A Lament For Catford

Rachel Holdsworth
By Rachel Holdsworth Last edited 11 months ago
A Lament For Catford

Photo by Javi from the Londonist Flickr pool

Yes, this is a lament for Catford. Not for the Catford that is, but for the Catford that will be. Lewisham Council has plans for Catford; gentrification has plans for Catford. Come visit the giant fibreglass cat while ye may — it could soon be the last vestige of what's great about the area.

Where much of zone 2 and 3 in south east London has fallen under the spell of middle class gentility — Dulwich, Brockley, dear god Peckham — Catford seemed unimpressed. Lewisham gets Model Market? Catford gets a Kaspas (a glittery waffle house-slash-ice cream parlour, notable chiefly for its neon pinkness. The waffles work, though). Forest Hill gets Canvas and Cream? Catford gets two Costas. And yet, and yet. All those lovely period houses, all that green space, all those decent schools. Long-time Catford resident and Guardian columnist Lucy Mangan may have described the area as "the only place in all of London and the south-east set to remain impervious to gentrification", but when that same paper ran its 'Let's Move To' column on Catford last summer, the game was surely up.

Perhaps London's only sculpture to be inspired by a Microsoft Windows screensaver from the 1990s.

But we love Catford as it is. Time got to about 1997 here and then stood still, arms resolutely folded, refusing to move on. Those aforementioned Costas stand out — Catford doesn't wear its branding so shinily. It prefers to secrete its wonders away from the gaze of potential housebuyers; go away, we don't want you here. Come back when you've lived in Sydenham for five years and taken the time to get to know the place.

The Blythe Hill Tavern, for instance, from the outside looks like a tired and decrepit flea pit. Inside, however, it's one of CAMRA's south east London favourites, genuinely Irish run, frequented by locals and stocked with magnificent ales and ciders. A day is easily lost in here. Similarly outwardly misleading is Sapporo Ichiban, the greatest Japanese restaurant in south east London (and certainly the best value for money — ask for the all you can eat buffet menu). Another treat is getting to sit at traditional low tables with sunken floor for your legs, even if it makes getting up again when stuffed with katsu a touch tricky.

Sapporo Ichiban.

It's also easy to walk past the area's best pub, the Catford Constitutional Club, hidden as it is down an alley. Allow us a brief detour into recent history, if you will. The Antic chain was originally invited to take over the Catford Bridge Tavern by the council and local police, after it all got a bit stabby. They did a magnificent job of turning the pub around but were then turfed out by the landlord, who tried to turn it into flats and a mini supermarket (a local campaign put the dampers on that idea). So they moved into the old Conservative club, serving a range of decent ales and excellent food, in a cosily dark, cavernous space with rickety old parquet flooring and splendidly decorated toilets.

We've been known to sniff at what we're terming 'Anticification': the way Antic pubs seem to be the vanguard of gentrification in any given area, but they do run excellent pubs. Which makes its imminent demise, courtesy of the Catford Plan, all the more galling. The Catford Constitutional has set up a petition to have its lease extended, as it currently runs out in October 2016. It's addressed to the council and the Catford Regeneration Partnership Limited, the company created to buy up all the leases in the shopping centre. Because Catford is about to undergo a significant, top-down regeneration project, which will create around 1,700 new homes on sites like the old greyhound stadium, Wickes and civic centre sites — and the Catford Centre.

As with many of these schemes all over London, businesses face uncertainty — at the very least. We got in touch with the people at the Catford Constitutional to find out what's happening, and they just don't know. Several plans have been mooted — one of which, for a bigger version of the existing Tesco store, would mean the CCC being flattened completely — and the Catford Regeneration Partnership has not, as yet, answered our requests for clarification. But even if the buildings survive, experience from other schemes tells us that business rents will increase, perhaps beyond the means of the Catford stalwarts. And you don't need us to tell you what happens to residential rents and prices when gentrification comes.

One of Catford's lovelier spots.

