Are Croydon’s nightclubs offering enough variety? An open letter to investors

By - Friday 18th October, 2013

Are you a nightclub developer looking for low rents but a big, young demography looking for something different? Tom Lickley has your solution…

Burning Bright: A good night out in a beautifully restored building, but Tiger Tiger needs a rival. Photo by Ewan Munro. Used under Creative Commons.

To Whom It May Concern,

You’ve heard of Croydon. Most likely for the wrong reasons. Riots, dull urban environment, etc., the usual clichés. A town with too tarnished a reputation to be considered a safe bet, but too far from Central London to be considered edgy. In other words, a fantastic opportunity. But why?

Tiger Tiger. Reflex. Lloyds. Shooshh. Croydon’s current nightlife is not considered fashionable, cool, or ‘edgy’ by any stretch of the imagination. Perhaps fairly; chain clubs and bars in a high street aren’t fashionable, fun as they are. That needs to be made clear – these clubs do engender good nights out, and they need to stay in the town –  but they don’t appeal to all. Croydon does have the Black Sheep Bar as a candidate to oppose this, but this may put people off – precisely because it is ‘alternative’ rather than just an alternative.

Think about it in practical terms. You’re under thirty. You live on the Greater London and Surrey/Kent border. You want a convenient night out, but you don’t want to spend an entire day of pay on it, or half your evening getting somewhere.

Croydon nightlife has a reputation for being cheap and cheerful, which may put people off. Clapham etc. are historically rough areas of London, and have developed due to gentrification (sigh, only made it 300 words before the ‘g’ word). Croydon has yet to receive that level of investment. So prices are still cheap. And hence, rents.

Is it safety fears? The last mention of a stabbing in a town centre Croydon club in the news was in March 2012, when Chris Isted was murdered outside The Ship. There is no denial that that was a tragic incident, and nobody should not return from a night out. And here lies the crux of the problem; isolated, vicious incidents such as this can set the town back years.

It is not organised violence, or even regular fights that are the problem; enter a town centre club now and the security checks are thorough; I.D. checks, metal detecting scans and an empty of the pockets is commonplace. Added to this is the high and visible police presence – a reassuring sight rather than an ominous one for most, and a precaution throughout the country. Somebody being killed in the town centre should not be ignored. There are three answers to this: Do nothing, and be put off by incidents such as this; increase police presence further and over sanitise; or tackle the issue head on – invest, create better quality, and reduce the likelihood of events such as these by building a nightlife where violence of any sort is simply unacceptable.

Nightclubs don’t all have to be eardrum crushing music and dancing like dorks

It’s certainly understandable that people may wish to travel to Shoreditch, Clapham, and the like. My personal feeling is that the demography and the demand are there for more nightlife in Croydon. If we can create our own Tech City to rival Shoreditch, than we can create a nightlife to do the same. In many respects, Croydon already is a hub of nightlife for the south-east of England. But therein lies the rub; investors in boutique nightclubs such as yourself won’t touch Croydon, because of the reputation, and because the demography they are targeting choose elsewhere. Why? Croydon, and of course the areas on its borders, has young people too. But it needs faith and trust that these people want nights out in fashionable and good quality clubs just as much as people in Clapham do.

Croydon has a thriving nightlife. but it needs more variety. Cheap and cheerful options are already available – but where are the more prestigious clubs, those which can market not only themselves, but the town?

It is my belief that there is a significant number of features missing from Croydon nightclubs.

  1. Nightclubs don’t all have to be eardrum crushing music and dancing like dorks. Of course, there should be that option – but there also should be space to sit and talk in the early hours (as opposed to being chucked out of pubs at closing time).
  2. Roof Gardens. Yep.
  3. Live music.
  4. Membership – loyalty should be rewarded.
  5. Daytime use – Lloyds and Tiger Tiger do indeed function as a daytime bar/restaurant, but more can be done to use facilities. See roof gardens for instance – how much could be done in a space like that?

Of course, many nightspots in Croydon offer some of these features – but not all at once.

Here is a number of reasons for why you should invest in a nightclub in Croydon before it’s too late:

Price: Goes without saying. Is renting a space more expensive in Central London or one of London’s gentrified towns, or Croydon, which is on the up, but still has rents cheap enough to attract businesses? There’s only one answer to this.

Transport: It’s on the boundary, but yes, Croydon is still in Greater London, despite our low presence on the tube map. We have the London Overground, we have trams connecting Wimbledon and Beckenham to the town centre; and going home in the early hours? We have black cabs, night buses, and – oh yes – a train service which runs to and from London Victoria half-hourly/hourly depending on direction of travel throughout the night.

