The street is, I’d guess, mainly Victorian and the architecture is plain with lots of yellow brick. One stretch is 1950s modern, and probably replaced some bomb damage. The street is all one level, no raised kerbs, and is laid with traditional brick not tarmac.
It’s the perfect setting for some great shops. There’s Gordons The Jewellers, a couple of clothes shop, and a proper, independent hardware store full of useful things that are hard to find in central London. There’s a dry cleaner, a chemist, a newsagent and a general store – all the shops that, in too many places, have been replaced by a supermarket.
There’s an Oxfam Bookshop with all sorts of unusual old books; and the Book Warehouse which has practical, no-nonsense racks in the windows to display new stock. It’s impossible to leave Strutton Ground without books.
Luckily, there are plenty of places to sit and read them. There must be ten cafes, full of people that work locally and residents from the nearby Peabody Trust estate. My favourites are the Express Coffee Co who make good, old fashioned Italian coffee and filling, unfussy lunchtime food, the traditional fish and chip shop next door to them, and the Stiles Bakery which has been in the street for 60 years.
As if all that wasn’t enough, there’s a daily market too. There’s a cracking fruit and veg stall, another selling plants and flowers, an assortment of clothing stalls and more good coffee from Flat Cap Speciality Coffee.
There are a few familiar names, too – a small Jessops, a Costcutter and a Subway.
So everything that you need in a high street, with independents and well-known names side-by-side.
But what really makes Strutton Ground special is the atmosphere. The combination of real London buildings, a market, no cars and lots of life is special, and I don’t know anywhere else in the country that feels quite like it. There are people from high-flying Westminster jobs and media types from the nearby Channel 4 building, mingling with great London characters, dapper old men in three piece suits and ladies who ‘put their face on’ before going to buy the week’s veg. And tourists, who’ve found a piece of real, traditional London that’s not unlike Albert Square. There’s even a pub, on the corner, The Strutton Arms.
I run the Empty Shops Network, working with community groups who want to fight for their high streets, so I’ve visited over thirty towns across the country. I help people set up ‘pop up’ projects in empty shops, and have written a book, Pop Up Business For Dummies.
Strutton Ground doesn’t have any empty shops, and has permanent businesses, not pop ups. It’s exactly what we all think of when we say ‘High Street’ – and it’s exactly what every town needs.
Originally written for the Daily Express ‘Save Our High Streets’ campaign