And then there's this. It's a crowdfunding project to bring a "vintage style shop and tea room" to Catford. We're sure the project owner's heart is in the right place, and we also know that — despite this being an area that venerates a massive plastic cat, perhaps indicating not the tenderest of sensibilities — a café with chintz and bunting will probably do very well. But it's not very Catford, is it? It reminds us of that Onion article, Sometimes I Feel Like I'm The Only One Trying To Gentrify This Neighborhood. We'll make an exception for the planned Good Food deli, though is it telling that one of the shop's aims is to "offer practical and unbiased advice, without being pretentious or condescending"?

For now, Catford is still unassuming, prosaic, congenial Catford. If you want to celebrate it while it's still here, mark 21-25 July in your calendar for a silent movie night, history talk, quiz at the CCC (21 July), promenade theatre and exhibitions dotted around the area. And raise a quiet glass to what could be Catford's tipping point.

Last Updated 21 March 2017

Ellie

I mean the main problem for me is that calling somewhere "the Catford of Italy" no longer bite

Ronnie Haydon

Yes, I like telling folk I live in the arse end of London. Makes me feel gritty

Aidan Stevens

Let's be honest, Catford is a hole, but gentrification won't help any, it will just destroy the place. It's already got two bloody Costa coffees, how many more does it need? Besides, the local residents need counselling more than they do £3 cups of coffee, the caffeine hit of which is likely to tip them over the edge anyway.

David Clack

I must say I struggle with all these dreamy, pseudo-romantic ‘let’s keep the rough places rough’ pieces.

I lived in Peckham ten years ago when it was, god bless it, a bit of a shithole. I moved back there last year, and now it’s less of a shithole. It’s got a few nice places to drink and the parks are cleaner and there are some great, affordable restaurants. I don’t have kids but the Rye/Nunhead end looks like a safe place to raise a family. Quick, someone write a piece on Vice about how the area’s losing its soul (this happened long ago, of course).

I prefer it now, obviously (not least because I’m now a homeowner rather than a student renter), but I resent the implication from pieces like this that this somehow makes me shallow, or worse, that I’m contributing to the bastardisation of an area.

Yes, I understand the idea that gentrification forces poorer residents deeper into the suburbs, meaning low-income workers are forced to schlep in from Zone 6 to a job they likely hate. It’s sad, and feeds into the issue of the housing crisis and booming population, both problems I personally have no realistic hope of solving. But what’s the alternative? I’m a journalist in my early thirties – I can’t afford to live in Zone 1. I don’t want to live in Kent or Surrey, nor should I have to.

And then there’s the whole thing of over-sentimentalising the entitlement of local businesses and services which are just, frankly, a bit shit, out of date and no longer in line with the needs of Londoners. I struggle to take it seriously – it comes off as ironic, putting those who lament the closure of a god-awful pub they’d likely never dream of drinking in on the same level as the dreaded hipster.

The concept of the ‘tipping point’ is valid, of course. Shoreditch and Hoxton are now basically self-parodying theme parks. But should the people of Catford weep when the local greasy spoon is replaced by an organic cafe selling flat whites and poached eggs? Of course not. Not every part of London that smartens itself up a bit is destined to turn into a hellish blend of novelty bars and nitrous oxide-huffing, floppy-fringed tosspots. The needs of middle-class Londoners and working-class Londoners can co-exist. There are examples all over the city. But the fetishisation of the latter by the former really doesn’t help, and it really does my head in.

Caroline

Anti-gentrification is very trendy right now. I'm minded to think this is a clever article with the indirect aim to encourage interest in an undiscovered area by a homeowner waiting to cash in. But I doubt it so I'll continue. I don't want to spend my money in huge chains such as KFC and
Poundland where staff are on zero hours contracts and the shareholders earn a fortunate preying on both this and the diets and spending decisions driven by poor education inherent in an area that's falling behind. I'd like to spend my money in an independent shop where the local entrepreneur values and educates its staff and customers (like my Jamii cafe, sadly not quite Catford). Before my 12 hour days in the office I want to buy my well-sourced coffee near Catford station, not near Liverpool Street station, and when I finish such hours I want to buy a decent bottle of wine in a wine bar in Catford with family, not surrounded by colleagues by the office. I also want the option to buy cheap healthy food from the local shops, not Heinz baked beans, empty-sugared white bread and a can of coke, the profits of which go back to the fat cats. My point isn't that we should only praise expensive services, it is that the more we encourage diversity and creativity, the more choice we have and the more informed, healthy and happy we all are. Isn't that fairness all round?

