The changers of Croydon need businesses like Bobski’s Kitchen

By - Friday 30th September, 2016

A brush with death for a local culinary favourite raises long-term questions about the shape of the Croydon to come

Photo by Bobski’s, used with permission.

The sign pictured above caused a storm when it appeared both physically and across Croydon’s Twittersphere last week. It’s easy to see why – a Croydonian starting a small business, one that brings delicious and oh-so-chic street food to our town centre, no less – then being “denied the right to use [his] own front door” is a sad state of affairs. And if we were looking for a metaphor for the risks that lie ahead as Croydon grows in popularity as a target for investors, we would have just found one.

Let’s rewind. I and many others first fell for Bobski’s culinary charms when his baked goods were available from what is now the Hoodoo’s concession in Matthews Yard. The Terry’s Chocolate Orange brownie was, and remains, a highlight of my adult life. Since then, he’s been plugging away to launch a new venture, Bobski’s Kitchen, and is now serving up delicious meals from Caribbean peppered steak to tasty chunks of oxtail. Located in Exchange Square (where Matthews Yard is), he’s been doing a roaring trade.

For big companies to close down local traders is not a good look

Or rather, he was. Until, as outlined on the sign above, property developers Guildhouse Rosepride stepped in. Bobski is currently up and running with a stall on Surrey Street market, thanks to Croydon Council. Guildhouse Rosepride’s concerns are to do with licensing and the use of tables and chairs outside the door of the Bobski’s unit. But whatever their reasoning, for this firm or any of Croydon’s ‘changers’ (the private concerns that are changing our town whether we want them to or not) to shut down local traders is not a good look.

Moreover, even on their own terms, the changers need people like Bobski. Without him, or Matthews Yard, or Smoothbean!, or RISEgallery, or eBear’s Attic, or Sweet Patisserie, or Stanley Halls, or Art Rebellion, or Project B, or any one of the myriad locally-led and locally-run businesses and organisations that have made Croydon ‘sexy’ again, the developers’ glass and steel palaces would just be luxury flats in a decidedly unluxurious area.

What happens when organic, locally-grown, ethically sourced, community-led progress collides with externally-imposed, corporate, big money gentrification? The elephant in the room in the Croydon of 2016 is that the answer may be very unpleasant. The Citizen was in part set up to celebrate the soul of Croydon, the home-grown efforts in both the business and voluntary sectors to make our town a more vibrant, exciting place; to take advantage of good transport links, affordable property and a large population to build something together. With the first of those now under strain, the second rapidly diminishing and the last about to expand, that community model must adapt or fail.

Those who tore down social enterprises to build unaffordable apartments may end up tearing their hair out

And it won’t just be us who lose out. A soulless Croydon with nice flats will be just that – the dormitory town feared by previous generations, upgraded to glistening glass palaces. “Oh, Croydon”, the consumers of the 2020s will say, “quite nice, but isn’t it a bit dead? There’s nowhere authentic“. While those of us who live here (to say nothing of those who’ve been forced out of the borough by then) darkly reflect on the irony of our town’s rapid turnaround, the suits who tore down our social enterprise cafés to build unaffordable apartments will, in turn, tear out their hair as their ideal customers walk away to seek whichever area has now been deemed ‘up and coming’. Because it won’t be us anymore.

Put simply: if you start developing an area that’s becoming cool and, in the process of doing so, destroy what’s making it cool, everyone loses. Including you.

But hold on to your funereal quinoa – it looks like there’s a happy ending this time. On Monday, Matthews Yard founder and long-time supporter of Bobski’s various ventures Saif Bonar tweeted a positive reaction to a meeting with Guildhouse Rosepride. Expanding elsewhere, he described their response as more understanding and open than that of any property developer he had met with in his five years of running a business in Croydon. If Bobski can make “an acceptable financial offer for the licence”, he is likely to get back the use of his front door, and his chairs and tables too.

So fair play to Guildhouse Rosepride. Either out of moral backbone or canny commercialism, they look like they’re setting an example that Croydon’s changers would do well to follow. It’s up to us – through the businesses that we choose to patronise, through the articles that we write, through the issues that we ask our elected representatives to take up – to make sure that they do so.

Tom Black

Tom Black

Tom is the Citizen's General Manager, and spent his whole life in Croydon until moving to Balham in 2017. He also writes plays that are occasionally performed and books that are occasionally enjoyed. He's been a Labour Party member since 2007, and in his spare time runs an online publishing house for alternate history books, Sea Lion Press. He is fluent in Danish, but speaks no useful languages. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • Mary Wolf

    Which licence is it? Is it for trading outside the building?

    • Saif Bonar

      They have asked Bobski to make a financial offer for a 12 month licence to have access/egress directly to Exchange Square and some tables and chairs outside on their land. They would reserve the right to withdraw both at 28 days notice. And need to ‘retain control’

  • Susan Oliver

    Nice article but then you write “Fair play to Guildhouse Rosepride.” Fair play? I would call it more like hawkish play or brutish play.

    This is a David & Goliath scenario, in which David has worked his fingers to the bone and then, out of the blue, gets word from Goliath’s lawyers telling him to shut his business. Can you imagine getting such news after such effort? What a blow! What a traumatic experience! Bobski uses the word “devastated” in his sign – that is a cry of significant pain!

    Is this how we as human beings should treat one another? Are we supposed to accept this inhumane behaviour from companies? To shut someone’s business down represents tremendous power and what Guildhouse did remains very suspicious and downright scary.

    In a civilised world, people talk to one another and yet it seems Guildhouse refused to do this. Bobski pleaded with Guildhouse – why were these pleas not responded to by civil discourse and negotiation?

    Guildhouse needs to explain is why it was necessary to close Bobski’s because it looks like it was totally unnecessary. It looks like Guildhouse just wanted to establish who’s boss in the area. Their paltry financial demands prove their actions were not so much about receiving revenue but about showing “who’s the daddy.” Maybe they just wanted the experience of intimidating someone or do something to prove their power in the area.

    And why charge money for access to a front door, especially in this case? Bobski’s is probably running on a shoe-string and yet Guildhouse wants to gobble up every penny possible.

    It all looks very petty, especially in light of the fact that I understand that Guildhouse bought the Pumping House and the land around it for a mere half a million pounds. It’s very sad that the people behind Guildhouse & Rosepride are being so greedy when they themselves received a windfall.

    Because it was unnecessary to close Bobski’s and for the pain, stress, inconvenience and loss of revenue caused, I’d like to see Guildhouse issue a public apology and give financial compensation to Bobski’s.

    Bobski is an absolute hero for carrying on during a very difficult situation. That takes a lot of strength. WELL DONE BOBSKI. YOU ARE THE DUDE!!!!!!