Halls of residence: what can be done to save West Croydon? (Part 2)

By - Tuesday 9th June, 2015

Jonny Rose envisages the boost to West Croydon that an influx of university students could bring

Whilst central Croydon is now being regenerated at a breathtaking pace thanks to the council-led masterplans, inward investment stimulated by Croydon Tech City and the arrival of Westfield in 2019, nearby West Croydon continues to be left in the doldrums: unappreciated, flagging.

In the first part of this series, I introduced the idea of West Croydon capitalising on its foodie proposition, making much of various restaurants and open-front markets that line London Road from West Croydon Station all the way down to Broad Green. Today, I wish to examine the benefits of West Croydon becoming an area for housing South London university students.

Croydon – a university town

It’s no secret that Croydon is becoming increasingly attractive to tertiary education establishments. For some time, the likes of Kingston and Roehampton universities have been looking to set up campuses or annexed departments in the area, bringing with them up to three hundred permanent undergraduates, respectively.

Even within our borough, Croydon College has university accreditation as the ‘University Centre Croydon’ as one of the largest providers of higher education between London and Brighton. Nearby University of Sussex operates out of Croydon College and far from it being a mere share of staff and curricular, the university has funded the presence of an innovation centre in No.1 Croydon to complement Croydon’s growing reputation as a tech city.

Becoming known as a university town would be a boon for Croydon: if we look around the world for examples of successful university towns, especially towns some distance from the metropolitan centre or capital city, we usually first of all think of Oxford and Cambridge. Both of these universities have over 800 years of history and tradition but neither is particularly helpful to us as a successful model as Croydon lacks a similar pedigree.

However, if we look a bit later on in history at the very late 19th century and early 20th century we could consider the establishment of Stanford University in the USA, some 60 kilometres from San Francisco. Hi-tech developments at Stanford in the 1940s and ’50s, the encouragement given by the university to graduates to start up their own companies, a powerful political and business focus at the time on regionalism along the western seaboard of the USA, and a desire to build self-sufficient local industry all combined to lead to the rise of what we now know as Silicon Valley, in the area adjacent to the university. An extraordinarily successful example of wealth generation and community enablement – everything that we’re aiming for with Croydon Tech City.

Of course, a university is nothing without its students.

The benefits of students in Croydon

Students are a huge boost to a city’s economy. Loans are there to be spent, and millions of pounds are poured into cafés, restaurants, bars, pubs, clubs and shops in university cities every year. Many of these businesses are also staffed by students, with the majority being under 21 and willing to work long shifts for the lower level of minimum wage.

Councils benefit from the large number of students who use public transport, as do small independent stores which profit from being more accessible to those on foot than the big supermarkets. Demand for student housing also creates a profitable rental market in university towns, which pushes house prices up and can make areas more desirable.

University cities have a vitality and youthful atmosphere not seen in other areas, where the UK’s ageing population dominates. Imagine the effect of suddenly bringing up to one thousand cerebral, focused, entrepreneurial university students to an area like West Croydon which for too long has been been dominated by segregation and negativity.

Halls of residence in West Croydon

To be clear, bringing students to Croydon does not necessarily require Croydon itself to be a university town. Halls of residence in East Croydon could house students to any number of universities in the London and Surrey area: Imperial, UCL, Birkbeck, Royal Holloway, and so on.

Having spoken to the council, I am told that there are at least two complexes in West Croydon that could be used for “six hundred to eight hundred housing units for students”. All that it requires is for the owners to see the merits of making them student digs.

Perhaps it’s time for a West Croydon community champion to take up the mantle and help these developers see sense: Croydon will become a university town in the near future, and West Croydon needs to be the place to house – and benefit from – the talent.

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose is a committed Christian who has lived in the Croydon area for nearly twenty years. He is an active participant in his local community, serving at Grace Vineyard Church and organising Purley Breakfast Club, and was ranked "Croydon's 37th most powerful person" by the Croydon Advertiser (much to his amusement). He is the Head of Content at marketing technology company Idio, the founder of the Croydon Tech City movement, a LinkedIn coach, and creator of Croydon's first fashion label, Croydon Vs The World. Working on Instagram training. Views are his own, but it would be best for all concerned if you shared them. Please send your fanmail to: jonnyrose1 (at) gmail (dot) com

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  • lizsheppardjourno

    #HellYesJonny. Use those transport links.

