Strangers on a train

We had the good fortune to bump in to Brockley Central regular Kate on the train this morning.

We were both surprised that sort of thing didn't happen more often, given what a small world Brockley essentially is. We mentioned to Kate that one local businessman recently told us that they believed that, all the businesses in Brockley were chasing after the same limited pool of customers - no more than 1,000 by his estimate. Brockley Central's not sure that's true anymore and, conversely, we are constantly surprised by how many people in Brockley we expect to know one another, don't.

But the question of how many people there are to support the shops and cafes that are springing up led us to do a bit of soul searching about whether we both "did our bit" for the local scene. Kate confessed she met people in London Bridge for drinks after work. We owned up to the fact that we still haven't been to places like Meze Mangal.

But should we all feel a sense of duty to the local shops and businesses?

We feel about "shopping local" campaigns a bit like we do about buying the Big Issue. Bear with us... The whole idea of the Big Issue is that it gives people an alternative to begging - an opportunity to gain money and self-respect doing a job, when few other opportunities are open to them. But some people buy the Big Issue out of a sense of guilt or duty, without ever actually reading the thing. But if you don't really want the product, then isn't that just another form of begging, with some added environmental waste tacked on for good measure? Similarly, local businesses ought to be able to compete on equal terms with what's on offer in other areas, otherwise "shop local" is as forlorn a campaign as the "Buy British" campaign of the 1960s. If people shop out of duty, rather than preference, then there is no incentive for local places to raise their standards.

Fortunately, we believe there is a long and growing list of places that could hold their heads high in any area. So long as we all know what they are and share our recommendations, then there's no need for any of us to beat ourselves up if we stop off at M&S at London Bridge from time to time...

48 comments:

andy pandy pudding & pie said...

I always have a concern about that. Planning around the station has penciled in a number of retail outlets both sides of the station. When the car lot/garage finally goes behind coulgate street there will be many potential outlets, is there sufficient local demand? Lewisham planning seem to think so.

In terms of economics there is the concept of 'spatial monopoly', refering to demand being fueled by the locality of shops and this has been subject to mutch debate in academic journals, although not conclusive.

Besides the 1000 or so conversation area types thst nick mentions, there are other areas too - often overlooked,. I have noticed that on my steet (west side) there are many students and professional types that could help to support the local shops in Brockley. If i had to guess, it would seem something like 50% of my street are either young (under 40) and not family orientated (and before I get an earful for suggesting families dont want to support the local community i am merely saying that they will have typically a high cost base having children).

Anonymous said...

Interesting issue you raise Nick - coincidental in that I did buy a Big Issue this morning, and I visited Degustation on Sat for the first time - both out of a sense of duty.

I bought the Big Issue because it does offer a way to directly help those trying to help themselves, not giving my money to a charity to waste on admin and sending me unwanted mail every other month. I don't think this is like begging as the conditions of selling the Big Issue require the seller to be non-agressive, sober, organised and show some responsibility. Sure some cross that line - they're the ones I don't buy from.

I visit local shops because they contribute more to the area than just the produce they offer. With regard to the shops needing to offer what people want, I think it works both ways. Enough people using places like Degustation and Dandelion B will encourage other similar businesses, which will encourage their target market to visit/move to the area, increasing the market, encouraging more businesses and so on. This will give the whole area a lift, and increase competition thus ensuring that the services provided remain to a high standard. I'll leave the debate on gentrification good thing/bad thing to others, but the key thing is that although it does develop a self-sustaining business environment, these first outposts need support in its early stages.

One more thing - if you visit Meze Mangal Nick you won't be doing anyone but yourself a favour!
john S

Kate said...

Argh argh argh - just seen this! My first meeting with someone local 'off the interweb' ...

It's a thought-provoking post but I'd like to add that the reason I mostly meet friends in London Bridge is because they don't live locally (damn Muswell Hill-ites); if they were SE-ers, I'd definitely drag them down here to Brockley's bars.

I'd also like to add that, in my opinion, Degustasion and Dandelion Blue do NOT fall into the category of 'pity-shags' (metaphorically speaking); they're both good enough to be used regularly in their own right, and indeed I am resolved to do so. 'Use it or lose it,' as the saying goes.

I feel a bit guilty about a couple of other places that I know are really good, and love having locally, but haven't been using - Cinnamon and Babur being the first that spring to mind.
I'd agree that Brockleyites shouldn't feel they have to use sub-standard local services simply because they're local, but I think that circumstances (eg. friends not living locally) sometimes mitigate against local places that ARE good, in an unfair way.

Nice suit, by the way, Nick ...!

