CROFTON COLUMN #70

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LOOKING BACK TO 2020, LOOKING FORWARD TO 2021

In January I normally do a blog looking back at the previous year with what happened locally-special events/festivals plus business news-openings/closures/refurbishments etc. In the same blog I then look forward to the New year and outline key events/festivals I’m aware of with dates plus again highlight the important business news I know about.

Never did I for one moment predict a year ago that I would be sitting here writing about 2020 being an ‘unprecedented’ year! I know that is a word now over used to reflect on last year but it could not be more apt. The pandemic has absolutely dictated our lives now for nearly 11 months and affected everyone, from individuals/families to businesses and organisations. Some have been deeply affected by losing loved ones to this awful virus. Others have lost their jobs and livelihoods and have really struggled financially. Mental health has been a huge issue across all ages as people have desperately had to adapt and come to terms with the ‘new normal’.

We have also lived now for nearly a year with lockdowns and restrictions on our lives. School closures have been a significant part of 2020 with all the resultant strains and stresses this places on children/parents and teachers.

Locally lots of the amazing festivals and events that had been planned and scheduled into the SE London calendar over the year had to be gradually cancelled or postponed. I will go into more detail on this when I move on from my introduction.

Local businesses have never faced such issues/difficulties in all their years of trading. For some this has been very positive as with most people not commuting into London and working from home discovering and using their local shops and High Street has created a boost to businesses that have been allowed to open throughout. SHOP LOCAL has never been more important.

However there have been lots of ‘non-essential’ shops and cafes/restaurants and pubs/bars that have not been allowed to open properly throughout this pandemic with many restrictions and guidelines in place. This has been disastrous for the majority of the hospitality trade that rely on people being able to come into the business to sit down with friends & family and eat/drink together.

Luckily many of our local businesses have been able to adapt to this new situation and have adjusted to providing take-aways and deliveries, pretty successfully. I must say here that I never understood getting a take-away coffee as would always want to sit inside the café to drink it ideally but given that choice is now taken away the thought of grabbing a coffee for my walk is now an absolute luxury!

Anyway I will end this general introduction with an outline of how I intend to structure this blog. If you are new to reading these I apologise as somehow feel this one will be even more rambling than normal! I’m already finding it hard to create a coherent plan on how I proceed as there is potentially so much to say as I keep thinking of new avenues to explore.

I plan to start by giving a brief summary of what I have personally done over the past year with my own views and experiences. Over the years I have become quite self indulgent but am told by many that they love hearing my thoughts and news on my family.

I will then explore the things that happened in 2020 in the area and whilst sadly many events and festivals didn’t take place there were some amazing initiatives and community happenings that arose during the year that certainly deserve a mention.

I will then summarise the business news and surprisingly many new shops/cafes and restaurants opened in 2020 and have done pretty well considering they launched in the midst of a pandemic! I should add here that I largely confine this blog to the areas of Crofton Park, Honor Oak and Brockley with mentions for Ladywell and Catford. These are the main postcodes that I know and use. I apologise if I don’t cover your area or mention your business but there is only so much I can cover.

I will then look forward to 2021 and outline the events/festivals that I understand are happening though they may inevitably be subject to cancellation or postponement as the situation with the virus changes and lockdowns/restrictions unexpectedly occur.

There is quite a lot of business news I’m aware of looking ahead and in the next few months a number of new businesses are planning on opening which is very exciting for the area and so I will detail this information.

Lastly I will do my ‘Snippets of News’ which randomly covers things that doesn’t fit into the above categories but are bits of useful information about the area.

Okay here goes….

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE OF THE PAST YEAR

The year started well with Eamon celebrating his 60th birthday and we had a lovely few days in Ireland with Alex, her BF Priyesh, and Joe (my 2 children) with extra days on our own in Cork. We were then lucky enough to have a gloriously sunny week in Lanzarote towards the end of February and loved it so much had plans to return again for some winter sun had not a pandemic put pay to our plans!

In March we had booked to go up on the train to visit my father in the depths of Scotland and whilst the news was now very much about this unknown virus Covid19 circulating we continued with our plans as hadn’t seen my dad for 6 plus months and he was in hospital awaiting an operation. Amazingly my father at 89 year old survived an amputation of his diabetic infected foot, defied being infected by Covid in hospital and is doing very well at home coping with his prosthetic leg, looking to be 90 later this year.

On our return journey Eamon declared he really wasn’t feeling well and just wanted to get home. This was Friday 13th March and it was from then that we decided to self isolate for the next fortnight as suspected he had Covid. Luckily his symptoms weren’t that severe and lasted around a week with both me and Joe not being affected. We will never know if Eamon did have the virus and therefore if I was asymptomatic at the time though he is convinced he did have it. Meanwhile 10 days into our isolation the country finally locked down.

I have written a number of times now in these blogs that I feel very privileged on my personal situation regarding how we can cope during lockdowns. We live in a nice house with a nice garden, don’t have young children to juggle school work/childcare/working and have a reasonable income via our pension to enjoy retired life. I am very aware that this is not the situation for lots of people and families.

