The de-gentrification of West Croydon

By - Wednesday 25th October, 2017

It can work both ways

Sticker in Old Town.
Photo author’s own.

Gentrification: good thing or bad thing? You choose.

In the blue corner: isn’t Croydon starting to look nice? Nothing’s unaffordable – it’s just that different people can afford things now. Sure, it’s rough on some, but better than the old days when everywhere looked a bit rough. It’s the price of progress. Anyway, our houses are worth six times what we paid. Flat white and artisanal sourdough, anyone?

Meanwhile, over in the red corner, Croydonians are depicted as uniformly poor and downtrodden. Incomers are viewed with suspicion and not a single native of the borough, apparently, would welcome nicer shops. Stickers on lamp posts show local politicians who advocate change with devilish horns and tails. Let’s lob a brick through the window of Foxton’s.

What neither side says is that gentrification can stall, or even go into reverse. Where I live, it’s starting to happen.

It wasn’t the full-fledged ‘Big G’, but there were stirrings

I used to joke once, though it’s not so funny now, about the four horsemen of gentrification: the joggers, Ocado delivery vans, shops selling colourful and quirky children’s clothes made from organic cotton, and – predictably – the coffee joints. The signs of a neighbourhood that’s getting on the up. When I moved to West Croydon a few years back, just before property prices jumped as construction of the new Westfield shopping centre prepared to begin down the road, it already had two out of four. This wasn’t the full-fledged ‘Big G’, not yet, but there were stirrings.

Surely the riot damage from 2011 would soon be made good, since no local authority would leave its residents with the scars of traumatic violence for years on end? Wanna bet? Big promises were made about dealing with the litter. Did I mention there was to be a Westfield, any day now, and just down the road?

There undoubtedly has been some positive change since then: refurbished shop frontages, widened pavements, tree-planting and the partial repair of some riot-damaged areas although gaps and rubble from burnt out buildings still, appallingly, remain. But lasting change is all about building momentum. And it’s stuttering.

New seating – intended to improve the public realm – has attracted more street drinkers. They already caused problems in roads offering natural seats: low walls or pieces of grass. Their increased presence makes the area feel menacing. But why are they there? Why don’t they drink at home?

House prices soar as gentrification bites. It leads to two things: first, people living in larger groups to save money. There’s then overcrowding: down the road from me, seven or eight east European men share a small house. (They leave early each morning in a van, and look like construction workers). The place must be packed. It can’t possibly have pleasant communal space or offer any privacy.

Second: the provision of smaller and smaller housing units. Round the corner, a new refurb which I’d thought might be made into two or three flats suddenly has seven doorbells: micro-flats.

This is how slums are created

In cramped and noisy properties, residents feel stressed. They try to get outside to de-stress. The ethnic composition of Broad Green means there are very few pubs, so they drink in public space. They keep themselves to themselves while they do so – but there’s still something upsetting about fourteen men with beer cans on the corner of your street. Some of them, unfortunately, urinate there, and drop more litter in a place already strewn with it. Men who drink in large groups in the street also tend to become aggressive. When I heard of the stabbing in Handcroft Road on Saturday 14th October – just round the corner from two of the new street drinking areas – I immediately wondered if that was the cause.

Poverty. Transience. Overcrowding, Noise. Filth. Anti-social behaviour. Increasingly unstable communities.The flight of those able to leave. This is how slums are created.

With a big bucks project like Westfield, long silence often means cancellation

Our cake and cappuccino emporium failed: there isn’t the demand in Broad Green. Now it’s a vape shop. The Tamil grocer has cut its opening hours. I think this is due to hassle from drinkers, particularly early in the morning. I regularly encounter them. One morning I went to buy milk and walked into an alcohol-fuelled argument involving racial slurs. My partner witnessed a separate incident following an attempt to buy a can of lager. The shopkeeper refused: come back at 9am and I’ll sell you that then, he said. The man, who’d been drinking already, just cracked the can open, shrugged, and handed over the money.

Fly-tipping continues. The tide of garbage ebbs and flows – intractable, it seems. There are community litter picks. The community also bickers; bad feeling exists. It’s probably the stress of living here. The place gets more and more depressing.

And what about that Westfield? Our pink unicorn shopping centre was originally due to open in 2018. Every year since that first announcement, the start date recedes by a year. A friend with a serious corporate job has chillingly observed that with a big bucks project like this, lengthy silence is generally a precursor to cancellation. The earliest that it could open now is 2022.

Meanwhile, in so far as the process had ever begun – West Croydon de-gentrifies.

