Note: I wrote this in like, 2015 – before Boxpark Croydon opened, before Yates closed down, when things were different. I’ve made a couple of little updates, but please forgive any statements found that are no longer true today.
I wrote this after the 12,000,000th person gave me the same reaction I’ve received for years when I say I live in Croydon; a mesh of pity, amusement and misconceptions. But Croydon will be different one day. No really, it will. Prior to the gentrification of areas now home to Westfield, people south of the river would come to Croydon to shop in the Whitgift. Sounds daft now, and there wasn’t even a Primark at the time, but it was true.
Fast forward perhaps just over a decade and things have changed – Croydon got severely left behind somewhere between the focus of progression on other areas in London and the riots.
News has been brewing for a couple of years that a Westfield centre will be built in Croydon and honestly, I feel quite conflicted with the announcement – but ultimately, admittedly, I was excited about the idea because this place needs more than an independent coffee shop that wannabe hipsters piss themselves over whenever they say its name. We even have an overpriced workspace in Croydon for freelancers now. The town seems to be developing solely to accommodate the middle class that are seeping into areas like Hacklney and Peckham, areas they previously wouldn’t have touched with a barge-pole. What about the ones who were here, the ones who never left? What developments have been put in place to better our lives that isn’t fast food or coffee related?
It’s a strange conflict for many living in the Croydon borough, because whilst we want more, we want it to be ours. I still enjoy walking from south Croydon into West Croydon; I enjoy the atmosphere of genuinely diverse ethnic life. I love the smell of fresh bread wafting outside of the Turkish Food Centre, where a huge loaf is still available for 70p – which wouldn’t be the case if everything transcended into a pretentious market. I like buying a Caribbean lunch box for £3 instead of the usual hipster meal deals for £8.00 that arrive with a shitty beer. I buy my meat from a shop where Pakistani men are in and out all day getting fresh lamb carcasses from their van and carrying them on their back into the store where they charge a decent amount, or less if you can haggle. I don’t want life here to change; it’s retained it’s authenticity compared to Shoreditch, a place that now soullessly recreate global comforts for a pretty penny, whether it be Mexican food or overpriced fried chicken.
I liked going into Yates when things are crap and everything is £1.50 and my feet get stuck to the floor so horrifically I genuinely think I may have to leave my shoe behind and they play bashment and house and trap and R&B and garage and the entry fee is never above £2, and even so we still go early enough so we can go for free because why pay £2?
I am a hypocrite because I want better choices as a consumer but I don’t want major consumers living here because the commute to London Victoria or London Bridge is easy.
I enjoyed shopping in Allders, an independent department store that opened in 1862 and was the third largest department store in the UK. It closed in 2012 after surviving 2 world wars and re-opened as what was set to be a designer outlet but actually was a disaster and continues to be whilst people only see the store when using its convenient walk through from the high-street into the Whitgift centre, catching a quick glimpse at the knock-off looking Justin Bieber perfumes they sell wondering what the hell happened here.
Those involved in the process of rejuvenating Croydon have no idea who Croydon and its people are. Or perhaps they do, and they want to change it, which I suppose isn’t unreasonable given it’s image. When I went to New York, a restaurant owner in Manhattan asked me where I was from. When I said Croydon with no expectations that he’d know where that was, he replied, ‘you guys burned your town down, didn’t you? So sad.’
Boxpark Croydon arrived late 2016. It sits next to my office, and I’ve tried most of the food there with my dad, who meets me for lunch. I had a Guyanese curry that I had to smear with chillis as I wept for its lack of taste. It all feels mind-numbingly mediocre, all overpriced. Ethnic flavours turned into a profitable novelty. That being said, Boxpark has its perks. It hosted the Eskimo Dance, it’s provided us with a place to go following the closure of Yates and the Black Sheep Bar, et al. You count your blessings when you get them.
Whether or not we get a Westfield centre and whether or not it’s turns out to be a good thing, I just hope whoever attempts to bring something new to Croydon next understands that we don’t want to be what everyone else deems as being superior to what we have.
We have enough going on. We housed Big Apple Records, a historic place that gave birth to Dubstep. We are the home of Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and The BRITs School, attended by the likes of Amy Winehouse and Adele. We gave you Stormzy mate. There is energy that lives in its civilians that I hope never gets lost.