The Battle For Croydon’s Stomach
There’s a new initiative that the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has said that he will get his weight behind. It is a ‘toolkit’ that is being issued to Croydon Council and all London boroughs to target the ever increasing, nay, soaring number of fast-food outlets in the borough. Allied to this, we as a borough have a serious obesity problem, with one in four (63,000) adults, 12,000 children – 750 of whom are one year olds classed as obese.
Recent figures highlight that the borough is one of the top ten London boroughs for the highest concentration of takeaways. Apparently, seven in 100 shops is a take-away/fast-food business.
It got me thinking (with tongue firmly in cheek) that these outlets could/should be encouraged to do their bit in sponsoring street names. I know some have a conscience – they send staff out to collect their packaging dropped on the streets or they sponsor the provision of bins. Greasy pavements and the general mess left by the consumer are just the immediate problem. But street names? That would be something else. Imagine the map of the Croydon of tomorrow!
Take-away stores do have their place and yes, we all find them convenient from time to time. What is worrying is how quickly they appear, and seemingly no sooner is a void in a high street created than it is rapidly filled by such an outlet. It needn’t be this way. Croydon is seen as a fast-food town, but we don’t need the Mayor of London to draw attention to this fact and to initiate a plan to our council. As a borough, we already have a lot to be proud of and to build on for lovers of good food.
For example, as far back as 2007 a rather good book (and I still have a copy) was published by the council’s Community Development Unit. It was Heritage Lottery-funded and called ‘Urban Feast: World Cooking in Croydon’. It was inspired by, and details, the variety of cooking styles across the borough, highlighting Japanese, Jamaican, Polish, Ghanaian, South Indian, and Vietnamese dishes and the individuals who were creating them. It then shows how the produce for these recipes can be found at a huge selection of outlets across the borough, from the vast Oriental supermarket on the Purley Way to huge Asian food warehouses in West Croydon and a variety of specialist food shops that run for miles along London Road, from the town centre to Norbury as well as Surrey street market and then numerous individual shops dotted around. With the ingredients being so readily available, the individuals involved contributed a typical recipe for readers to try. As mentioned before, it was published in 2007 and I imagine if published today there would be quite a few additional recipes to add in.
As recently as April 2012 we had a South Croydon Food Festival to celebrate the world cuisines that are available in the Restaurant Quarter in that end of town. Part of the Croydon Recovery Campaign, it demonstrated the area’s unrivalled global cuisine by providing live cookery demonstrations, free food samples, al fresco dining, and a variety of restaurant offers. It was a huge success with a very big attendance demonstrating the underlying interest that there is in the excellent food available. My understanding is that this is a one-off event and this is what I find a great shame – we, as a borough, should be able to pull together and offer up an annual ‘World Cuisine Day’ celebrating this ‘unrivalled global cuisine’ as an antidote to all of these fast-food outlets. We should be demonstrating that the food, and more importantly the attitude to food, in Croydon is more than the swathe of convenience fast food shops suggests, that these shops are only a small part of an offer, and if you are a real foodie then Croydon is the place to come. We have the restaurants to do this, as proven in South End. My co-contributor to The Croydon Citizen, Liz Sheppard-Jones, backs up this view with her recent, excellent article on Croydon’s ‘Street Food Revolution’.
It will be great once we know who the winning developer will be who will be tasked with regenerating and rebuilding the Whitgift Centre and environs. It cannot happen soon enough to inject life in to our dying retail sector. Where once we were a leading light as a shopping destination, we have fallen away dramatically over the last few decades and it will be some achievement to get amongst the top ten destinations in the UK. Next week, I’ll present what I feel is the strategy for our businesses and community that will make us a town that lives to eat, not eats to live. If you want to prepare yourself, I suggest you grab a shovel.