Matthews Yard might be demolished

By - Tuesday 16th May, 2017

The founder of the popular hub and nightspot is less concerned than you might expect

Photo author’s own.

Last week, I discovered that a proposal to demolish the building which Matthews Yard is located in will be presented to the planning committee at the town hall on Thursday evening for feedback, prior to submitting a full planning application.

Within minutes of finding out, a reporter from the Croydon Advertiser reached out to ask my thoughts, almost before I had the chance to gather them. My initial response was shock. Despite knowing that this was a realistic prospect one day, to see it in black and white on Facebook, before knowing that it was under serious consideration, was a surprise.

When I took over a derelict basement at the end of 2011, Croydon was on its knees. Businesses were leaving, and house prices were amongst the lowest in London. To say that post-riot recovery was ‘sluggish’ would be generous. Matthews Yard opened during an economic downturn, in premises with next to no natural light and at a location with no meaningful footfall. We had barely any money to sustain the building, let alone operating losses once we opened. We broke every rule in the business school book. With passion, determination and support from the local community, here we are, still going strong, five years on.

When Matthews Yard opened, one of my primary goals was to contribute to an alternative narrative for Croydon

Between 1984, when Caters supermarket closed, and late 2011, when I stumbled across the premises, barely a soul gave a second thought to what lay beyond a battered steel shutter down a dingy alley off of Surrey Street. I wondered. The shutter hinted at potential. Something with an industrial feel. Still standing, in the very centre of town.

When Matthews Yard opened, five years ago, one of my primary goals was to contribute to an alternative narrative for Croydon. I wanted to combat the negative stereotypes bandied about, all too often. I wanted others to share my positive aspirations for the borough and to invest in its success. I wanted people to be proud to say that they lived in Croydon, and at that time they certainly were not. I wanted people to collaborate and to collectively raise the bar for our town.

And we did.

Dozens of home-grown initiatives have played a vital part in making Croydon desirable

Croydon Radio, Cronx Brewery, Croydon Tech City, the Citizen, Turf Projects, Rise Gallery, BRGR&BEER, Stanley Halls, Theatre Utopia, The Crocus farm, Street Cocktails, Beats & Eats, Croyster mushrooms and dozens and dozens more home-grown initiatives have played a vital part in making Croydon desirable – and not just to developers.

Eighteen months ago I wrote a blog titled ‘Croydon deserves more than cookie cutter regeneration‘. It was a plea for developers coming into Croydon to work with homegrown initiatives, to support them and give them security and stability in times of change and uncertainty. While well-received at first, the message fell largely on deaf ears.

Croydon, rather stubbornly, refuses to learn from the mistakes made elsewhere in its model of regeneration. It refuses to protect the little things which residents hold dear.

Somewhat predictably, Matthews Yard is faced with the prospect of its building being demolished

A perfect example can be found in Croydon Radio, a voluntary initiative which never received any formal support or funding. It started its journey with Matthews Yard almost five years ago but sadly went off the air permanently a few months ago. Never mind funding, there wasn’t even a ‘thank you’ for the community initiative which undoubtedly played a vital part in helping to put Croydon on the map in a positive way.

Even before opening Matthews Yard, I talked up Croydon in circles in which it was sneered at. I suggested that it could be a viable and sustainable alternative to Silicon Roundabout and Tech City and heralded its abundance of cheap office space. I didn’t for a second imagine that it would all be converted to residential in under a decade.

Today, somewhat predictably, Matthews Yard is faced with the prospect of its building being demolished. We see history repeating itself as we have in Brixton and Peckham and countless other places. It’s often said that a side-effect of regeneration is that many of the initiatives which helped to make a place attractive to developers fall victim to their cumulative success.

There will be no picket line. I will not chain myself to the drainpipes

With the Old Town Masterplan wrapped up, the regeneration bus has barely packed its bags and the bulldozers and builders are already sizing us up. At this juncture, we have two choices. We can choose to continue playing our part in the pantomime of regeneration by trying to resist the inevitable fate which belies 5-9 Surrey Street and its basement, or we can embrace the change and do our part to break the stereotypical cycle playing out in Croydon.

We won’t attack our landlords or the developers in the media nor beg for mercy. Matthews Yard will not be a sideshow in a developer’s playground. There will be no picket line. I will not chain myself to the drainpipes of the building to stop the bulldozers moving in.

While many who know me would expect me to be hostile, angry or in despair, I am not. Many would expect me to launch a campaign to preserve the building and save our beloved Matthews Yard, but I won’t. The stereotypes in Croydon and at Matthews Yard need to stop. We cannot afford to become the next parody for gentrification. We need to do it differently.

The lack of access to capital has always been our biggest barrier to growth

I am no fool. I knew that this was part and parcel of what would happen if Croydon became successful. I just hoped that Matthews Yard would have been successful enough along the way to buy its own space, enabling us to disrupt the formula and break the cycle. The shackles and the insecurity of a leasehold tenancy provided burdens in equal measure.

Like so many small businesses, the lack of access to capital has always been our biggest barrier to growth. We have had our challenges and we will continue to in the future. But Matthews Yard is all for progress and all about change. That’s why we won’t object to these proposals. We are a family and we are more than the bricks and mortar at 5-9 Surrey Street.

