Nathan: It's funny. You know. No matter how rich you get, shit goes wrong. You can't insulate yourself from it.
- Ex Machina

Resolute against a rising tide of gentrification - the face of Brockley 2015
In 2015, a record number of new shops, cafes and restaurants opened in the area, but this growth in new arrivals was simply a continuation of a long-term trend, which has shaped previous years. The defining story of this year was the takeover of Essence of India on Brockley Road:

Here was a terrible restaurant that had clung on for a decade of dear life in defiance of its lack of customers, occupying one of the most prominent locations in Brockley in order to do nothing with it.

The previous owners could often be seen staring forlornly out of their front window, wondering why the growing numbers of people wandering past wouldn’t come in. Then, a new team took over, put the emphasis on flavour and character and delivered an immediate turnaround in its fortunes, proving once again that Brockley residents will flock to quality. It was a lesson that businesses across the area finally seemed to have learned and there were upgrades to be found everywhere.

The Brockley Barge smartened up, the Chandos de-danked and Villa Toscana pulled off the same trick as Essence of India, with the same effect. ‘Authentic’ Brockley’s standard-bearer Top Chef rebranded as the eclectic Pistachio while Spar ousted the lacklustre Nisa, made space among the crisp packets for a Cook concession and immediately became the people’s choice among local supermarkets. The tasty but hapless Bird of Paradise restaurant was replaced by stylish salon Blue Tit, which magicked a hoard of new customers out of thin air and Meze Mangal proved to itself that it could smarten up its act and pull in twice as many diners each night.

Elsewhere, professional outfits mushroomed too.

In New Cross, Cafe Crema is to be replaced by Out of the Brew (a venue that has swapped political statements for beer taps), while three pubs have been reimagined: The sepulchral Haberdasher is to become a jolly Fat Walrus, the rowdy Hobgoblin is now merely lively as the Rose and the execrable White Hart is in serious danger of getting good.

The success of Deptford’s crowdfunded community cinema proved that amateurs don’t have to be amateurish, while the organisers of the comically bad Heritage Festival reminded us what can go wrong if they are.

Alongside this wave of independent professionals arrived the first wave of big business interest in greater Brockley. The supermarkets are arriving en masse (two more Asdas and Sainsburys opened or declared themselves this year) and Costa Coffee pitched up in New Cross.

While Barratt and Cathedral group have spent the last few years transforming our surrounds, Brockley has been largely untroubled by big builders - instead enjoying the dubious benefits of smaller developers. In 2015, major developers made the running: The Notting Hill Housing Association made rapid progress on a large site off Tanner’s Hill, Boultbee began to peel the wrapping off 180 Brockley Road and Campus Village submitted plans for two major student blocks on Shardeloes and Wickham Roads.

In aggregate, these changes represented the most rapid pace of development in Brockley’s recent history - driven by and reflected in some of the fastest rising house prices in the country. This then, is what the dread force of Gentrification looks like. So what did Brockley’s year teach us about this most-feared of urban phenomena? It showed us that for all the column inches it generates, gentrification is rather a weak force.

Gentrification – and the professionalism that has accompanied it – has superficially changed much, but fundamentally changed little. Brockley is still the same place I started writing about in 2007, with the same strengths and weaknesses, but with more trees, more places to sit – and more young people sitting in them.

- Contrary to some fanciful predictions by local bloggers, an influx of workers from the City and Canary Wharf hasn’t changed the political map of the area one jot – Labour’s grip on the local reins of power tightened at this year’s general election, while the borough’s left-wing activism grabbed an even greater share of national headlines. Conservative Brockley remains an historical curiosity.

- The vaunted political power of the middle classes hasn’t prevented the local primary school capacity crunch reaching crisis point, although it might be a contributing factor to the slew of good news that arrived in 2015 in terms of future rail and bus provision.

- If the wonderful Brockley Street Art Festival seemed to some like the area’s history of artistic subversion had been co-opted by the man, it didn’t smother individual moments of joyful anarchy that continued to dot the local landscape throughout the year.

- Jones of Brockley, Honeybourne’s and Benedict’s Coffee may represent a slick, genteel new wave of local high street businesses, but idiosyncrasy has not been wiped from our streets. Tiny beer shops, archway jerk restaurants and skater cafes abound, while Paranhodu, The Delight House and Longhorn have shown that this is more than ever a place where any kind of entrepreneur with an idea and some talent can give it a go. And rest assured, the hygiene standards of local food places are as low as ever.

- Gentrification’s footsoldiers, The Brockley Deli and Masala Wala, may have conquered the badlands of Brockley Cross, but 2015 produced some of the worst violent crimes in Brockley’s recent history, in parts of the neighbourhood least-touched by hipsters.

2015 was the year that taught us that the stuff that matters - the culture and community - is a lot more resilient than some would have us believe. However many nice places to sit Brockley produces, nothing ever really changes. And this year, we got the photographic evidence to prove it.

In other words, you can put a shiny new supermarket in SE4, but you won't stop a Brockley cat from doing as he pleases as he sits on your shelves. Then again, the cat's name is Olly, so perhaps he's part of the problem.


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