Seven initial thoughts about Boxpark Croydon and its prospects for our town

By - Tuesday 8th November, 2016

Croydon’s salvation or hipster invasion? You have three years to decide…

Inside Boxpark Croydon.
Photo author’s own.

So, it’s here – it’s finally here!

80 shipping containers, 20,000 sq ft, a hundred tonnes of corrugated iron have come together to make the newest hotspot in Croydon, Boxpark Croydon.The venue is a food and entertainment space housing forty restaurants including central London heavyweights MeatLiquor, Chilango, Mama Lan and Breakfast Club – and, for many, it is the best thing to happen to Croydon in a long time.

Now that a week has passed – and having attended a few of the music events and restaurants onsite – some thoughts have already begun to ferment about this hyper-stylised food hall and what it spells for Croydon’s future.

See if you agree:

Boxpark Croydon will put Croydon on the map as a music destination

Boxpark opened with two AAA-rated prestige events: a ten-hour Eskimo Dance rave and an NME all-dayer. This was a massive coup on the part of the Boxpark team – and it was wonderful to see their efforts vindicated by fully rammed, wall-to-wall attendance on both days. People trekked from as far as Scotland to attend the Boxpark launch!

Already, there are plans afoot for a UK Garage Takeover in November and a whole host of similar acts. If Boxpark can keep up this quality of music events, Croydon will regain its title as a major destination for club nights.

Boxpark Croydon could be a legitimate replacement to Fairfield Halls gigs

I’ve not been reticent about my feelings about Fairfield Halls, but it would be remiss not to acknowledge the cultural ‘gap’ that it has left in Croydon. Fairfield Halls was a multi-faceted venue, as much geared towards hosting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra as it was capable of putting on Christmas pantos.

Which is all to say that whilst Boxpark will never facilitate the harrowing sight of Steve McFadden gambolling in drag as Widow Twanky, it can definitely fulfil the rock and pop concert aspect. Boxpark Croydon has a capacity of 2,000 – which is similar to The Forum in Kentish Town – meaning that it could well become a touchdown for the mid-tier rock and metal acts that historically used Fairfield Halls.

Boxpark Croydon may be the injection needed to help the nighttime economy

One suspicion we all have is that any out-of-towners that visit Boxpark will not venture into town, preferring instead to stay within its steel confines. So, it was encouraging to see – after Eskimo Dance – patrons not making their escape via East Croydon Station but instead moving on to Dice Bar.

Far from monopolising the nighttime crowd, I suspect that Boxpark Croydon will end up be being the ‘pre-lash’ meeting point where friends can have a few drinks, fill their bellies, before moving on to the clubs and pubs on the high street.

There may not be enough demand to support all forty restaurants

Here’s the stickler. I remain unconvinced that there is enough demand – from either residents or visitors – to maintain forty major and micro-restaurants within the Boxpark complex. Who do Boxpark see as frequenting every day (and night)? Incoming residents travelling home from work? Croydon commuters on their way home to London to Brighton? Lunchtime office professionals? Weekend socialites?

Even if there is a high volume of footfall, you have the problem of competition within Boxpark. Andrew Baggs, a local food blogger and enthusiast, articulated it well when he spoke about how “the bottom 30% will really struggle. I worry people will revert to ‘named brands’ rather than newcomers”.

The effect on Croydon’s ‘restaurant quarter’ remains to be seen

Understandably, there has been much concern at how other eateries in the centre of town will perform now that forty new competitors have appeared – supported by Boxpark branding and marketing budget.

On the frontline of this new battle are the eateries of Dingwall Road which are overlooked by Boxpark. But down the road is Croydon’s historic ‘restaurant quarter’, which already struggles to get full occupancy – even on a Friday and Saturday night.

Boxpark Croydon is here. Moaning won’t change that.

In the first few days of Boxpark opening, the largely uniform euphoria from young and old alike was lumpenly punctured by the usual complaints from the usual miserablists. Setting up Twitter accounts to complain won’t do anything. Whatever you think about the council’s public subsidy (loan) of £3million to get the Boxpark project underway, it’s here and will be for the next three years.

Boxpark needs to involve the community

The success of the Boxpark project depends ultimately on whether it’s seen to be serving the community or just selling to it.

Early signs of this are very promising: The site already provides 42 jobs for Croydonians, according to the council, and there are a raft of community-led events on the roster such as Beats and Bass, and Love Cronx. Local magazine the Croydon Citizen (which I hear is really good) is available on-site. It’s great to see local community groups such as ‘Made in Croydon’ and ‘Shaking Hands Partnership’ using the site for meetings. Hopefully, more will get to avail themselves of the opportunity.

So, those are my seven initial thoughts on Boxpark Croydon. It will be interesting to see in the months to come whether Boxpark Croydon is a black beauty or a white elephant.

Come and see the Silicon Valley of South London in action. The next Croydon Tech City event takes place on Thursday 17th November at 7pm at Sussex Innovation Centre Croydon. To attend, please register here.

