This post was first published by My London on 8/10/2019.
How Croydon businesses are picking up the pieces after Village Outlet closure
One of the businesses – Heart of Gaming – has lost an estimated £30,000 through not being able to open over the summer holidays
More than six weeks after the shock closure of the Croydon Village Outlet a popular gaming arcade has finally been able to reopen.
Heart of Gaming has been based in Croydon since 2017.
But in the early hours of July 16 it was one of the businesses locked out of the former Allders building when Croydon Council took possession of it.
The building remains closed and surveys by the Croydon Partnership, which combines Westfield and Hammerson, are being carried out.
It is set to be demolished to help make way for the new £1.4 billion Westfield shopping centre which has been delayed a number of times.
Mark Starkey runs Heart of Gaming which moved from West London to Croydon in 2017.
He used to work as a technician at the arcade in the Trocadero in Central London and rescues and repairs old gaming machines.
On Friday (October 4) Heart of Gaming was able to reopen above Playnation Games in the the former Clas Ohlson store in the Whitgift Centre which also has an entrance on North End.
But the six-week closure came during the summer holidays, the busiest time of the year for the arcade.
The heavy equipment was stuck upstairs in the old Allders store, and when a lift was decommissioned Mark had no way of getting the kit out.
Eventually it was removed with the help of scaffolding and a hoist through the front entrance of the old unit.
But while the arcade was closed, Mark estimates that the company lost about £30,000 in takings.
Now he blames the council for locking the businesses out of the building.
“This wasn’t something that they decided on a whim,” he said.
“The fact that they did this right at the beginning of summer shows no consideration was given to us at all.
“We are a safe space for the younger generation.
“This can be a very introverted generation, but we all need to get out into the real world.
“So many people have come here and said their confidence was bad before they started coming.
“When they realised what had happened, I had kids messaging me saying they used to come here when their parents were arguing and now they felt like self harming again.
“I am angry that I had to let our audience down when it wasn’t my fault.
“We are one of the only gaming venues in London that allows under 18s and everyone who comes here has something in common.”
The business has been given rent relief and has the site for six months. After that it is possible it could be extended for another six, but Mark says the uncertainty makes it difficult to invest in the arcade.
“Hats off to the council as this is a better venue than before with better access,” he added.
“But it is still six-month rolling contracts and who knows what is going to happen with Westfield.
“We could turn this building into a gaming Garden of Eden if we knew that it was going to be worth it long term.”
Journalist and TV presenter Adam Pearson works with Mark at the arcade to put on sessions for SEN (special educational needs) youngsters, with less noise and flashing lights.
He is from Croydon and was disappointed to see the business miss out on a summer of trading.
During the summer as well as losing regular customers Heart of Gaming had to cancel numerous birthday parties and school or college trips.
Adam said: “In this economy reputation is currency. The closure happened really quickly and everybody was stressed by it.”
And it wasn’t just customers that were affected, Mark was unable to pay some of his staff members, like Halima Isse.
The 24-year-old commutes to Heart of Gaming from North West London and started out as a volunteer at the arcade.
She said: “It was really, really horrible because I had finally come off benefits and started working.
“It was quite tough to be honest, I was behind in rent and I nearly lost my house because of it.”
She used to be a painter and decorator and says her job at the arcade has helped her make more friends and come out of her shell.
It has still not been confirmed when or whether the former Allders building will reopen and the Croydon Partnership has been contacted by My London to ask for an update.
The building was the subject of a compulsory purchase order (CPO) to make way for the long-awaited Westfield shopping centre.
And this was the final part of the CPO process that was approved by the council in 2014.
It is thought up to 50 people worked in the building in different businesses which started to move over to the Whitgift in August.
The Partnership said it would work with all the concessions to find them suitable locations in the Whitgift Centre.
Businesses that have moved to the shopping centre include Klass, Fashion Club, Flute and Harris, Playnation, South Bank Travel and Winborn and Gajjar.
A further 11 businesses were also expected to make the move while the popular Bellamy’s Ice Cream relocated to a kiosk in Centrale.