Those first few months of March/April and May I consider we were all very lucky with the weather. Suddenly having restrictions on what we were able to do was made much more bearable by having warm sunny days to get outside in the garden or go for walks and bike rides. Let’s hope that spring this year repeats itself. The table tennis table got revived when it hadn’t been used for years and was a welcome break for me to play with my son Joe in his lunch hour as he has been working from home, upstairs in his bedroom.

Going out for bike rides has been fantastic over the last year and in the first few months it was great to have the roads so quiet. I have now had my electric bike for 2 years and can honestly say I am now a cyclist when couldn’t previously claim such a thing! It is genuinely liberating and can highly recommend it for anyone who never found uphills easy. Last winter I didn’t really use my bike before Covid struck but over the last few months, however cold, I have used the opportunity to go cycling as a welcome relief from being indoors.

Tennis is one of my passions and sadly this was curtailed in the initial lockdown but luckily was one of the first sports we could play again as restrictions were gradually eased. In mid May our tennis club, Catford Wanderers, opened and has remained open, with quite strict guidelines regarding social distancing, ever since. We couldn’t play again in the November lockdown and obviously now can’t.

However I do feel very lucky that for the majority of the year I was able to play doubles tennis to maintain a decent level of fitness. Not surprisingly there has been a boom in the sport and membership of our club has risen as more people were around, working from home and have appreciated this non contact activity. Our son Joe has taken it up in a big way and joined the club with his mate Toby which I am delighted about.

Swimming in Beckenham lake was one of the highlights of the past year for me and Eamon. It was allowed to open in July and every Friday without fail we would go for our regular swim in the beautiful refreshing water with a coffee and cake afterwards at the park café. However as September arrived we decided it was getting too cold for us but I am in full admiration for those hardy souls that have continued to swim and enjoy this facility throughout the winter. It is sadly closed again but I’m certainly hoping we will be able to return here in the summer. A great success and mention should go to PTP coaching who have been fantastic at running and organising it.

In mention of the summer those 3 main months of July, August and September seem like a million years away as we were allowed to meet our friends and family, all outside in private gardens, parks or pubs/bars/cafes and restaurants. The rule of six applied so no big gatherings but having a BBQ with my mates seems like heaven at the moment and something that I hope we will be able to return to this year.

We did totally take up the offer of the ‘Eat out to Help out’ scheme during August as many of our local businesses participated. I know it has been criticised by many for helping spread the virus but I personally am not convinced and know many businesses really benefitted from it and it gave them a welcome boost in trade from a dismal year and for what can also often be a quiet month. I certainly enjoyed it and feel I acted totally responsibly and made sure we were always outside eating.

One of the hobbies I have really enjoyed doing and certainly over the last few miserable wet and cold months is jigsaws. I find them very relaxing and love spending a couple of hours each morning listening to James O’Brien rant on LBC whilst looking for an annoying piece to complete an area of my jigsaw. It certainly passes the time very quickly.

I have enjoyed volunteering over the past year with my regular outdoor sessions at the wonderful  Wildcat Wilderness when restrictions have allowed for us to be there.

I have done some additional volunteering during the pandemic responding to local need and have been delivering hot meals to the elderly and vulnerable by bike from the Lewisham Irish Centre every Wednesday lunchtime since the end of April. This is a local initiative responding to social isolation for those in the community who would normally come into the centre and has been a great success.

I also did some volunteering sessions in June and July with VSL helping pack food boxes for those officially shielding and was most impressed with the organisation and commitment of the staff and volunteers. I returned to help the VSL team at the Salvation Army in Lewisham for 5 weeks leading up to Xmas with their annual Christmas appeal, providing food hampers and toys for those in need. Again I was very impressed with both organisations on all they do in the community and had no idea what regularly goes on behind the scenes of so many charities in the borough.

Family has become even more important during this pandemic as many have been separated from parents/grandparents and siblings, often unable to see them if live far away or are shielding. I have been able to see both of my parents once with the March visit to my father in Scotland and a get together of the family in late august to visit my mother in Blakeney, Norfolk. Amazingly my 87 year old mum, who lives on her own, has adapted to the situation quite well and has finally mastered playing bridge online which is her passion. She has even got us now learning to play with her!

To bring us together we established very early on during lockdown a regular art challenge with a weekly theme that has now become monthly. It has been a great idea to allow us all to connect and has certainly revived the creative side of Eamon, Alex, Joe and my sister. It has reinforced my belief that art never was my strong point with often lazily submitting a photograph as my entry!

Talking of family and my twin sister I wrote about Helen in my last blog as having received a diagnosis of serious breast cancer in November. It was a shock to all the family and a stressful time but I can happily report that she has just completed her 3rd chemo session and whilst she has a long road of treatment ahead it is going well so far-thank goodness for the excellent NHS.

I can also report over the last year I wrote an article on the changing face of Crofton Park for the wonderful local newspaper Lewisham Ledger that came out in February and in October I was interviewed by Muna & Catriona, creators of the fabulous podcast ‘Portrait of a Londoner’ on the subject of JOY and a link to the podcast is here.