Objectively speaking, let’s face it, the building is bloody ugly. Constructed in the 1950s, it has no history worth preserving and few redeeming architectural features. Of all the buildings in the Old Town Masterplan area, it’s near the top of the list of eyesores. Certainly not above Q Park, nor Ryland house, but up there.

We have plenty of time to prepare for the future

On a moral level, our landlord has been kind to me and to Matthews Yard over the years. They showed faith and gave me a chance when nobody else would. They took a risk in backing a start-up with no track record and no security. To become a barrier to their progress, when they provided us with the opportunity for ours, would be wrong.

It will be interesting to see how the planning committee responds to the pre-application presentation next week and I welcome discussions with the developers, should they see fit to reach out. I am keen to see how much of an issue the planning committee makes of the religious worship and community aspects of the upper parts of the premises, and whether they favour a more modest conversion over total demolition and redevelopment in what is already a densely populated area and so soon after extensive disruption to Surrey Street traders. As they say, where there is a will there is a way.

As for Matthews Yard, we have plenty of time to prepare for the future, in or beyond number one Matthews Yard.

Saif Bonar

Saif is a first-time dad in the making and the founder of Matthews Yard, a creative hub with workspace, art gallery, theatre and bar in central Croydon.

More Posts - Website - Twitter

  • Jonny Rose

    Saif, you’re an incredible man – as ever, I await with interest to see the next steps for Matthews Yard :)

    • Saif Bonar

      Brap! Thanks JRo. Back atcha matey.

    • darran leo king

      Jonny sort out your Hashtag #croydonvstheworld , and tell me how you like Boxpark hashtags #boxpark & #boxparkcroydon & #eatdrinkplay plus are you happy with boxpark taking @InsideCroydon to Court .

    • darran leo king

      Jonny we know your working hard on Croydon Tech City but you did make a hashtag called croydon Vs The World , its dead and boring and same with Best of Croydon twitter , Account , needs to be up dated and working , and future Plan to make them work let me know please

  • orange

    “To become a barrier to their progress, when they provided us with the opportunity for ours, would be wrong.” This part shows an amazing mindset. Good luck with the future!

    • Saif Bonar

      Thank you. *blushes*

  • Ted Craig

    Sorry to hear this Saif, but it’s a very familiar story for me. Good luck

    • Saif Bonar

      Ted, if only I knew half of what I know today, 3 or 4 years ago, we would have rallied behind the Warehouse instead of swallowing the spin!

  • Anne Giles

    Sad, but good luck!

    • Saif Bonar

      Thanks Anne.

  • Nick Smith

    I admire you even more than I did 15 minutes ago. Bravo!

    • Saif Bonar

      Thanks for your support, Nick. Best of luck with your own endeavours. Anything I can do to help, just ping me a line. :)

      • darran leo king

        Saif you need to use the whole outside space the Yard having lots of Public events and community Projects and good luck Saving your Business

        • Saif Bonar

          Thanks. Brgr&Beer just expanded it to the maximum legally allowed. Its just a question of how long we are there for now. Without wanting to cause an argument with you and in the hope of giving back some advice, as you give out a fair bit and some of it could actually be useful. You should consider a less aggressive tone (and profil image) in order to have more impact. It seems to me your heart is in the right place, but you aren’t getting your message out in the right way. No offence intended.

          • darran leo king

            Saif Croydon town Center Can not afford to lose Matthew Yard its the heart beat for Croydon without Matthew Yard how can Croydon Town Center Grow , We all need to save Matthew Yard and Support more local Artists , Time for everyone to wake up when Matthew Yard gone will be a Very Sad day .

  • keithanthony

    It is a sad tragedy to hear this news just as sad as it is to see them ripping up the cobblestones of Surrey Street market which still has its gas lamps I suspect soon to be removed. I hope we see you helping to shape Croydon for many years Saif.

    • Saif Bonar

      In every negative, is a positive waiting to be found Keith. If anyone will find it, we will.

      • keithanthony

        You are right Saif because although every coin has it’s good and bad side you spin our coin to make us stand in any circumstance. For people like you and me dont focus on good or bad we look only to the results.)NLP) Results are progress. ;)

  • Andy Hylton

    “We are a family and we are more than the bricks and mortar at 5-9 Surrey Street.” – that says it all Saif. Good luck and you can count on my support in your new venture.

    • Saif Bonar

      Thanks Andy. It will be the same venture, just a new location. We still have work to do and people’s money to repay. We don’t do Phoenix companies and offshore havens. :)

  • darran leo king

    your Croydon Labour taking the Piss , all the best .

    • Saif Bonar

      It’s not Croydon Labour, nor Croydon Conservatives. This sort of stuff is bound to happen. As a community we need to work together, irrespective of political beliefs, to seize the opportunity to have a meaningful say. But as was discussed in a recent piece on the fractured Arts community in Croydon, it is increasingly difficult to get people who are scraping by each day to collaborate meaningfully when competition, suspicion and division is sewn on so many levels.

      • darran leo king

        you can Open seven days a weeks 24 hours a day Change the opening Times Work towards having the City coming into Matthew Yard, after all East croydon is open 24 hours to the City. Pop ups from fashion to food and Raw Street Artist’s , even a Night club a weekends , Increase the events and opening times then will be very hard to close Down Matthew Yard . or are you Planning to walk away ,