Monday, 22 June 2020

Westow Hill - ROAD CLOSED

Burst water mains are a perennial gripe in these parts. For some reason the Crystal Palace area seems peculiarly prone to them, and my road must have half a dozen a year.
The latest one to hit Westow Hill, comes at an interesting time. Resurfacing of the road was just nearing completion after overnight works last week, and the Triangle is just emerging from Lockdown, with authorities keen to make more space for pedestrians to enable the returning shoppers, diners and drinkers, to adhere to the new social distancing guidelines.
So, suddenly we have a lot of space right on the Triangle, and as I discovered at the weekend, people are using it, for long awaited socialising, for cycling, scootering and dog walking. The atmosphere was rather wonderful, like an impromptu low-key street party.
The unintended consequences of this unique convergence of a global pandemic and under investment in creeking Victorian infrastructure, has opened our eyes into ways  our local environment might be improved for all. Do we really need such a wide expanse of tarmac? Couldn't we make things a little more pleasant for pedestrians and cyclists? The temporary widening of pavements has shown that road space can be re-allocated without things grinding to a halt. It's often argued that closing streets is bad for business, but look how people flocked to Westow Hill over the weekend. After a difficult couple of years, our shops and restaurants desperately need a new strategy. As an example, take a look at Waltham Forest in North London, where its 'Mini Holland' experiment has been a huge success despite misgivings of local traders before its implementation. It seems like right now, we have a golden opportunity to make some changes. If you are interested in having your say, the Crystal Palace Town Team would like to hear from you.
Meanwhile I leave you with pics of Westow Hill like it's never looked before, and a thought. What if, as a start, we could just close the street on Sundays through the summer? We could allow bars and restaurants to spread their tables out into the street, and hopefully give them a chance to make up for their complete lack of business over the last 3 months. Who's up for that?

Monday, 15 June 2020

Lockdown: the reopening

Monday 15th June, officially the day that non essential shops are permitted to re-open after the long covid enforced hibernation. The past week has seen a flurry of activity preparing for this day. There's a sense of optimism in the air and amongst the traders, but at the same time anxiety about what the future holds. While businesses have had financial help available to them during lockdown, these were temporary measures, and traders will now hope that we all get back to shopping as 'normal' so as to keep the Triangle thriving.
I've been catching up with a few traders and people behind the scenes, to see how they are getting on.

Westow Hill

Like many, Christina Karoulla is grateful for the support she's had from customers keeping things going online during lockdown, but nothing makes up for customers actually coming in and browsing. When I arrived, she was creating a hygiene station next to the entrance, where customers will be encouraged to use the sanitiser on offer. The shop itself will also be regularly cleaned, and as it's one of the larger units on the Triangle, there is space for a one way system to operate. Café chairs and tables have been removed, but takeaway coffees will still be available.
Note: card payment only

Christina, her business partner Stavros, and Raf the rescue dog

À L'Étage 2

Tine Bladbjerg's art and craft gallery has been open by appointment only, but today opens as normal. Hand sanitiser and masks at the ready. When showing customers jewellery close-up, Tine will be wearing a mask too, and at the desk there will be more space between staff and customers. Numbers will be limited, so don't all rush at once!

Church Road

Andy Stem had just begun the mammoth task of clearing space in his Aladdin's cave that is Bambino. He's got someone in to help with the styling, and the idea is to just have objects around the perimeter of the shop, while up to 5 or 6 can stand in the middle of the space and look around them. Although you can't have a good rummage, in some ways it should be easier to see stuff.Prices will be clearly displayed and touching of stock generally discouraged. If you want to try on the leather gear, it will then go into a big trunk for 72 hours quarantine. As Bambino only opens from Thursdays to Sundays, that gives Monday to Wednesday to make clothing safe again.

Andy Stem and his vast collection of leather jackets.
Urban Cellar

During lockdown the guys at Urban Cellar started up a successful delivery service. Ken ran the shop while Stephen was out in the van. Things will continue on this basis for a while yet, so at the shop you will be greeted by Ken's smiling face at the makeshift desk across the door.

