their behaviours and therefore what we need to do to raise the standards. I am privileged to have an excellent team, and together we challenge ourselves to understand the market trends, and then adapt our plans to exceed those expectations. The entire Victoria Square 60 strong team are proud of this centre, we spend much of our time here, and care about ensuring our customer enjoy their time too.

As Centre Manager, you’re leading a huge team of people – How important are your team?

Victoria Square is many things to many people. However it would not have been the success it is without the 2,500 strong team that bring it to life, every day, irrelevant of any external factors, they passionately care about this centre, what it represents and how essential their customer service is to its success…without this team it just wouldn’t be Victoria Square.

How do you see Victoria Square evolving over the next 10 years?

Customer experience is at the heart of everything we do because we want shoppers to keep coming back to Victoria Square. The reason for our 10th birthday celebrations is that we want to give our customers a chance to share their memories of the centre and to learn what they would like to see in future,” “We hope to introduce more new brands to the centre throughout 2018 and we look forward to making a continued contribution to the local economy in the next 10 years.”

Finish this sentence: ‘I love working at Victoria Square because…

I still feel a huge sense of pride to say I love working at Victoria Square…..where memories are made…

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