Is Boxpark’s boss right about Croydon town centre? (Part one)

By - Tuesday 17th April, 2018

“If they don’t come to Boxpark, they don’t come to Croydon”, says CEO Roger Wade. But is he right?

Photo by Liz Sheppard-Jones, used with permission.

In a recent interview with the Croydon Advertiser, Roger Wade, founder and CEO of Boxpark, declares that he is concerned about the town centre and Croydon. He “would like to believe that Boxpark is one of the major things which is helping Croydon to improve” but feels that his Dingwall Road venue is “trying to attract people all by itself. If they don’t come to Boxpark, they don’t come to Croydon”, he continues, and identifies a need for more attractions in the area.

He is critical of the town’s developers, Croydon Council, local businesses and cultural organisations for not moving ahead with the promised changes quickly enough, and for a degree of complacency. “We reach out to cultural groups in the community”, he says. “But what is the saying? ‘You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink’.”

Pay the London Living Wage, give staff a space for breaks and offer discounts to locals

Roger Wade’s entertainment development has won some friends, but has alienated others who have sampled the offer and will not do so again. If Boxpark is to make a positive contribution to Croydon, it needs to win over more people to look upon it favourably. That means setting out an ethical and diverse offer.

Here are the changes that I would like to see in the #EatDrinkPlay development alongside East Croydon station.

  • all of its eateries should be required to pay their staff at least the London Living Wage
  • they should also ensure that all service charges are paid directly to staff
  • a reasonably sized unit should be available to workers for their breaks, especially if they are doing two shifts per day
  • Boxpark should sign up to the council’s healthy living agenda and reduce the number of eateries which serve high carbohydrate, high salt and high sugar foods
  • it should only serve alcohol if food is eaten as well
  • a food training organisation should be brought on board to offer job training
  • a proportion of its future profits should be donated to a cultural activities fund to be run by local cultural activists – not by the council
  • a discount scheme for local people should be set up to encourage them to come again, with reductions in ticket prices for cultural events
  • the managers of local residential blocks should be approached about delivering fliers to promote the discount scheme to new residents moving in
  • a free unit should be allocated to re-establish a Croydon information centre on the George Street frontage leading down from the station
  • Boxpark’s business model should be altered to create a social enterprise owned by its tenants, their workers, local organisations and resident supporters

Boxpark has made a £0.5m loss in its first year. It is a ‘meanwhile’ use of the site, and it is possible that its landlord, Stanhope Schroder, may want the site back to develop a permanent building at some point. There are those who wish to re-instate the Warehouse Theatre, which stood on the site until 2012, and to support the development of socially affordable housing. For them, Boxpark is a short-term solution until a more acceptable development can be achieved.

Fans of Boxpark believe that it is part of the transformation of Croydon

There are also those who see the place as simply a distraction from serious strategic thinking about the town centre and the needs and aspirations of its diverse range of residents. For them, the development’s closure would not be mourned.

Fans of Boxpark believe that it has played some part in transforming perceptions of Croydon. While the big-ticket events that it hosts are not to everyone’s liking, they are seen as an important aspect of a diverse and multi-cultural offering, and of making Croydon appear cooler. It is true that in response to criticism, Boxpark has diversified its original range of cultural events and now hosts jazz, spoken word, sport and acoustic entertainment. It has even hosted classical music with the London Mozart Players. Given that one of the most frequent complaints of the creative community in Croydon is about the serious lack of suitable spaces, Boxpark is also seen by some as a very well-sized venue in the right location.

Despite the struggle to run their organisations and activities, local cultural organisations are creative and innovative. This is despite a top-down council-driven cultural agenda, which they had little influence in shaping. This was reflected in Croydon’s failed bid to become London’s first Borough of Culture.

Delays in Croydon’s big construction projects are down to those in charge of their delivery

Wade wants businesses in the borough “to pull together and work towards regenerating the area”. He warns that businesses and developers in Croydon can’t simply wait for the future to happen and need to make positive plans. “One concern is that some people are complacent about change. How are they supporting businesses in Croydon now? Centrale and Whitgift are in a position of uncertainty at the moment.”

Whether or not we like the developers’ schemes backed by the council, these projects have been agreed. Delays in construction are down to those in charge of their delivery. Given the high percentage of building workers who came from the EU, Brexit may damage the ability of the industry to find the diversely skilled workforce that will be needed, particularly on the very ambitious schemes. The delay in the Croydon Partnership’s Westfield scheme has been entirely due to its choice to continually amend it. Suggestions that the council’s and the London Mayor’s affordable housing targets are to blame are wide of the mark, given that it is an independent assessor who decides the number of such units that can economically be provided.

