Croydon riots 10 years on: Arson land put up for sale at £2m

‘Opportunity’: the Reeves Corner plot, left vacant for a decade, now under offer at £2m

It is being marketed as a “design and build opportunity”, a patch of land close to the town centre, less than one-fifth of an acre, on the market this summer from the borough’s largest landowners, for a mere £2million.

It is, according to agents Stiles Harold Williams, already “under offer”.

The vacant plot at Reeves Corner in the Old Town stands as testimony to 10 years of Croydon failures and lack of progress. It was once the site of a furniture showroom, the building which, during the riots on August 8, 2011, dominated coverage on television bulletins around the world, on the night that Croydon burned.

The shell of the building, one of the targets of looting and arson that night, was demolished soon after for obvious safety reasons. White picket fencing went up around the site, which is at the centre of a road and tram track roundabout. Some half-hearted (some might say half-baked) efforts to turn the plot as some kind of peace garden were attempted in the months afterwards.

For sale: how the Whitgift Foundation’s plot of land is being marketed by their agents

There had been reports that the Reeves family, the owners of the furniture business which suffered the catastrophic loss on the night of the riots, wanted to rebuild on the site and reopen, a signal of “business as usual”, of defiance, a bit of stiff-upper-lippery.

As one of the Reeves family recalled this week, “It was total mayhem and carnage but we’re a five-generation family business and a solid family unit so we decided to say ‘stuff you lot, we’re going to carry on!'”

But the Reeves were mere tenants, paying rent to the Whitgift Foundation. And the Foundation had other plans, like they had plans for the Whitgift Shopping Centre up the road. And we all know what happened there…

Now, 10 years on, and with their multi-billion Westfield scheme abandoned and the paintwork on the Reeves Corner fencing peeling with age, the Foundation has decided to do something about their site at long last.

Ten years on from the night of the Croydon riots, and Trevor Reeves has talked about the longer-term damage suffered by development blight in the town centre, the “struggle” to keep the business going through Brexit and covid, and how he hears “the same conversations” that were being held in the immediate aftermath of the trauma and devastation in 2011.

According to Trevor Reeves, there is a real risk of the local economy collapsing following years of unfulfilled promises of regeneration, from councils of both political stripes and from multi-billion-pound developers. He warns that the lack of prosperity could bring with it further crime and disorder.

Trauma: Trevor Reeves took this photograph of his family business ablaze on Aug 8, 2011

 

“There was the initial trauma of what everybody saw and then the media attention which created a special set of conditions for us,” Reeves said.

“But then that dwindles away and you’re left with the reality of an insurance claim and one building less to work from.

“After the riots everyone talked about engaging with young people and there were efforts to engage with the community, but 10 years on, people are still having the same conversations.”

Reeves’ father, Maurice, at 80 years old, came out of retirement to help rebuild the shattered business from the ashes.

Shocked: Maurice Reeves surveyed the damage at Reeves Corner after the riots in 2011

Maurice also reached out into the local community, and to some of the rioters, in a BBC television programme, in which he sought to better understand the causes of the rioting, with a view to avoiding it happen again.

He even used his brief fame to meet the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, and take him to task.

After making the TV programme, Reeves recalled, “I never thought in a million years my shop, which had stood for 145 years, would be brought to the ground. I felt helpless, sad and physically sick. Afterwards I was interviewed by TV crews from around the world and said on the news that even Shakespeare could not put into words just how awful I felt.

“It was devastating to watch the bulldozers in the rubble of what remained of our shop – a cruel blow struck into my heart.”

Maurice Reeves died in 2019, leaving the business in the hands of his sons.

“We’re still in Croydon and we’re still supporting Croydon,” Trevor Reeves said last week. “We’ve got a nice showroom and nice products waiting.

“But we’re struggling with Croydon Council. The Westfield development hasn’t happened, car parks that people used for shopping like Church Street have been built on and the flats that have been built on them lie empty. This has removed the traffic flow and customer flow.

Tram services past Reeves Corner were suspended after the riots as the heat of the fires had warped the power equipment

“Then we’ve been shut recently for the nine months of the pandemic, so everything has become more focused on that reality.”

There was a time, he remembers now, when that seemed impossible. “When I saw the first puffs of smoke coming from the building, I just had this completely empty sinking feeling. A feeling that ‘it’s gone forever’.”

Now, his 150-year-old business is faced by other existential threats.

“The price of goods from the Far East has gone up from between 10 to 25 per cent. You either have to absorb it or you put prices up, and then you have to ask if anything is going to sell.