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting point. I do think we should help new businesses in the area succeed by giving them time to evolve and find their space. But we shouldn't become charities for the businesses that are not providing a decent service. The natural outcome of more businesses coming to the area is that the poor ones will close down and the better ones will survive.

On another point - I have also never been to Meze Mangal because it just looks so bad from the outside - it's on a busy main road and from the outside it looks just dirty. It also didn't get a good score on the door which compounds my fears.
Simon J.

Anonymous said...

Andy,

you mentioned that 'when the garage finally goes behind coulgate street' - are their plans for this to happen?
Simon. J

Brockley Jon said...

Great debate Nick, and one that I think about virtually every time I stroll down to Brockley Cross. At the moment all the new shops are getting quite a lot of help from us good community folk, but six months down the line will be the real test for them.

I think they can make a go of it if they've done their business studies homework, and the customer-base must surely exceed 1000.

Certainly, in the two years I've been here, the trains have gone from being over crowded to sardine capacity, and judging by the hords of people who get off the train at St. Johns every night, there has been a big influx of young professionals to the area. Sure, some of them still go into hiding when they get home, or toddle along to the bright lights of Greenwich and Blackheath, but we are slowly drawing them out.

As Andy says, we also have to think about the wider catchment area, such as those places without such a big shopping hub - big, in very local terms!. The Brockley shops could easily draw traffic from Telegraph Hill, Ladywell, St. Johns, and Nunhead, and that's just those on foot.

A trip to Deptford Cockpit Arts at the weekend also revealed a massive population of creative yummy mummies with sprogs in tow, and if we look at the bigger picture, these are the community of tomorrow!

Finally, indeed John S, Meze Mangal certainly doesn't need our 'help' - it's fully booked every night! Simon J, looks can be deceiving!

Brockley Sarah said...

I try and support the local businesses wherever possible.
I am totally with Kate on the location issue. I have quite a few of those 'North London sorts' for mates that get nosebleeds coming south of the river!! So I tend to go out in town throughout the week. But at weekends I avoid the city like the plague! We have no excuse not to drink/shop and eat locally now. I don't do this through my duty, I do it because I honestly believe they are good businesses with quality products. And with fantastic events such as the xmas mkt things can only get better! Brockley Rocks!

Hugh said...

Is Kate fit?

Brockley Sarah said...

cheeky! ;0)

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know when building will begin on the Glasshouse Development on mantle road? I notice that some of the flats have already sold which seems incredible as not a single spade has touched the ground yet.
Simon J

Monkeyboy said...

Hmmm... 'pity shag' I'm up for it if you are...

...and shops. I'm a middle class ponce myself and like over priced bread as much the next person, but there's a place for Cost Cutter otherwise they wouldn't thrive.

Degustation and blue dandelion are paving the way for an alternative. Hope there's enough trade for both. I'll buy the occasional sausage to support them.

Is it too early to debate which foodie shop is our favourite? I'm reserving judgement but am leaning toward one....

Pete said...

I like to shop locally as it is good for the area and what is good for the area is good for those who live in the area and that includes me. However I can't see myself buying too much stuff in Dandelion Blue and Degustation, not because their stuff is substandard (it isn't, its fab) but because it is a bit too expensive for my budget.

One way around having friends in North London is to gradually distance yourself from them. If they can't see past Upper St I can't see past the Thames...

Bea said...

Not having a car I used to purchase food online and have it delivered (initially Tesco – but a lousy service in my experience – then moved all upmarket to Ocado – fantastic service but pricey!)

Now I shop mainly locally. This includes Cost Cutters at least 3 times a week, Sounds Around once every two weeks to rent a DVD and once or twice a week Degustation and Dandelion Blue.

The great advantage is that I only buy when I need to eat and don’t have a fridge stuffed full of food I’m desperately trying to consume before the “use by date” has expired.

Also, I think in the long term it is cheaper as I am no longer being tempted by goodies I hadn’t planned on purchasing or succumbing to “buy one get one free” offers.

As for going out – this tends to be during Friday evening / the weekend and includes amongst others Ecosium, City Noodles and in summer the garden in Toads Mouth Two. Luckily my friends, despite living north of the river, are usually willing to brave the wilds of SE London.

I guess this is a long winded way of saying that I buy locally because it suits my needs and not because of any sense of guilt.

Anonymous said...

In response to Bea's comments about what she likes to do for the weekend - why don't we try to come up with the ULTIMATE BROCKLEY WEEKEND TM, which starts after work on a Friday and ends Sunday evening. Suggestions????

Danny Boy

Brockley Nick said...

Danny Boy, I admire your ambition!

If people want, I can create a separate thread?

Kate said...

