OXFORD’S biggest shopping centre is “thriving” in the recession — despite the closure of some of its biggest names, managers claimed.

Templars Square Centre in Cowley has 14 empty shops, including three of its largest premises and the former Woolworths has been vacant since December.

There are now 63 retailers listed on the centre’s official website – down from 85 in 2002. But manager Aaron Bayliss insists the centre is well poised to counter the global economic crisis.

He said: “Of course we are disappointed that our big retailers, like Woolworths, have closed.

“But the centre is thriving in this recession because almost all of our retailers offer functional items — things that people need, not luxury goods.

“Most of the shops here are experiencing increased trade and our footfall hasn’t dropped over recent years. People don’t need expensive boutique shops at the moment.

“The centre, and the shops in it, are in an ideal position to survive, and thrive in, this recession.”

Laurie Wheeler, owner of independent butchers Wheeler’s, said he was on course for a record year.

He said: “There has been a slight dip since the schools broke up, as is usual, but apart from that things are going very well.

“We have’t seen any downturn in trade at all. In January and February, our takings were up by about £1,000 every week.

“Templars Square will be fine – there are always bargains to be found.”

Chris White, who works at Stokes Greengrocers, said: “We haven’t been affected by the recession, things are going quite well. Our takings are on a par with recent years.

“It is a shame about the empty shops, but I certainly haven’t noticed any drop in numbers.”

Roy Pagett Photography has been based in the centre since 2008. Mr Pagett said: “We arrived when the credit crunch was starting, and we have seen a pretty constant footfall from then. Some days it can be absolutely heaving.”

More than 300 people turned out to see Richard Crossman, minister of housing, officially open the Cowley Centre, as it was then called, in May 1965.

Traders at the time feared it would spell the end of the centre, but it took on a new lease of life when the John Allen Centre, which houses stores like Matalan, opened opposite. The centre became Templars Square in 1989.

It is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a range of events, including historical displays, music and theatre giveaways between 12pm and 4pm every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday throughout August.