Inside Boxpark Croydon

Croydon

6 Feb 17

* An edited version of this article featured in The Croydon Citizen on 30 January 2017. This is the original copy *

The decision to place Boxpark 2.0 in Croydon was met with celebration, controversy and criticism. People, already aware of Boxpark's success in Shoreditch, started to buzz with the excitement of what to expect in a steadily evolving borough like Croydon. Others were more wary.

On the outside looking in, Boxpark probably looks like a corporate giant with visions of swarming into developing areas and marking its territory with dining and retail spaces. Truth is, the people that make Boxpark possible, the team that open and operate it, is very small. There are no departments or sections or offices dotted around the UK. There is an office on site at both Shoreditch and Croydon and when you step in and ask to speak to our "sales team", you're really asking to speak to just one person. When you want to discuss a future project with our "events team", that's just one person too. Team Boxpark is tiny but that means we have to work exceedingly hard to do what we do. I don't think anyone would disagree when I say that it's taken actual blood, sweat and tears to make Boxpark possible but, for all of that, we're really proud of what we do and for a good reason.

We do what we do for you. That might sound extremely corny and those of you that have a gripe with Boxpark probably just went "ha!" at my statement but it's true.

From a personal perspective, I only ever wanted anything to do with Boxpark because I'm born and raised in Croydon and, like a lot of people in this town, I care deeply about what happens here. For me, Boxpark was just another example of glaring change in the borough and I backed it; I wanted it to succeed. When a handful of Croydon residents had taken to the Citizen to express their concerns about Boxpark's arrival, I saw an opportunity for Croydon and wrote the piece Boxpark is Coming, Don't Panic! It touched on why Boxpark might actually be what Croydon needs and how it could be to our benefit. Boxpark's founder and CEO, Roger Wade, contacted the Citizen off the back of that article and asked if I would interview him; and throughout that conversation, it became clear that we both shared the same vision for Croydon.
 
"People are starting to believe in South London. So, for me, coming to Croydon was a no-brainer. It's a fantastic borough and its poor reputation is undeserved" - Roger Wade (November 2015)

A lot of controversy surfaced when it was confirmed just how much Croydon Council had invested in Boxpark but, let's be clear, the council was never just going to gift-aid the project with a generous sum of money. It's well documented that Croydon Council's financial contribution to Boxpark is a loan and loans get repaid. Behind this investment was a strategy focused on unlocking development sites throughout the town centre and specifically reviving the commercial property market  - which was in serious decline. Admittedly, there are questions as to why the council hasn't shared the same level of enthusiasm for other local projects, particularly those that could seriously benefit from public funding. This is something that should also be addressed but not by Boxpark.

Another way of looking at the council's involvement in Boxpark is that this could potentially be a sign of greater things to come. I've often remarked, both publicly and privately, about the decaying state of Croydon's social scene. A development like Boxpark is a social hub. It's a place to take the family, meet with friends, share a meal, sink some drinks and have a dance. Croydon desperately needs more of that. We have a handful of fantastic pubs, creative spaces and homegrown projects that are flying the flag for Croydon but why can't we have more? Why can't Croydon be bold and think big? 

The land where Boxpark stands has also been a hot topic of debate and it's fair to see why. Both the Croydon Visitors Centre and The Warehouse Theatre were much loved and respected establishments. I, for one, genuinely miss the Warehouse. I saw a number of great productions there and always felt that it was such an underrated London theatre space. But, for some reason, there seems to be a misconception that both businesses were lost to make way for Boxpark, which simply isn't true. The Warehouse theatre closed its doors back in 2013, long before "Boxpark" was even a murmur in Croydon and the Croydon Visitors Centre was offered a new home at Boxpark but the operator ultimately took the decision to close up altogether. It's unfortunate that both organisations no longer form a part of Croydon's cultural and working life but neither have any connection to Boxpark's arrival.

Boxpark was never going to be an idea that was just conveniently placed in Croydon. It was intended to be a development that worked with Croydon. A couple of opinion pieces have recently surfaced in the Citizen asking why Boxpark isn't doing more to work with the local community. Boxpark has barely been open three months and, in that time, we've worked with a variety of local artists and projects. The day-to-day set up is that of a dining and events space but that was transformed, on two occasions, to welcome Made In Croydon and their popular craft market - Local creatives came in, set up shop and sold their original prints, jewellery and more. 

