Should Croydon be more chic?


By - Wednesday 30th September, 2015

Recent disparaging comments reported to have been made by the French World Cup rugby team caused resentment among locals. Charles Barber listens more sympathetically


I must confess to a slight twinge of sympathy for those poor, big, burly French rugby players, so far away from their mothers and their mother country, having to put up with the appalling lack of ‘chic’ within this alien metropolis called Croydon. They came here hoping for fine food, cool bars and an atmosphere as chic as St Tropez, and instead they find their precious sleep disrupted by a rowdy wedding party, their team bus fallen foul of Croydon’s cruel traffic wardens… and where, oh where, can you get a decent croissant? Ce n’est pas drole, n’est ce pas?

Yet although it is easy and fun to make fun of the poor French rugby team, I fear that perhaps its players (or perhaps just the team of French journalists travelling with them, if later rumours are to be believed) do have a slight point. Croydon is in many ways far more chic than many of the outlying suburbs of Paris and so their complaint was both unreasonable and unfair; they were not comparing like with like. Yet, much as I am coming to love Croydon, I do still wish it did have perhaps a little more chic, un petit peu plus de ‘je ne sais quoi’ if you like, a little continental and metropolitan flair. To put it bluntly, a bit more style.

There is a part of me that would like to walk along George Street and smell some freshly baked bread and coffee, that would like to sit outside a café on a Croydon square, watching stylish, well dressed Croydonians pass on by, and that would like to be able – yes, I admit it – to grab a pain au chocolat at the delightful greasy spoon café down my road.

It’s the kookiness of Croydon that I value

Yet much as I might like Croydon acquire a bit more European style, I would like it to somehow retain and enhance its own identity by doing so in a Croydonian way. Surely it should be possible to design our town so that it looks more attractive and has more quality without losing our identity? It is the kookiness of Croydon that I value far more than any possible chicness. It is the willingness not to take itself too seriously and to look cool without looking like it’s really bothered that perhaps appeals to me the most. It’s the hidden gems that you stumble across when you’re not really looking, that you’ll probably never find on a bus searching for the chic-est places in Croydon.

I don’t want Croydon to appeal solely to French rugby players, but to people from all around the world. To do this, it needs to re-build itself in a way that appreciates that having well designed places to live, work and play is a necessity, not a luxury. Who knows, in twenty or so years time, we might even persuade a fussy visiting Frenchman to cry, ‘Ooh la la, Croydon! C’est incroyable, c’est tres, tres chic!’

Charles Barber

Charles Barber

Adoptive Croydonian, currently trying to publish a book and find gainful employment within the Croydonian urban jungle. Environmental campaigner, Twitter@rainforestsaver, founder of the Croydon Rainforest Club and of the Friends of Whitehorse Park.

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  • Anne Giles

    Love it. Great article and I do so agree! Well dressed, stylish Croydonians? Perhaps we should have a dress code here. No more leggings under frumpy clothes, no more creased outfits (unless made of linen) and – please – matching colours! No more shirts poking under jackets or pullovers. Make-up, please, ladies – preferably to match the clothes. At present it is quite normal to see people who look as though they have just crawled out of bed and put the first thing they find on. I love watching ladies walking in France, Spain and Italy, having taken the trouble to dress nicely.

    • Charles B.Wordsmith

      I wouldn’t dare to comment on how fashionably Croydon ladies dress. I suspect there is not much difference between Croydon and other places in the UK with some showing wonderful taste and flair and others less so. What I miss is a decent cafe where you can sit outside to admire the passing parade, (unless of course it’s one of your standard coffee chains), and a good bakery, tea rooms and delicatessen. Perhaps I’ll find them all in the new Box Park. It’ll be interesting to see how stylish you can make an old shipping container.