Michael Robinson

I think this is a very mean-spirited article. We should welcome anyone who wants make a contribution. How can you complain about someone wanting to put the effort and time into opening an independent shop?

Jenni Brady

Hello, I am the Judas that wants to open a Vintage Tea Room and Shop in Catford.
I wish to address two points, firstly, you assume that my shop will be EXPENSIVE ? on the contrary, I aim to keep my prices very realistic so as not to exclude anyone from enjoying what Truly Splendid has to offer, particularly the elderly.
Secondly, you accuse me of bringing gentrification to the area ?
It is not my intention to stock overpriced goods from large commercial suppliers, instead I will rent out my shelves (at a very reasonable cost) to local people who wish to improve their lives by selling their hand made and hand crafted items.
I have lived in the area for over 20 years, my children went to Holbeach Primary, I have been involved in the local community as both a school Governor and Charity Volunteer, I think I know the are pretty well and I believe that Catford should be encouraging its local people to become independent traders.

Yellow

I live in Catford. Miaow.

A house for sale in my Catford Road for £579k, just round the corner from the Cat. Discuss.

All 'discussions' about Catford miss out the brilliant Waterlink Way cycle/walking route.

For God's sake Catford is surrounded by lovely spaces such as Blythe Hill, Ladywell Fields (and Ladywell village where snooty coffee and a deli can be found - soon to have a wanky butcher too). Hilly Fields not far away either if you like a steep walk.

Best thing about Catford now is that you can dip in and out of the snootier areas described above and come back to what is 'real' London - huge mix of different kinds of people, anonymous and no endless chain of cloned middle-class couples as you see round Brockley with accompanying endless chain of flat whites.

The horrible snobbery that pervades all articles about Catford is so very boring. Go see it for yourself instead.

Jack Stone

What is wrong with someone opening a vintage style tea shop? It could replace one of the many many fired chicken shops and so increase choice. The author seems to regards gritty areas as somehow being more authentic than areas which become more salubrious. Why?

PVP

I think most people who actually live in Catford would agree it is far nicer than its reputation. If you go away from the crap shopping centre and south circular it is a rather pleasant part of London with good properties, no big estates, great parks, etc. It is really poor when it comes to shops, bars, pubs etc with a few notable exceptions. So rather than reducing the issue to two extremes of run down crap hole versus aspiring Clapham, how about we keep most of what is there, replace Milford Towers and the shopping centre, re-route the shopping centre and diversify the shops so everyone who lives there have shops they actually want to use? Many of the old pubs have closed in the last 20 years to be replaced by flats. Rather they get converted to CCC or gastro than be flats. By local precinct has 4 chicken shops. The council agreed to a residential home to be converted to a business premises... only for another chicken shop to open. It stayed open 1 month and is now a fly tipping nightmare. There is room for both sides of London.

Lino Boga-Rios

There's nothing wrong with gentrification. But lets be clear, gentrification happens naturally - artists, young professionals, people starting out move into an area which has traditionally seen little movement and improve housing stock and thereafter the new shops, cafes and restaurants move in. It's usually a process that happens over decades. It's what happened to Islington years ago, happened in Camberwell and Clapham and there's nothing wrong with it. I grew up in much derided Balham in the 1970s, gentrification trickled down from Clapham slowly before estate agents starting to understand the slow southward trajectory of gentrification and jumped on it (as they are doing now with Tooting whose gentrification has been accelerated over the last 8-10 years) What people object to (and I talk as someone facing this and the backlash in Deptford) is big business & estate agents along with international property speculators colluding with councils to make a quick buck out of the next big thing - 'engineered gentrification'. How many times have I heard, "Deptford is the new Shoreditch" - no it isn't! It's only similar in that it's open to exploitation and for a small minority of people to make a lot of money often with little regard for the people who live here. So I accept there may be a backlash, but if we look at it it's not to 'gentrification' but the use of gentrification to make a quick buck and often to price the local residents out of their own area. Thankfully the (still) varied community of Deptford is very vocal and generally robust in scrutinising attempts at 'gentrification'. Engineered gentrification has proved to push local communities further and further out. Leave Catford alone to allow it to come up (or not) of its own accord!

