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Seven initial thoughts about Boxpark Croydon and its prospects for our town

Seven initial thoughts about Boxpark Croydon and its prospects for our town
Nov 12, 2016 Shaking Hands 0 comments

Seven initial thoughts about Boxpark Croydon and its prospects for our town

So, it’s here – it’s finally here!

80 shipping containers, 20,000 sq ft, a hundred tonnes of corrugated iron have come together to make the newest hotspot in Croydon, Boxpark Croydon. The venue is a food and entertainment space housing forty restaurants including central London heavyweights MeatLiquor, Chilango, Mama Lan and Breakfast Club – and, for many, it is the best thing to happen to Croydon in a long time.

Now that a week has passed – and having attended a few of the music events and restaurants onsite – some thoughts have already begun to ferment about this hyper-stylised food hall and what it spells for Croydon’s future.

See if you agree:

Boxpark Croydon will put Croydon on the map as a music destination

Boxpark opened with two AAA-rated prestige events: a ten-hour Eskimo Dance rave and an NME all-dayer. This was a massive coup on the part of the Boxpark team – and it was wonderful to see their efforts vindicated by fully rammed, wall-to-wall attendance on both days. People trekked from as far as Scotland to attend the Boxpark launch!

Already, there are plans afoot for a UK Garage Takeover in November and a whole host of similar acts. If Boxpark can keep up this quality of music events, Croydon will regain its title as a major destination for club nights.

Boxpark Croydon could be a legitimate replacement to Fairfield Halls gigs

I’ve not been reticent about my feelings about Fairfield Halls, but it would be remiss not to acknowledge the cultural ‘gap’ that it has left in Croydon. Fairfield Halls was a multi-faceted venue, as much geared towards hosting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra as it was capable of putting on Christmas pantos.

Which is all to say that whilst Boxpark will never facilitate the harrowing sight of Steve McFadden gambolling in drag as Widow Twanky, it can definitely fulfil the rock and pop concert aspect. Boxpark Croydon has a capacity of 2,000 – which is similar to The Forum in Kentish Town – meaning that it could well become a touchdown for the mid-tier rock and metal acts that historically used Fairfield Halls.

Boxpark Croydon may be the injection needed to help the nighttime economy

One suspicion we all have is that any out-of-towners that visit Boxpark will not venture into town, preferring instead to stay within its steel confines. So, it was encouraging to see – after Eskimo Dance – patrons not making their escape via East Croydon Station but instead moving on to Dice Bar.

Far from monopolising the nighttime crowd, I suspect that Boxpark Croydon will end up be being the ‘pre-lash’ meeting point where friends can have a few drinks, fill their bellies, before moving on to the clubs and pubs on the high street.

There may not be enough demand to support all forty restaurants

Here’s the stickler. I remain unconvinced that there is enough demand – from either residents or visitors – to maintain forty major and micro-restaurants within the Boxpark complex. Who do Boxpark see as frequenting every day (and night)? Incoming residents travelling home from work? Croydon commuters on their way home to London to Brighton? Lunchtime office professionals? Weekend socialites?

Even if there is a high volume of footfall, you have the problem of competition within Boxpark. Andrew Baggs, a local food blogger and enthusiast, articulated it well when he spoke about how “the bottom 30% will really struggle. I worry people will revert to ‘named brands’ rather than newcomers”.

The effect on Croydon’s ‘restaurant quarter’ remains to be seen

Understandably, there has been much concern at how other eateries in the centre of town will perform now that forty new competitors have appeared – supported by Boxpark branding and marketing budget.

On the frontline of this new battle are the eateries of Dingwall Road which are overlooked by Boxpark. But down the road is Croydon’s historic ‘restaurant quarter’, which already struggles to get full occupancy – even on a Friday and Saturday night.

Boxpark Croydon is here. Moaning won’t change that.

In the first few days of Boxpark opening, the largely uniform euphoria from young and old alike was lumpenly punctured by the usual complaints from the usual miserablists. Setting up Twitter accounts to complain won’t do anything. Whatever you think about the council’s public subsidy (loan) of £3million to get the Boxpark project underway, it’s here and will be for the next three years.

Boxpark needs to involve the community

The success of the Boxpark project depends ultimately on whether it’s seen to be serving the community or just selling to it.

Early signs of this are very promising: The site already provides 42 jobs for Croydonians, according to the council, and there are a raft of community-led events on the roster such as Beats and Bass, and Love Cronx. Local magazine the Croydon Citizen (which I hear is really good) is available on-site. It’s great to see local community groups such as ‘Made in Croydon’ and ‘Shaking Hands Partnership’ using the site for meetings. Hopefully, more will get to avail themselves of the opportunity.

So, those are my seven initial thoughts on Boxpark Croydon. It will be interesting to see in the months to come whether Boxpark Croydon is a black beauty or a white elephant.

By Jonny Rose