Events wise, we've been asked why we only seem to hold a certain type of event. Well, there's no denying the cultural weight of the Grime scene and south London, Croydon particularly, is playing a big part in that movement right now; but to say that all of our events are the same is a little unfair, considering the programme to date. It overlooks the fact that we've collaborated with Love Cronx and Beats & Eats, and the boys behind the hugely successful, sell-out, Funk Me event are the very same people that bring you the Lost Format Society rooftop cinema. We also have the great fortune of working with Acoustic Live every Sunday to bring Croydon an afternoon of free live music. Those of you following Acoustic Live on social media will have noticed that they've actually reached out for fresh talent in Croydon to come forward, make themselves known and take to the stage. We're proud to support local talent and our events programme is entirely constructed by people that want to work with Boxpark. Events don't just happen. We've been lucky enough to bag some top line ups for big events - So Solid Crew for the Christmas light switch on, DJ Luck and MC Neat for NYE and basically everyone that took to the stage for both days of the launch weekend, with Eskimo Dance and NME - but, more than anything, we love working with people that have a vision. So, if you've ever stopped to question why we don't have a night of live jazz or a battle of the bands, it's simply because we've yet to hear from people wanting to do just that.

It's been reported that the noise levels from Boxpark have been distracting and irritating. One initial problem that we encountered early on was the amount of bass that was pumping into the events space. Low frequencies carry and it wasn't long before we were made aware of nearby office spaces that could hear us a little too clearly. Boxpark is licensed the same as any other public venue in Croydon and we have to ensure that we are fully complying with the conditions of that license. We had a sound limiter fitted by the Environmental Health Office (EHO) which is routed through our in-house system. This ensures that we aren't in breach of sound limits set by the noise pollution team. The exception to the rule is the 12 annual events that we're permitted to hold at Boxpark. On these occasions, we're permitted to bring in a specialist sound system to provide a high-quality music experience. It's not as simple as plug-in and play though. Each event requires a detailed Noise Management Plan and that must be agreed with the licensing team. It must also be monitored externally at key receptor points (residential areas, offices etc) so that any large pockets of sound can be fed back to a sound engineer and adjusted accordingly. Also, the mobile number of that sound team is made available to the public during large scale events so that we can be made aware of any disturbances. Any complaints received by Boxpark have been addressed and acted upon. It's a thin line trying to provide quality music events and not disturb our neighbours but we do our absolute best to work alongside everyone in the vicinity and try and keep it down.

The accessibility of Boxpark has also been a staple of comment but the venue is very much designed to include everybody. An example of this would be the Baby Loves Disco event we held last month. This was an opportunity for mums and dads to bring their little ones to Boxpark for an afternoon of dancing and face painting. This event would not have been possible were it not for the lift situated at the East Croydon entrance. Baby Loves Disco is intended for quite a young age bracket which meant parents arrived on site with push chairs, a lot of push chairs. Add to that the fact that we have a team of friendly and efficient staff (a number of them also being Croydon residents - all paid the London Living Wage) on hand to assist customers of all ages and abilities.

When it comes to social media, Boxpark does not censor, block or ignore messages we receive (unless you're deliberately and relentlessly trolling us). Naturally, we're going to re-tweet positive messages, promotional offers and details of upcoming events but that's just the basics of marketing. We engage with the online community and we respond to general enquiries, queries and complaints. Occasionally, a question or comment slips through the net but, as you may have noticed, there's a lot going on across Facebook. Twitter and Instagram.

Our security team are first rate and I really mean that. I would trust them with my life and that's saying something. Like any public space, Boxpark won't be without its fair share of troublemakers but I've never seen potential issues dealt with as swiftly and professionally as I have at Boxpark. The second you're made to feel at risk by another member of the public, you can bet that our security team have already noticed on the cameras, and on the ground, and it's mere seconds before they swoop in and deal with the situation efficiently and appropriately. In a town that's frequently reminded of its "bad reputation", I can't help but feel that having a team on hand to deal with scenarios before they even become a problem is key in showing people from Croydon and outer areas, that, frankly we just won't tolerate it anymore. Like those trash vans say around town - Don't mess with Croydon.

Overall, Boxpark has received a lot of positive feedback online and that really means something to us. We're certainly not naive though. We know that Boxpark is not going to be everyones cup of tea. We know that our events schedule may not currently cater for everybody but we're constantly learning and we're always trying to improve. These last three months have been a huge learning curve for all involved but that's a good thing. Surely it would be far better for Boxpark to engage with the public, accept responsibility and make positive changes than to just assume that we've got it right and everybody else is wrong. Boxpark Croydon will be on site for at least 5 years and in just three months, we've seen a wave of people of all ages pass through the doors; whether it be for creative workshops, live music, a night out or just a casual meal. There are further projects in the pipeline with local groups and we're excited about delivering an ambitious events calendar for 2017.

I've been writing for the Citizen for a number of years and I genuinely put Croydon at the heart of what I do. So, if this piece reads like it's somewhat biased on the side of Boxpark, that's because it is. No, Boxpark is not perfect but it's not trying to be perfect either. Perfect is shiny, pristine and soulless. We're not that. We're extremely passionate about what we do and we work extremely hard to do it. All of us. Perhaps 2016 was a little trial and error in places for Boxpark but that only means that valuable lessons have been learned. We're committed to doing what is right for Croydon and, you have to admit, things have gotten a lot more interesting around here since Boxpark arrived.