“Brexit has meant delays. We deal with a German company that are usually incredibly efficient but they’ve become far less precise. But we are still getting supplies.”

The question that remains ever-present, for Reeves and other business owners in and around the town centre, is how, after surviving the devastation of the riots, they can hold on to survive the long-term devastation of the empty promises of regeneration.

Read more: Croydon riots 10 years on: ‘I was in real fear for my family’
Read more: Croydon riots 10 years on: A decade of missed opportunity
Read more:
Croydon riots 10 years on: Risks greater now than in 2011
Read more: Maurice Reeves: sculptor, cricketer, rally driver and leader


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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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12 Responses to Croydon riots 10 years on: Arson land put up for sale at £2m

  1. Lewis White says:

    It would be nice to have a London Square combined with a beer garden here. Old Town needs fresh air.

    • Nice idea, Lewis, but do you know the site? It is triangular, surrounded by busy roads linking to Roman Way. The air quality is yeeuck… And just across the road from a new BxB block of flats, too.

  2. Perhaps Croydon Council should do a compulsory purchase and give the site to BrickxBrick – they’ll easily match the previous 10 years of inaction.

  3. Lewis White says:

    A green square with some well–chosen and sensibly located trees, and a perimeter evergreen hedge to purify the air would in fact do a lot of good for local residents living in the new flats. Old Town could do with some greening, and better air quality.

    I had in mind sort of beer garden centred on an ex Southern Region green-painted railway carriage (or a replica Brighton Belle “named” carriage to celebrate the famous luxurious train that used to glide through East Croydon), with an indoor bar for bad weather, and an exterior servery and counter with bar stools, on a raised deck, serving Croydon-brewed real ales and lagers on hand pump and in bottle, plus with seating areas sheltered under a canopy of grape vines and wisteria trained along pergolas. A combination of paving with picnic tables , subdivided by gravel areas to let the rain in to recharge the Wandle aquifer.

    With bar snacks such as Croydon-raised mushrooms from the local project, in a locally-sourced bruschetta on a West-Croydon made Turkish bread.

    With baristas and chefs on a youth or ex-offender training scheme.

    In fact, this would work in Shoreditch or Peckham, so why not Croydon?

    I have been thinking of this superb idea for about 3 years, and even thought of phoning the owner of Reeves, but, as with so many cutting edge, innovatve and community/environment enhancing ideas of mine, the time never became available as, after commenting on Inside Croydon articles, there is sadly so little time left in any day.

    Oh well, if the development could incorporate a few trees, I will gain some solace, in spite of my failure to promote the main idea. The good folk of old town might also enjoy looking at a bit of greenery, and enjoying cooler, fresher air.

    • And how will that ever generate £2million-plus for a distressed property owner masquerading as a charitable foundation?

      • Lewis White says:

        Quite simply, the council should have looked at potential for greening as well as part of post-Riots planning.

        In London, we have benefitted over centuries from the creation of new green space in the form of private and public London Squares, and no doubt, some created by wise charitable foundations like the Whitgift.

        Town Planning –or town cramming ?

        As any fule know, anyone can fill up a site with a new block.
        Just because it has been developed before, it doesn’t have to be developed again.

        How green will the new development here be?. I hope that I am wrong, but my guess is that it will be a nice looking brick-built, flat -roofed block, but with no trees and probably no roof garden, with a built footprint filling absolutely the whole plot.

        • It is not council-owned land. What is done with the site is not, and has never has been, within the council’s gift.

          The site is owned, for now, by the Whitgift Foundation, the borough’s biggest landowners.
          When Reeves & Sons came up with their ideas for rebuilding on the site of their former store, the landowners, the Whitgift Foundation, decided that it was not what they wanted to do.

  4. miapawz says:

    … no doubt some hideous red, square, flats at an inappropriate height, too large for the plot, no parking, no gardens and with single aspect, and, with a vacant retail unit will appear. In the style of BxB…..

  5. Eve Tullett says:

    It’ll get paved over and built on like every other green space because all anybody cares about is profit not giving people quality of life and a tiny little oasis in a concrete jungle.

  6. Elizebeth Brooks says:

    Not a beer garden. It will end up full of alcoholics. But a memorial park dedicated to those who were affected by the riots. Given to the people of Croydon with a codicil never to be built on. High fencing and lots of trees and flowering shrubs will help with the air quality, some appointed to open and close gates to prevent use at night. A few nice sculpture in there would be nice too.

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