    I’m not sure that ‘save’ is the word here…. speaking as a resident, we are not yet quite lost. But we are struggling and we need a way out of the spiral of chicken shops, betting shops, loan shops… and that way is disposable income. The under and post grad pound would do nicely.

  • Nick Davies

    “Imperial, UCL, Birkbeck, Royal Holloway…”

    You might want to ask the students about that. I work at a central London university. It’s not alone in wanting to capitalise its estate and sell off high value residential buildings in Zone 1 in favour of premises further out. Such proposals meet stiff resistance from the undergraduates who rightly point out that one of the reasons they came was the opportunity to live in of one of the world’s greatest cities. That doesn’t include being farmed out to, in their perspective, remote suburbia. Anything beyond a single bus ride or a Zone 2 tube ride is a bridge too far. Apart from anything else getting home at 3AM is neither easy nor safe even if affordable. By all means provide a thousand beds worth of student accommodation in Croydon – but you also need a campus nearby for them to attend.

    By the way few Birkbeck students are likely to require student accommodation and Egham is a right old trip from Croydon by public transport.

    • http://idioplatform.com/ Jonny Rose

      I appreciate your input as someone who’s a little closer to the realities of such an idea (although, one of my pet projects is to get a technical university – a la Stanford – to come to Croydon, so I remain undeterred at the prospects of students who will only attend a campus that’s nearby!) :)

      On that note, who are the decision makers in university governance when it comes to universities moving or taking up halls of residence? What roles/job titles? Would be great to know!

      • Nick Davies

        Anything involving capital expenditure is inevitably a “board level” – usually called something like Council – decision. How that’s arrived at lower down the food chain varies from place to place. Look for departments called maybe ‘student services’. But they are likely to have more of an administrative than strategic function, that may well be set by some high powered committee.

  • NeilB

    Would be great to see a proper university in Croydon.

  • Reena

    Jonny, hope you don’t mind me asking, but why don’t you move to West Croydon in the first place?

    • Anne Giles

      Because he lives in a more leafy area.

      • Reena

        I know. It’s very easy to preach about what can be done to save West Croydon from your comfortable house in Purley.

        • Anne Giles

          There is nothing wrong with having a nice comfortable house in Purley, as we do in Selsdon and some of our friends have in Coulsdon. We all choose where to buy our homes, which we all work hard to pay for. Life is about choices.

          • CroydonSurrey

            I’m starting to like Reena. West Croydon is sooo bad, there needs to be a solid action plan to improve it, settng up campuses would go hand in hand with westfield and closing some of the duplicated ethnic shops. I do not need 10 places to buy chicken wings or tinned chickpeas within a 3 minute walk.

            Also some of the council housing should be demolished and replace with open parkland.

            The current policy of just building more and more social housing in West Croydon is making the situation worse not better.

        • http://idioplatform.com/ Jonny Rose

          Hey Reena,

          There are multiple things that can be improve in Croydon (and, indeed, even in my part of “leafy” Purley!) and you’re more than welcome to make suggestions yourself. To my mind, if we care about Croydon we should care about all parts, not just the parts that we live in.

          I’d also suggest that there is a better chance of success as more people in Croydon offer actionable suggestions about the borough’s issues, rather than operating in silos or with parochial concerns.

          I can’t necessarily be everywhere in the borough at all times – and I can’t live in every part of the borough at all times. Hence, this (and my other article: http://thecroydoncitizen.com/economics-business/croydon-foodie-city-can-done-save-west-croydon-part-1/ were just enabling suggestions for what people in West Croydon (like yourself??) could do if they are that way inclined.

          • Reena

            I am doing my part from my one bedroom flat in Fairfield. I just think that it’s a bit unfair that you’re telling people to open businesses and move to an area where you don’t live. I am a believer in leading by example.