Well sorry this was all longer and more rambling than I anticipated! I will try and briefly finish this section with a slight rant on politics. Anyone who regularly reads my blogs and/or follows me on social media will know that I’m a passionate Remainer/despise Trump and hate the Tory Government. There certainly has been a lot happen politically over the past year to get angry about.

Sadly Brexit finally happened and on 1st January this year we are no longer part of the European Union. I am absolutely gutted as right until the end I secretly hoped some miracle may come along to thwart it! Nearly 4 weeks on the madness of this decision is already beginning to have enormous consequences for many industries with the extra costs/time involved in importing and exporting goods to and from the EU.

It is already very obvious the deal reached is VERY thin/poor and I suspect all the things the Brexiteers so called ‘Project Fear’ will slowly unravel. More than anything I am absolutely distraught that my rights to live, work and travel freely in Europe are now gone and whilst this is not quite so important for me at my age it certainly is something that I wanted my children and their children to enjoy.

The only real welcome bit of political news in 2020 was the defeat of Trump. Whilst it took a long time to declare Biden’s victory it was SO worth the wait. Four years of corruption and any lack of coherent government were finally exposed & many around the world were rejoicing in November when sanity was restored to American politics.

Already the combined team of Biden and Kamala Harris, only having been in power for just a couple of weeks, have done more for the American people than Trump ever did. They have as their priority to tackle the escalating crisis of the coronavirus which was never taken seriously by the previous administration and numbers are out of control.

Finally I come onto the utter incompetence of Johnson and the Tory government. I daily despair at how anyone voted in this absolute shower with an 80 seat majority and the disastrous consequences of this for us all over the past year. It has resulted in the worst crisis facing the country for over a century is being managed by a bunch of clowns at the circus!

We literally are placing our lives in their hands and so far they are not doing a good job of it. We just reached a landmark figure of 100,000 deaths with this horrendous number only due to rise steadily over the next few months. Late to lockdown, not providing adequate PPE, not protecting the care homes, spending billions on a failed test and trace system, not adequately funding having to ‘isolate’, not shutting our borders, defending Dominic Cummings breaking the rules are just a few of the things that this Government can be accused of that have led to the current catastrophe.

For me it is also the constant lies & corruption that I find very hard to take. The only major positive is the rollout of the vaccines, with now 8 million having had their first jab. Finally with the NHS in charge rather than give it to one of their cronies the success is all too apparent. You would think and hope they will learn from this-we wait to see! I can happily report that both my mum and dad have had their first vaccination and you never know being in the over 60 category me and Eamon may be lucky in the next few months to receive ours.

Anyway enough of me and my views. This is what I’m assuming most of you want to read- things about the area…..

HAPPENINGS AND EVENTS IN 2020

Unfortunately the usual festivals and one day events/fairs plus artists Open studios that normally happen over the year in our part of SE London just didn’t happen as the pandemic took hold.

The first casualty was the wonderful Telegraph Hill festival that really kick starts the season off in March and whilst the programme had already been put together (as these things take months of planning) they had to reluctantly make the decision to cancel in mid March, 10 days before the official lockdown. The fantastic New Cross & Deptford free film festival (NXDFF) was the next festival to be cancelled with lots more being announced over March & April as it was obvious that big gatherings and events were just not going to be possible even when we came out of lockdown.

Over the summer we lost Hillyfields fayre, Blythe Hill festival, Lewisham People’s Day to name but a few plus of course all the little local fairs attached to the churches/schools and community centres. Brockley Max did take place online, obviously with a much reduced programme but it was good to showcase & promote local creatives who are particularly hit hard by this pandemic.

The only real live festival that did take place locally was the Catford Arts Trail during the first 2 weekends of October and I can report it was a great success. I believe the organisers wrestled with their decision to hold it as whilst they were allowed to it was whether it would be safe and responsible to do so. However I felt all the venues and artists operated within the social distancing guidelines and the 4 days proved very popular as people were keen to just get out whilst also supporting their local creative community.

So Last Century, the organisation that delivers popular vintage fair and markets in SE London, were badly affected last year and many of their planned events had to be cancelled. They did go online  and showcase many of their traders with virtual vintage fairs and also managed a couple of live events at Dunstan College in mid October and then at the Mansion House, Beckenham Park in mid December for a festive market before we got locked down again a few days later.

Talking of creativity there was no shortage of new Street art that emerged in the area over the past year. The now legendary local artist Lionel Stanhope led the way with a couple of great tributes to our amazing NHS plus more. Also the ‘School of Muralism’ was founded last year by the energetic and creative Patricio Forrester of Artmongers who also did the ‘Every Human Needs a Home’ mural on the hoardings around the housing project at the end of Marnock Rd, in SE4. The school is looking for their next group of talented young people for the Spring course where you will build on & develop your skills to learn the process of creating murals. For details and how to apply see here for this great free opportunity.

