Walworth Road is at a crossroads. Not literally: it runs in a straight line from Elephant & Castle to Camberwell Road, but change is in the air. It would be easy to paint the street – which both Michael Caine and Charlie Chaplin have called home – as a Zone 1 time capsule. Walking down it we met a girl with rollers in her hair, off to have pie and mash with her grandma. We met a pensioner heading to East Street market and a postman who’d been working on the road for more than a decade.
It’s lined with independent businesses: a tailor that’s been there for a century, a Caribbean bakery and plenty of old man’s pubs. Look up, though, and all you see is cranes and scaffolding. The market traders say business is flagging, the greasy spoons are full of builders and luxury flats are going up. In other words, it’s a microcosm of the capital. We took the road to find out whether community spirit is still strong on London’s streets.
Sul: sales assistant at Michael Leigh
‘I’ve been working at men’s clothes store Michael Leigh on the Walworth Road for three years now. The road has been changing recently because of the new development at Elephant & Castle. It means customers are changing and business is changing. We meet different people every day and I like that. I’ve sold three suits this morning, so the day’s going well.’
Jwala Adhikari: shop assistant
‘It’s very aggressive round here – people drink and fight. In the middle of the night there’s shouting and you wonder what’s happening.’
George Dyer: Owner, Threadneedleman tailors
‘I’m the fourth tailor to own this shop. I’ve been here 21 years. Soon the shop will have been established for a century. The road has given me a living. It’s been good to me: stars like Martin Freeman, Suggs and Paul Weller have come to get suits cut by me. The area’s undergoing massive regeneration, though. In ten years’ time it will be completely different. I just hope owners of independent businesses who’ve contributed to the area will still be here and not be pushed out by high rents.’
Juliet (and Jasmine) Robert: local residents
‘I love this area, people are so friendly; I chat to my neighbours and everyone says hello when they see you in the street. I’ve lived here for nine years and plan on staying.’
Baris Soylu: Manager of the Cafe House
‘It’s a nice area and it’s getting better. I like it: there are people from different backgrounds around here. New shops are coming and different people are moving in. It’s diverse and that’s a good thing, it’s good for business and for local residents.’
Marlena Szpak - Owner of Lola Flower Boutique
‘We’ve been open for two and a half years and in that time the area has started to improve: there are more flats and professional people. Regeneration is a good thing. My husband was born upstairs and my father-in-law owns this building which is how we can afford to be here; it would be hard to survive with the new rents.’
Interviews by Kate Lloyd and Miriam Bouteba. Photography Chazz Adnitt.