Brockley's Cultural Revolution - the Long March

Brockley resident Richard Elliot (who we hope won't mind us saying looks uncannily like Mark Dolan from Balls of Steel) wonders on his blog whether, after a five year false dawn since Location, Location, Location chose this as an area on the up, Tesco's planned arrival signals that Brockley has reached a tipping point.

Tesco's Lewisham Way ambition probably says more about their expansion strategy and the popularity of the Tesco Metro model than it does about Brockley's fortunes. However, we believe that there are plenty of other changes that suggest a tipping point has already been reached.

A year ago, Brockley Central was based in Charlton - an area truly untouched by regeneration. House prices rose, though at nothing like the pace they have in Brockley, but literally nothing else changed for two years, despite its proximity to Greenwich Peninsula and the Jubilee Line. It would have been very difficult to write Charlton Central.

Brockley, on the other hand, has changed noticeably in the few months that we've been writing this blog. Ecosium, The Broca, the Tea Factory and the encouraging plans for the Wickham Arms and the Talbot have all emerged in recent months, while the Brockley Cross Action Group has greatly improved Brockley Common and Coulgate Street. Relatively modest progress, perhaps, but definitely green shoots of recovery. Five years ago, the East London Line extension was still no certainty. Today, it's on schedule and will form part of a new orbital overland network for London. There's still no deli, sadly and no Foxton's, thankfully - although James Johnston has set up shop in Crofton Park.

The popularity of all of the local cafes suggests there is already a critical mass of people who want to spend time and money locally. If we knew how to run a bar, we'd be putting together a business plan right now.

There are still big challenges of course - the ugly high street, the way car 'showrooms' hog every scrap of available space, the lack of a free cash machine and the hideous double roundabout at the heart of Brockley Cross. It's a shame there doesn't seem to be a coherent vision from the Council about how to address any of this (more on that another time), but the impetus created by the East London Line will ensure that plenty happens regardless. It just takes time.

And let's face it, what area hasn't been tipped by Phil and Kirsty as being "on the up?" It's the same euphemism they applied to Hull, shortly after labelling it the worst place in Britain to live.

26 comments:

Richard Elliot said...

I've been likened to Nick Robinson before (lack of hair and bold glasses), but Mark Dolan is a new one on me. I'll Google him now.

I live at the St Johns / New Cross tip of Brockley. I agree Brockley "High Street" proper and Crofton Park are much more lively, with better cafes and shops. Sadly I have little cause to venture in this direction regularly.

When you walk around Brockley you see sufficient rennovated/smart looking homes, well dressed people on the pavements and smart cars to make you think Brockley attracts younger and more affluent people these days. I'm just wondering if the demographic analysis that Tescos will almost certainly have done confirms this. What will be next? If we pass the "Tesco test" will other stores follow?

Spincat said...

Things can tip too far. I think East Dulwich tipped too far when Walsh Glazing moved off Lordship Lane. Walk past some of the cafes and bars and for all the world it could be Fulham over there. Mind you, Brockley can ti quite a way yet ...

Anonymous said...

I agree entirely with the main post. In particular about the potential of the high street in Brockley. I believe the council should start an initiative to improve Brockley and other streetscapes by encouraging retailers to replace gaudy plastic signage and grubby shopfronts with standardized 'traditional' signage which blends with the vintage of the buildings. If you look through the hideous shopfronts most of the old buildings are beautiful Victorian properties which would look marvelous if they were presented properly. It doesnt have to cost the earth and makes such a difference to the feel of the town. Some Brockley retailers already do this (Jam Circus, Dunphys undertakers, even James Johnson) but others are awful looking places (Morleys Chicken, Coral bookmakers, numerous take aways).

Unfortunately Lewisham Council doesn't seem to have much of a clue about street style (look at poor Lewisham and its "regeneration" plans). They could do with taking a trip to Kent or the Midlands to places like Leamington Spa, where the big retailers like McDonalds and Starbucks have to change their signage formats to compliment the town, not the other way around. Isnt it so annoying when you can see the potential of something but the people in control dont act?

leenewham said...

Good points by 'anonymous'

I prepared a presentation for Lewisham council to raise debate about shop fronts. It has shops as they are today and how they could look (I did it for free, I feel quite passionate about this..I'm a designer).

Lewisham council didn't want to know. No suprise there.

Look at portobello road, la Broca, the art above 'toads mouth', all great examples of a way forward that woudl make a huge difference to the area.

For minimum cost.

I totally agree that poorly designed back lit boxed plastic signs should be banned and traditonal shop fronts or modern clean well designs shop fronts should be encouraged. All over roller shutters should also be banned unless they also have an element on them that enhanses the area (they can be painted or have vinyl put on them with murals, design, art etc).

Rules should be put into place. someone should oversee and act as advisor to what can or can't be done. Mistakes should be learned from.

