Sunday in the NE suburbs – some initial observations

January 15, 2007

On Sunday a (very) sympathetic friend and I went on a mini-tour of some North East suburbs of Greater London in the Borough of Redbridge. Our route was: South WoodfordLoughtonEppingChingford [links to Wikipedia] At each place we simply got out of the car and wandered around until we’d formed a basic impression – so what follows is no more than that.

Since OS and I will revist some of these suburbs on a fact-finding mission for the project I won’t go into detail here but it’s worth recording that, on a Sunday afternoon, all four centres were lively with busy restaurants, cafés and shops (when these were these were open). All of the suburbs we visited are on the Central Line and there were signs of City money in the large number of expensive sports cars (and houses). There was, however, visible diversity in terms of generations and income – though ethnically overwhelmingly white and English speaking – suggesting the presence of a stable community. There was also considerable ethnic diversity in terms of population but this did not seem to be manifested in the kind of shops and overall ‘feel’ of the places which are unmistakably English suburban (at least superficially) – in other words this ethnic diversity seemed quite ‘invisible’ if you didn’t look carefully.

South Woodford is a large, affluent centre on the North Circular with a sizeable Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Pizza Express and Laura Ashley Home and local eateries but little apparent office activity. Loughton is a more traditional high street with a long strip supporting a wide variety of shops and restaurants, including (nearby) an M&S food. These have spilled off the main road in places to occupy a premises which are not traditional shops – which I take to be a sign of health; there are also some small offices and a large Sainsbury’s. The woman in WH Smiths said the Daily Mail was the most popular Sunday paper “by far”. Epping (beyond the M25) still resembles an old market town but is suprisingly down market (relatively) in terms of retail with an Argos, Wimpey and ‘Favourite Chicken’ takeaway on the main strip besides some pubs, banks and estate agents. Chingford – perhaps the most interesting – has a wide variety of healthy looking non-chain shops besides the ubiquitous Nero’s.

In terms of selecting case studies my feeling was that South Woodford is perhaps too large and urbanised a suburb to be quite what we’re after and Epping, out beyond the Green Belt (and the doughnut), is a distinctive case that might not be ideal for comparative analysis with our other cases studies. Loughton and particularly Chingford though, seem like real possibilities. Chingford especially possesses a relatively high degree of diversity of population and a mix of local and some chain shops besides local facilities such as library. However, there was little evidence of  office space around the high street area.

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