Black Sheep Bar closure: Does Croydon need clubbing or housing?


By - Monday 25th November, 2013

With the recent closure of Croydon’s alternative nightclub, the town needs to avoid alienating its youth for the sake of residential development


Photo by Kake. Used under Creative Commons license.

For anyone with the vaguest interest in Croydon’s culture, nightlife or music scene, the abrupt closure of Black Sheep Bar on Monday 18th November would have come as a shock, and for many, a sad loss to what is becoming an increasingly limited list of arenas in which residents of Croydon and beyond can enjoy a night out. Only last month, I called for more niche venues to open, not close, and whilst high capacity ‘super clubs’ such as Tiger Tiger remain full to the brim at weekends – deservedly so – the club does not cater to all.

A glance at social media on that fateful Monday gave a glimpse into why the club will be missed; many were quick to bemoan the loss, with sentiments such as “the one decent drinking hole in Croydon” and “Croydon isn’t gonna [sic] be the same again” repeated often. In particular, the club gained notoriety – and respect – for its appeal to students and its fostering of dubstep.

However, some on social media were quick to blame the overplaying of dubstep for the downturn in attendance and, hence, the rumoured financial difficulties which precluded the bar’s closure. While the club’s managers, Paul Bossick and his father Howard, recently opened the Bad Apple nightclub nearby, the squeeze on disposable income among the town’s youth, and perhaps, the declining interest in nightclubs in general are ominous signs.

The official line for the closure of the Black Sheep from Paul Bossick, as reported in the Croydon Advertiser, was the submission of a planning application for 111 flats above the club by the landlord of Green Dragon House. Whilst the application has not yet been agreed to, the threat to nightlife from increased residential development is a growing one.

To give a nightclub that ‘edge’, the unique factor, it should by definition be kept away from pre-planned development areas

And here therefore comes the discussion point. Croydon needs culture, nightlife and an evening economy. However, Croydon also needs housing, both affordable and top quality, in order to service and grow that evening economy as well as drive investment into the town from businesses, and most prominently, help ease the housing crisis across the town and Greater London. Saffron Square, for one, despite not being met with universal acclaim from Croydon residents, will significantly add to the population in the town centre. In a venn diagram, housing needs and cultural needs overlap when it comes to the town’s youth – so can a compromise be met?

Zoning is an obvious solution; in this sense Black Sheep Bar was unlucky as it developed away from the main ‘strip’ of Croydon’s nightclubs on the high street, and instead was located in an area of retail/office space which was prime for residential conversion – although this did add to its alternative, rebellious feel. Had it been located a few hundred metres further down the high street, could it have survived?

Perhaps the simplest solution therefore is better planning; keep the residential developments, new and refurbished, away from the areas which are busy at night. But to foster the best clubs, and clubs such as Black Sheep Bar, is a sterile, zoned area what is required? To give a nightclub that ‘edge’, the unique factor, it should by definition be kept away from pre-planned development areas.

Croydon needs housing development more than good nightlife – giving people a place to live is a necessity, but the choice of having a good night out isn’t. But a highly positive side effect of town centre living is the demand for a nightlife it engenders. On the flip side, are people going to move to Croydon to live if there is little which appeals about its evenings?

As you may get a sense of from this article, there is not easy solution. Croydon needs houses, but at the same time, it needs something for people to do in the evenings and it needs to re-establish the town as a hub for nightlife – but there is only a finite amount of space. My personal solution? With proposals to redevelop the former Nestlé Tower into residential space growing eerily quiet, St. George’s Walk is still mostly redundant several years after the Park Place scheme plans were shelved. There is a desire for the space to be used, and with its jaded, rough around the edges feel, yet town centre location, the area could potentially thrive from both day and night use. Let us know your thoughts.

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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  • Anne Giles

    Nightlife is so important. When I was in my early 20s I went dancing three nights a week in Buenos Aires, where nightlife is everywhere. Went to bed in the early hours with two alarm clocks (each inside a tin can to make them rattle) in order to get me up for work the next day.

  • http://www.earth.li/~kake/ Kake

    Should point out that the photo of mine you’ve used at the top of the post is an old one from November last year. Here’s a more recent one, from a couple of days after it closed: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kake_pugh/11047177956/

    • Tom Lickley

      Thanks Kake!

  • Jamie

    I could see the practical reasons for the town’s nightlife being zoned into one main strip, but would love it if instead, there could be a spreading of venues across the town, so there were decent clubs to be found in Broad Green, Thornton Heath, Croydon High Street/South End, etc.

    Probably not realistic but it would add to appeal of the area and, imo, increase the likelihood of greater variety being offered. The area around Tiger Tiger and Yates looks like an episode of one of those Brits Abroad programmes. Fine for its target audience, but unappealing to many others.