Above all it should prove to be inspirational, exciting and unique to brockley to give it a unique flavour. It really isn't difficult, but it needs some vision and drive to make it happen. And it needs Lewisham council to back it. Are any councellors up for this challenge...and reap the praise?

Anonymous said...

I think the standardised high street frontage issue is really important as anyone with any architectural/design background will tell you.

Anonymous said...

bunch of smug houseowners desperately talking brockley up. That's how you lotcome across.

Anonymous said...

Dunno where the latest anonymous lives but what's having a bit of local pride got to do with house prices? And what's a debate over the good and bad of the area got to do with being smug?

leenewham said...

It's got nothing to do with smug homeowners, it's to do with pride in where you live.

Go to other countries and they can do it, even in third world countries. Why can't we?

DP said...

I made the original 'anonymous' comment above and have renamed myself following a request to do so by the site manager.

To 'anonymous' commentator number 3 from above who suggests that I sound like a 'smug houseowner' you are wrong.......I rent.

I am simply a person who is proud to be a Londoner and proud of the place I live in. Because of that i want to see it protected for future generations and looked after properly. Not rubbished with cheap plastic and graffiti.

I dont see being proud of Britain as simple as just flying the flag or wearing the football jersey during the world cup. I see it as respecting the land by disposing of litter correctly, protecting our heritage, smiling at my neighbours and preserving our high streets.

Sorry if you consider this to be a 'smug' activity but I see having a sense of civil pride as something to be...heres that word again...proud of.


It runs deeper than wearing a football jersey.

leenewham said...

^^^^

I 100% totally agree.

Sue Luxton said...

I agree with the thrust of what people are saying about shop design, but it is wrong to suggest that the council's planning department aren't doing anything on this. The council does have a shop front design guide, which has been recently updated as part of the local development framework: http://www.lewisham.gov.uk/Environment/Planning/PlanningPolicy/LocalDevelopmentFramework/ShopFrontDesignGuide.htm
Policies are stricter in conservation areas than elsewhere though. Until recently, there were also business improvement grants offered to shops in certain areas, including Brockley to improve their shop fronts, but unfortunately this has now come to an end (some kind of scheme still exists for Evelyn Street in Deptford, I believe).
Planning permission is no longer given for solid shutters and hasn't been for a while, but the council can't force all shops with solid shutters or ugly shop fronts already to replace them, only encourage them to do so and take enforcement action against those who don't abide by the rules when they change their shopfronts.

Sue Luxton said...

aargh, here's the link:
http://tinyurl.com/29dp3z

Anonymous said...

What the guidelines propose is good, although why no shops in newcross/lewisham/brockley (with one or two exceptions) have followed them (and probably don't even know about them) is a problem.

Also the council don't enforse these guidelines, even when broken.

This is a shame.

Jon said...

Okay, I'll try to address the initial post subject, and then the shop front debate, which is very interesting!!

Brockley has a long way to go before it will be anything like the Blackheath/Dulwich copy that some people are hoping for. Like you Nick, I don't think Tesco is a sure sign that we now 'meet the criteria', more that Tesco know they can make money. If a Budgens moved in, now that would be exciting.

Personally though, what makes Brockley great is not what’s new – it’s the old, hidden Brockley. A lively community with creative roots, who still hold fayres and festivals – it’s the locals who make it great. This is something that Blackheath will never have (I know as I lived there), and I would never want this to change.

But, I can agree with Richard, that the Lewisham Way end of Brockers has sat still for all too long. Meze and Cinnamon are the shining stars along this stretch that are willing to make an effort, but every other shop looks cheap and nasty. Spaces sit empty, and the glorious historic buildings that peer down onto the road just look shabby and unloved.

What bugs me is this seeming reluctance to gentrify. By gentrify, I don’t mean chain wine bars and Starbucks – I simply mean smarter shops, tidy streets, and giving the community what they want (that whole ‘proud’ thing that DP puts so well in his comment).

I was in Crystal Palace last week – now there is an area that has literally jumped onboard the up-and-coming train, and everyone is enjoying the ride. Great restaurants, new bars, delis, and everything any Joe Local could want. Clean and tidy for all to come and enjoy. All this in a few years, while much of Brockers is still litter strewn, and unloved by the very shop owners that stand to make money from its rise.

But there are signs of change all over the place, especially in the Brockley Cross area. Recent additions like Broca and Ecosium have been very welcome, and I can’t wait to see what the art gallery will be like.

On the subject of the ‘high street’, I am impressed to see the guide to shop fronts! It’s a shame most of the examples have to come from Blackheath - considering the huge amount of talented artists and craftsmen we have living in the area, you would think that it might be reflected in our shop fronts more. Anyway, regarding planning, and trying to get things tidied up a bit, Sarah Pfeiffer at Lewisham Council is our 'local town centre manager'. We should get her involved. I wonder if / hope that she reads this blog…

leenewham said...

Great post Jon.

Again aside from the Budgens quote (Budgens is not an upmarket supermarket, it's like an expensive Aldi with a nicer logo...give me M&S, Wholefoods or Waitrose anyday) I totally agree.

