What's this, another Shoreditch-type 'Boxpark' landing in Brixton? Both are built from shipping containers and host shops and places to eat, but what makes Pop markedly different from Boxpark is that the space is filled with 85% of businesses local to Brixton, with a strong focus on community involvement and local job provision. Anne Richardson took a look...
Pop is a large market-style area with both indoor and outdoor space filled with small street food concessions and a handful of one-off boutiques. All the building units are made from recycled shipping containers stacked on top of each other, painted with vibrant colours and designs. There's an outdoor courtyard where you can listen to live music or watch films while stuffing your face, an upstairs 'greenhouse' covered area to sit and relax in, and open-air corridors lined with mini restaurants serving grub ranging from Vietnamese noodle salads, wood-fired pizza and Jamaican jerk to fish and chips, Indian-style burgers and Japanese ramen, plus bars serving local brews and quirky clothes shops. There are lots of large tubs dotted about the place planted with fruit trees, herbs and veg. The atmosphere is friendly, relaxed and buzzing — and we were pleased to see when we visited, the clientele was a good mixture of people from all walks of life, not just middle class hipsters pigging out on sourdough.
Lambeth Council provided free use of the land for Brixton Pop, and the space was developed in conjunction with local architect Carl Turner, working with developers The Collective. The site will be used in this way until at least October 2017, when Lambeth Council will redevelop it again. Rents are kept purposefully affordable, with space for 50 local businesses. Priority is given to those whose aim is to benefit the local community by providing jobs and training, as well as offering punters something excellent.
Speaking to a few of the food concession owners there, it was clear everyone was extremely local. Viet Box, for example, had opened their restaurant just several days previously, from their home base in Brixton Hill. Patisserie Supercute was co-owned by the people running local dim sum restaurant Courtesan on Atlantic Road. Brixton-based Yumitub, told us they were inspired by travels in Thailand to create an ice cream business at Pop after watching street ice cream sellers make 'fried ice cream'.
The Vietnamese beef and seafood salads we sampled from Viet Box rivalled anything we've eaten in Vietnam itself — a glorious mix of salty, sweet, sour, crispy and tangy. Ice cream from Yumitub hit just the right sweetness. And patisserie from Supercute wouldn't be out of place in a Parisian café — the quality is excellent.
Everyone was friendly and optimistic about Pop's future. No uber-brands here, thanks very much. Supercute's co-owner described it as a place where people were willing to take risks and be creative with what they were offering. His patisserie is proof of that — it'll soon be offering choux pastries with savoury fillings such as spicy lentil dhal, alongside the more customary macarons.
The units are not quite all filled, and some were still being built when we were there, with builders drilling and sawing to get the finishing touches complete. Applications from new businesses are being accepted until 14 June — see the Pop website for details.