Damnatio Memoriae Sanctus Georgii

By - Monday 22nd April, 2013

With St George’s Day almost upon us, Andrew Dickinson laments the neglect of a site bearing the Anatolian dragon-slayer’s name

I will never cease to be amazed at the lack of interest and occasion that St George’s Day brings. It reminds me of one evening last week when I took a walk into town (after not having gone in for a couple of weeks) to see what had changed. I found myself walking down St George’s Walk. In my youth, this was a popular shopping precinct and for me in particular there was a fantastic toy model shop which had a front window packed with model aircraft, tanks, cars, and figures, and I could see all the boxes excitingly stacked on the shelves inside the shop calling out to me.

On this particular evening, by the time I got to the Croydon College end I was in tears and had to sit down on one of the planters to compose myself.

I was upset at the neglect and wastefulness of the whole walk. This should have been Park Place, a new retail and leisure hub for the town centre with a large piazza area outside joining with the Grants Centre for people to enjoy a café culture lifestyle, and here it was after that aborted project: a bleak wind tunnel with rubbish blowing through and the clatter of skateboards punctuating the silence. There are unattractive, shuttered, or boarded-up shopfronts punctuated by an occasional fascia that hints that there is life behind the shutters during the day as an independent retailer struggles in an area of poor footfall to make ends meet. Poor St George’s Walk.  Always outside any new ‘masterplan’ that the council and developers come up with.

Despite all the excitement over the Hammerson and Westfield marriage, St George’s Walk will not even be fitted with a new suit of armour for the big occasion. What a way to treat a walk named  after our patron saint.

Does anyone know what plans are in store for St George’s Walk? Here we are, in a month where we celebrate our patron saint, and the walk stands like a mad forgotten relative locked away in a home. An explanation that I was given two to three years ago was that the Grants end is council-owned and businesses have been encouraged in with attractive rents, but the far end across the dividing road is in private hands and the landlord has no inclination to really see an improvement – no doubt waiting to cash in by selling on when another masterplan development is announced, whatever decade that might be.

Until a new project is announced, the covered area could be Croydon’s answer to Greenwich market or Merton Abbey Mills or Camden Lock. Imagine that. An artsy, bohemian market selling original artworks and handcrafted goods, fashions, and handmade jewellery, a range of tasty food stalls, and the small shops could be cafés and art galleries. Imagine if this market expanded and took up all of the walk, and then spread down to join up with the market in Surrey Street with more of the same on Sundays. What if the Matthews Yard piazza then caught the bug, and the whole thing linked up in to some sprawling, funky, weekday-and-weekend market that was a cool place to hang out? What if it had live music, good food stalls and street acts, and if all this was easy to get to by tram, train, or bus? All the beautiful people, the professional couples and singles lured here by Saffron Square, the Menta-Morello Tower, Ruskin Square, the Bank of America redevelopment, St George’s Tower itself, and numerous other new builds, would have another great place to hang out and be seen and spend their cash. A good reputable market can be a real magnet for tourists and, as we have been made aware, tourists stay in Croydon. With all the coming investment, such a feature could be the real hook that has them visiting our Westfield (rather than one of the others) because Croydon has a really good market in the town.

As this kind of market tends to grow ‘organically’ rather than come about by deliberate design it would be a contrast to the architecturally-designed, glass, concrete, and steel new shopping centre.

I’ve made this suggestion before. When I presented my plan to a council officer with the word ‘regeneration’ in his job title the answer was “if I had a bulldozer, I’d flatten the lot”. Well, he didn’t have a bulldozer; St George’s Walk is still there and has been there longer than he’s walked the earth and it doesn’t seem to want to go away.

On an ambivalent note, my second more radical suggestion is to demolish the whole site and convert it to a commercial food-growing operation. Yes, the town will have enough retail space and I’m quite sure there will be sufficient living space. There’s an overabundance of office space and car parking space too, but space to grow food? That’s a different approach. It could supply a large proportion of fruit and vegetables to the market traders and to the new and existing restaurants that will be there and it will create jobs. Remember the Dig for Croydon article? How about a combined heating and power plant with St George’s Tower to heat greenhouses so that we can grow the food all year round?

