Croydon’s nightlife is suffering from a severe lack of footfall caused by the town’s reputation as “too dangerous”, according to local nightclub owners.
Debbie Ballard, who owns Alchemy in Croydon, told ELL: “People are frightened to come to Croydon. It’s got such a bad reputation as being too dangerous that people from other parts of London don’t want to come, and promoters don’t want to put nights on.”
Once a dynamic “buzzy hub”, Croydon – London’s most populous borough – has just four late licence venues left. Over the past decade, a string of closures has left the town centre desolate.
Tiger Tiger, a 2500 capacity superclub, closed down in 2016. The iconic Dice Bar followed suit in October last year.
Farah Seda ran Dice Bar with her husband Roy for 15 years. After shutting down she said: “We closed up due to the fact that the town centre was so bad […] People come into the town centre to eat then go home.”
In recent years Croydon has gained a reputation for knife crime, and has one of the highest incident rates – 681 in 2022/23. However, the borough has a very large population and does not fall in the top ten for incidents per capita.
In 2022/23 there were 174 incidents of knife crime per 100,000 people, compared to 426 in Westminster, 240 in Southwark and 239 in Haringey (the boroughs with the highest rates per capita).
But some incidents have attracted widespread attention: in 2021, five young people were stabbed to death in the borough, accounting for 1/6 of all teenage homicides in London that year. In September this year 15-year-old student Elianne Andam was stabbed to death in the town centre.
Ballard insists that Croydon’s perception is worse than reality – and this is what keeps punters away. She attributes the root of the problems to heavy-handed policing.
Around 2016 there was a police crackdown on late night venues that particularly targeted “black” clubs. Licensing officers tried to ban bashment music, a Jamaican genre also known as dancehall.
Ballard said: “There’s being proactive and there’s stupidity”. She said huge police presences outside clubs “implies to everyone that there’s trouble. It damaged the perception.”
The death of Croydon’s nighttime economy was high on the agenda at Mayor Jason Perry’s latest Q&A last month. Perry told residents: “You can’t turn Croydon round in 4 years.”
At the Q&A, Perry admitted Croydon’s “booming nighttime economy” had been “reigned in and killed” by past councils who had considered it “out of control”.
Perry said the council had conducted a “thematic review” of those five murders in 2021. He said they found that “a lot of it is about place and the state of the place”.
He told ELL the council is implementing a “renewed community safety strategy” that promised to “change the perception of Croydon”.