How I would regenerate Surrey Street market

By - Tuesday 14th April, 2015

Andrew Dickinson thinks outside the crate on our historic fruit and veg market’s future

The spirit of Soho mural, Broadwick Street, London WC1.
Photo by Loz Pycock, used under Creative Commons licence.

The Croydon Advertiser on 20th January 2015 ran the headline – NEGLECTED! Surrey Street has served Croydon for nearly 800 years and is London’s oldest street market – so why do stallholders fear for its future?

Someone told me the other day that the market was going: the Croydon Partnership, so the rumour goes, will apparently want Surrey Street as it will be an important strategic road for the new shopping mall. Whether or not there’s any truth to this, the efforts of the market traders certainly seem to be undermined by high parking charges and a lack of publicity and investment from the council. When did you ever see an advert taken out by one or a collective of these traders promoting their businesses? What do these independent enterprises do to promote themselves?

Surrey Street is a scruffy disgrace

The Croydon cabinet member for economic development has stated that there are immediate measures in hand to boost trade in the market as well as longer term regeneration plans. The market is a ‘real jewel in Croydon’s crown’ – reassuring and encouraging words. But present day Surrey Street is a scruffy disgrace. There’s nothing bright, light or celebratory about it at all. Just hard edges and ugly buildings and grime. In another town in England, this asset would be a major tourist attraction and civic focal point.

I have to agree the traders about lack of interest and investment. There’s no attempt to make Surrey Street into what’s known these days as a ‘destination’ – an attractive, enjoyable place to visit, shop and enjoy leisure time. It’s a boring linear strip blighted by the boarded-up, hideous Bridge House next door to the soon-to-close Surrey StrEatery. There are no attempts to promote and celebrate its 800 years of heritage.

Surrey Street’s stall-holders are the last of a tough, all-weather breed

Did you know that the market receives official visits from overseas organisations learning how to run a successful market? Think about that. It’s quite a statement, is it not? The DNA of market trading in Croydon is valued and could grown and flourish in other countries.

I think I can stick my neck out and state that the market is here to stay and very much has a future. What does worry me is that its stallholders are the last of a breed – tough, all-weather, passed-down-the-generations traders we won’t see again. Their heirs don’t intend following in their footsteps – up earlier than the birds, out in all weathers, dealing with the public, lugging heavy boxes, working six day weeks. They’ve seen what’s involved, perhaps when helping out as youngsters, and decided that’s not for me. Where is the next generation to come from?

Let’s encourage newbies by having a roof over both sides of the market, giving shelter from bad weather or strong sunshine and allowing seven-days-a-week trading. (The seventh day could be a different style of market or event).

‘A roof?’ I hear you cry. Yes – a roof that runs the length of the market. I’ll come back to that just to keep you reading.

It would take imagination, desire and finance – let’s make it happen

Surrey Street needs to be designated Croydon’s historic market area and no longer just a road with a six day market. It needs clear, heritage-styled signage at both ends, art on buildings reflecting that local heritage, and above all – information about all of this.

At its southern end, opposite the 99p store, you are confronted by the backs of the buildings on the high street. I’m a fan of unpainted brickwork, but these are so damn ugly they’d be better painted in bright, clean pastel colours (a la Carnaby Street) or even with complete murals, creating a ‘wow’ factor. It would take imagination, desire and finance, and planning permission moves at glacial speeds – but it should be made to happen. Regeneration planners should think outside the box.

The street also needs a daily wash down. It’s all about food, and dirt is not good anywhere but even less so here. And he landlords of Bridge House and the former Advertiser unit should be forced to do something about their appearance. How can they be allowed to get away with leaving such eyesores in the public realm?

Surrey Street must become an international foodies’ delight

But back to that roof over Surrey Street. Imagine this: a steel or wrought iron heritage-style substantial frame that runs the length of the market on both sides (avoiding driveways and entries, of course), then a hard-wearing weather-proof covering over it that can be rolled up or down for each individual stall space. Heritage lettering could be included, spelling out ‘Surrey Street’, ‘fuit and veg’ and so on. Imagine how smart this would look and how it would boost the market.

It’s time we all took a long hard look at Surrey Street, took it less for granted and decided on ways to improve it. Many areas in Croydon are having improvements carried out and so far I’ve been impressed with what is happening. Surrey Street must become a destination, a foodies’ delight where fruit and vegetables from across the globe and fresh, locally sourced produce can be bought, with a few independent eateries and an historic pub – all grouped around brought-to-life Exchange Square. What a great area to complement the shopping mall in North End!

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Andrew Dickinson

Andrew Dickinson

I'm a long term resident of Croydon and I'm lucky to live and work in the borough. As a schoolboy my proudest moments were playing representative football for Croydon where I would fight tooth and nail to win for the borough and contribute towards its sporting reputation. For 18 years I worked up in London and became distanced from the town. Now I've re-engaged with the place over the last 20 years and feel frustrated in finding a way to vent my passion for Croydon (as I'm too old to play football) so I'm always on the lookout for any new initiatives to bring positivity to the place. I live on Bramley Hill with my lovely family and I have an allotment locally. I'm a keen amateur in gardening, environmentalism, permaculture, photography and website design. I'm an oyster mushroom farmer, run a social enterprise called Green Croydon, I'm part of the Croydon Fairtrade steering group, part of the Croydon ReUse Organisation, current chair of Croydon Transition Town and a community gardener; I'm on the borough Food Programme, Parks and Social Enterprise steering groups and a community apple presser. I currently work for the council as an officer creating and promoting community events in the beautiful Wandle Park. I put on the Croydon Environmental Fair each year and the Summer of Love theme and festival was something I dreamed up. I inspired the 'I would make Croydon better by' theme. There's also the Give and Take events in Surrey Street. I started the monthly Arts, Crafts and Vintage market in Exchange Square. Formerly I was a Turf Projects trustee, a Croydon Radio presenter and part of the Old Town business association.Between all this, I write the occasional article for the Citizen. I support local artists and local musicians by enabling the space for them to create I also support local independent journalism.

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  • David Callam

    And the biggest single block to any such progress is? Surrey Street market traders.
    All your suggestions have come forward before and they have been systematically defeated by lobbying from the traders themselves, who argue that any improvements should only be made providing they can continue to pay ludicrously low charges for their prime town centre pitches. The traders were implacably opposed to seven-day working, whoever ran the market on the seventh day, and as far as I know they remain so.
    And while the traders have procrastonated, the trade that used to fill the market to bursting point on Fridays and Saturdays has long since moved on.
    We could and should have a heritage street market in central Croydon, but first we need some forward-looking traders. Otherwise, maybe Croydon Partnership is the most positive future we can find for Surrey Street.

    • Stephen Giles

      What I hear when walking along Surrey Street is gobbledygook, and see that the measure for fruit appears to be “the bowl”, which equates to which weight I wonder?
      We definitely need some forward-looking traders to bring the market into the 21st Century!

  • cpmatthews

    So whens the kickstarter campaign coming up for roofs, heritage signage and paint?!

    I stopped going to surrey street market for fruit and veg simply because it seems to go off so quickly in comparison to supermarkets.

    The area should definitely be celebrated. Perhaps with some long-lasting planks which describe its history.

    If people continue to not care about that street and continue to mis understand its national significance then it will definitely be lost in the next few years to, what is essentially, greed. But, at the same time, the market that exists in this present day needs to present value as well. This means good quality produce and varied stock.

    Certainly if we throw some money at it and intelligent design we are likely to attract a new wave of sellers and potentially new ranges of products. I would Really love to see an antiques market on that site on Sunday, for example.