A two-year, £3 million regeneration program in Croydon South End High Street which has seen
vacancies drop from almost double the nation’s average of 25% to just 5% was officially launched
this week (Thursday, November 26).
The project, led by international design practice HASSELL, in conjunction with We Made That, was the first in a series of high street rejuvenation projects for the London Borough of Croydon, as part of the Mayor’s Regeneration Fund.
As one of the areas significantly impacted by the civic disorder in 2011, Croydon South End was suffering from a vacancy rate almost double the nation’s average, pedestrians gave way to busy traffic, and shop fronts, streetscapes, communal areas and footpaths were in desperate need of repair.
Today, the high street is experiencing a revival, which has seen the introduction of new businesses, cafes, restaurants and alfresco dining.
In responding to the Council’s vision, HASSELL and its project partners were asked to deliver a safe, functional and attractive place that would encourage people to take ownership of their high street, while creating appealing streets for new visitors.
It was also important to ‘stitch’ together the streets, squares and open spaces of Croydon to ensure
they each maintained their individual character, form and function.
HASSELL Principal Jon Hazelwood says the success of the project lies in involving the community in the decision making from the beginning.
“Asking the very people who live, work and operate businesses in and around Croydon South End High Street what they want out of their high street was critical in ensuring we created welcoming, vibrant and safe public places people could be proud of and, most importantly, wanted to be a part of,” Jon said.
“A vacant building was transformed into ‘The Ideas Shop’ where over the course of a month the community were invited to visit and share their vision for the street, which generated fresh thinking and ensured a community-‐led and focused design response.”
As the architects on the project, We Made That led the improvements to 47 building fronts, while HASSELL designed the reinvigorated public spaces, which put pedestrians back at the heart of the high street and worked off the philosophy of a ‘right to graze’ – to promote increased and more diverse uses of the high street.
“We achieved this by narrowing the roads, widening the footpaths, making way for bicycle lanes, reducing the clutter to showcase the heritage buildings and introducing new trees to soften the gathering areas,” Jon said.
“A variety of public art, interpretive hoardings, murals and graphics to highlight the gateway brought a splash of colour and life to walls and windows, while artwork for vacant shops were developed by local young people from Croydon’s Turnaround Centre.”
Furthermore, an activation program developed by We Made That used a “Meanwhile Use Tool Kit” to
help bring vacant shops back to life through a variety of temporary uses.
With local Governments set to retain money raised from business rates and as the success of the Mayor’s Regeneration Fund continues to be debated, international design practice HASSELL has shared what it takes to unlock the potential of the high street and return it as the heart of the community, with six key ingredients:
1. Community first
In creating places people love, the community needs to have a sense of ownership and pride about the environment they share. People increasingly want to feel connected as communities and the high street provides the perfect forum for this to happen. In Croydon, there was genuine engagement with the community about the project from the outset, asking them what they wanted out of their high street.
2. Diverse activities
By providing a diverse range of offerings and activities, you encourage a mix of people to visit, stay, return and tell their friends about their experience to encourage further visitors. This was achieved at Croydon South End High Street through vacant shops being used as ‘pop ups’ among other initiatives.
3. Space to move
Space to walk and make chance encounters is important in a high street environment. In Croydon, a concept called ‘right to graze’ was developed which promotes increased use of the high street by ensuring people can move easily between restaurants, cafes, shops and businesses.
4. Distinct places rich in character and history
Communities know more about the history and stories of a place than we do so it’s important to listen to the stories, understand what’s important and what should be invested in is vital to the creation of loved and used high streets. The Croydon South End project involved a series of site walks with residents and businesses, as well as extensive consultations, to understand the history, which were then reflected in the overall design concepts.
Once upon a time there was a view that space was to be filled. Today, it’s all about de-‐cluttering. It’s important to remove the obstacles and those items on the street and paths that have become either redundant or duplicated. The consolidation of street furniture is also important to the overall feel of the street environment. In Croydon South End, clutter was removed, ensuring the building’s heritage features were showcased in all their glory, adding to the visual appeal of the street.
6. Investment in building stock
Repaving, realigning roads and tree planting can only achieve so much – investment must also be directed towards updating the buildings themselves, to the extent that the budgets allow. The success of the South End High Street project was in the understanding that investment had to be made in the frontages of the buildings to ensure all elements worked together.