Continuing on the theme of creativity there was lots of little things that happened at the start of the pandemic to help cheer people up and just give some light relief from everything around us. On my street a house totally created a teddy bear’s picnic out in their front garden with the most amount of soft toys and knitted animals I had ever seen! Every few days something else would get added or changed so that the regular passer by would stop and discuss it with their kids.

Rainbows of all shapes and sizes were put up in many windows to show support for the amazing work of the NHS staff, along with clapping on a Thursday night. Meanwhile the bollards on Malyons Road in SE23 every few months would surreptitiously get a beautiful crocheted covering. Once I caught the woman doing it, who wished to be nameless, but just said she wanted to give back to the community.

Also at the top of this street, on Beadnell Rd, (2 Neal Terrace) is the fabulous Karen with her garden filled with soft animals and decorations/items crocheted by her mother. They change for the seasons/any festivals and delight families who come past regularly or pay a special visit. All these things really do help to make a difference as we are going through such a difficult time.

In December it was suggested by someone on our street that there was a nationwide initiative to decorate windows of our houses and were we interested in taking part. The response was immediately positive in our area and in the few weeks leading up to Xmas many streets and roads took part. At our house Eamon created some excellent local landmarks as silhouettes in the bay window including Jays, The Rivoli and Brockley Jack pub. We also put lights in the hedge and around our magnolia tree.

Many streets chose to do the advent calendar for December with a house agreeing to do each day of the month so that added to the excitement of waiting to see what would emerge every day. It really was a fantastic idea and as so many people embraced the initiative it once again added up to helping make things bearable for everyone-it confirmed that ‘The little things’ are so important and really do improve our wellbeing. I should add here that many of our local businesses also made an extra effort to decorate their shops which added to the buzz. I’m hoping that this is not just a one off year and will continue in future.

Talking of Christmas it was lovely to see the community Xmas trees in Honor Oak and Crofton Park, generously donated by Clickmas. Everyone came together to help decorate them. There were also trees provided by the council in Ladywell, Catford and Forest Hill.

Whilst there were no big events or festivals in our local parks last year our wonderful open spaces were really well used and appreciated. Blythe Hill, Ladywell fields and Hillyfields are my nearest parks and I’ve got to say I had a lovely few picnics/evening drinks with friends in these areas when we were allowed to only meet outside in public places.

The other green spaces dear to my heart are the Fourth Reserve in Eddystone Rd and the beautiful Crofton Park Railway Garden. Much work was undertaken in the first lockdown at the 4th Reserve by lots of local volunteers and the area was transformed. I was lucky to see their amazing results on the Open day in July and can’t wait to see it being more fully utilised for the whole community when we are allowed.

The outdoor platform/performing area in the midst of the woods is a triumph and offers so much potential. Also the pedestrianised area outside the reserve was also developed last year with large planters, creation of a mini garden, wooden benches installed and a couple of stunning nature murals by Lionel Stanhope. It really is a destination now to stop and watch the world go by (and bikes whizz past) Huge thanks to Anna-Maria, Nick and others for all their hard work.

Just down the road, by the station, the beautiful Community Railway Garden had a good year and has been a safe sanctuary for many local people. Okay it wasn’t quite what we had in mind but despite the pandemic much was achieved. More people than ever turned up on volunteering days at the start of the year and we now have some fantastic new members on the garden committee with lots of energy and enthusiasm.

It was always intended to use the garden for community events and whilst many of our ideas have to be put on hold for the time being we did manage to hold 2 markets in the space during August and September. They proved extremely popular with food and other stalls. Their success provided a welcome small income for the garden funds whilst also supporting local traders. We certainly plan to hold more this year when it is allowed and deemed safe to do so. Terry’s All Locks very kindly open up and close the garden each day and I feel the space allows an outdoor area for many families who may not have their garden. It is so well used and I just love seeing people use it when I pass it, nearly every day.

A great positive initiative that took place last year, quite early on during the first lockdown, was the SE23 and SE4 Raffle. This was organised by two local residents, Nicola Johnson and Amanda Pearce. Basically we, the punters, bought online raffle tickets for £1 a go and could buy as many or as little as we wanted. Lots of local businesses were contacted to participate in the scheme and vouchers or actual gifts were created as prizes worth over £50 each. The draw took place at the beginning of May and with over 70 businesses supported and nearly £18K raised it really was a great boost to local shops/cafes/restaurants/Biz whilst also being great fun for those taking part.

My 3 previous blogs written last year give much more detail on all the amazing local initiatives that took place but I want to conclude here that the COMMUNITY really did step up to help out those less fortunate and vulnerable in society. Lots of local residents came forward to volunteer and give their time to help.

So many organisations came together to provide hot food for our hard working NHS staff/fresh food parcels for the workers at Lewisham Hospital as they came off shift/food boxes distributed for those shielding in the first five months/our Foodbanks were the busiest they have ever been/lots of charities and businesses helping out families providing meals and food to replace the free school meals scheme. The list is endless but I want to give a special mention for Lewisham Local who did a fantastic job in co-ordinating all the amazing charities/organisations and volunteers.

