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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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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