Plans are afoot for a major retail scheme on the South Bank and a growing number of independent shops, bars and restaurants are emerging in previously overlooked areas of Southwark. The borough's retail renaissance is not only boosting the local economy, but helping to transform the reputation and allure of its contrasting and intriguing hotspots. Shailja Morris visits the key areas
The transformation of one of Southwark's most historic areas continues at a robust pace, as retailers and leisure firms sign up to be part of redevelopment on the doorstep of Borough Market, perhaps the most famous foodie destination in London. Borough Yards will be set on a 1.21-ha site, formerly home to the wine-tasting venue Vinopolis, as well as adjacent plots spanning the railway arches from London Bridge. On completion in 2020, it will boast more than 10,680sq m of shops and leisure space, as well as over 6,500sq m dedicated to office space. Leading the project is real estate investment manager, Meyer Bergman, which estimates the project will bring over 1,200 jobs to the area. Meyer Bergman consulted extensively with Southwark Council, residents and stakeholders, to ensure the scheme makes a positive contribution to the area's regeneration, while still respecting its history.
Meyer Bergman’s CEO, Markus Meijer, explains: "The area’s authenticity makes it appealing to visitors, residents and businesses and Borough Yards will be entirely in keeping with Borough’s historic and artisan character.” And the project will offer more than just a nod to the past. The centuries-old cobbled pedestrian thoroughfare, Dirty Lane, will be re-established, while two industrial areas from Elizabethan times are set to be reintroduced – Clink Yard and Soap Yard. The regeneration of Borough has arguably been faster than in any other neighbourhood in central London, attracting billions of pounds of investment in the last five years. The renovation of London Bridge will almost double the station’s annual capacity to 90 million passengers, while Borough Market attracts at least 16 million visitors each year.
Meijer adds: “What struck us as surprising was how the area is underserved in terms of retail and leisure. The offer has not evolved with the transformation of this historic part of Southwark. “There is little choice for locals or tourists to buy anything other than essentials or gourmet produce. About £20 million is spent daily on retail and leisure by bank card alone in the London Bridge area. The local Business Improvement District calculates that 56% of all spending is on food, with just 19% on other forms of retail. That’s unusually low for a central London location and it is a large gap that needs filling." Meijer sets out big ambitions for the project: “When it opens in 2020, Borough Yards will account for just over 40% of the area’s retail and leisure offering,” he says.
The pre-leasing of space began in November 2017 and Meyer Bergman has already signed up Everyman Cinema and flexible workspace provider The Office Group. With demolition complete, restoration work on the Victorian railway arches is now under way. Construction of the new office building and cinema will start in May 2018.
Nestling between Peckham in the north and Dulwich in the south, Nunhead is perhaps a lesser-known neighbour. However, funding projects in recent years, such as the £1.2 million Love Nunhead initiative, have helped create a fully fledged retail community and an architectural gem of a community centre. Pete Owen, who owns local bicycle shop Rat Race Cycles, explains how Love Nunhead has reinvigorated the area: "As well as bringing physical improvements, such as smartening up shop fronts and unifying the look of the area, it seems to have brought the community together more. “People walk around Nunhead and events are held in the community centre and on the green.
"There’s a community spirit here. When a local florist from AG Flowers recently retired, Nunhead Community Choir sang outside her shop. We are almost all independent retailers along Evelina Road. Each shop has its own character and we know and support each other." When Nunhead’s community centre, The Green, was closed last year due to a leaky roof, meetings were held in The Old Nun’s Head pub and the Salvation Army hall. “Thanks to the goodwill of the community we were able to shift almost all centre activities to other venues", says Jasmin Bukic, the community centre's manager. "In fact, charities like Nunhead Voice, led by Cris Claridge, were instrumental in setting it up and running it. It’s a great resource and we’re trying to bring more voluntary services here instead of people having to travel into other areas."
Southwark Council has bought Courage Yard on Shad Thames, near Tower Bridge, which it will redevelop to generate income for frontline services.