Croydon High Street: a new hope?

By - Friday 6th July, 2018

This summer Croydon High Street – yes, really – offers fun and relaxation for all ages

Street Live Scanners Inc.
Photo by Chetna Kapacee, used with permission.

This summer I’ll be watching Croydon town centre with interest.

I usually avoid its grotty warren of cut-price shops and a life-expired shopping mall where, on rainy days, the buckets stand in rows to catch the leaks from the roof. The Westfield debate took place against a plaintive murmur from Whitgift centre stalwarts of “what’s wrong with it?”. I’m afraid that the answer is ‘everything’.

Modern Croydon town centre never worked. How could it have, sliced open by a roaring urban motorway through cramped and gloomy canyons that magnify its sound, sightlines obstructed and signage so poor that – minutes from the peace of Queen’s Gardens, the striking Victorian town hall, the exuberant art of RISE Gallery, the cool restaurant quarter or the heritage of Surrey Street – there’s no clue that they are there? Yes, Allders was once lovely, but fifty years ago, in June 1968, the Advertiser declared the central zone ‘a cold, dead place’ – and that was just after they had built it.

You can sip your Pimms with Sharapova in peace

Down the years, I’ve worked on projects to improve things. We dressed in Tudor costume for a sparsely attended activity day in Queen’s Gardens and promoted events from fashion festivals to mobile performers’ weekends. We ate The Big Lunch down in Surrey Street.

The 2015 Ambition Festival worked in East Croydon with cocktails and crowds, but tanked in the town centre; no-one knew that it was there.

Now a summer programme of events in the high street, called Street Live, takes on this tricky part of town yet again, seeking to bring it to life.

Will it work? I don’t know, but I like their can-do spirit

It began with pedestrianisation of the stretch between Park Street and the Spread Eagle pub. Until September, it’s a stage for dancers, musicians, circus acts (join in and learn skills), Fit Street to keep children active in school holidays and the scene of jazz, live theatre, ‘block parties’ from Beats and Eats, a social dance festival and a vintage ‘Made in Croydon’ market. A big screen seats 250 to watch Wimbledon throughout the entire fortnight, providing a chance to sip your Pimms with Maria Sharapova… what’s not to like?

Street Live is run by Croydon Council and Croydon Business Improvement District. At a recent briefing, I liked what I heard: the time frame (7th June – 1st September) allows it to ‘bed in’ and locals to think of this stretch of street as a place where you’d want to spend time. Local restaurants and bars will provide food and drink and offers are available through the Check Out Croydon card.

It’s a pretty major challenge. Can they pull it off? I don’t know, but I like their can-do spirit. There’s a lot here that appeals. I wish Street Live every success.

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Writer and editor. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • Cathy de Veras

    You conveniently forget the issues with access to the High Street, and Post Office for disabled people. Now that the busses no longer stop in Park Street, thousands of people cannot get to that branch. Also the high kerbs make it unsafe for wheelchairs or scooters or people using walkers. If there was an emergency during a crowded event and they couldn’t get to the defunct zebra in the centre they would be stuck. The whole area is cluttered and unsafe.

    If it is pedestrianised, make it level. Don’t just leave the job half done. OR, just have a functioning street everybody can use, like it was before.

    You also forget that there was no public consultation, or one with a time span so that everybody could comment. This is because it was a rushed through vanity project, and a waste of money. This summer is freakishly sunny, what happens when it’s over? Nobody will come out in the rain. It will be another decade at least until St George’s Walk is redeveloped, until then this section of the town is inaccessible to a lot of Croydon Citizens. London Road is cluttered, North End is becoming increasingly so, and desperately needs repaving, and now the High Street. You didn’t think of that did you? Even though we have chatted about it before. Stop being a Yes Woman to Council vanity projects. You’ve got a brain, use it.

    • Anne Giles

      I must admit, I no longer go into Croydon because there are not enough parking bays for disabled people.