The Westfield scheme could be shut down if its owners decide on a change of priorities

In the period between the Whitgift’s planned demolition next year and the possible opening of the new centre in 2022 there may be further changes in consumer spending habits, making such shopping centres more uneconomic. The scheme could be shut down if there is another financial crisis or the new owners of Westfield decide on a change of priorities. Hammerson is also going through a difficult time, with its value having fallen with its takeover of INTU. A hostile bid from the French shopping centre operator Klepierre is already pushing it into a defensive position.

Whether we agree or not with the council’s town centre strategy, it can hardly be fairly described as ‘complacent’. It is still seeking investors, as witnessed by its presence again at the developers’ MIPIM event in Cannes. It has a joint committee with the developers and others to ensure that the construction phases of the various approved schemes are co-ordinated, to reduce the disruption to the town centre. I therefore believe that the position is more complicated than Wade has set out.

In part two of this article, to be published in the Citizen shortly, I will consider what other factors impact on the future of Croydon town centre.

Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly and with the Planning and Transport Committee of the Love Norbury group of residents associations. He is Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, British black society, social action and the labour movement. He coordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint called History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

More Posts - Website

  • Ian at The Writing Room

    Interesting article, Sean. Boxpark is great but I think more needs to be done to facilitate and promote other cultural stuff in Croydon.

  • Steve Thompson

    Good article, Sean. It’s time someone strongly challenged Roger Wade’s arrogance. I would question one of your bullet points however, about only serving alcohol along with food, as although this would clip the wings of the execrable Boxbar, it would also threaten the superb Cronx Bar. Also I am not convinced that the mix of entertainment has broadened that much – the vast majority is still urban music and I still do not see any rock of folk on the agenda.

    • Ian at The Writing Room

      I agree about alcohol and the Cronx Bar. It’s the only decent draught beer in Boxpark.

  • Dracar Dweig

    A very good article. And the poor old Warehouse Theatre gets a mention! Everyone seems to have forgotten that the theatre had a £500,000 nest egg which was kept by the Council for safe(?) keeping and as far as I know Stanhope and Schroders still have the £3m (index linked) put aside for the new building in the area that the ghastly Boxpark occupies.

  • Mark Johnson

    “Boxpark has made a £0.5m loss in its first year.” But you still give lots of ideas that instead of making more money means higher spending for Boxpark and limiting area’s where they make money. They are interesting idea’s but will just make things much much worse.

  • Charlie

    Wouldn’t the points made be down to the individual business within boxpark, rather then boxpark themselves ?

  • Roger Wade

    Hi Sean,

    I recently read your article on the Boxpark Croydon which was published following an interview I took part in with the Croydon Advertiser. I wanted to get in touch to thank you for sharing your thoughts and suggestions, working with the local community and press to provide the best Boxpark we can is key to us and I welcome your recommendations on how we can improve our offering.

    Following your piece, there are a couple of things I wanted to update you on from a Boxpark perspective which I hope might help answer some of the points that were raised.

    Boxpark pays all staff the London Living Wage, alongside providing space for breaks, showers and changing rooms for all employees. As we are a landlord, unfortunately we cannot control our tenants wage policies or enforce service charges.

    We strive to provide a variety of culinary options at Boxpark to cater for all tastes, as is reflected by our fantastic tenant mix. We want to champion businesses that offer something unique to customers and the wide variety of menus on offer at Boxpark does this.

    The events programming at Boxpark offers a variety of opportunities for all manner of tastes, with over 95% of the 200 events that take place each year being completely free to attend. We also offer our event space for free to host local cultural activities which have been well attended since our openings.

    As we are located in the heart of Croydon we absolutely want to champion local businesses and have recently run a campaign to find a local business to gift a 6-month tenancy to in order to help it grow and thrive. We’re looking forward to sharing more news on this with you shortly!

    I know elements of this piece were based on the recent interview I took part in with the Croydon Advertiser, unfortuantely some of my comments were taken slightly out of context which misrepresented my views. I believe that Boxpark needs a strong Croydon to survive and Boxpark alone won’t attract customers to central Croydon. The full response can be viewed here:

    We have invited the Croydon Citizen, Croydon Partnership and Croydon Council to join Boxpark representatives and host a public meeting at Boxpark to discuss the community’s concerns and hear their suggestions on how we can work together to build a stronger town centre. We’re looking forward to hearing everyone’s thoughts and discussing together in an open forum.

    We really appreciate your honest feedback and suggestions on how we can continue to evolve to offer Croydon’s residents, and beyond, a great Boxpark experience.



  • Sean Creighton

    Following Roger Wade’s comment we have agreed to meet up.