‘Not just cool hipster food’ – Boxpark Croydon sets out its stall

By - Friday 24th July, 2015

Liz Sheppard-Jones dines on information and wild honey at the Boxpark Croydon launch event

Photo author’s own.

I ate a honeyed chicken wrap from Vietvan on Thursday 23rd July, the night I joined the Boxpark casual dining revolution – and it was bloody delicious. If I hadn’t been sold on the concept already, that piece of poultry would have done the trick all by itself.

It was quite a night, the Boxpark Croydon unveiling. Drinks came in those primary additive shades of my childhood, before Parents For Safe Food and other spoilsports got in on the act, a three piece band wore costumes that burnt out your retinas, Tony Newman enthused about our future and a bunch of successful smart-casual types (the sort who get invited as speakers to school prize-givings to inspire the kids to become entrepreneurs) got up on stage to talk about the hip foodie stuff they do and how they’ll do it to Croydon .

It was fun, fact-filled and exciting – yet along with my honeyed chicken and extremely fiery chillies came a side-dish of yes-but-tery. I’ll get to it shortly.

Boxpark will make Ruskin Square buzzy, foodie and fun

Boxpark is great – exciting and positive and good news for Croydon. I’ll be there – casually dining, watching the events and loving it. It will make Ruskin Square feel just the way I want it to: buzzy, foodie and fun. But –

Hang on just a minute. Let’s dish up some facts.

Boxpark Shoreditch is where it started – with the world’s first pop-up retail units. Roger Wade’s team turned old container crates into shops, leased them to independent businesses selling interesting things, and soon found they had a hit on their hands. The idea caught on. Now, having learned some valuable lessons, as they explained to us, its founders are bringing their concept to Croydon.

It’s a ‘meanwhile’ use of the site, ‘meanwhile’ being ‘during the building of Croydon Westfield‘, which is still at least four years from opening. Next year the Whitgift Centre will close (it’s on the site that the Westfield will be on) and the retail heart of the town centre will need to keep beating. That’s one question: will a food and events centre, however much of a hit, be enough to do this? Along with: what if I’m in central Croydon and my need-of-the-moment isn’t for a Columbian street snack, but, say, a pair of decent tights in an emergency?

I remember when you drank horrible coffee to feel sophisticated

Photo author’s own.

Because in Croydon our Boxpark will be about food. Specifically, it’s going to be about the ‘casual dining revolution’ (catchphrase of the night) – the eating-as-leisure experience that’s swept London over the past half-decade as our food culture completes its thirty year catch-up with other great cities of the world. It’s true: I remember when coffee was horrible but you drank it to feel sophisticated; when there were no pavement cafes in London; when houmous was exotic. Then globalisation happened, the world shrank, affordable long-distance travel (though ‘affordable’ is nowadays a word stripped of all meaning) became the norm for many – and as we discovered different tastes and better tastes, our expectations of how things should taste went through the roof. Fantastic, and good on us.

So, that was our palate-teasing starter. Then came a substantial main course of information. Croydon’s Boxpark will be 24/7. It will focus around events – 200 of them a year, in a 20,000 square foot events space surrounded by street food operations from breakfast until late at night. (At this point I’m glad I live a fifteen minute walk away and not next door, but there’s bound to be sound-proofing). Great cities fizz and hum twenty-four hours a day – and as a part of London, I’m thrilled Croydon’s joining in.

If you’re ready to be the best, step up, Croydon

What will this mean for our existing food retailers? Serious competition, obviously – but that’s how standards rise. It’s a quality thing, said the Boxparkers; if you’re ready to be the best, you’re welcome to step up and cook up with Street Feast and the gang. Right on – and why should we fear it? That’s exactly what we should aim for.

Who will be eating? And out rolled the stats: the journey times in minutes from Croydon to major central stations and Hipsterville-on-Sea (that’s the one with the pebble-y beach), the million working people within a thirty minute commute of Croydon town centre, the three meals per week that the average 35 – 45 year old eats out. ‘Cook it and they will come,’ say the figures, and I’m sure they’re right.

For dessert came our Q&A session – a soufflé in intention, yet not quite achieving lift-off. Firstly, when people from different organisations talk, it’s harder to control messaging, and I’d politely suggest Boxpark thinks a little more about how this part of the proceedings sounded to Croydonian ears. Parallels with Brixton, for example, are tricky: there’ve been riots there after rents tripled and life-long residents who couldn’t ride the property-gain-train find themselves priced out, their communities first undermined then swept away by the rising tide of gentrification. Once run down and regarded as dangerous, rents in SW2 now top £1000 per square foot, which makes me uneasy, however much I like a browse in Brixton Village Market. It’s not all been gain.

Boxpark should position itself within Croydon’s wave of positive change

It’s also important to explain what Boxpark offers the existing community. We have, to take just one example, a successful and delightful restaurant quarter that’s already boosted our foodie credentials. Boxpark is its competitor. There’s good stuff going on round here: tech-y stuff, cultural stuff, historical stuff… it would take another article to list it all. To achieve the uplift this exciting project deserves, Boxpark needs to position itself within a wave of positive change already underway amongst the active, forward-thinking and creative communities that make up our much-maligned town.

And now here’s the ‘but’. Boxpark – and all the other changes that are coming – will improve the quality of life for many, but not for all. That doesn’t mean I oppose regeneration – the opposite is true. It’s just that – unlike a honeyed chicken wrap from Vietvan – there’s no such thing as an option entirely and in every detail positive and good.

Let’s give as many people as possible a part in the revolution.

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Writer and editor. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • Anne Giles

    I couldn’t make out what Vietvan was, so googled it. A three wheeler with Vietnamese food. Yummy.

  • Wesley Jordan Anthony Baker

    Hi Liz so is there definitely absolutely no retail within the 80 units? If there aren’t since did they mention the possibility of retail joining at a later date? I personally think the retail food mix is what’s great about Shoreditch as well as new retailers to the area who might hopefully then stay and take units in elsewhere in town.

    • lizsheppardjourno

      Hi Wes – correct, and agreed :)

  • Bernadette Fallon

    It sounds interesting and potentially a great idea. But I do take your point about the tights.

  • darran leo king

    Grow up stop with more bullshit information as for Boxpark 1st birthday you Liz sheppard Jones plus the boss Roger and the labour party never trun up why please me, remember no took any notice for this frist year for Boxpark read #boxpark #boxparkcroydon #croydonboxpark #eatdrinkplay all dead Prue Rubbish & Worthless made by a 20 million company called croydon boxpark ask why Tony Newman wasn’t here on the 29th same for you Liz & Roger no one trun up for this 1st year for Boxpark please tell us why 30 food outlets in boxpark never use #boxpark#boxparkcroydon#croydonboxpark#eatdrinkplay remember they have nothing to do with #cronx #croydon #bromley #penge