Clearly the next logical extension for BrockleyCentral is BrockleyDating ...

Brockley Nick said...

Hugh, Brockley is, after all, the home of the beautiful people. But if you are so keen to find out, you will have to come along to the next BC drinks, regardless of whether you are living in Ealing at the time.

Brockley Nick said...

@Kate, in our day job, we do some work for Match.com, so perhaps I can talk to them about "powering" Brockley Central.

tyrwhitt michael said...

This dating scheme sounds like a good idea - as a regular in the Talbot - current version - I don't meet many single women....suprise suprise.

Monkeyboy said...

Too late, we all know Kate carries a torch for the saucy Frenchman and his magnificent produce.

Anonymous said...

Friday night at Smiles Thai restaurant, Saturday morning down to the Broca for a coffee and then on to Degustation to buy some brunch ingredients. Brunch at home with the papers. Listen to the football on the radio. Meet with friends early evening at Mr Laurence's wine bar. Meal out Sat night at Babur.
Sunday morning brunch at Toad Mouth with morning papers. DVD from Sounds around and pop in to Dandelion Blue on way home for a pudding to have with a cup of tea while watching dvd during the afternoon.
Perfecto

(note -there is no visit to a pub on this list - it's clear to me what Brockley needs next!)

spincat said...

I've been in SE4 for 17 years (and in Lewisham on and off for even longer) and I have seen some good businesses go under because they weren't used; though I always have used local shops I must admit when I was commuting further I tended not to do so as much as i'd have liked.

I do shop locally much much more these days (albeit more generally in Lewisham borough rather than just SE4). Trips to Lewisham market and to the local turkish supermarkets supplemented by buying bread and treats from SE4 & SE23 delis are now the main way that I shop. I use local libraries too - some of this is cos am on a smaller budget than i once was, but getting organised in this way has been really enjoyable. I think some people imagine it is a hassle to shop around rather than doing a supermarket sweep but i really haven't found it so.

Babur, Meze Mangal, cafe Blanca and Tai Wu + the italian place up at Honor Oak station are favourites.

leenewham said...

If there is a reason to shop here then people will come. Fill a gap, find out what people want and then sell it at a reasonable price in a shop people want to go into. Currently it's a very long walk from Degustation to Jam circus. There needs to be concentration of great shops people want to use. Local shops are good because they feel like 'YOUR' shop rather than some faceless chain. It can encourage community spirit.

spincat said...

The promising thing about Brockley at present is that there are no chain stores here yet. There are more and more places opening up that suggest we could become a place to visit in the future for unusual shops - in the same way that I go to Lordship Lane or Crystal palace for food, books, presents. (I'm not against chain stores btw but is refreshing to come across somewhere that doesn't have any.)

Brockley Jon said...

Indeed Spincat, as one of my mates asked me the other day, "Doesn't Brockley have a rule about having no chain shops?" - not exactly, but it just goes to show that Brockers is forging an independent reputation for itself!

Anonymous said...

We did a little local shop after the markets last Saturday and that Sounds around shop is such a find - we bought a cap-gun and fun snaps...what a blast from the 80's. The Broca coffee was lovely and the markets while limited in selection were good. I enjoy shopping local (except Gogis where the man behind the counter is defunct of manners and spits on the floor!) however i have found our lovely new delis terribly expensive. I couldnt afford them apart from the very occasional treat. If the owner reads this please sort out your price stickers as some of thema re in the wrong place/missing leading to a nasty shock at the till!

Anonymous said...

yes definately in need of another pub

Anonymous said...

for a night out you can't beat jam circus but unfortunately there's not much else Crofton Park way, I agree the delis are a bit pricey but to be expected as they offer something a cut above costcutters et al

tyrwhitt michael said...

I didn't find them expensive but then I work in Mayfair where the cheapest grocer is Fortnum and Mason...

Am I the only one that thinks their stock is so similar that they both won't survive?

Anonymous said...

Anyone tried the Honor Oak's food? (the old St Germain Hotel pub). It has a very gastropub interior and has champagne tastings, music nights. They even had Linda Barker at their Christmas fair last Sat.

andy pandy pudding & pie said...

I find it very odd the dandelion blue stocks roquefort - the french cheese of all cheeses, whilst degustation does not!

I think there is certainly an issue when some of the best french produce cannot be found in a specialist french deli.

tyrwhitt michael said...

I have been to one of the Honor Oak's Jazz evenings but not eaten there...

Yes I do venture beyond the Talbot sometimes.

They have a web site... thehonor oak.com which details what is going on and it says they get all their meat from Peter James the local butcher in Crofton Park...which is Brockley borders.