BUSINESS NEWS IN 2020

I find it hard to look back to last year and make a general conclusion as to how our businesses have coped. Those that have been lucky enough to open throughout have certainly done well like our butchers and delicatessens whilst some-one like Brockley’s Rock has also done well as whilst they can’t have anyone eat inside anymore they have adapted to the situation by being on Deliveroo/Just Eats etc whilst also can phone ahead and collect yourself and they have proved as popular as ever.

When most businesses were able to open again in June and July, okay with certain restrictions and guidelines in operation, which often meant reduced numbers they generally did well with pent up demand for their services-take hairdressers for instance they were booked up solid for a couple of months ahead!

Hospitality including cafes/restaurants/bars and pubs were very busy and most people had really missed them. Whilst many had to reduce numbers to meet Covid19 guidelines they still did good business during those summer months and outside space proved extremely popular even if when it was cold!. The summer holidays are typically a quiet time for local businesses but as most people weren’t flying off to exotic  destinations last year they were busier than usual and the ‘Eat out to Help out’ scheme in August was a great success locally with many businesses participating.

Things continued to go well into September but as the 10pm curfew and no mixing outside your household whilst inside was introduced it became harder during October for businesses to operate profitably and when full lockdown happened again in November it really hit hard as this was the time most hospitality and non essential shops really prepare for and get in extra stock for the festive period. It truly was a devastating blow.

When they opened again in December it ended up only for a couple of weeks and for pubs and bars this was with the added restriction of customers having to eat a ‘substantial’ meal to be allowed to drink alcohol. Many had bookings right up until Christmas that had to be cancelled with the new stricter tier 3 system coming into operation on the 16th December which effectively closed down the hospitality industry overnight.

With all of the above openings and closings for businesses at often short notice and the wastage that this produces in stock plus the extra costs of materials to ensure the shop or business is Covid secure I really think it has been very tough. I genuinely fear many of our businesses are now struggling and whilst some have successfully adapted to serve takeaways this is not sustainable in the long term. Many are now due another small grant which should tide them over for a couple of months ahead but if re-opening gets put back for a long time in the future it may become very serious. We wait to see and keep our fingers crossed.

NEW BUSINESS OPENINGS IN 2020                                          

One would think that opening a business in a pandemic would be the last thing anyone would consider doing but surprisingly there have been quite a number of new independent businesses open up in the area last year and I understand most are doing pretty well, given the circumstances.

For some they had plans already in place before Covid19 struck and decided to proceed but this pandemic has also given many people time and space to re-evaluate their lives and careers and if finances allow follow their dreams of wanting to start up a new business.

I will briefly outline all the businesses I know that opened in 2020 in Honor Oak, Crofton Park and Brockley. They have all been included in previous blogs I wrote last year with much more detail.

Firstly Ganosh opened in February in Midtown Brockley but I don’t think many quite realised they were there until lockdown happened on March the 23rd and so had to proceed to be takeaway only which they have continued to do throughout.

Officially Le Querce Daily opened on the 29th February, again before lockdown. It was therefore conceived as an idea before there was any sign of a worldwide virus! However it has proved to be a stroke of genius, being contained within the popular restaurant, as a Sardinian and Italian deli that has been able to be open throughout the past year. For me the big thing it sells that no-one else does in the immediate area is fresh fish. It is delivered on a Thursday and you can order anything in advance. A great addition to SE23.

Only a couple of months later ‘Marvellous Beans and Greens’ opened 2 doors down from Le Querce Daily. This local fruit and vegetable shop became an instant hit overnight in April and has continued to be an amazing addition to the area as we were definitely lacking a good greengrocer’s. The ‘Marvellous Team’ are what really makes this shop stand out as everyone who works there is just SO friendly and helpful whilst providing quality produce.

They are very keen to expand their fruit and veg delivery service and have some really exciting ideas for community outreach projects so watch this space! Let’s face it a serious contender for best new business in 2020!

We then had a quiet few months of any major happenings in the area until the end of July when ‘Junction 876’ opened up on the corner of the southern end of Brockley Rise and the south circular, next to Pizzarte. It has proved to be a popular Caribbean restaurant but has largely had to operate as a takeaway since opening.

A month later an exciting new shop opened in SE23 on the other side of Pizzarte. The owners of Sans Store are Chloe and Max who live local and always wanted to set up a quality vegetarian/vegan grocer’s. Five months on it has become a very popular local destination and stock has been continually expanding with an alcohol licence obtained at the end of November.

Meanwhile over in Brockley a new shop opened in Harefield Road in mid August. Eco Brockley mainly sells package-free food and re-fillables but also some jewellery, candles, toiletries and beauty items.

September was a busy month for new businesses in the area. Tai Kitchen opened as a takeaway in Foxberry Road, in the café that was previously the popular Smilies Thai café after having been empty for seven years. I haven’t as yet eaten from there but I’m assuming the initial teething problems with ordering are now resolved.

L C Brazilian café opened along Brockley Rise hereby completing a great run of quality businesses along that stretch of SE23. They sell lots of South American goodies, meat, alcohol plus coffee and cakes to takeaway.

