SHOPPING back in 1988 was all about the mall.

Influenced by the US, and before the internet took hold, shiny new centres, complete with cinemas and food courts, were all the rage.

Back then, now defunct names like BHS and Woolworths were big business.

New licensing laws meant British pubs could stay open all day, and a pint would have set you back 99p. In 1988, the average house price in Scotland was around £34,300; the average salary was £8, 853; and a typical grocery shop would have cost £6.74….

It was also the year Adele and Tiny Tempah were born; Sean Connery won Best Supporting Actor for The Untouchables; and Bobby McFerrin was number one with Don’t Worry, Be Happy…..

And in Glasgow’s east end, The Forge Shopping Centre opened its doors.

It was part of GEAR (Glasgow East Area Renewal), the largest urban regeneration project of its kind when it was founded in 1976 with the aim of providing “core areas with development potential” in the east end of Glasgow.

A new shopping centre, complete with supermarket, multiplex cinema and at least 40 retail units, was part of the plan, built on the site of the recently closed Parkhead Forge plant of Beardmore’s steel works.

Work began in 1986 and on October 10, 1988, The Forge opened its doors.

The main anchor was the supermarket Gateway, at the time the largest in Scotland, but in 1990 it changed to ASDA, who have remained there ever since.

Since then The Forge, which boasts more than 70 shops across 400,000 square feet of under cover retail space and 1600 car parking spaces, has grown to become one of Scotland’s best loved centres.

It is home to a seven-screen cinema and a family entertainment centre, plus many well-known retailers like River Island, H&M and Primark.

Owners Belfast Office Properties took over in 2006.

Mark Biagioni is one of the centre’s longest serving employees, joining the staff 28 years ago as a security officer.

Now working in customer service, Mark, who lives in the west end, explains: “I had just left college when I saw the job advertised and I thought it sounded like a great opportunity, a new challenge in a different part of the city.

“I like helping people, and 28 years later, I’m still here, doing a job I love. There’s a really great team of people working here, and it’s great to be part of it.”

One of Mark’s previous roles involved customer care in the centre car park.

Breakdown services were not as popular then, so I’d go round making sure no-one had a puncture or flat battery,” he says.

“I once helped a woman who had left her lights on, only to realise with two kids in the car and a boot full of a month’s shopping that her battery was flat.

“I helped jump start the car and got her on her way and she wrote a lovely thank you letter – it’s really nice when you get feedback like that.”

That role also involved a spell as ‘Santa’s helper’ when Father Christmas arrived at The Forge on the back of the famous Chitty Chitty Bang Bang car back in the 90s.

“I had to make sure we didn’t miss any of the turns,” smiles Mark.

“Everyone was cheering – at Santa, not at me! It was one of the weirdest things I’ve had to do. It’s what I love about the job, though – always something unexpected.”

As a trained first-aider, Mark has had to help his fair share of customers in trouble, but his favourite was a woman who went into labour in the centre’s service corridor.

“I was running about trying to help, but she just waved me away with ‘och, don’t worry son, I’ve had five weans already so I know what I’m doing’,” he laughs.

“I like being out in the centre, just helping people.

“I once passed a woman wearing a long, black coat, and as she walked by, a little kitten’s head popped out.”

He smiles: “We don’t allow animals in the centre, but before I could tell her, she said – ‘I know what you’re going to say, but I didn’t know he was in there, honestly…”

Mark was awarded a prestigious national customer service accolade recently at the Revo ACE awards.

“That was fantastic, a real honour,” he says.

“I love my job, and I’m delighted The Forge is celebrating its 30th anniversary. Here’s to the next 30 – although I might have retired by then…”

The centre kicks off a year of celebrations with its ’30 Acts of Kindness’ campaign, which will see local charities, customers and groups benefit.

On October 6 and 7, the Forge is giving shoppers a chance to win £30,000.

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