I wandered up to Blackheath Standard yesterday afternoon and was frankly astounded at how damn good the place is looking. From its seeming as though the parades might be in terminal decline just a couple of years ago they have blossomed to being a proper local village.
It has everything – butchers, bakers (no candlestick makers, but plenty of smelly candles) greengrocers, two very fine indie DIY stores, a health food shop, pet shop, florist, funky new library, the always delightful Pegga Stores (long may her fabulous 1960s pegboard decor and old-fashioned-cash-register-encased-in-glass reign) several cafes, including mod throwback Gambardella, newsagents, far too many estate agents (but then they’re bloomin’ everywhere) launderette – you name it, they got it. And it looks good. Really good.
New shops seem to be springing up everywhere. I didn’t catch the name of the toyshop for well-heeled kiddies, but it’s smart. The cookshop lady has only been open a week and although she doesn’t have a huge amount of stock, it’s swanky stuff, good for getting people through the door so she can tell you about her main raison d’etre, her cookery school, for everyone from keen kids through clumsy adults to advanced chefs. (www.blackheathcooks.com, if you’re looking for a good Christmas present for the foodie in your life…)
I found myself wishing that Trafalgar Road could get such a makeover. Sure, new shops open from time to time (and often close again quite quickly) but the place still has that closed feel with so many dead shops and scruffy takeaways all over the place.
Of course the Standard has something that poor old East Greenwich doesn’t have – a cute village green (even without the demolished bus shelter) with pretty old drinking fountain, a grand-looking pub and some beautiful houses overseeing it all. The pavements are a bit wider too, to allow cafes to spill over onto them, and, crucially, there is plenty of parking. But Traf Road does have some things that could be worked around. The King William IV desperately needs to have a sympathetic landlord turn it into somewhere people would actually want to go to, but it’s a very nice looking place. Christ Church is pretty, too, and many of the shops themselves are actually better-looking than those at the Standard (the Standard row that has the library in it is downright ugly, but the shops inside make it really good.)
Admittedly there’s not much we can do about narrow pavements or the parking issue but we do have the empty ‘Heart of East Greenwich’ – can’t imagine anyone’s going to do anything about that for a while – why can’t we use the land – let local people turn it into a park (dare I say ‘village green’,) allotments – or even a car park – depressing but at least useful.
People tell me I can’t have indie butchers or bakers (we lost the fishmongers) because people just go to the local supermarkets. I’m not sure I totally buy that – M&S don’t seem to have affected the Standard – but okay, I’ll run with it. So we need ‘destination stores’ – places people are prepared to make a pilgrimage too – one of the many reasons Theatre of Wine does so well.
A couple of years ago I was in Romford market and got talking to a fabric seller. He told me that his grandfather had started the business – in Trafalgar Road – but had had to move. A couple of weeks ago, I got chatting to Miss Libby Rose in Greenwich Market, who runs sewing lessons and has just started selling fabric. It won’t be long before she outgrows that store – perhaps it’s nearing the time when Trafalgar Road gets a material shop again, just the sort of ‘destination’ shop I’m talking about.
I know I got leapt on last time I suggested that landlords need to be put in a situation where it’s cheaper to have someone in their premises than to allow them to lie empty for decades, but I still believe that the only way Traf Road has any hope of rejuvenation is to get shops inside the shops. I’d still love to see the empty premises used by artists and craftspeople as pop ups – to make East Greenwich somewhere hip people actually make a beeline for alternative art,
I know – it’s a dream. But I look at the way Blackheath Standard has turned itself around I want it for East Greenwich too.