Meanwhile back in Midtown Brockley Lorenzo opened his record store along the small parade leading to the Esso Garage in SE4. It was eagerly anticipated by music fans and I assume/hope he is doing well though sadly he hasn’t been able to be open for much of the time since he first opened. It is businesses like this that I really do fear for but hopefully he is still selling records online.

A mention here for Good Food that opened another quality store in Sydenham on the 14th September (I remember that as it is my birthday!) and has already proved popular with SE26 residents.

Nonna Maria was the next new business to open in SE23 at the end of October. Sadly it was only able to welcome customers inside this Italian restaurant along Brockley Rise for a few days before having to lockdown in November. Despite not having a great start it has become a very popular takeaway option for us locals. I’ve been very impressed with the food the couple of times I’ve ordered from here and can’t wait to finally eat at the restaurant once we are allowed to.

The last business I’m aware of that opened in our area in 2020 was family run George’s café on the corner of Harefield Road and the main Brockley Rd in SE4. It opened in December but again only had a few days of operating as a sit down café before having to close and become takeaway only. They sell coffee, fresh cakes, pastries, crepes and sandwiches. Pop in, say hello and support them during this difficult time.

REFURBISHMENTS IN 2020

Quite a few of our local businesses underwent quite significant refurbishments last year to remodel how they operate to meet the demands of the new Covid19 guidelines or just improve the premises and allow more space for movement etc. Le Delice, Hattush, DONDE and Jumping Bean were the main businesses that spring to mind and the refurbishments have been a great success.

Others like the Rise café and the Broca, have adapted their business with hatches at the front to more easily serve takeaways in a safe and secure way. Meanwhile outside space became highly desirable in the hospitality industry and it was lovely to see the Honor Oak parade come alive in the summer with everyone sitting out at Hattush, Two Spoons, DONDE and Grounds and Grapes.

Marque’s and gazebo’s were the must have item in 2020 for both domestic and business use and Babur Restaurant had the most beautiful marque that I was lucky enough to dine under in August. I believe it is still standing and is a great addition for their dining space. Blythe Hill Tavern also created extra outside covered space plus a heated marque.

CLOSURES IN 2020

Surprisingly there has been only one major closure of a local business that I’m aware of last year and that is the Brockley Deli in Brockley Cross which just never re-opened when we came out of the first lockdown in June.

It was a great local café/deli when it first opened in 2014 and proved very popular, providing a much needed boost to that end of SE4. Sadly for the last few years the energy wasn’t quite the same and so it comes as no great surprise to me that it has closed. However I will really miss it as spent many a relaxing lunch there with friends and it was a lovely intimate venue for the Brockley Max festival. It hosted music, poetry and even comedy nights.

It will be very interesting to see who buys it and what it becomes as a business in 2021.

Whilst the Brockley Deli is the main business that has closed I sadly fear it won’t be the last and the gradual fallout of the devastating effect of this pandemic could really take its toll this year.

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2021-HAPPENINGS AND EVENTS

Just as I referred to in my looking back section, the Telegraph Hill festival is the first major event that takes place in the local area in March. As we are still likely to be in lockdown then the festival have once again taken the painful decision to cancel it as a live event though I believe there may be some online activities and if by any chance conditions allow at the time some outside or socially distanced events may take place – watch this space!

I’m aware that the wonderful Brockley Max committee have decided to still run the festival from the 2nd to the 10th June but mainly online and are sending out information in the coming weeks for people to create events digitally. In 2001 the festival was created with just 2 venues and 12 events (Toads Mouth and Moonbow Jake’s-remember those!). It has grown massively over the 20 years and is a highlight of the festival calendar in SE London and so they are determined to celebrate and acknowledge this important milestone.

The opening night that kick starts the festival and normally takes place at Foxberry Rd will all go online as a live music evening plus there is a very exciting audio tour planned to be downloaded as you travel around the area and relive the history of the festival/events and venues.

It is also hoped that a few outside activities and events may be able to happen but obviously that is subject to current Covid19 conditions at the time. Anyway it is great news that such an important festival will still take place this year, albeit in a different way. For updates check out the website.

I’m not sure yet of the situation for the other festivals and fairs that normally take place over the spring and summer and I’m assuming many are holding off making a decision for a couple of months until the situation with lockdown and how long it is likely to last becomes clearer.

I suspect that if we are able to gather in small numbers outside or socially distanced in the summer there may spring up some imaginative and unique events in the parks or other areas. This part of SE London has so many talented creatives that have not been able to perform for nearly a year that some organic and spontaneous things may well just happen-watch this space-I hope I’m proved right!

Besides festivals/events there are 2 major local venues that I always cover in my blogs that are very dear to my heart as only 5 minutes walk from my house in Crofton Park.

The Rivoli Ballroom has not been able to hold any big events for nearly a year now and many will have missed those fantastic regular discos that they hold. (such things seem like a distant dream of dancing with others around us!!) During the Autumn and Xmas period they were lucky enough to have a couple of windows in between lockdowns to show some classic films in a socially distanced way and they hope to do so again when we come out this current lockdown as they are always popular. They have been able to be used for filming for TV/films and videos so this is at least some consolation and income.

