The cool factor that turns a no-go zone into a property hotspot


April 19, 2017

It's a London thing… 

What turns a forgotten, unloved part of London into the place to be? We've seen it happen in Shoreditch, Hackney, Brixton and most recently Peckham. Within a few years, creatives and artisans move into boarded-up buildings and the area turns into a hipster mecca.

The cool factor

Let's start by going back one step and looking at a precursor to gentrification, or revitalisation, of a London neighbourhood. What the areas I've just mentioned have in common is their proximity to more affluent, desirable neighbourhoods. But proximity to such areas isn't enough. It's the arrival of creative operators opening up pioneering restaurants, bars, music and entertainment venues that will create the vital cool factor.

Peckham: from no-go zone to creative hotspot

Let's take a closer look at what happened in Peckham, until recently a not so trendy neighbourhood a few miles from Brixton and Clapham. It has, within a few years, gone from a no-go zone to the go-to place for London's trendsetters. However, had Peckham not been an undesirable area in the first place, this probably wouldn't have happened. Trailblazing food and drink artisans, artists and creatives flocked to the area and have prospered because of cheap commercial property rents. You've got two essential ingredients here – a creative community of arts, workshops and late night bars in the Bussey Building coupled with a number of pioneering restaurants. They include Artusi, Pedler and The Begging Bowl, whose short, quirky menus of seasonal, ingredient-led dishes are a draw for foodies and food critics alike.

Can you create a vibrant neighbourhood from scratch?

So that's what happens when a community of like-minded creatives and small business home in on an area, but can a pioneering developer or landlord help reinvent an area or create a new one from scratch that will attract this sort of attention? If they think a little bit longer term and look at the bigger picture then they can.

One unifying voice behind a large-scale project, one all-encompassing strategy can bring it all together and create a thriving community. From a retail perspective, it could be looking beyond the big four supermarkets and opting for one of the up-and-coming ones, such as Planet Organic, As Nature Intended or Eat17. Generation Y are increasingly turning their back turn on bigger brands in favour of artisan, small-scale operators.

Playing to win: competitive socialising

Generation Y also have a very different idea of what constitutes a good night out, which has led to the birth of a new entertainment concept – competitive socialising. It brings everything friends like to do when they get together – playing games, drinking and eating – into one huge space. The first to combine these three elements of hospitality in an edgy industrial-chic space was Bounce, with 12,000 square feet of ping-pong tables, a restaurant and cocktail bar.

Two leaders in the field are Matt Grech-Smith and Jeremy Simmonds, founders of The Institute of Competitive Socialising and the brains behind Swingers, a cocktails and golf club under the Gherkin. This 16,000 square-foot bunker has two nine-hole golf courses, five bars and street food stalls, and a two-storey clubhouse as its centrepiece. The latest offering is Shuffleboard in the Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane. Competitive socialising isn't a craze; it's a concept that's here to stay. It's also great for landlords because it takes up so much square footage.

Rise of niche gyms

Elsewhere in the leisure market, we're seeing the growth of niche, small-scale health and fitness operators. Spin studios are offering ride classes with a pumping house or old school garage theme, creating an atmosphere that's more nightclub than health club. In fact, The Ministry of Sound is launching its own small-scale fitness club with circuit training, spinning, which come with a Ministry of Sound soundtrack.

Small-plate sensations

There's a lot happening on the food front too, with great places popping up all over the place. For me, one of the big trends this year is that of Indian small plate restaurants. We're going to see smaller-scale restaurants joining the likes of the market leader, Dishoom. Places like Kricket who, after the huge success of their Brixton restaurant, have just opened their second branch in Soho's Denman Street.

Another food trend, and one that relates to the push towards health and fitness, is Poké, a Hawaiian and Californian inspired dish. Basically, it's raw fish on a bed of rice, seasoned with seaweed, corn and salsas. You'll probably see one of these popping up on most street corners over the next couple of years. So I think it's going to be out with the lunchtime sandwich and in with poké.

It's all about coming up with a unique offering that captures people's imagination, something that creates the kind of buzz that makes people flock to a new, previously undiscovered part of London. And, as the boundaries of London widen with the arrival of Crossrail in 2020, who knows where the next hotspot could be?

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