Sunday, 12 June 2016


Those of us who were alive in 1976, probably best remember it for the legendary long hot summer, or perhaps the birth of punk. But for Shinali McCusker, it will always be the year that her newly wed parents, Kirit and Daksha Patel, opened their pharmacy at 3-5 Westow Hill. Using old fittings from a closing down grocery store, they set up shop in what had been a dress makers. 
Although initially lacking in business skills, "Dad was great at customer service", Shinali tells me. "He went beyond his role as a pharmacist and was part of the community", a sentiment reflected in the support Sefgrove has received , in this, their 40th anniversary year. And it's those years of customer service that have kept them going. Recently, the future has seemed more uncertain, with rumours of Superdrug opening along the road, and Lloyds Pharmacy also moving into the area, running dispensaries in some surgeries, and about to take over the running of Sainsbury's in-store pharmacies. On top of this, the government are trying to streamline the industry, by centralising prescription distribution and reducing the number of chemists. But Shinali is not about to let her father's legacy slip away. She started working for her parents in her teens as a saturday girl, and despite a desire to study art, eventually followed her father's footsteps, taking over the running of Sefgrove in 2008. Despite the uncertainties, Shinali recently embarked on a refurbishment of the store. As well as bright new fixtures and fittings, the consultation room has been extended, and the business now provides a travel clinic, and private testing. They also hope to be able to bid for more testing and services within the NHS. Meanwhile, there is still more to be done to the premises; the front of the building needs refreshing , and the cramped space behind the counter will be extended. The perfumery and cosmetics counter, which has always been a big part of the business, is increasingly stocking more niche products that aren't available everywhere else, including in the future the possibility of small scale local brands.
As the only qualified pharmacist in the business, by law, Shinali has to be on the premises throughout opening hours, so sadly doesn't get to explore the Triangle as much as she'd like. She recalls one winter a few years ago, when despite the heaviest snowfall in living memory, she had to get up at 4am in order to get from her home in Shirley on foot, to open up on time. Despite a complete lack of traffic that day, the shop was busy with local shoppers. The mood was fun, with people enjoying the snow and the car free streets. I know it's a theme I come back to again and again, but Shinali, like so many others, is animated when it comes to the depth of local community feeling. She was particularly grateful to staff at Planta, along the street, who provided her with crates to help move their stock while the shop was refurbished, while other locals have volunteered to come in and help with future window displays, which Shinali's artistic side is keen to develop.
One thing that had always intrigued me was the odd name of the business, which doesn't seem to have any connection to the proprietors or the type of business. Apparently when he started the business, Kirit, simply acquired the name at Companies House, and never thought any more about it. Odd as it may be, it would be even odder to lose such an established pillar of the community, so if and when the big boys open down the road, please do continue to support a business that's been supporting the community for 40 years.

Shinali McCusker

020 8670 5198

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Building Boom on the Triangle?

As with everywhere else in this vast city, Crystal Palace appears to be in the midst of a building boom. And with space become scarcer, and therefore more valuable, every scrap of land is now ripe for redevelopment, and every low-rise building seems to be extending upwards. Sadly the quality of much of the new building is not high, and more than one development on the Triangle has flouted planning permission and regulations. The Triangle is changing fast, and I just thought it was worth capturing things as they stand.
Although much of the development relates to new housing, there are retail and mixed use plans on the table, and visible from my balcony, a large new school is taking shape off Gipsy Hill. In the centre of the Triangle lies the Victory Place site which has been subject to several planning applications. Up until recently however, very little seems to have happened, except for a string of temporary users popping up on the open space fronting on to Westow Street. The latest being the highly rated Roti Brothers takeaway van. Then a month or two ago, after the closure of the neighbouring vintage shop, the rear of that building was demolished. Does this mean that works are finally under way, or will it remain a festering eyesore for months to come? 

Westow Hill meanwhile is enthusiastically embracing the trend for building upwards. The developers of the former Black Sheep bar, with total disregard for the planners, and the local conservation area, ripped out the old masonry pub frontage, replacing it eventually with a pale imitation in timber, while the lacklustre new-build above adds nothing of merit to the street.

Next door is getting similar treatment, although Superdrug who are reportedly taking on the retail unit, have withdrawn an application for a new shopfront.