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

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

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  • Jonny Rose


    There are no easy/quick answers for making West Croydon a better place, but as a starting point for anyone living there who might want to take them forward I’ll leave these here:

    1. Croydon Foodie City: What’s to be done with West Croydon (Part 1) –

    2. Halls of Residence: What’s to be done with West Croydon (part 2) –

  • Elizabeth

    Interesting and thought-provoking article.

    Rather than being due to a lack of pubs, street drinking is more likely to be down to the availability of dirt-cheap booze which can be drunk at any time of the day. And you seem to be reporting that you are seeing an increase in this sort of activity, yet a local councillor jumped on someone the other day on Twitter to say the issue is being tackled. But what is the truth? A call for links to information remains unanswered.

    Street cleanliness is a long-standing issue, and not just fly-tipping, but general litter and the pavements that are often filthy. They definitely need to be cleaned more regularly, particularly along the London Road.

    And I’m really not at all convinced that gentrification is a good thing…

    • lizsheppardjourno

      Hi there – the jump in street drinking is certainly known to the council. Responses to complaints about it are generally prompt (as they are with complaints about fly-tipping). My point here is that an attempted improvement – the creation of public seating areas – is what has led to increased problems.

      I agree about cheap alcohol. I think it’s far too cheap, as I suspect you do. But I think most people who want to drink with their friends would do so in a more pleasant environment than the corner of London Road, if they could.

      And no – I’m not convinced about gentrification either.

    • Ian Marvin

      The existing alcohol free zones are being replaced with something that is more easily enforced. I believe this uses new powers granted to LAs. If you are unable to find further info probably worth talking with your local councillors or Hamida Ali who is I would imagine cabinet member responsible.

  • Ian Marvin

    Street drinking by the non-homeless and overcrowded accomodation are two sides of the same coin. At £1 for a 440ml can from an off license beer is half the price of even the cheapest pub option. Those living in temporary accommodation in the borough will also attest that having groups of men drinking in communal areas there poses equal challenges.

  • NeilB

    Good article if a little depressing.

    If West Croydon was ever going to be gentrified then it would have been when the overground was opened and West Croydon being on the tube map, and 30 mins away from the City.

    But as the article implies the area seems to be on a downward path. Station Road seems particularly unpleasant.

  • Croydon SeedsShare project

    Good article. Its a shame that long term and despite the countless promises that Croydon was going to be more than just the last stop on the overground it will be ………… the town which is the last stop on the overground.
    Going forward more needs to be done to bring the council to account for their laziness. I mean getting residents to litter pick and spending £££ on a DR WHO looking street cleaning machine which takes up all the space of the pavements which they are cleaning.
    And this is the problem when many councillors of the borough do not live in the centre or anywhere near it. Coulsdon and Shirley is not the centre of Croydon and the living standards in these areas is depressingly different like a different world.
    Like me Liz you can stand up and say you live in thick of it but for how much longer ???? I know already many are leaving having given up on the ” Croydon will be better” bullshit fed by the Conservatives and then Labour parties who take turns further breaking our town centre again and again.
    Now saying all this there is a solution, when my family first moved to their home in Croydon in the early 90s it was area which was “safe” for young families etc Thornton Heath / Waddon / Broad Green although not pretty at the time was a extension of Coulsdon and Shirley. This was because Croydon didn’t see itself as part of the gritty South East London boroughs further more it shunned them which now are so sought after for those wanting live – Forest hill / Brockley / New Cross / Sydnenham. For me Croydon is not part of London and never has been it is a suburb in its own right and just simply is CROYDON.
    This means the following NO boris bikes / NO westfield (for now) / NO underground station just to name a few.
    BUT what you do get is the following – YES residents who litter pick for free / YES benches placed in odd places / YES betting shops galore / YES a council which is frankly a waste of my council tax / YES unsafe subways which have been reported countless times / YES one of the highest knife crime rates in the UK I could go on ………..
    Once again Liz thanks for being Blunt which sometimes is needed and hopefully all those who claim to run our town read your article and take a look at themselves while in the meantime I will continue to pay my £115 council tax for this borough but how long for I cannot say …………….

  • Pipi

    Hasn’t the same thing occurred with most areas of London? Wherever there’s a new luxury development with c. £500k 1 bed apartments, you can bet there’s poverty and anti social behaviour 2 streets away. I live in Croydon now but experienced the same thing living in Kensington, fortunately I had my mouse-ridden 150 sq ft bedsit to myself but that was only minutes walk from some of the wealthiest streets. I was regularly approached by homeless street drinkers and drug addicts.