It’s been up-and-coming since time began – but now it’s finally time for the London Borough of Croydon to shine. Vicky Smith takes a look at the sharp edge of the ‘Croydon facelift’…
When I was younger, the term ‘Croydon facelift’ was a nickname for a rather severe high ponytail. Fast-forward 15 years or so, though, and the term Croydon facelift now means something else entirely.
The once maligned borough is finally getting some positive attention, thanks to a £5.25bn cash injection and ambitious regeneration plan set to transform its residential, recreational and retail spaces. Finally, the time has come to talk about Croydon for all the right reasons. If you’re looking to invest or move further out, get in there quick, as south west Londoners are already clocking the convenience of the short commute to Victoria and the excellent Whitgift School.
If you haven’t been out to CR0 for a while, you’ll notice the difference. As you exit East Croydon station and stroll towards the town centre, you’ll come to the first indicator that something’s afoot: Boxpark. It’s a huge, trendy space built from old shipping containers that now house independent bars, restaurants, cafes and arts spaces. Meat Liquor and The Breakfast Club are already in residence around a central courtyard where you can eat, drink and be merry.
Head down on a Saturday afternoon and you’ll find the place buzzing with families, young professionals and groups of twentysomethings having afternoon beers. You might question where all these people were before, and you have to wonder whether they’re actually only now considering Croydon as a viable option for a night out? If so, it’s proof that the plan is already working. (While the Saturday night queue for Croydon’s infamous Tiger Tiger was legendary, it wasn’t necessarily for the right reasons).
What makes the project’s arrival in the area perhaps even more notable is the fact that the only other Boxpark in all of London is situated in Shoreditch, that enclave of east London that’s widely regarded as the epitome of all things ‘cool’. Not to sound cynical, but Croydon hardly seems the obvious choice of second location for somewhere that made its name in hipster central. I put it to Roger Wade, CEO and founder of Boxpark, and he’s quick to explain his decision.
The idea that the entire borough is boring and grey is ridiculous and insulting. I was born and bred in south London. I’m proud of my roots and I wanted to bring a world-class development to Croydon
‘Well, why not? Croydon is the largest London borough by population. It has suffered an image problem, and the idea that the entire borough was regarded as boring and grey is ridiculous and insulting. I was born and bred in south London. I’m proud of my roots and I wanted to bring a world-class development to Croydon.’
As a fellow south Londoner, I couldn’t agree more. One of the best things about the project is the dedication to supporting local business, as Matthew McMillan, Boxpark’s Development Director, explains: ‘Boxpark has been open for just three months and in that time, we’ve worked with over 20 local artists and projects.
‘We’ve welcomed the likes of Made In Croydon, a collective that has showcased local designers and creatives, and we’ve collaborated with the south London collective Love Cronx and community-run organisation Beats and Eats to bring free live music to the area. In addition, Boxpark has delivered over 200 new jobs and an overall GVA of £7-£10m to the Croydon economy.’
Two other locals who run their business in the area are Simon Dale and Mark Russell, who founded Cronx Brewery in 2012. ‘Having been born and raised here, we knew there was a big gap in the market given Croydon’s size and the fact it had no brewery,’ begins Dale when I ask him why they decided to set up on home turf.
‘The catchment area is huge,’ he says. ‘You’ve got central Croydon, but the suburbs are massive too and the transport links are brilliant. There’s a lot more positivity in Croydon nowadays. It used to be seen from the outside as a rough area, with not much going for it. There are great businesses opening up, a lot of community-led projects, a really impressive and expanding street art scene, and a good choice of pubs, bars and restaurants. People are now travelling to Croydon to eat and drink, which is great.’
With the development plan well under way, Croydon is quickly becoming recognised as the next place to be. Croydon attracts a wide variety of buyers looking to get good value for their money
Away from the burgers, bars and breweries, life in Croydon has much to offer people of all ages with all interests, from the young professionals who are snapping up the area’s exciting new developments, to families drawn by the reasonable prices and good schools.
Ashley Whitehouse, sales manager of Foxtons Croydon, comments: ‘With the development plan well under way, Croydon is quickly becoming recognised as the next place to be. With a diverse property portfolio including new-build developments such as Saffron Tower and Surrey House, as well as Victorian houses, Croydon attracts a wide variety of buyers looking to get good value for their money.
Due to an increasing number of both new build developments and office to residential conversions, Croydon is beginning to resemble Canary Wharf. ‘Looking to benefit from the expected ‘Westfield effect’ [the current Whitgift and Centrale shopping centres are to be taken over by Westfield], investors are taking a noticeable interest in the area. Young professionals are attracted by the 15-minute commute to London Victoria, and with a good choice of parks and schools rated by Ofsted as Outstanding and Good, it’s also appealing to families looking to upsize.
But what of the buildings that make up the heart of the area? If you didn’t think that the concrete-heavy town centre was of any architectural note, think again. Last summer the National Trust held walking tours exploring the divisive Brutalist buildings for which the area is renowned.
Love it or hate it, in many design circles concrete is big news, and structures such as the hexagonal No 1 Croydon, and the 1970s Lunar House on Wellesley Road are of interest to those with a keen eye for iconic design.
Another building to feature was Fairfield Halls, a venue which, in its heyday, hosted the likes of The Who, The Beatles, Morrissey, T-Rex and Queen. The venue closed last summer for a £30m refurbishment and when completed, will be an important part of a new ‘cultural and educational quarter’.
Whether the area which spawned Kate Moss and Sir Philip Green will draw such enormous names as Paul McCartney and Roger Daltrey again remains to be seen, but what’s for sure is that there’s already innumerable reasons for the rest of us to start making the most of one of London’s most underrated – and promising – areas.