The Deptford Croppy

Catford?! You're kidding right? That place is was and always will be a khazi. I lived there for six years and it was unrelentingly awful. Towards the end, the braying voices of the entitled middle class did become more prevalent in the neighbourhood and that -- if anything -- made it even worse.
I don't know what kind of snooty little bourgeois battery farm the writer hails from if it was such a high melodrama to walk into the Goose...seriously...was your life ever in danger in that pub or do you just want to come across to the ignorati like you're knowledgeable about living in a edgy neighbourhood? When you've been attacked during a riot and had a foot on your neck when someone's ripping jewelry from your throat in Rushey Green then come and tell me war stories about a pub full of pensioners and working men...do me a favour!

Royshirttugger

Says the author who lives in Golder' s Green. Spent much time in catford have you? how is leeds?

Danielle Toyer

How interestingly selective. If you like Antic pubs, as I do, and you use language such as "unassuming, prosaic, congenial" you are middle class and, therefore, part of your own problem. My children go to St Dunstans (which has been in Catford for longer than most of the things you would like to preserve). There is nowhere, apart from Costa (bleh!), where I'm happy to take my kids after school or meet my friends in after drop-off on those days when I'm not working. I live in Lewisham and have been delighted with the results of gentrification. I am a real resident who likes a good coffee as much as I do a good beer. Many of the developments are providing much needed homes for Londoners. I'm with you on one thing THE CAT AND THE CONSTITUTIONAL MUST STAY.

real human being

'Catford. Worse than Belarus'.

Frankie Turner

Just read this and agree with many of the arguments made. I however have more logistical concerns. In this massive housing regeneration it seems to me that there is a huge gap in thinking. With more families, where are the new schools to cope with the consequent rise in the number of children? There are insufficient places already. Where are the new GP surgeries to cope with the new population? There are already difficulties in getting appointments. Where are the new dental surgeries? If Brockley is anything to go by, where passengers queue up just to get on the platform, what contingency will be made for more platforms/trains/buses?

Gentrification is inevitable I fear but it will bring more than just fancy window boxes.

James Morritt

I grew up in Forest Hill, and its true Catford is less of a shithole now days, marginally, but don't you think it's these wankers moving in are the drivers behind a bit of a spruce up of an area? I actually can never see Catford being a Brockley. The bit up Stanstead Rd has always had a more middle class roads, but the bits to the east and the south of Catford cant be gentrified as you'd have to raze them to the ground and start again. They did a nice job on that pub next to the station, then they closed it to be a Tesco I heard. What Catford doesn't need is another convenience store, seems you could use a different one every day of the year there. They need to get rid of those awful flats at the back of the high street, and that awful building on the one way system for a kick off. They should make that area a public space, and it would make a huge difference to the town centre, and I would personally destroy the shopping centre myself and get rid of that Effin' cat. A cat has eff all to do with why Catford is called Catford, and I think thats you're problem right there, no one gives a fuck, the only people that give a fuck about this kind of stuff are property developers. Its funny but it's the centre of "Government" for Lewisham Borough, but it's not nice. Doesn't help having the South Circular trundling through it either. Lewisham council can't be trusted to do a good job, as they've naused up Lewisham, just building a few houses next to the railway line so the people travelling to the suburbs don't get offended by its shitness, and selling out to property developers. Catford is a solid working class area, and the folks there deserve the place to be spruced up. Play word association with Catford ,even with people that've never been there, and shithole comes to mind. Thats got to stop.

propdevel

Oh my goodness! CATFORD. Where do you start? To begin with get rid of the cat, the depressing Tesco and the council building above it! It makes me depressed walking into that building.
Secondly, the street "art" needs to be taken down and replaced by something resembling art.

