What I think of Boxpark, by one of its neighbours

By - Wednesday 11th January, 2017

In Croydon, for Croydon? Nice try, but there’s a long way to go

Photo by Liz Sheppard-Jones, used with permission.

A recent article in the Citizen on the subject of Boxpark exhorted us not to moan about it. But I feel that in some cases, rose-tinted spectacles have been too much in evidence. My aim here is to offer my own thoughts as a relatively near neighbour of the site (I live in Cross Road, Addiscombe).

Firstly, why was it decided, and by whom, to fill Boxpark with food and drink outlets only? A mixed-use space would have given local artists and other creative people opportunities to sell their goods in a place with higher footfall than the galleries and pop-ups they currently use. One example is that Croydon lacks a really good record shop. Boxpark would have been an ideal location for a small branch of Rough Trade or Sister Ray. It would have been wonderful, too, to have incorporated the site’s previous occupant, Croydon Visitor Centre, into one of the units.

It may be too early to judge the effect of Boxpark on local businesses right now. I have spoken to a number who are suffering, but hopefully this will be relatively transient as the novelty wears off and more people choose again the intimacy of a local café rather than a draughty aircraft hangar pumping out generic dance music. Although as it happens, two of the best outlets in Boxpark are genuinely local businesses: Wine & Deli and the excellent Cronx Bar. These complement, rather than compete with, other businesses as they are that bit different.

Eclectic? I think not

Who chooses the music events? So far (with the exception of the Sunday acoustic sessions, and to some extent, Beats & Eats) the music offerings have been totally in the urban/dance/grime genres. Of course we need venues for all kinds of music, especially given the recent problems caused by the council and the police to venues intending to put on grime, but Boxpark has singularly failed to cover any other genres. You can go to any club if you want to enjoy dance music. Where are the rock and jazz bands, the DJs who play rock or soul sets, the variety in the recorded music? January’s upcoming events continue in the same vein. Eclectic? I think not.

I would also like to know how a £160k council grant was used. Ostensibly, it was to put on a festival to replace the 2015 Ambition Festival, but once again there is no transparency on this.

Why does Boxpark have different noise criteria than local venues such as pubs?

Then we come to the experience of living close to Boxpark. On opening night (Saturday 29th October), noise could be heard as far away as Cross Road, actually shaking the windows of my flat, and my tweet pointing this out attracted some trolling. Printable tweets included: ‘You didn’t have to buy one of the posh new builds.’ (I didn’t). An unprintable response came not from Boxpark itself, but seemingly from one of the music promoters. In early December, another event generated noise complaints from Altyre Road, Oval Road, and even as far away as Woodside Green. I hate to imagine what it’s like when that sound system is in operation for the residents of flats in St Matthew’s House in George Street, or for those working late in AMP House, the large business centre right opposite on Dingwall Road.

Why are there apparently different noise criteria for Boxpark than for other local pub venues, who have to be extremely punctilious about controlling noise levels?

Even more worryingly, a noise complaint to Croydon Council via its website, and to the CEO of Boxpark, remains unanswered. There appears to be a kind of omertà in Croydon as soon as anything negative is asked about Boxpark. The only people who have bothered to respond are my local councillors, who have asked officials to investigate what steps can be taken to reduce the impact of noise from Boxpark events.

Boxpark should respond to criticism, not censor it

Boxpark is very quick to retweet positive comments, whether about the music events or various food outlets, to the extent that they become tedious. However, any negative comments appear to be ignored or blocked both on Facebook and Twitter. Its PR company is unhelpful and secretive, and when it answers, it’s usually to say ‘watch this space’. A subscription to the e-mail newsletter produces only a weekly invite to a ‘party’ (dance music again, of course) at its Shoreditch location.

In conclusion, Boxpark does show that Croydon is open for business. There are some very good outlets there, except for the appalling BoxBar. But it is a shame that they are all food and drink vendors: a missed opportunity, I think. The impact on local businesses calls out for further review. Boxpark should also immediately begin engaging with the whole of Croydon. A good start would be by responding to criticisms, rather than censoring them. The music needs to be far more eclectic, and noise controls must be put in place. It is not a fully enclosed venue and its metal structure amplifies the noise.

