January 28, 2019

Root and Soul

I’m old enough to have been in my early 20s when The Cross nightclub, tucked in behind London’s Kings Cross Station, kicked off and then banged its way through the 90s and noughties next to Bagley’s Warehouse. Another member of the Air team claims it was the location of his first kiss with the lady who later became his wife. Fond memories shared of London’s biggest club venue.

So it was with some trepidation that I returned 25 years later to have a nose around the newly regenerated Coal Drops Yard. Would this regenerated place serve justice to the memories, or would we be looking at a poorly conceived bit of commercial gentrification?

At Air we talk about ‘roots and soul’ when the subject of placemaking comes up. If a place has these, it is a fool who quashes them. Driven by history and community they bring that hardest of things to find, uniqueness. I have no doubt that the regenerators had many opportunities to hack it to death but, you know, they just didn’t.

Its function couldn’t be more contemporary: boutiques, eateries, live music, culture – a place with retail, driven by experience. I love that we don’t find a collection of global brands: instead a collection of some old, some young, some new – but all progressive. Yet through all this, it’s the environment that really stands out. Great respect has been shown to the old Victorian buildings and the junctions between old and new flow beautifully. The lighting is lush and somehow you just feel comfortable there. In fact, my first reaction was that I wanted to bring people to come and see it, to socialise – it just felt like we’d have fun. To my mind, that’s the acid test of successful placemaking and few pull it off.

Sure, it’s not the icon of the London clubbing scene anymore and, perhaps, some would resent that. But I think that’s exactly as it should be. The social requirement and function of our meeting paces has changed so fast in recent times. Boys and girls no longer need to shout over the PA system in crowded, smokey rooms to meet each other.  

What Coal Drops presents to us is still a gentrified place. But one that is somehow respectful of the memories, in tune with both its heritage and the 21st century’s radically altered social requirements… and that’s a tough act to pull off. 

Author: Alan Robertson