I suggest you ask on the Forest Hill blog which has pages and pages about the Honor Oak....

Anonymous said...

Lets not be so critical of the new deli's so soon after they have opened. There will inevitably be some cross over at first and I'm sure after a few weeks they will find what works and what doesn't.

I don't think the price of the food is any more expensive than any other deli you would find anywhere in the country. Much of the food you buy in costcutters or tesco's is unrealistically cheap anyway, i.e. if you're only paying a couple of quid for a chicken then you have to wonder what condition the chicken is in/was kept in. Lets celebrate and stop being critical.

Anonymous said...

The Honor Oak does the best Sunday lunch around!

With regard to an earlier blogger's entry - I don't think that Sounds Around opens on a Sunday does it? Or do I just get up too late???

Bobblekin said...

All these cafes and specialist food stores are fine for what they are and Brockley is better for them than without. I hope they can all keep going. Can't help but observe tho that they are not providing daily staples are they? Its more like w/k end breakfast, antipasti or dinner party bits.

If you look closer at Costcutter there is a really good veg stand with (on Tues) 8 different fresh herbs. It also stocks some very interesting and hard to find preserved ingredients.

What Brockley is missing is a good butcher! I currently go to East Dulwich to buy meat.

Such a shame that Brockley high streets are fragmented or I am sure we would be looking at a quicker transformation to something perhaps more like East Dulwich?

Aunty Kate said...

Bobblekin, have you tried the nice butcher in Crofton Park? He has great cuts and last time I was there he gave me chicken carcasses to make stock (which I didn't quite get right due to not following the receipe). He is at 1 Ewhurst Road SE4

Aunty Kate

Anonymous said...

With regard to the pub situation:

I've been here for 20 years and believe me, a few years back it really was bleak pub-wise. We now have the Jam Circus and the Honor Oak, both of which are excellent, and in addition, there's Lawrence's Wine Bar, Moonbow Jake's and the Toads Mouth Two all of which sell alcohol.

I wouldn't think it likely that a new pub would open anytime soon...

andy pandy pudding & pie said...

I give it two years... anyone want to place a bet?

tyrwhitt michael said...

APP& P

errrrrr you want to give what two years? I like to know what I am betting on.

Incidently the Forest Hill blog I referred to yesterday regarding the Honor Oak is actually called the SE23 Forum and is at SE23.com.....

Since I last went on it, it is now open only to registerred members which is interesting, after the mud slinging, err sorry contructive debate held here over the £10,000 Lewisham grant.....what was the outcome anybody??

Luckily I was away up north that weekend so missed all the excitement.

I also forgot to say the Jazz night at the Honor Oak was excellent and held in their rear room which is known as the St Germain's suite.....wonder where the got that name from..... although I think they are currently on acoustic music.

andy pandy pudding & pie said...

A bet to see whether or not a 'decent' pub will open near Brockley Station. i.e. maybe some sort of fancy pouncy middle class thing that i can take my cats to :o)

Anonymous said...

The Honor Oak used to be called the St Germain, Michael...

Brockley Jon said...

I don't think it's a case of whether a new pub will open up - as we are seeing, all the pubs that are not currently open for business are being turned into flats quicker than a developer can file a planning application.

I think it's more a case of waiting for the existing pubs to be turned into gastropubs or trendy venues. The former we have already seen in the Honor Oak, and possibly have coming to the Talbot. The latter, we have a little further away in the shape of the Amersham Arms, and Dirty South on Lee High Road.

Are there any forgotten pubs that could be targets for this sort of treatment?

tyrwhitt michael said...

I did know that, The Talbot used to play them in the local darts league. The pool room where the competition took place no longer exists in the Honor Oak incarnation.

I'm afraid it was my weak attempt at irony as some one had already referred to its previous incarnation earlier in this thread.

The real quiz question is why it was originally the St Germain's Hotel when it is located on St German's Road?

Returning to the pub question.

I not sure of a location near Brockley Station that could become a decent pub - maybe the Manor Social Club could be revamped?

Anonymous said...

what about the the Brockley Barge? - it could make a great gastro pub.

Pete said...

Isn't it a weatherspoons? They all follow the same predictable format.

Anonymous said...

We need everyone in Brockley to boycott it. They'd sell up within months.

tywhitt m said...

All this talk of Brockley not attracting the chains and we forgot "The Barge" one of J D Weatherspoon's finest - the Tescos of the licenced trade...

neanderthal d said...

Shurely the Brockley Barge is a Gashtropub.

All kinds of delightful food served down there.....Lamb Shanks with mash, Chicken Alfredo on a bed of pasta......plenty gashtro goodness available at the old Barge.

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