Demographics: In the 2011 census, over 50,000 18-30 year olds were measured as living in the London Borough of Croydon alone, roughly even between males and females out of a total population of over 360,000. Add to that nearby Surrey and Kent towns, Bromley and Sutton – that is an immense potential customer base. Increasingly, Croydon is becoming a base for young professionals as well as students (look at Saffron Square for instance) with house prices spiraling the closer to central London you get – so there will soon be even greater demand.

Culture: We have an old town quarter. We have a restaurant quarter. We are on the brink of seeing a big new shopping development backed by Westfield and Hammerson. We have a great number of sports clubs and green areas. We have investment from Berkeley Homes and others in town centre residential property. People already come to Croydon in droves for the existing nightclubs. But – there is not a showpiece, independent nightclub which offers variety.

You’ll agree with me that Croydon is an opportunity area for investment. Are you willing to take the plunge yet?

Yours most faithfully,

Tom Lickley

Tom Lickley

Tom Lickley

Contributing a variety of roles to the Citizen since early 2013, Tom now focuses upon regeneration, urbanism and real estate writing. He is a strategic communications consultant specialising in the real estate sector, and counts a number of the world's largest investment and fund management companies amongst his clients.

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  • Jamie

    When we first moved to Croydon, pushed out of inner London by rising rents, we found the nightlife offering quite “provincial” in character (not meant pejoratively, I hasten to add). But really that was because the crowds themselves were “provincial”, and the town caters quite well for its main target audience.

    Pop up bars and bare brick bars under rail station arches happen in places like Peckham, where people who wanted to live somewhere “edgy” moved to in their 20s. But also, take the history of an area like Lambeth – big Carribbean immigration, sound systems, sub cultures – the nightlife Brixton has been famous for was a product of sociological and historical factors. In fact nowadays the dreaded G word is having a detrimental impact on Brixton’s nightlife offering IMO.

    We can learn from inner London areas but I’d be wary of any investors believing all the stuff about Croydon now being essentially “inner London” in character, and attempting to replicate what they see in Shoreditch. The key thing I would learn from those areas is that the nightlife offering has to reflect the area, not impose an idea onto the area.

  • Jamie

    Aside from nightclubs, I’d love to see a venue open up that was able to get quality bands/groups to perform regularly. A Brixton Academy style venue would do wonders for Croydon.

    (sorry for double post, the reply box stopped working before)

  • Croydon Portas Team

    While Croydon has been seeing a “lets play it safe” kind of attitude towards the offering of nightclubs and bars within the town centre, it also has to be said that there are some other issues that have not been brought up.

    Around 90% of the night time economy is around the Old Town Croydon area and a project the Croydon Portas Town Team are working on with CroydonBID on is to carry out a night time audit to gear up to apply for Purple Flag status. Great Beaches have Blue Flags, Great open spaces have Green Flags. Good town or city centres with a good night time offerings have Purple flags.

    Another point to raise is Licensing via the Police. The two main officers who oversee this area are great guys and we have a lot of time for them but we do feel that too much is sometimes looked at in a “what if it went wrong” attitude instead of “lets give it a go” attitude.

    We already know that lots of people from Croydon are going
    further afield to enjoy a night out. This could be to Peckham, Crystal
    Palace or Shoreditch. For Croydon, a good night time offering has to be created for all ages not just for the few and to do this a more welcoming and better mix needs to be created and to do this we need to see a change in the attitude towards those who are willing to give it a go.

  • Andrew Dickinson

    Once upon a time Croydon was the nightclub destination outside of central London other than the Cats Whiskers in Streatham there was nothing to match Cinatras, Cinderellas, Blue Orchid, Granaries,Watertown(?) the place on Crown Hill that’s always changing names and several others basement clubs that my night-club addled brain no longer remembers! At Cinatras guests used to turn up by the coach load on Friday and Saturday nights and it was wild down that end as there was also The Cartoon and the Broad Green cinema so lots going on.I used to work in London and many people (of a certain age) when you mentioned you were from Croydon would say I was there on Friday/Saturday at such and such a club and it was impressive the number of people who gave central London a miss just to hit Croydon. What happened to them all, why did it change? I believe it was all part of Croydons overall decline of the last 20 years or so when investment went elsewhere.There’s no reason that it why it shouldn’t happen again but are there entrepreneurs out there willing to take those risks?

  • Christian Wilcox

    Been trying this for ages. The managers who own these venues don’t want diversity. They want people buying tons of booze. And that means turning a blind eye to abusive druggies, which they happily will do.

    Hence why only 30% of Croydonians feel safe in the City Centre at night.

    Police the licences better and these managers will be stopped. And, slowly but surely, Croydon venue safety will improve. Which will have a knock-on effect on the streets.