A CAMPAIGNER launched a petition to return Watford’s shopping centre to its original name, just hours after its new name was revealed.

The centre’s new management Global Mutual and Savills yesterday announced it would be renamed Atria Watford, after having been called intu Watford since 2013.

intu went into administration last year and an Observer poll showed widepsread support for a return to its original name, the Harlequin Centre.

George Ryan, 27, grew up close to the centre in Queen’s Road, and has a fond attachment to the Harlequin name.

He said Atria Watford is “not a catchy name” and it has nothing to do with the area.

As a result, he launched a petition that he hopes will spark conversation and a potential reconsideration.

1994: The colonnaded entrance to The Harlequin shopping centre, topped with a copy of the Ketts dome (the original fell apart)

1994: The colonnaded entrance to The Harlequin shopping centre, topped with a copy of the Ketts dome (the original fell apart)

He said: “I just felt angry that clearly these people don’t understand our town at all. I assumed they’d listen to their customers.

“Obviously the centre has been known as intu since 2013, but for a long time since 1990, it was the Harlequin Centre.”

Mr Ryan is fearful for the retail industry after it was heavily affected in the last year by the pandemic, and believes that it is vital the community is encouraged by Atria’s new management.

“What we really need in Watford is a sensitive stability. Because when the shopping centre reopens it’s going to be missing John Lewis, Debenhams, Topshop – a lot of shops will be shut,” he said.

“So to give it a new name in such a perilous time for retail - really we need to be anchored in the proud history of Watford.”

The former intu Debenhams store

The former intu Debenhams store

The petitioner explained that a return to the Harlequin name would have boosted public confidence in the centre, and more people would be likely to return to it and support the centre once it reopens.

He continued: “There’s a real risk that the shopping centre won’t recover, and if people are upset about the name – it may sound silly – but a brand is really important and it could really spell disaster if people don’t return or want to return to Atria Watford.”

Looking back at his childhood, he explained visits to the Harlequin were an “activity” and “conjure up a lot of happy memories.”

“Even though it’s a short history, it’s still an important history.

“They need a sense of history in order to inspire confidence, given the shopping centre is going to look very different when it finally reopens.”

intu Watford has been renamed to Atria Watford

intu Watford has been renamed Atria Watford

Steve Gray, head of European retail asset management at Global Mutual, said: “After careful consideration, we believe the centre needs a fresh start under new ownership that reflects the exciting future ambitions for Atria Watford.

“We remain incredibly respectful towards the sentiment The Harlequin holds in Watford, which has helped shape the strong community values the centre has today.

“Having received over £200m investment, including the new £180m extension, new retailers, restaurants and leisure activities, the centre looks unrecognisable from its past self, and will continue to evolve as we welcome exciting new brands and experiences.

“Atria Watford represents these exciting changes and celebrates a limitless, bright and prosperous future for Watford town centre.”

To support the petition in renaming Atria Watford to the Harlequin, visit: tiny.cc/harlequinpetition