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 owns a lead generation company. 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 and a Linkedin lead generation service. 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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  • Andrew Bernhard

    “There may not be enough demand to support all forty restaurants”

    I did think that too, but 5 of the new restaurants are already on Deliveroo. I’ve always found Croydon a bit lacking for decent takeaway food, so that’s another channel they can hopefully exploit.

    • Jonny Rose

      That’s a good point, Andrew! And, by the way, just in case you’re not a Deliveroo customer yet – I actually have a code that gives you a free £10 to spend when you first sign up. ENJOY: :)

      • Andrew Bernhard

        Lol, thanks Jonny – I may just do that

  • Ian

    Nice one Jonny!

    Boxpark is a great gig venue, and as long as they keep putting on quality music events and working with community groups it will stay that way. It would be good for Boxpark to work with other late night venues in Croydon to host after-parties and spread the footfall through-out Croydon rather than keeping it at East Croydon and then sending them on to Central London

    I’m intrigued as to how the £160k of Ambition festival money given to them is being/ has been spent. Hopefully to pay for community group events but as we have found out first hand – they don’t seem to have much budget allocated for this.

    A Boxpark community outreach team would be a great initiative – it’s heartbreaking to see people begging outside while people feast on £6.50 chicken wings.

    My initial thoughts, it’s great at the moment, but keep Boxpark temporary and rebuild the Warehouse Theater on the same site.

    Also…. Beats and Bass?? :) :) :)

    • Ian Marvin

      Beats and Bass in the Boxes Park!

    • Jonny Rose

      HA HA, I’ve just realised “Beats and Bass” was the Drum & Bass society at my university!! I clearly had a malfunction there: I mean “BEATS AND EATS”, people :)

  • Ian Marvin

    I’m looking forward to Croydon Tech City on the main stage, using the big screen . . .

  • Anne Giles

    Looking forward to trying it out. I did hear, though, that the food is overpriced. I had also read an article which stated that the Council is charging each outlet £20,000 a year, but then increasing it to £60,000. Will they cope?

    • Andrew

      Don’t trust everything (anything) you read on the internet. The food is all priced, not over or under, if you don’t deem it to be of value, don’t buy it. I have had meals at a number of the vendors, none of those meals have been as cheap as a tesco meal-deal, but if that’s what you want then you know where Tesco is.

      • Anne Giles

        I wouldn’t be seen dead in Tesco, actually.

  • The Purley Girly

    I’m absolutely loving Boxpark so far, Eskimo Dance was brilliant, and the new choices for food and drinks within the area is brilliant. I also hope the restaurant quarter won’t suffer too much, and people (especially locals) make use of all the great places we’re finally getting. I think it’s important to support as many local businesses as possible, including Boxpark.

    I’ve also read some worrying articles about rents being tripled, and licences only being issued for 18 months, but that all remains to be seen, and perhaps even more reason to support these endeavors right now. I can’t wait to see what events are hosted there next, and I’m certainly loving seeing everyone’s photos on Instagram!

    • CroydonSurrey

      It be nice if they had it a bit more family family, seen families go there and they all look a bit awkward. Maybe more exclusive family events on Sundays.

  • CroydonSurrey

    I’m sure the box park organisers will be flexible enough on rents to keep the variety of food.

    I work in Kent but live in Croydon, the new choices are a god send as I no longer have to trek into London or even clapham to have something else then the stuffy restaurants on south end.

    I’ve not had a chance to go during a afternoon on a weekday? I’m assuming by your article that’s its dead?

    Hopefully body shop and the hmrc move in asap.

  • Robert Ward

    I’m also very positive about Boxpark. Good food, good atmosphere.

    Will all the restaurants survive? No they won’t, restaurants are a high risk business. Will others take their place? Probably. Will some units convert from restaurant to something else? Probably. That’s all part of refining the offering to fit what the customer wants.

    Regarding the moaners, I’m not the last to criticise the council, but once the (our) money is spent then they should get over it and help make it work.

    • Anne Giles

      I haven’t noticed any moaners.

  • Anne Giles

    From the photograph, it looks as though people are sitting on benches. Are there any chairs? I can’t sit on a bench.

  • Shaking Hands

    You’re right, for certain, about BOXPARK bolstering the night-time economy in Croydon, and offering a high-profile outlet for Rock, Pop and Acoustic gigs, which is all very welcome. Going as far as to say it can replace Fairfield Halls is a bit of a stretch (where the community, theatrical and classical groups are concerned).

    We’ll be keeping our eyes and ears open to our “classic” Croydon favourites such as Smoothbean, Hoodoo’s Cafe, Scrumpchinos, Project B, Clocktower Cafe, Byte Cafe and Crushed Bean to see how they are financially affected through the arrival of BOXPARK.

    No doubt, for many of those in the East Croydon area, the cost of commercial leases will go up with the arrival of the new venue, which, contrary to the branding, does not leave the future very black and white for SMEs in the vicinity.

    The question comes down to whether BOXPARK will act as a corridor into Croydon, or an excuse to exit without any exploration.

    While we wait to find out, we’ll be popping our head into BOXPARK for food and events, and keeping our feet firmly placed in the cafes that have always made Croydon a great place to be.