Similarly the Brockley Jack Studio theatre has literally been in the dark since March last year. Before Xmas they had planned for some live theatre to begin to take place from February/March this year but with the current lockdown all that is of course on hold. Arrows and Traps, the theatre company that was due to be the first in there is now recording their work and it will be all online for us to watch very soon. Check out the website for up to date information.

Work is ongoing on a digital project – Past, Present and Future- and writers have been asked to submit monologues and the winning three entries will be announced in late February. They will then be filmed inside the theatre and be available to view for free online in April.

In March they are also running 6 online workshops, on writing mainly. They will be only £5 and more details will appear on the website in the next month. They will be for a max of 10 participants per session covering all experiences and should be fun, creative activities. All of the above happenings at the Jack sound very exciting and whilst we would love to be inside watching live theatre we will just have to be patient and see what is possible later this year.

Whilst it has been very tough for the theatre industry cinemas have also had a very hard year in 2020 and our fabulous local cinemas at the Fellowship Inn and Catford Mews were only allowed to open for a few months over the summer once the pandemic struck.

Catford Mews are certainly getting ready to open again as soon as they are allowed to but not expecting it to be at least until April or May. They are currently sharing short films by local filmmakers on their website, in collaboration with Now What Films so check it out and keep up to date on any news from the Mews!

The Crofton Park Community Library was refurbished last year with new carpet, plus painted and redecorated throughout. As Crofton Books have moved out from the premises (details on this below) there is more space to play with so everything has been re-organised with a brand new look. It will be exciting to see it once we are allowed back inside the building. There is a hope that at least a click and collect service will be available in April but obviously that is dependent on Govt regulations allowing them to be able to open.

A great development in the area last year was the closure of Coulgate Street to cars, outside Brockley Station. This allowed the street to really come alive in the summer with the 3 businesses of Parlez, Browns of Brockley and the Broca benefitting with extra tables and chairs out on the road. Café society really was thriving in SE4.

It is hoped even more can happen this year with the pedestrianised area, making it a fun, community space for everyone. Lots of ideas and plans afoot I understand so watch this space-all sounds very exciting! I don’t know about you but last summer seems a distant memory/dream-even though there were restrictions in place it still doesn’t seem real.

NEW BUSINESSES OPENING IN 2021

There are a number of new businesses that I’m aware of opening over the next few months in the area and whilst many of them will not be able to open properly until full lockdown is lifted they should be able to be partially open for takeaways/delivery etc.

One of the most exciting new business openings in the area is Crofton Books. Jason Shelley, local poet and writer, has been running the very popular second-hand and vintage bookshop out of the library at Crofton Park. However he has found his own premises at 315 Brockley Road in Midtown Brockley.

There is much work to be done in sorting out all the books within the space and getting them on shelves but seeing as he is not allowed to be open at the moment time is on Jason’s side to get it all set up for when he is properly able to welcome us inside, hopefully sometime in the Spring. Meanwhile you can still order books from him which can either collect or he will deliver locally.

The possible re-naming of the bookshop has been debated widely on social media but watch this space to see what is finally decided by Jason!

The next new business that is planned to open is the Lebanese restaurant in Crofton Park. I had a long conversation with the owner,Alex, before Xmas and he is hoping to launch sometime in February. This unit is along the main Brockley Road, two doors along from the Crofton Park Tavern and is where Venus Nails used to be.

It is surprisingly large as the space has been knocked through with the back area that was previously not visible. There will be a seated bar and restaurant area but obviously initially it will be takeaway

only. There is also an outside patio area at the back which is planned to be a shisha garden in the future. All sounds very interesting and can’t wait for it to happen and should be a great addition to Crofton Park.

Just over a week ago I popped by and visited another exciting new addition to SE4, over in Brockley. Work is continuing at a pace on the empty unit on the west side of the railway tracks by WaterintoBeer. It is called ‘Good as Gold’ and is going to be a café/bar/restaurant. The co-owners Tom and Anthony are very experienced in the hospitality trade and previously owned a business up in Fitzrovia.

It is big inside and they also plan on having some tables on the outside pavement area. They are hoping to open at the end of February but again it will only be takeaway until they can open up properly. They are very community minded and really keen to know why Noak/Norbet wasn’t that successful. I only wish them all the luck in the world and really feel this could finally be the hospitality business that becomes a destination this side of the tracks.

The Perry Hill pub at 78-80 Perry Hill in SE6 is getting ready to open whenever they are allowed to do so and realise that this won’t be at least until the spring. However owners Phil and Oonagh are re-installing the kitchen which will be serving traditional pub food with the odd twist!

The side terrace will also be finished but it may take longer to open the huge outside garden area behind. They seem very friendly and welcoming and can’t wait to meet the community. Check out their website where you can buy vouchers to spend in the pub when it opens but also guarantees an invite to the opening. Exciting-See you there!

