Ten years ago Hither Green, tucked away behind the main throng of Lewisham high street, was little known outside its borders. Locals grew up and stayed in this little pocket of south-east London all their lives.
Then followed a wave of first-time buyers, lured in by cheap house prices and good commuter links, and gentrification in its most traditional form began.
Walk down Staplehurst Road today and you’ll see women sipping lattes outside a florist-cum-coffee shop, while commuters grab a sandwich from the deli on their way into work.
A development of new homes has sprung up next to the station and the once dilapidated watering hole on the corner is now a fine-dining pub serving real ales.
Lynne Norledge, owner of coffee shop: You Don’t Bring Me Flowers, was part of the first wave of investors to come to Hither Green. She told EastLondonLines that; “When I moved here nine years ago, the area was full of people who had lived here for a long time. I was questioned a bit, asked if I was local.”
“It was a real struggle in the beginning; the cafe didn’t have a lot of customers at all. But over the years we have seen people coming in asking about housing and now there are a lot of young families in the area.”
Indeed, Hither Green is now so popular among young couples and families, that local estate agent Mark Hansen of Forbes and Sawyer, who has worked in the area since 2004, says they are struggling to meet the demand.
“We’re seeing a huge interest in lettings. There are more people wanting to rent in this area than there are flats available,” he says.
“Hither Green was always classed as ‘that little place off Lewisham’ but now it’s coming up in a very big way”.
The average price of property in Hither Green has increased by over £100,000 between 2005 and 2012, according to the Land Registry; a surprising statistic, especially when compared to Catford, whose house prices have barely increased by £35,000 over the same period.
But while the Staplehurst side has new homes, delis, cafes and a pub, parts of Hither Green are still struggling to survive- investment has only focused on one side of the railway tracks which splits the area in two.
Those working on the other side of the tracks, like Bilay Arnavout, a chef at the Café of Good Hope on Hither Green Lane, are largely surrounded by empty shops.
‘I’ve seen a positive change to the area, but the Staplehurst side of the station gets more recognised,’ he says.
‘It’s a shame we don’t have a pub on this side, a lot of original ones are shutting down and our customers go to the Station pub after we close since we don’t have a good one here.’
The lack of business investment around Hither Green Lane demonstrates how gentrification can be a double-edged sword. Lewisham is a poor borough with high levels of unemployment and mixed communities and rising house prices could push local residents and businesses out of the area.
Despite the Council’s dropping of the rental prices of properties on the ‘wrong side of the tracks’, businesses have yet to take up the challenge. And so for now, at least, Hither Green is a community with a split identity.