Boxpark’s strapline was ‘Not just in Croydon, but for Croydon’. Good try, but there’s a long way to go before it can be said to cater for all of Croydon, and not solely for those who enjoy the limited range of entertainment on offer.

Steve Thompson

Steve Thompson

I have been a Croydon resident for over 30 years, and have recently retired from a career in banking. Whilst appreciating many aspects of the regeneration of Croydon I do have a number of concerns about its effects. My main interests are rock music, walking, travel, and last but not least, good pubs and quality beer!

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  • Robert Ward

    Thanks Steve, a timely article.

    I have been impressed with the food offering at Boxpark but my one reservation right from the launch party was that the music is, as you point out, generic grime. I had thought that commercial considerations would have caused the venue to look to a broader audience at different times of day but so far that does not seem to be the case. If there were any intention to fill part of the gap caused by the closure of the Fairfield this is certainly failing.

  • Sean Creighton

    Much needed assessment.

  • https://www.shakinghands.co.uk Laurence Grant

    Hi Steve,

    It’s always a pleasure to take 5, and read the thoughts of local Croydoners.
    Rather than give my own personal view, I can offer some clarity from what I know.

    1. Who decided on food-only?
    We’ve had a good chat with members of the BOXPARK team, both in Shoreditch and Croydon, and Roger Wade, CEO of Boxpark, has confirmed that the Shoreditch model (a mix of food and retail) was largely unprofitable for outlets selling art, music equipment, travel offers, clothing, and much more. In fact, the only outlets that did make a reasonable amount of money from trade were the food stores.
    With 22 million users of East Croydon per year, with an additional influx expected in 2022 with the arrival of Westfield and an extended Tramlink, it makes sense to expand into a food-only model with more commuters fancying “a small bite” or “a quick pint” over a new T-shirt or a new Drumkit.

    2. Who chooses the music?
    In short, BOXPARK chooses the music. As a brand born in edgy, “hipster” Shoreditch, BOXPARK has always been catered to a younger, fashion-conscious, middle-class audience. One of London’s most fast-growing, homegrown movements has been Grime – which spawned out of the UK Garage scene, and was created by working class, predominantly Black-British, underprivileged, North-East London creatives. In recent years, Grime, due to its popularity and commercial success, has been “appropriated” by a more white, middle-class audience of the same (18-30) age bracket, who are more often attracted to the “culture” of Grime, rather than the music itself. The BOXPARK brand has always been more closely associated with sub-cultural genres, such as Garage, Drum n Bass, and Grime – with a complementary Sunday Acoustic session to cater to a broader audience. Rock still has a great presence in Croydon, with the Oval Tavern and Matthew’s Yard flying the flag for some of the best local talent around.

    3. Why the noise exceptions?
    Aside from the launch party, which, having attended, I can say was ridiculously high-volume, much of the events are moderately noisy in comparison to the Park Street–High Street evening venues of old (Tiger Tiger, Black Sheep, Yates, Reflex etc.).
    With reference to the loss of the aforementioned venues that once drew hundreds of young people to Croydon, Croydon Council, in response to much of the bad press the police and authorities have been getting in their dealings with clubs such as Dice Bar, have been actively working to shift the reputation of Croydon from a crime-ridden concrete jungle, to a fashionable, family- and professional-friendly town that still retains a night time economy.
    It is no secret that the Council have given BOXPARK a warm financial welcome to Croydon, along with some noise exceptions here and there. Yet, to rebuild confidence in the demographics that previously enjoyed Croydon’s bustling night life, BOXPARK is essentially an attempt to reframe Croydon as a trendy destination for folks with money to spend on late-night food, drinks and music.

    Having said all this – I don’t deny that BOXPARK itself is a destination rather than a gateway for Croydon.

    You don’t have to visit too many small independent cafes and food outlets in East and Central Croydon before you get a sense of how BOXPARK is affecting footfall and trade.

