How Boxpark can become a permanent fixture in Croydon


By - Thursday 17th May, 2018

Questions over empty units distract from an opportunity to make Boxpark work


Photo by Steve Thompson, used with permission.

Improving four key areas at Boxpark could guarantee future support from the re-elected Croydon Council administration – and open new possibilities for the space to become permanent on Ruskin Square.

Last October, local community and media platforms celebrated the first anniversary of Boxpark Croydon. In 2016, both Croydon Council and the Greater London Authority welcomed the business model with open arms. The council has provided financial loans to Boxpark to ensure that it would continue providing many of the huge benefits witnessed in the borough so far, as well as fulfilling some of the promises previously outlined by the local council. These benefits include investing in new jobs and training opportunities, whilst ensuring that more ‘fun’ is injected into the borough’s social scene through allowing new food and drink businesses to enter the local economy.

Boxpark Croydon is an outdoor retail park, comprising of small businesses that operate in units set up in crates. Boxpark has already picked up top awards in the UK such as winning the award for the Royal Institute for British Architects and the London Award in 2017.

Boxpark sets the scene for trendy residents, local tourists and commuters

East Croydon is the new hipster central of south London, it seems. Boxpark Croydon is one of the hottest locations for social meet-ups, mostly setting the scene for trendy residents, local tourists and commuters. This social playground has offered visitors the ultimate package of drinking and dining in a cool, urban space. The business model of ‘crateconomics’ has even offered small businesses the chance to operate in one of the UK’s fastest growing local economies.

Some locals see the retail park as a success; even the Labour-controlled council shares the same optimism. A recent Croydon Council document entitled: ‘Review of Licensing and Policing of Croydon’s Night Time Economy: Creating a Vibrant Nightlife for all Sections of Croydon’s Diverse Community’ has widely applauded Boxpark for providing the space to accommodate some diversity in entertainment such as the grime scene.

The model, however, began to receive some poor publicity shortly after its first-year anniversary in October 2017. Articles questioning Boxpark’s performance began to appear in the Croydon Advertiser. Clearly, there are opportunities for Boxpark to transform and improve satisfaction levels within the local community.

Boxpark Croydon could be a major success story, and there are four key areas in which the retail park could look to improve. Making these changes could open up possibilities for the retail park to become a permanent space.

1. Attract new tenants for empty units

So far, Boxpark has emerged as a competitor in the local economy by providing an attractive space for consumers and small businesses alike. Croydon Council ensured this by loaning public money to fund its development. Tony Newman, Labour leader of Croydon Council, supported the decision back in 2016 to loan the business £3 million.

The retail park was then expected to help improve Croydon’s image by boosting the economy through attracting a new clientele, generating local profit, and creating jobs. However, the recent closures of many units in Boxpark have become a cause for concern; these closures suggest the restaurants operating there are short-term. Former units include Bang Bang Vietnamese Restaurant, Cook Daily and the Potato Project, all of which have recently closed. Many units remain empty and new renters from different business industries might fix this problem. Croydon is already haven for retail stores and small businesses like tech hubs, board-game cafes, and artisan coffee shops. Boxpark can embrace this in an effort to attract new and stable tenants that will generate greater profits. This is important for the future economic viability of the model in Croydon.

2. Accommodate every shopper

East Croydon has mastered the title of hipster-central of south London and is increasingly able to accomodate those with cash to spend in swanky tapas bars. Croydon is a diverse suburban town in London and residents have different tastes. Attracting new unit occupiers with businesses outside of the food and drink industry can help diversify Boxpark and increase visitor numbers. Boxpark must turn to its sibling in Shoreditch for inspiration to fill in the gaps at the Croydon venue, and promote Croydon as a place for boutique shopping. Unused units suggest something is not working. Diversifying the park to accommodate for every resident in other ways can help increase profits.