Further along the street, the building which houses Winkworths has already extended upwards with warehouse style apartments, no doubt sending prices through the roof in the process.

Tucked just behind the library on Beardell Street, another development is rising, taking advantage of the spectacular views northward.

Probably the most awkward site, and one that's been crying out for development for decades, is the one just behind the Westow pub, which is to become 9 apartments and one business premises.  You get a great view of works in progress from the Farquhar Road bridge. Works are going at such a pace, that these images are already somewhat out of date.

Further down the hill, the new Paxton Primary school is taking shape, pre-fabricated block by pre-fabricated block. I could see them being craned into place from my balcony. 

Many of the neighbouring streets are seeing smaller works of their own, with scaffolding proliferating in every direction.

And building works are underway in countless shops around the Triangle, with signs of further works to come.

Well at least it's not another….

Start, stop, at the long empty former pet shop on Westow Street.

Dalhousie is now trading in what was Popiel (left), the bicycle shop, and works are ongoing in the former Blue Orchid.

Brasiliana on it's way to becoming the French House

What's the future for the site of Betty's?
While the upper floors have now, like everywhere else, become "luxury" apartments, there has sadly been little progress at the Cambridge.

And finally the news that the Triangle is now a bank free zone, although there has at least been a recent proliferation of cash machines. Expect new bars/cafes/restaurants to take their place before long.

Former Barclays

Former Lloyds
Of course, all the current building works around the Triangle, will look like a drop in the ocean, if Lambeth Council go ahead with their plan to erase the entire Central Hill Estate. I may revisit this theme in a year to see what's changed.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Beer Rebellion - Gipsy Hill

Things are never clear cut. On the one hand there's plenty of doom and gloom about the future of pubs, with closures regularly reported. To survive, it is said, you have to be 'food led' and 'family friendly'. But at the same time we are in the midst of a craft beer revolution, which has resulted in quirky new bars popping up all over the place, often housed not in former pubs, but as is the case with Beer Rebellion on Gipsy Hill, in a former, long empty bookies.
Middlesborough born Steve Keegan had worked for the large London brewery chain, Fullers. As an area manager, he was responsible for revamping clapped out old boozers., but 5 years ago, he decided to leave the company, in order to start his own brewery, and Late Knights was born. Initially brewing up in Middlesborough, he quickly started supplying pubs in London, and eventually moved operations to a warehouse in Penge, after being introduced to Graham Lawrence who owned the wonderful bar in Brockley, Mr Lawrence, and  also the aforementioned warehouse. As a result, Graham is now Steve's business partner. 
By now Steve was living in Penge, with girlfriend, Bethany, and in 2013, took the next step, opening Beer Rebellion on Gipsy Hill, next door to their current premises. Next door had been Blue Mountain Cafe, so the bar and kitchen were already in place, meaning costs could be kept low. The rental arrangement was on a rolling 3 month lease, great for testing the water without committing too much early on. It was an instant hit however, and last year, Beer Rebellion moved into permanent accommodation right next door. The former bookies had none of the amenities of Blue Mountain, so they had to start from scratch, with Bethany providing the design input. It doesn't have any fancy airs, and just feels very local, down to earth, and rooted in the community (complete with community notice board), which is how Steve likes it. There may now be branches in Sydenham, Peckham, and even as far afield as Ramsgate and Brighton, but this is no corporate chain, rather a means to help regenerate forgotten pockets and unloved buildings. Talking to Steve, you get a sense of him really wanting to make a difference to communities, and is keen to put back as much as possible. So, looking ahead, although it's early days as yet, there are plans afoot for a beer and music festival in Crystal Palace Park over the August Bank Holiday, the proceeds of which would go to supporting the restoration of the dinosaurs. Steve sees festivals as a particularly good way of helping to drive regeneration, but is also setting up a community interest group to work on a variety of other projects.
So apart from great beers, what else do they offer? Well gin is undergoing quite a renaissance too, so there's one available that's brewed down the road in Peckham, which can be accompanied by a tonic from Bermondsey. And while this establishment is not 'food led', their burgers, on buns supplied by Blackbird Bakery are good enough to lure anyone disembarking at the station across the road, for a bite on the way home. Make sure you order the deep fried gherkins as a side, they're a revelation!


Steve Keegan

128 Gipsy Hill
020 8670 9034