Rushy green has a stunning green with lovely trees but the nasty shops either side do it no justice.
As a deprived area it needs an injection of greenery, trees, flowers, new buildings with modern design and a make over of useful cafes and shops.
Lovely Lewisham Park that rivals any garden square of grand houses and sandwiched between Royal borough of Greenwich and Blackheath its only time until CATFORD will be spruced up and houses will sell for London priced housing not seen in Catford for centuries.

Please Lewisham council regenerate this area!!!!!

steveboyo

This is an interesting article! For gentrification to be effective it has to take place over a period of time and evolve. However what we have is a situation whereby the media, estate agents and property developers have colluded to use subliminal selling techniques and outright programming to lure desperate Londoners to buy over-priced properties in hitherto ordinary affordable decent or downright decrepit neighbourhoods and you can use words and glossed up images to change people's view of an area. But the big question is, is it done with honesty or with the intent to profit? For example, the presence of chain coffee shops and independents isn't necessarily done in the best interests of the neighbourhood or residents (although the media will make it appear so) but is mostly an advertising ploy to lure fairly affluent but desperate people into an area where they might not have considered buying or living. It's like the smell of baking bread or coffee in a supermarket used to lure in customers. I live by Brixton and I can see the damage that hyper gentrification has done in just 3 years to the area - being rammed down the throats of residents by Lambeth council trying to make a killing by selling off it's properties and estates and encouraging private developers to shamelessly build unaffordable housing for buy to let landlords to rent out to young professionals. Brixton market is more or less losing it's unique character as local traders are being forced out through high rents. small independents are now being forced out by the big chains and soon Brixton town will become like every other ersatz chain dominated town centre with its set of TKMaxx, H&M, mobile phones shops etc not bad at all if they had preceded all the hyped up media attention. The soul of Brixton is being ripped out by desperate developers cashing in on high property prices and chain stores wanting in on the action. However, in areas like Telegraph Hill, Clapham, Notting Hill, Islington and Camden gentrification began very slowly in the 60's and 70s and picked up pace over the eighties and nineties and even today in these neighbourhoods there is a fine balance between old and new. In these areas the working classes and middle classes mingle and flow into each other and while there are up market shops and restaurants there are generic places for everyone to use. What you have in Brixton is a systematic slum clearance with Lambeth Council getting rid of old residents and business people by flattening their homes or raising market rates and the estate agents and developers cashing in and busing in hordes of desperate young professionals and chain stores to take their places. The place is becoming much like parts of Wandsworth where you have gentry occupying the nicer but small homes that once belonged to the working classes while the remaining decimated plebs are locked up on their estates and crime. The 2011 London riots saw Council estate based residents loot many of upmarket and independent shops in Clapham Junction/Battersea area of Wandsworth borough. (In Wandsworth the only affordable housing is unsold council housing). In essence the Shoreditchification of Brixton into a destination for Essex day-trippers is in full swing (if it ever comes to that). Hopefully this won't happen to Catford, however, change is good but it should be done sensitively to benefit everyone!

Liz McKenna

Bring on gentrification I say. I live in Catford because I can't afford to live anywhere civilised. The street where I live is a disgusting mess of dumped household goods of every description, it never stops. Neighbours on both sides of my house, at the time of writing this, have mattresses and kitchen cabinets in their front gardens, probably waiting for dark when, undercover, they'll dump their crap further up the road outside some other poor sap's home. The council will clear it up and the next day there'll be even more stuff. People have no pride in their surroundings around here. The Catford Centre is nothing but charity shops, pound shops, cheap shops and poor old Tesco (they sell Prosecco though). Even WH Smith has closed down. Is this really what the anti-gent brigade want?

The only downside of gentrification, as someone said quite rightly in the local freebie paper, is that when pubs get done up and painted dark grey or olive green, the beardies, their wags and ghastly badly behaved offspring move in and the prices go up. I stay in town to do my socialising and if I could afford to live there I would. You have to dodge the drunks, but one of the only good things about Catford is the easy access to central London or the City,