Delivery time for Stephen

Ken at the door

Westow Street
Simon Carter

Some shops have tricky layouts, so as John, the manager explains, it will be two customers at a time, one be served in the main part of the shop, while the next browses the shirt collection. All garments that are tried on will be steamed and quarantined.

John Wetherill

On entering The Indigo Tree, the customer will be greeted by a pair of mannequins, 2 metres apart, naturally, so as to set an example. A clearly signed one way system will be in operation, which should allow up to 6 people to safely shop at any one time. Clear screens will also be in place on the counter between staff and customers.

Harriet & Adam de Wolff, plus Doris and the mannequins, demonstrating how the shop will work.


The shoe shop has been another to operate on an appointment basis, which will continue, although as from today, walk-in customers are of course welcome. A safety conscious Heena and her assistant Ben will be wearing masks while they serve customers who are greeted at the door by a jumbo sanitiser dispenser. Appointments are held in the back section of the shop for 1 parent, 1 child, while walk-ins can be served at the front. Customers are asked to bring a spare clean pair of socks for trying on shoes, after which all shoes will be sprayed with a hypochlorous spray before being quarantined. The floor will be taped to denote safe distancing.

Heena & Ben

Do South

Since before the crisis, Freddie at Do South has been shifting the emphasis of the store. Increasingly it is becoming a by appointment interior design studio (Sundays to Wednesdays)  Naturally you can still come in and purchase (Thursday to Saturdays)  but a full design offering is now available. Freddie and his team have been reorganising the space too, so that all the products are clearly visible in the windows, while the shop interior has more space for consultations.

Freddie Oke

Bronwyn is making use of the lovely raised window area, for customers to sit, while staff will bring the clothing to present to them, before putting them in a changing cubicle for customers to try on. While one customer or household is in the window area, another might be trying on in the changing rooms. While trying on clothing, customers are requested to wear a mask, which are available in store.

Bronwyn Lowenthal

Round the corner on Haynes Lane, I meet Sian Foley of Alan's Antiques, busy decluttering the small shop started by her late husband. Weather permitting, she plans to display and sell as much as possible from outside, while inside will be strictly one in, one out.
Sian is also a director of Shop SE19, having taken over from Liz of Smash Bang Wallop who ran it previously. The organisation has being going a couple of years supporting shops and businesses, and the pandemic has only served to make its role more relevant and needed than ever.

Sian Foley

Thank goodness for the likes of Sian, campaigning to improve things for us all on The Triangle. Alongside her, Alison McNaught at Reunion, is also heavily involved with Town Team, which seeks to liaise between local people, traders, and councillors to get much needed funding for improvements in place, such as the temporary widening of pavements to allow more distancing as people return to the shops, and eventually the pubs and restaurants. These will be monitored to see what effect they have on traffic, but I for one hope that such schemes become permanent, and that the Triangle becomes more pedestrian and cycle friendly.

Sitting in the Reunion garden with Alison, she is hopeful that she might be able to open it soon for outdoor dining. The Baba G's Bhangra Burgers pop up was such a success that Alison is hoping they become a permanent fixture at Reunion. Hopefully we can be sitting out there while the roses are still in bloom.

Alison McNaught

The Paxton Centre

Just down the hill from The Triangle, Beth Mander has some builders in to get the hitherto permanently shut windows open, for much needed ventilation in her busy shop/gallery/cafe/hot desking venue. The space will be divided into clear zones, with  takeaway café service close to the front door, and the shop restricted to the front right part of the shop. The rest is given over to well spaced desks popular with free-lancers and the self employed.

Beth Mander

Letting some air in!
Back on Haynes Lane, it's great to see that our wonderful local market has already got back to it's usual Saturday slot and more familiar layout. Not all stalls have returned, some such as Brett & Bailey continue to deliver to your door, but plenty of other favourites are there, with room in between stalls for safe queuing, and a team of helpful teenage marshalls to direct you.

So on behalf of us all I'd like to wish all our local traders well with their reopening. Let's all do our bit to help them get back on their feet, and #shoplocal!

Kate McGhee at Town Team has also produced this helpful 6 point plan.

Meanwhile I'll leave the last words to Everyman...