Colter Stevens: It's the same train, but it's different.
- Source Code
We ended our review of 2010 by saying that in 2011, we would be reliant on private enterprise for our good news, as public sector cutbacks kicked in. In fact, this year saw an explosion of local creativity and enterprise.
From a record number of entries in our Newcomer of the Year Award to fantastic new places in Nunhead (Bambuni), New Cross (New Cross House), Deptford (Deli-X) and Honor Oak (Hills & Parkes), there was an unprecedented number of high street start-ups in Brockley and our surrounding areas. But the new ideas came in many forms: #Meateasy became a speakeasy phenomenon in New Cross and was followed by Big Red pizza buses and Estate Agents-cum-revolutionary cafes. Ladywell got a huge new nursery, Brown's of Brockley opened late and construction work began on an entire street designed for micro-businesses that wanted to operate in Brockley.
Change is disruption, so we also had to say goodbye to some local businesses. In most cases, the destruction was of the Schumpeterian variety.
The Amersham Arms was sold. George hung up his scissors. Mason's closed. Sweeney's was reborn as Hungry Horace. Toads Mouth went on the market. Clarkey's came and went. Tea Leaf Arts went to clear space for Tea Dance. Misty Moon took over from Tank. The Old Bank was closed but fought off Domino's. The Deptford Deli got fed up with flooding and left town. Everyone else got fed up with Supercuts and they were stripped of their licence to serve alcohol. No one was sure whether the junk shop that occupied the new shop on Brockley Road was meant to be permanent, until the bailiffs cleared the matter up for us.
In many cases, the public sector played an enabling role for local innovation: A music festival on the East London Line, supported by TfL? A market in Lewisham College car park backed by the Council? A cafe in Hilly Fields, selected by Lewisham? A new Lewisham Literary Festival supported by Lewisham? Community gardens in Arica Road, Sandbourne Road and St Johns? Ice skating (for kids) on the tennis courts? Done. Where the Council had to intervene to rescue a Loampit Vale shop from collapse, it did (finally).
Lewisham Council at last focused on creating an environment that would encourage private enterprise. Brockley Road was widened, plans for Brockley Cross were improved and approved and Ladywell got significant funding for its town centre improvement programme. Now it has to sort out the area's many parking issues and we will have made real progress.
Lewisham worked with Southwark to provide an improved enterprise support service and allowed businesses to promote special offers via Lewisham Life for free. It also relied on social enterprise to plug the gap as it withdrew from five of the borough's libraries. It is an idea for which the case is yet to be proved.
But the main reason for the frenetic pace of 2011 is the people that now live here.
In 2009, we wrote that the prospect of the East London Line was attracting an influx of young people that would be the fundamental driver of change in Brockley. In 2010 before the ELL opened, we said the coming tsunami of people was something to be embraced:
The best bits of London have lots of people in them, the worst bits are empty. Some of that is effect, much of it is cause. We're looking forward to more people discovering Brockley when the East London Line comes.
Now they are here. There has been a huge swell of new people brought in on the East London Line, which celebrated its first full year in service with heaps of awards, an extension to Highbury and Islington and a warning that by 2016 overcrowding would be a major problem unless urgent action to increase capacity is taken. Once, the area relied on a handful of entrepreneurs serving a tiny pool of potential customers. Supply and demand have each grown exponentially over the last two or three years.
What has happened this year can only be understood in this context. For all the moaning about infill and exploitative development (some of which is justified) the new residents fuel, people bring dynamism. Interactions between people are what cities are for. And this area is more interactive than most.
From a transport perspective, the East London Line was not the only show in town. Woolwich got Crossrail, Greenwich got a cable car, the Jubilee Line got upgraded, Blackfriars got a nice new bridge, Surrey Canal got funding for a station, Deptford's new station made a start, the DLR got extended to Stratford, our Crossrail interchange at Whitechapel got going and we all got quieter 484s. Brockley Station's platform lengthening and gate installation began, but a step free west side remains a distant prospect. Ladywell got a lot of station improvements, but lost a Christmas market as a result.
As the area became easier to reach, so there became more reason to bother. Building work on the skate park in Telegraph Hill began as work on Ladywell Fields ended. Goldsmiths planned a new art gallery and Deptford let a thousand flowers bloom while two major masterplans progressed, two other grands projets (the library and the Seager Distillery) reached completion and a hotel sprang up. Nearby, the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich opened a major new wing and Blackheath organisers got a go-ahead for a new music festival next year.
If you missed all of this, you can be forgiven, because 2011 was also a year of high profile crime, protest and occupation.
Goldsmiths students did their thing again, Brockley's radical anthropologist Chris Knight did his thing again and was arrested to prevent him gatecrashing the Royal Wedding. In the mean time, New Cross protesters campaigned against a shop opening in a retail unit that had been empty for years, because they were convinced that big brands and little ones could not co-exist. Shortly afterwards, independent retailer The Allotment launched nearby and big chain TK Maxx opened, not with a protest, but with a stampede.
The site of the former Deptford Job Centre was occupied in protest against the problem of high unemployment in the borough, preventing a job-creating cafe from opening in the process. But, the occupiers reasoned, Deptford doesn't really need another cafe. Now, the protestors have moved on and the site has opened as a gallery.
The first of several "serious incidents" took place in April, closing part of Brockley Road near the Esso garage. It would soon be followed by a machete-wielding maniac, who absolutely could not be stopped, other than by wheelie bins.
For three long nights in August, Brockley braced for riots, which never quite came to SE4 - a virtue of our lack of shops, rather than our lack of rioters. We live-blogged for three nights as New Cross, Deptford, Lewisham, Peckham and Catford burned around us.
Looking back, not just on this year's events but on our articles since 2007, it is clear that 2011 has been the most extraordinary year Brockley Central has ever had the pleasure of reporting. And we live in London because we like to live in interesting times.
Will 2012 be any less interesting? We doubt it. But our predictions for the next year are for another day. What did you make of 2011?
Colter Stevens: It's the same train, but it's different.