Especially Crystal Palace, I was shocked when I went there early this year, it has transformed itself. Great bars, restaurants, nice shop fronts.

One day...one day...

Brockley Nick said...

I think the high street shop fronts issue is a really interesting one and I am trying to speak to Sarah Pfeiffer about it.

The main problem seems to me that not many of the incumbent shops and miscellaneous fried chicken places will believe that it's necessarily in their best interests to improve the look of the high street. I'd be surprised if Sounds Around sell enough bubble mixture to pay for a new shop front either. Will create a separate thread on this issue soon.

spincat said...

I couldn't agree more with what Jon says " what makes Brockley great is not what’s new – it’s the old, hidden Brockley..."

I sometimes think that there is a tendency to think an area only becomes interesting when a lot of new bars and eating places open.
The new places can be good, but can equally be a bit bland and uniform, as I think may be happening in East Dulwich now.

Though I do gree with the poster about how many really good places there are in Crystal Palace, but to me it always was wonderful, with lots of hidden gems, like the grounds of the old palace and some wonderful long-standing restaurants, great junk shops, comic shop, book shop, art workshops etc.
Sure, Brockley has some catching up to do if compared to Crystal Palace, but I really count my blessings: amongst them Babur, Meze Mangal, the cemetary, Blythe Hill, Blythe Hill Tavern (honorary Brockley) CafeBlanca, Sounds Around (please don't make it neaten its frontage!), loads of strange little shops ... and all those newer places around Brockley station

leenewham said...

I agree on some points with the above, but all these places are very far apart and Id rather still have those and the abundance of choice that East Dulwich or Cyrstal palace has...

Choice doesnt mean you lose all those other places, unless the other choices are better.

Half the places mentioned I haven't even heard of or noticed, and I have lived here for 6 years. What is sounds around and where is it?

spincat said...

Sounds Around is a rather strange shop that sells videos and eletrical equipment: 'novelties' would be the 70s word that best describes its stock.! It is just along from the big Costcutter, opposite (ish) Toads Mouth and Brockley Barge.

Yes, I agree that abundance of choice is good, but it doesn't follow that something changes because the 'other choices are better ', in my view. What can happen as one or two new places open, is that exisiting establishments decide that they need to move with the times, become gastro pub, install faux-70s decor like brown sofas, and soon everywhere is like that. That is choice for people who like that sort of thing but not for grumpy old women like me.

leenewham said...

Sorry spincat, would you really have Brockely stay exactly as it is rather than new places open that cater for a wider selection of the market?

Has everyone copied la Broca or 'toads mouth'? No

Is every pub in Greenwich the same? No, old pubs also exist alongside 'gastro pubs'.

Do they all have faux 70's interiors? No.

It's not how it works. Brockely needs new ideas and new blood or it's high street will die. I don't shop in Brockey because there is nothing for me there.

There will only be shops that have been converted into flats.

That is the choice for people who like my sort of thing, and for people who don't. ;-)

Spincat said...

I do 100% agree with you about Brockley - there is lots and lots of of room for new places, esp. on that road up by the roundabouts. I've already said that choice is good: my comments were more general, as I have a particular horror of flat-pack pub design and ersatz 70s styling (so I get a bit carried away!).
You are quite right, there are plenty of places, as you say, where both old and new exist side by side.

What I actually said was " Yes, I agree that abundance of choice is good, but it doesn't follow that something changes because the 'other choices are better. '"

I could list about a dozen much treasured (by me and friends) pubs and eating places which have been ruined by refits. And there are plenty of hidden treasures in and around Brockley which I hope don't go the same way.

leenewham said...

I hope we can add more treasure! There isn't enough!

I hope there is choice for everyone and that each place has it's own personality.

Looks like we agree.

If only we could get business people to put their money where our mouths are!

Anonymous said...

I've just moved next to Brockley station. Can anyone recommend a decent pub in the area for watching Sky Sports?

Monkeyboy said...

a decent pub.....in Brockley. You're new here I take it? Thre Brockley Barge shows sky but it's frankly rubish.

Anonymous said...

WS has a good range of beers though as cheap as buying them in tescos. But it is a souless place, like an airport pub.
Been in The Wickham Arms when they have a big match on, the place has character, but still.... could do with a lick of paint.

leenewham said...

HOT NEWS: The Chinese supermarket next to Tesco is to split in half, one side is to be a Chinese restaurant (sit down, good quality, not a takeaway). The other half of the supermarket will be a market/off license. They have applied for planning permission. I hope they get it. So far was have a few excellent places near this end of Brockley: Cinnamon, a fantastic Indian (the Bilashi is to die for), Meze Mangal and now hopefully a good Chinese. They have my full vote. I hope they get planning permission. I hope they make a good job of it and make it a nice place to eat...i.e. make it look inviting from the outside so you might actually want to venture inside!

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