3. Implement a zero-tolerance policy

Also, Boxpark has become a cause for concern as the safety of the public and staff has been jeopardised. This stems from reports on the incompetency of security personnel and alarming behaviour on the premises. The Croydon Advertiser has reported on a previous security incident which took place at Boxpark and resulted in the Metropolitan Police requesting to see CCTV footage and for the Licensing Sub-Committee of Croydon Council to review Boxpark’s license.

Management could adopt a zero-tolerance policy and better train security personnel working on the premises. The zero-tolerance policy can be combined with the new Public Space and Protection Order (PSPO) introduced by Croydon Council. The PSPO regulates the entire town centre and attempts to also ‘tackle street drinking and anti-social behaviour’. The focus on selling alcohol is partly another reason why the night-time economy of Boxpark could change.

4. Diversify the night-time economy

Boxpark also plays an important role in transforming Croydon’s night-time economy by providing consumers with the opportunity to experience a unique food and drink experience. Improving the community’s night-time economy is already integral to the agenda of Croydon Council. Providing greater varieties of entertainment would diversify this and reduce concerns surrounding the lack of entertainment options available for families at night, or those put off by Croydon’s perceived ‘boozy’ image. The Labour council has failed to change this perception of Croydon.

The council published a review entitled: Scrutiny Review of the Night-Time Economy Findings & Recommendations, outlining how to address issues with the local night-time economy. The review says: “Despite the growing variety of outlets in Croydon, there is still a perception that more could be done to improve the town’s image and vitality… the Night-Time Economy Scrutiny Working Group felt there was a need to provide more variety of entertainment to cater for all sectors of the community and to steer the main focus of the evening away from alcohol consumption”. The outdoor space at Boxpark is planning to host a variety of other social activities like exhibitions and culturally-themed music nights like Afrobox; however, these remain limited, as options have included grime gigs, DJ concerts and FA Cup screenings that attract a customer base looking to purchase alcoholic beverages.

If Boxpark Croydon can get these areas right, it increase its chances of becoming a permanent space on Ruskin Square and will improve its relations with concerned councillors and local residents.

Daniel Deefholts

Daniel Deefholts

Daniel is a life-long Croydon resident, and regularly campaigns for London Citizens (Citizens UK) to address community issues within London and across the UK. He is studying at university towards a BA (Hons) in Politics and International Relations, and is a committed party member of the Conservative Party.

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  • Steve Thompson

    I agree with a lot of this, though not sure if Daniel is over-egging the ‘hipster central’ a wee bit. A more diverse range of outlets is a must – mixed retail rather than just food and drink. How about a good record shop (e.g. Rough Trade or Sister Ray), and permanent outlets for Croydon artists and makers?
    There must also be a far more varied musical offering – I do not recall any rock gigs – why not?
    Also turn off the thumping dance music during the day – it is not what locals want with their lunch or morning coffee.
    However this is all idealistic because of the overweening arrogance of Boxpark’s management who think they know best and don’t give two hoots about what we actually want.

    • NeilB

      Agree with that , have walked through many times during the day and fancied stopping for a bite to eat or a coffee , but am deterred by the noise pollution.

  • Sean Creighton
  • Sean Creighton
  • John Gass

    Hmmm…

    “3. Implement a zero-tolerance policy”…

    Indeed. But, hopefully, for staff as well as customers.

    I’ve just visited Boxpark’s Wine & Deli where I was served an expensive, but clearly good quality, glass of white wine. The problems started when I let the servers know that their refrigeration had failed. I didn’t ask for my money back or even complain, I was just letting them know they had a problem. White wine at warm room temperature surely scores as a fail.

    But all I got was hostility and “no-one’s complained for two years”. Unhelpful.

    I suggested the staff taste the wine but they declined. I consider myself part of the Croydon Citizen family; amongst those who work for the betterment of Croydon. And I am always glad if I can promote Croydon’s positives. But what can you do if people refuse to listen and turn hostile?

    I already had a previous experience of Boxpark being an expensive and unwelcoming way to spend an evening. As Ian Fleming wrote, once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, the third time it’s enemy action.

    I won’t be back.