    • Steve Thompson

      Laurence, thank you for the useful and interesting information. The only points I would make are (1) that the Oval Tavern and Matthew’s Yard are both fine venues but small in comparison – Boxpark could act as a stand-in, while the Fairfield Halls are closed, for middle-range rock bands who attract a larger audience than the Oval or Matthew’s Yard can accommodate, and (2) will Boxpark actually be here for much of 2022? My understanding is that it is an approximately 5-year ‘meanwhile use’ development, in place until Stanhope/Schroders start work on their second office block.

      • https://www.shakinghands.co.uk Laurence Grant

        Hi Steve,
        You’re absolutely correct. In terms of sheer size, Hoodoos (at Matthew’s Yard) is bursting at the seams on a Tuesday evening, as is the Oval on most gig nights, and, therefore, as yourself and Robert have rightly pointed out, with the absense of Fairfield Halls (which we bitterly fought alongside for a phased refurbishment on the Save Our Fairfield panel), BOXPARK is by no means a viable alternative – acoustically or practically.

        My business partner and I sponsored the final London Mozart Players concert at the Fairfield Halls, commemorating 27 years of orchestral residence at the world-class acoustic Halls, and know first hand, having grown up in Croydon, the immense service that Fairfield offered to local school and international talents alike.

        Secondly, and again you’re right, BOXPARK is a temporary pop up location, which has gestured at both 5 years at East Croydon, and an extended lease elsewhere around the Schroders and Stanhope Development (it currently stands on the fifth and final skyscraper plot).
        It’s undeniable that, with Westfield in the centre, and BOXPARK taking a sidestep from East Croydon, we will see the centre absolutely boom with new footfall, consumers, renters, buyers, business owners, and tourists.

        To make a final, transparent point. We have eaten, drank, held events and attended events at BOXPARK over the last three months, and see it as a step forward for Croydon’s long-tarnished image, yet, for the most part, we continue to have our Wraps from Zabardasts, Lunches from Matthew’s Yard, Coffee from Byte Cafe and Crushed Bean, Breakfasts at Don’s Cafe, Golden Cafe or Scrumpchino’s, Cocktails at Yumn Brasserie and Bar TXT, Music at SmoothBean and Hoodoos, and Corporate gatherings at TMRW and AMP House.

        For us it is certainly not either-or, and for anyone visiting only one haunt in Croydon, BOXPARK or otherwise, there is an abundance of cultural and creative gems that are waiting for you to arrive.

        We’re in team optimism for Croydon.

        Again, Steve, great article.

        • https://www.shakinghands.co.uk Laurence Grant

          I will also add (very briefly, for fear of overloading Tom Black’s notification emails) that BOXPARK has contracted Chequers, a local cleaning firm, and MJB Security, a local security firm made up of ex-Croydon police officers, to service the venue for the foreseeable future.

          On top of this, BOXPARK is planning a fashion exhibition in conjunction with Croydon College, and a number of my local, homegrown, musically talented friends have performed under the NME banner at the BOXPARK venue, boosting their publicity and national popularity.

          It might not be Fairfield Halls, but BOXPARK is clearly making an effort to engage with what is already here in Croydon, which is more than can be said for the Costa Coffees, Cafe Neros and Starbucks that offer nothing new or exciting to the borough.

          • Anne Giles

            True, but some of us prefer a nice, quiet cafe.

          • https://www.shakinghands.co.uk Laurence Grant

            Myself included.

  • Anon

    Tony Newman is to blame for not reading the contract through properly. At least for the lack of retail. He is Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Budget and Strategic Policy.

  • Mariko

    I am also a resident living near the Box Park and have written to the council about the noise on about four occasions. They have said that they will log the complaint and that I should phone the council so they can send someone over to investigate if it is noisy. The reply I received the time before last however was rather defensive and and borderline rude. I have heard that Box Park are applying for a license to be open until 1am on Thursdays-Saturdays. I asked about this in my email over the weekend but this part of my email was completely ignored. I don’t really want to be hearing the closing time announcement at 12:45 am and 1am in the morning….thanks for the excellent article above. I agree totally with all the positives and negatives. Mariko