How about that? Again, it would make a contrast to the aforementioned shopping centre. Amongst all the concrete, glass, and steel there will be this wonderful, organic, green growing space right in the middle of town, supplying healthy, zero-mile food. I’m not talking allotments that look like a shanty town with individually run plots and sheds reflecting the owner’s personalities, but a professionally set up and run horticultural operation.

I know this article could be seen as just a little tongue-in-cheek but there is a serious message here as to how we can allow this walk, this thoroughfare in our town centre, to bumble along uncared for and unloved; whilst millions of pounds will be spent further along the high street, this gets nothing and does nothing for the town centre.

It seems we want to forget St George’s Walk – much like we forget St George’s Day.

Andrew Dickinson

Andrew Dickinson

I'm a long term resident of Croydon and I'm lucky to live and work in the borough. As a schoolboy my proudest moments were playing representative football for Croydon where I would fight tooth and nail to win for the borough and contribute towards its sporting reputation. For 18 years I worked up in London and became distanced from the town. Now I've re-engaged with the place over the last 20 years and feel frustrated in finding a way to vent my passion for Croydon (as I'm too old to play football) so I'm always on the lookout for any new initiatives to bring positivity to the place. I live on Bramley Hill with my lovely family and I have an allotment locally. I'm a keen amateur in gardening, environmentalism, permaculture, photography and website design. I'm an oyster mushroom farmer, run a social enterprise called Green Croydon, I'm part of the Croydon Fairtrade steering group, part of the Croydon ReUse Organisation, current chair of Croydon Transition Town and a community gardener; I'm on the borough Food Programme, Parks and Social Enterprise steering groups and a community apple presser. I currently work for the council as an officer creating and promoting community events in the beautiful Wandle Park. I put on the Croydon Environmental Fair each year and the Summer of Love theme and festival was something I dreamed up. I inspired the 'I would make Croydon better by' theme. There's also the Give and Take events in Surrey Street. I started the monthly Arts, Crafts and Vintage market in Exchange Square. Formerly I was a Turf Projects trustee, a Croydon Radio presenter and part of the Old Town business association.Between all this, I write the occasional article for the Citizen. I support local artists and local musicians by enabling the space for them to create I also support local independent journalism.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/gilesap Anne Giles

    But I am here, and I have not forgotten it! Did you know that there is now a new Hungarian Delicatessen there? I intend to pay that shop a visit.

    • http://twitter.com/greencroydon Andrew Dickinson

      Hi Anne. yes saw that. i sincerely hope they do well.It’s the kind of business that would add to the mix of the kind of market i imagine we could have.

  • http://www.facebook.com/liz.sheppardjones Liz Sheppard-Jones

    Unreservedly agree with your first suggestion, Andrew. St George’s Walk is unfashionable in appearance at the moment and of course looks very rundown. However, it is on the ‘right’ side of Wellesley road and could be very stylish, making the most of its architecture and creating a 60s/70s vibe. Brixton Market, watch out. And I love your picture of the ceiling. I hope that as we draw more investment money into Croydon Town Centre, we overcome our paucity of imagination.

    • http://twitter.com/greencroydon Andrew Dickinson

      Hi Liz.good point about its position and the architecture isn’t that bad. I like the tiled columns with the occasional gold tile catching the light.The raised planters could be used as small stages for bands and performers.We really need a diverse market that adds to the Surrey St offering and here could be the start of it.I just wish i knew who to engage with to get something started.

  • http://www.earth.li/~kake/ Kake

    St George’s Walk does indeed look a bit sad, though the situation isn’t quite as bleak as it may look in the evenings after the shops have closed. There are 34 occupied units and 9 vacant (details here, from my own survey), and the occupied ones include African and Filipino grocery shops, a Caribbean bakery, a Nigerian bar and restaurant, a Turkish cafe and sandwich shop, a knitting and sewing shop, a multicultural card and gift shop, a tattoo studio, an opticians, a games shop, and a young persons’ clothes shop, as well as the Hungarian deli that Anne mentioned. The original features in Caffe Nosh down the far end are well worth a look.

