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Why I live in Thornton Heath: Yomi Adegoke on the south London area that’s ‘holding out’ against gentrification

 (Daniel Lynch)
(Daniel Lynch)

My family moved to West Croydon when I was two, so when I decided to move out a few years ago I saw it as my chance to escape the area.

Call it Stockholm syndrome, but I couldn’t leave. I’m a suburban girl and I’ve got a lot of memories here.

Two years ago I bought a two-bedroom flat in a block near Thornton Heath station, which is almost like a suburb of Croydon. I’m five minutes from my little sister, 15 from my parents and a short bus ride from my best friend.

Growing up, my parents would worry if I went to Brixton or Peckham, but now those areas are gentrified, which is a double-edged sword. Croydon feels like how all of south London used to 15 years ago. Sometimes I think it’s ungentrifiable. It’s holding out.

Eating and drinking

Chicken shops and greasy spoons dominate the high street, but on Brigstock Road you’ve got Fireaway Pizza, Patty Palace for really good Jamaican food and Smacks, who do fantastic burgers. There’s also Jaluice for healthy juices and jerk bagels. They’re all next to each other, so that’s where I’ll go to treat myself.

Brigstock Road has a cluster of good eateries (Daniel Road)
Brigstock Road has a cluster of good eateries (Daniel Road)

For jollof rice and ayamase, it’s Tasty African Food, which is a Nigerian chain. Blue & Orange is a great Mediterranean restaurant, but if I’m meeting friends on a Sunday, it’s always at The Store in Croydon for a roast.

I can do a pub, but I’m more of a bar girl. Croydon used to be a nightlife hotspot with Dice Bar, Black Sheep and a Tiger Tiger that people would commute to from Essex, but Tiger went and everything went with it.

Where I work out

Sports aren’t my forte, but during lockdown I ran a lot in Thornton Heath Recreation Ground, which for some reason has about three different names locally.

I’ve also been swimming a few times at Thornton Heath Leisure Centre, but I haven’t tried the gym yet.

To commune with nature

I live between the recreation ground and Trumble Gardens, which is nice but tiny.

I went to the same school as Kate Moss in Purley, and I’d see deer and cows on the 15-minute journey. I’ve been to the Selsdon Wood Nature Reserve a few times and I’m also a founding member of Birch Selsdon, which has amazing grounds.

Trumble Gardens is “nice but tiny
Trumble Gardens is “nice but tiny" (Daniel Lynch)

For a culture fix

There’s not much in the immediate area, but Croydon has Fairfield Halls for theatre and a Vue cinema. There’s also a gallery called First Floor Space.

Grocery shopping

Thornton Heath is the land of corner shops. At uni I really struggled with the lack of ethnic-specific foods and seasonings, but there are big Caribbean, African and Asian populations around here so you can get everything. I’ll happily pop up the road in my pyjamas.

There’s a big Tesco in Thornton Heath, and Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer in the Whitgift Centre. Croydon also has Surrey Street Market for fruit and veg. We’re still hanging in there for Westfield.

Surrey Street Market in Croydon proper is good for fruit and veg (Daniel Lynch)
Surrey Street Market in Croydon proper is good for fruit and veg (Daniel Lynch)

Getting around

I’ll get the train into London Victoria or Balham and the Tube from there. Going into London was an event growing up, and I’ve kept that mentality. In central Croydon I’ll get the trams. I love them.

Dream street

All my dream streets would be in Purley. There are some really big houses in the Webb Estate. I find the characterisation of Croydon really interesting because once you get out to Purley and Selsdon it’s pretty posh.

Something you only see in Thornton Heath

Bernard, the Reggae King, is a legend. He dances outside the shopping centre. There was an article saying he’d passed away and they had to do another one to tell everyone he was actually fine.

Local shops and salons on Thornton Heath High Street (Daniel Lynch)
Local shops and salons on Thornton Heath High Street (Daniel Lynch)

What’s the catch?

The council is bankrupt and I’d be lying if I said you didn’t notice it, particularly in the parks. I feel safe in Croydon, but I might be slightly more on edge if I wasn’t raised here. It’s less petty crime and more tensions between young people, which is really sad.

In three words…

Capital of South.

The List (HarperCollins, £14.99) is out now.

Schools

Ecclesborne Primary School, Whitehorse Manor Junior School and Beulah Infant and Junior Schools are all rated good by Ofsted. Good secondaries include the Brit School for Performing Arts and Technology and the Harris Aspire Academy in South Norwood.

What it costs

Buying in Thornton Heath

Average flat price: £256,880

Average house price: £442,380

Renting in Thornton Heath

Average flat price, pcm: £1,330

Average house price, pcm: £1,980

Source: Hamptons & Land Registry