DONDE in SE23 is temporarily closed for the time being but Jason has exciting new plans for this long established business on the main Honor Oak parade. He hopes to unveil them in the spring/summer-watch this space-expect a name change!

The Gantry is another business that is hoping to re-open in the next few months. Everyone has really missed this popular stalwart bar/restaurant in Brockley that has been closed for nearly a year. However the qualities of intimate and cosy which it was noted for are not really good words associated with running a successful hospitality business in a pandemic. Works have been carried out both inside and outside to adapt it to the new normal and I for one am eagerly waiting in anticipation.

Krazy Crab is another new business that should be opening at that end of town in 2021. It is next to MasalaWala café in Brockley Cross. I came across the new owner on one of my walks in November and he was planning to have opened this seafood restaurant before Xmas and was looking to get his lobster tanks installed within the fortnight. I’m assuming there have either been some problems or he has decided to wait until times are better to launch a new business. It certainly sounds an interesting and different new addition to the area.

Other new business happenings are Stay Gold in Midtown which no-one is too sure about what it is going to be but possibly a hairdressers. The two Coral bookies shops have become empty in Ladywell and the corner of Adelaide Road/Brockley Rd. They are both large units and so it will be very interesting to see what they become.

The empty refurbished unit next to Brickfields looks ready for someone to move in but not sure if have an interested party yet. Meanwhile work continues at the Ladywell car wash which is rumoured to be a Sainsbury’s Local.

There will certainly be other new businesses that emerge this year that I’m not aware of yet as there always are surprises that come along that have gone under the radar.

To finish this section I have added 2 local directories of businesses in our area that were created by local residents before Xmas and are both great resources to check out and support our LOCAL entrepreneurs, both those who have a physical presence on the High Street but also our amazing online businesses. Click on SE23 Rocks and the South East London Christmas 2020 for details.

SNIPPETS OF NEWS

Our fab local Jay’s Budgen’s are now doing local delivery-check out their website here/Family run local garden centre Shannon’s are opening again on Monday 1st February for all your garden needs/The Fox & Firkin is threatened with closure-help save this live music venue by supporting here/Download the free award winning walking & nature connection app ‘Go Jauntly’ devised by local Brockley entrepreneur Hana Sutch/Brilliant local collaboration between Brickfields Bar and Raastawala-grab your kati rolls on a Friday night/Don’t forget our amazing local gift shops they may be shut but are all open online for click & collect/delivery-Gently Home, Jumping Bean and Magi Gifts/The House of Lewisham has just launched their new cookbook with beautiful illustrations by Heavens to Betsy, pre-order your must have copy here/Check out the new February menu at Masala Wala café/Don’t forget Jerome’s wine bar is open from Tuesday to Sunday but also delivers-see website/Bottle Bar handcrafted cocktails make great gifts with UK and local delivery-order here/Brunch, lunch and evening menus available for delivery at Two Spoons café bar/Fancy a boogie? Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet (HSDY) are holding regular disco’s online-see website for details/Loculto Cocina are doing family meals to help with the organising of your week-order from website by Sunday eve/SE23 Babur Restaurant are creating a Valentine’s Day special menu-check out here/Same day delivery, 7 days a week if order by 11am that morning from Brockley Brewery/’Good drinks & Food essentials’ from Salthouse Bottles inc. free local delivery-order here/So Last Century are doing fortnightly virtual vintage fairs with the next one on 31st January-click through link here/Have you got a spare laptop that able to donate to CatBytes for individuals & families in need? Check out here/Blue Room are now doing afternoon teas, snack boxes, lunches plus more-order here./Local entrepreneur Sodia Haddassi sells beautiful Morrocan homeware at Beldi Maison-check out website

Okay I really do need to finish this now-it has perhaps been one of my hardest blogs to write. I’ve really struggled with it as there is so much to say, angles to explore and keep thinking of things I haven’t included or perhaps stressed enough. Anyway at just over 9,000 words it’s a long one and as I often say if you have read up until the end you really do deserve a medal!

As can see there really has been a surprising amount happen on the business front but to reiterate again here I think many local Biz are beginning to struggle the longer this pandemic continues and so when they are allowed to properly open again please please SUPPORT them. Check out your local favourite café or restaurant as many are doing takeaways and deliveries and every coffee really does help! Never has the slogan USE or LOSE been more apparent and the next few months ahead will be vital for their survival.

Certainly once again the COMMUNITY in the area has stepped up-we really are so lucky to live in this part of South East London.

I’m posting this blog at the end of January and we need to remember most people find this one of the toughest months of the year ordinarily never mind being in the midst of a pandemic! February is a short month and then when we get to March it gets warmer and much lighter. The rollout of the vaccinations is going really well and I’m hopeful that there really is an end in sight.

Please look after yourself in the coming months and hopefully we can even meet in the summer at some small events that are perhaps allowed to happen.

Take care and hope 2021 turns out to be a better year than 2020

Love Jane x

Follow me on twitter @JaneCanDoSE4 for local updates and information.