    I would like to see a market in there. I’m sure I saw market stalls in there a year or so ago. Not sure if that was a one-off though as I go through there frequently and have never seen them again.

    I think footfall is the problem. The businesses are there — some of them have been there for quite some time — but the walk itself is generally quite empty. If you go past during the day you’ll see a veritable forest of A-boards at the High Street entrance; an understandable attempt by the business owners to tempt customers in, but one which actually I find a little offputting. It does seem that large gains could be made with a fairly modest investment from the council to make that entrance look more attractive.

    • http://twitter.com/greencroydon Andrew Dickinson

      Hi Kake (nice to meet you on Friday) that’s a good mix of retailers to start with and slowly and surely more have come on tap. The sad thing is the old retailers were compulsorily purchased by the council and then Park Place went belly up.We lost Turtles because of that,I remember the market you refer to was it one Christmas? The Mama Mia restaurant was tragic. They were in Purley and then moved to St Gs and within 18 months closed down, such a shame.I would like to know if there are plans for the walk as money is being spent on the tower converting it into flats but it will have all the old office buildings and the run-down walk which doesn’t help ‘market’ these new flats.

  • http://twitter.com/BeesnBeans Susan Oliver

    Andrew! Thank you for writing about SGW. Something very real is happening in this place. As people have been commenting, new shops are opening up there! Doesn’t this dis-prove the need for a new and glitzy shopping centre? I mean, who needs trumped-up architecture to sell stuff?

    I don’t think it would take much in order for SGW to get its groove back. First thing, take down that awful ceiling. Then, put in a bunch of plants and a few cosmetic improvements.
    We need creative ideas more than a “bulldoze” mentality.

    There’s not enough political interest or energy in Central Croydon for SGW to receive proper attention. It’s yet another example of why Central Croydon needs an elected mayor with its own small management structure. The Council is not set up to effectively deal with the needs of Central Croydon.

  • http://en-gb.facebook.com/people/Wesley-Jordan-Anthony-Baker/690910500 Wesley Jordan Anthony Baker

    I do like modern, new and shiny but I agree the walk as it is could be scrubbed up quite nicely if someone with the money was willing to do so. I wonder if the fact half the units on the high street frontage and a lot of park street are empty puts out the message that the complex is closed for business. It would be great to see tech startups and creatives being encouraged and helped to use these units as well as let them as pop-up shops.

    The other idea I have is look towards places like Mathews yard and Westfield are popular. I think they have the same thing in common thats theres events in them that keep your attention for far longer than just buying something and leaving. Centrale as it is is very modern but kind of boring and unless I really want something just a passage to somewhere else. Maybe if its allowed there needs to be stages for buskers to perform so you go in there to see mini concerts. Would be great if there was even a boutique music festival.

    How great would it be if the glass in the st george house end was cleaned or replace for clear glass and money was made available to smarten the place up to a very high standard. A lot of materials could be upcycled.

    • Dave Pape

      When the Park Place plan came and went, I think I remember Turtles and a lot of the businesses in that area closing down; then when Park Place didn’t materialise we were left with a quarter of the town centre that had been all but demolished.

      There was a model of the Park Place vision on display in the Whitgift at the time, and there was a slogan about promoting sustainability. I questioned one of the reps about what sustainability meant, and he explained it meant financial sustainability. It meant money.

      I don’t like the Infinite Retail approach to urban regeneration: I think selling the town centre to groups like Hammerson and Westfield, to draw largely car-borne shoppers into the town from Surrey and Kent to buy mostly throwaway products, is environmentally appalling. I visited Westfield Stratford for the first time the other week, and felt almost uncontrollably revolted by it: champagne bar within glittering shopping centre, like a fortress in a town full of pound shops and takeaways. J G Ballard wrote a novel, Kingdom Come, about suburban fascism in and around shopping centres… I think we need a statue of J G Ballard giving the finger to Westfield, frankly.

      What I think we need is rock-bottom rents for local start-up business, combined with a mighty push to wean people away from Westfield and Centrale. The future is old and battered, we need to get into it.