THE MODERN BRIXTON REVOLUTION
As Made in Brixton begins filming, Elliot Tucker takes a look at the transformation of one of south London’s most vibrant communities
A new reality TV show following in the footsteps of Made in Chelsea and The Only Way is Essex is to be aired this autumn; and this time it’s set in south London. Made in Brixton will follow the ‘structured reality’ of its predecessors and look at the lives of people living in and around SW9.
The idea might seem a bit out of the blue, but look around the area today – Brixton is a snapshot of modern London. Indie bars and coffee shops butt up against jerk chicken stands and fishmongers, young hipsters – or Brixsters – apologetically shuffle around old West Indian men in Market Row and a former luggage shop now sells cocktails against the backdrop of an art installation. It’s no surprise that someone wants to capture the transformation in action. The cornerstones of all of this are the covered market arcades off Coldharbour Lane and Atlantic Road.
Where the Brixton Academy was once the main attraction, it is Brixton Village and Market Row that now draw in thousands of visitors each year. They are noisy, colourful and incredibly diverse stretches of market that bring together achingly cool bars and restaurants alongside the more traditional Afro-Caribbean foodstalls and fishmongers. During peak times, such as the late opening on Thursdays and Fridays or a Saturday afternoon, the area is thronging with a hotchpotch of visitors, residents and traders. The smells and sounds are closer to a North African souk than an English market.
Honest serves up incredible burgers and rosemary chips to long queues, Seven turns out creative cocktails and tapas to a heaving crowd while Elephant offers Pakistani street food. You can get sourdough pizza at Franco Manca, gourmet fried chicken at Wishbone, homemade Thai at KaoSarn… a seemingly endless roster of variety. Musicians and hawkers pop up here and there, adding to the ambience of the place. To use the word eclectic is a huge understatement.
And this hasn’t gone unnoticed by more established brands opening or planning to open in the area. Spanish food giant Brindisa and Wahaca, the Mexican street food experts, have turned their sights on Brixton, giving rise to the grating nickname ‘the new Clapham’. And away from the market Boqueria Tapas, on Acre Lane, is winning multiple awards and opening new sites, while the Craft Beer Co on Station Road is pushing the real ale revolution through south London.
As ever the barometer of change lies in property and retail unit costs in the area. In the past five years prices have risen by almost 40%, an average increase of over £125,000. The average sale price of a Brixton property, in the past five years, is just under £350,000 and the typical rent is now £1,670pcm.
For a lot of people this change is something to be challenged and contested – and they have. Champagne and Fromage opened in Brixton Village to an inventive protest of residents drinking Strongbow and eating Dairylea. And when pop-up hot dog shop, Electric Dog, announced its opening, local forum urban75.net conveyed local feelings; ‘What is the distinction, between “pop-up” and “fly-by-night”?’ asked one commentator, while another ironically added ‘another front line in the continuing battle against gentrification’.
Many local residents believe Brixton is losing its identity. They shun terms such as ‘new Hoxton’ and believe the recent changes are creating a bubble of affluence and money, driving the real Brixtonians out. Recently a social media campaign began in light of Nour Cash & Carry in Market Row facing a 22% rent rise.
‘If a popular store like Nour can’t manage to stay open then I fear for the unique nature of the market. I would hate to see the bland chain stores take over as they did in Spitalfields’, campaign organiser Pippa Crouch said.
When Made in Brixton airs this autumn it will doubtlessly show an area in the midst of huge change. Brixton is, and always has been, a place of change; it’s never been smooth and simple, but it has certainly always been interesting.