I felt a frisson of excitement on spotting my first hipster in Catford. He had it all. The beard, the hair and far-too-short trousers, exposing a pair of sockless ankles. Might the prediction made by that estate agent, more than a decade ago, finally have come true? Was Catford on its way up at last? A couple of years have passed and I’m sorry to say that there’s still little sign of gentrification hitting my beloved Catford. As someone lucky enough to own a property, I’m shameless in my desire to enjoy the benefits that gentrification brings. Better pubs, more restaurants, the illusion of getting a bit richer as my flat soars in value. But if you’re seeking somewhere affordable to live, my loss is your gain.
Catford is cheap by London standards. According to Zoopla, the average price for a flat was £304,000 over the past six months. That’s far below the London average of £502,000 and also less than in nearby areas such as Forest Hill or Crystal Palace. And it has great transport links. There’s no Tube, but we’ve got two rail stations, right next to each other. Central London is just 25 minutes away.
The downside is that there’s no shopping to speak of. Catford’s high street (its official name appears to be the South Circular Road) offers a KFC, a Greggs, banks and newsagents, and little else. There’s a small Tesco, hidden away in the grottiest concrete shopping arcade you’ve ever seen, a Lidl and, if you don’t mind walking halfway to Lewisham, an Aldi. You’re not going to starve, but don’t expect to find a Waitrose, or even an M&S. And this isn’t a place to go browsing. Shopping in Catford is entirely functional.
The food and drink situation is more uplifting. We recently got a nice new pub, the Catford Constitutional Club, decorated inside with bunting so that having a drink feels like attending a traditional English street party. The owners specialise in taking disused buildings and turning them into trendy pubs while keeping the original name. Hence, there’s a pub called the Job Centre in Deptford, and you can go drinking in the Eltham GPO, a former Royal Mail sorting office. The Catford venue was originally Catford Conservative Club, but the pub’s managers felt the name needed modification to attract the punters.
There’s a variety of restaurants, including Sapporo Ichiban, a fantastic Japanese place which I can’t recommend enough. We also have the Eastern Queen for fans of Chinese food, and Saigon Foods, a Vietnamese café.
It doesn’t compare to the range of culinary delights available in somewhere like Crystal Palace, where gentrification is in full effect. But Crystal Palace is only 20 minutes away on the bus. And the great thing about Catford is that these restaurants, along with the Chinese supermarket and the numerous African-Caribbean cafés selling jerk chicken, aren’t here in a bid to part rich young things from their money. They’re here because Catford is a truly diverse place, where people from different backgrounds and walks of life live cheek by jowl.
Catford has escaped gentrification but it has changed. A new private estate near the stations is called, ridiculously, Catford Green. The properties have been snapped up even though a two-bed apartment will set you back £500,000.
Lewisham Council has launched a consultation on what to do about the dark and grimy shopping arcade. In a laudable display of local pride, Catford residents have forced the council to promise that no harm will come to our most famous landmark, a giant fibreglass black and white cat which sits above the arcade’s main entrance.
The opening of a Costa Coffee caused some excitement a few years ago. We now have two. There’s also something called Kaspa’s, which appears to be a trendy ice-cream parlour. OK, I know this is small beer compared to what’s on offer in a properly smart part of London. But it’s something. Maybe Catford is, very slowly, almost imperceptibly, on its way up after all?
In the meantime, it’s cheap and perfectly pleasant. I always feel safe here. We don’t hear sirens that often, and we don’t get a lot of shootings or stabbings. I’m glad I bought here, where buying was actually an option, rather than paying a landlord stupid money to rent in one of those smarter postcodes.