Gentrification and the heart of Croydon

By - Tuesday 16th December, 2014

Is Croydon in danger of losing its heart and heritage? Lauren Furey gives her view

Croydon Gateway/Ruskin Square site.
Photo by John Gass, used with permission.

Gentrification has come to be an ugly word for London and its thirty-two boroughs. It represents a chasm of change in which pubs become restaurants, clubs become flats and houses become offices. The new builds, with their glossy finishes, sharp designs and attached cafés and ‘express’ shops, have tarnished the familiar corners of London to a dull monochrome – lifeless, uninspiring duplicates of each other that serve only to attract the upper middle classes and create an even greater social divide.

The commercialisation of areas like Hoxton, Shoreditch, Peckham and Brixton has served to change the landscape in a drastic and perhaps irreversible way. It draws tourists away from central London and enables new businesses to flourish, which is generally beneficial, but there is a much darker side that is frequently overlooked – the suppression, or even eradication, of local culture.

Affluent areas have often enjoyed the trappings that come with having a few extra quid in your pocket; nicer living spaces, family parks, expensive restaurants etc – think Richmond and Clapham. But it’s the working classes among us, living between and around these enclaves of wealth, who have created the living, breathing machinery of London.

The face of Croydon is changing, and it’s changing rapidly

Locally, this can be seen in Surrey Street Market, a trading post that has stood in Croydon for hundreds of years; officially since 1276. Here people of all backgrounds flock together to sell and buy fresh, wholesome produce at fair and honest prices. In spite of the steady stream of mini-markets that have popped up, Surrey Street Market has remained a strong and important area for many people in Croydon.

The face of Croydon, however, is changing, and it’s changing rapidly. The Croydon Gateway, around East Croydon station, is now officially well on its way after years of lying as a stagnant wasteland, often the first sight to greet visitors from the south coast and central London. The £500m development, designed by Foster and Partners and now known as Ruskin Square, will see the development of over 500 new homes, with phase one, consisting of 161 apartments, being due for completion by summer 2016. Various figures have been published for how many of these will be affordable housing and the true number remains unclear (a figure of 34 seems credible but optimistic). The other details of the area also remain a bit sketchy. The development meant the destruction of some of Croydon’s more unsightly office blocks, but it also cost us the Warehouse Theatre.

A massive regeneration project is underway throughout the town. The cost of the project is in the billions and will see the transformation of many of Croydon’s familiar areas, most notably around the Fairfield Halls, Wellesley Road, Queens Gardens and the Whitgift Centre.

We must preserve the culture, history and hard work that’s gone into Croydon

Broad plans for these areas include refurbishment of the Fairfield Halls, a building arguably in desperate need of a good going-over, as well as the building of skyscrapers, both for offices and living spaces. The plans cover the levels of housing and office space that will be available in years to come and are intended to promote Croydon as a centre for homes, business and culture. Retail giants Westfield and Hammerson even unveiled far-reaching plans to redevelop the Whitgift Centre and turn it into a competitive shopping experience to rival other major towns.

It all sounds very exciting on paper, but what does it mean in reality? Well, like similarly developed areas of London, changes of this kind will inevitably boost the value of housing in Croydon. It also seems reasonable to expect that some people will lose their homes as these developments come to fruition, and those who want to remain might no longer be able to afford to live in the area. This could have dire consequences for many.

My biggest concern is that the coming changes will serve to gentrify a lively and vibrant section of south London. It may, in places, be a bit rough around the edges but it’s part of the character of the town, and I would even wager that we have some of the most eclectic residents in all of London. It’s important that we remember the people of Croydon, of all ages and backgrounds, and ensure that we don’t create a town that’s designed for middle-class, go-getting, 21st century Londoners. We must preserve the culture, the history and the hard work that’s gone into Croydon, and make sure that we hold on to our identity in the future.

We need places to socialise, form bonds, share experiences

Fundamentally, I love Croydon. I was born and raised here and have a fantastic network of friends and family who live in the area. I am a huge supporter of local charity projects like Lives Not Knives (LNK), local arts projects such as TURF, and many of the local shops and restaurants.

In an ideal world I imagine youth centres, retirement villages, creative spaces, nightclubs, galleries and pubs featuring prominently in Croydon’s new landscape. It seems, however, that some of these barely make an appearance in the plans, or simply have been deemed to have no place in the future of Croydon. We need places to socialise, form bonds, share experiences. Not just a place to burn a hole in our wallets as we slave away until retirement.

Whilst it cannot be denied that there are vast social and structural issues in Croydon that do need addressing, maybe it’s time for the council and the Mayor of London to stop focusing on the negatives and telling us what they imagine we want to hear. Instead, they should start taking steps to acknowledge and preserve all that is good about Croydon.

In the meantime, I will try to remain optimistic for the future of the Cronx.

Read articles like this – and many more – in our monthly print magazine

Politics, reviews, photography, #Croydon #TechCity, sports and plenty more besides: Our monthly print newsmagazine brings all the most relevant, features, news, opinion and analysis together into a single publication. Written entirely by citizens, it’s the perfect way to catch up on what really matters to Croydon over a drink or a coffee, or on the way to work.

You can find the magazine in venues all over the London Borough of Croydon.

Get your copy today. Write for the Citizen and you may well see your own article next time you pick it up.

Lauren Furey

Lauren Furey

I was born in Croydon in 1988 and I've spent my life here, building friendships and experiences that have shaped me as a person. As a Croydon native, I have a big passion for local events, arts, history and culture... and the dearly departed Mexway. I now work as a freelance writer.

More Posts - Twitter

  • Andrew Kennedy

    Yes we want more articles about where the heart of Croydon is, both physical and social.

  • Ally McKinlay

    A good article Lauren & a subject I’ve been discussing on ‘Made In Croydon’ at Croydon Radio.

    I totally agree with the need for a strong cultural & environmental scene and believe it should be driven by the young people & the retired. If young people are inspired to create they may go into professions linked with those skills. The retired can share skills & enjoy the vibrant environment that’s created.

    If you’re working you can pay for it all safe in the knowledge your kids will benefit & so will you yourself when you retire.

    If we all work hard we can have some fun once in a while..

  • Croydon Reborn

    Great article. I agree that we are witnessing the start of a gentrification process. At least we have the privilege of seeing Croydon before and after the transformation.